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Etiquette: The dying art of good manners

Etiquette: The dying art of good manners
Mary Thomas, Associate Editor, ATB, Jan 2019, Edmonton

Old fashioned manners such as ladies always going first, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and keeping elbows off the table are all in danger of dying out. 

And when was the last time anyone stood because a lady entered the room? We might blame post feminism for that but manners can neither be legislated for, nor enforced by courts. They evolve. For example, is it acceptable to use an “x”, otherwise known as a kiss, at the end of a work email? Interrupting meetings to assess reactions underneath our latest Facebook post.

Researchers also found never using swear words is a rule many of us struggle to stick to along with holding doors open for the person behind you and not using your phone at the dinner table.

11 per cent look forward to a time when they don’t have to make much effort to be polite, and 13 per cent think being rude is good so people know what you really think about them. Sarcasm and wit have lost their decency and there are no adult movies anymore. 

Social indiscretions do not go unpunished. One in four Brits feel they have been publicly shamed by others in the past for not following basic manners, and one in six have been told to ‘mind your manners’. Few schools actually teach manners and etiquette these days.

Manners which we still do our best to abide by are to knock before entering a room, sneezing into your arm and offering tea to guests as they arrive, but even these aren’t followed by all. Just under half are happy to drop saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and think swearing in general conversation has become common. 7 in 10 Brits see pushing ahead in a queue as the pinnacle of rudeness, talking with your mouth full and refusing to apologise after doing something wrong.

In 2012, Travel + Leisure magazine selected New York as America’s rudest city. The curious thing is, I’ve never seen so many people talking into smartphones on public transport, in cafes and restaurants or walking down the street, oblivious to absolutely everything going on around them, as I have in New York. Anywhere. Is there’s a correlation between phone use, short attention spans and manners?

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Campaign Courtesy Counts instructs New Yorkers on etiquette in crowded places, like not clipping your nails in public, not wearing backpacks when cars are crowded and not taking up two seats when you can occupy one: a blight known as ‘manspreading’. 

Etiquette in the east is epitomized in different ways by different cultures but the country that shoots to mind is Japan. The overcrowding and rush in cities like Mumbai doesn’t mean Mumbaikars are rude, they have different courtesy codes. 

When I moved to Canada, I realised that I don’t practise courtesy enough myself. We can all do a lot more. Smile at the person sitting next to you on the bus or train and ask them about their day. Let that woman in the Volvo have the parking spot you’re both eyeing when you pick up the kids from school.

Short of declaring a full-blown crisis of politeness in our cities, at the very least we should be talking about the value of courtesy. Simple acts of kindness don’t involve too much effort and make a difference to the quality of life. Many Canadians already do these things, but it would be great if we all did them more. The pay-off is feeling good and making others feel good, too. And, in our fast-paced world, we must realise civil society works best when people show basic respect to one another. Have you noticed the dwindling standards of politeness? Write to us at mary@asiantribune.ca 

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