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What are manners?  Why are they important?  Are they necessitated by society or some other forum?   Are they really needed?  Is etiquette a part of the equation or ..?

Etiquette is a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to conventional norms that are within a society, social class or group.    The word etiquette comes from the French and it signifies a tag or label, it first appeared in English around 1750.  From the 1500s through the early 1900s, children learned about etiquette at school. Nevertheless etiquette has changed and evolved over the years.    It’s a shame in this day and age that many children, and adults, lack even the basics in manners and etiquette.

Rules of etiquette encompass most aspects of social interaction in any society, though the term itself is not commonly used. A rule of etiquette may reflect an underlying ethical code, or it may reflect a person’s fashion or status.   Rules of etiquette are usually unwritten, but aspects of etiquette have been codified from time to time.   Etiquette may be wielded as a social weapon. The outward adoption of the superficial mannerisms of an in-group, in the interests of social advancement rather than a concern for others, is considered by many a form of snobbery, yet lacking in virtue.

Manners are a term usually preceded by the word good or bad to indicate whether or not a behavior is socially acceptable. Every culture adheres to a different set of manners, although a lot of manners are cross‐culturally common. Manners are a subset of social norms which are informally enforced through self-regulation and social policing and publically performed. They enable human ‘ultra sociality’ by imposing self-restraint and compromise on regular, everyday actions.    Manners are seen not just as a means of displaying one’s social status, but also as a means of maintaining social boundaries around class and identity.

The notion of “habitus” also contributes to the understanding of manners. The habitus is a set of ‘dispositions’ that are neither self‐determined, nor pre‐determined, by external environmental factors. They tend to operate at a subconscious level and are “inculcated through experience and explicit teaching” and produced and reproduced by social interactions. Manners, in this view, are likely to be a central part of the ‘dispositions’ which guide an individual’s ability to make socially compliant behavioral decisions.

Theorists have claimed that each culture’s unique set of manners, behaviors and rituals enable the local cosmology to remain ordered and free from those things that may pollute or defile it.   In particular, she suggests that ideas of pollution and disgust are attached to the margins of socially acceptable behavior to curtail such actions and maintain “the assumptions by which experience is controlled.”

Courtesy Manners – demonstrate one’s ability to put the interests of others before oneself; to display self‐control and good intent for the purposes of being trusted in social interactions. Courtesy manners help to maximize the benefits of group living by regulating social interaction. Disease avoidance behavior can sometimes be compromised in the performance of courtesy manners. They may be taught in the same way as hygiene manners but are likely to also be learned through direct, indirect (i.e. observing the interactions of others) or imagined (i.e. through the executive functions of the brain) social interactions. The learning of courtesy manners may take place at an older age than hygiene manners, because individuals must have at least some means of communication and some awareness of self and social positioning. The violation of courtesy manners most commonly results in social disapproval from peers.

Cultural Norm Manners – typically demonstrate one’s identity within a specific socio‐cultural group. Adherence to cultural norm manners allows for the demarcation of socio‐cultural identities and the creation of boundaries which inform who is to be trusted or who is to be deemed as ‘other’. Cultural norm manners are learnt through the enculturation and routinisation of ‘the familiar’ and through exposure to ‘othernesses or those who are identified as foreign or different. Transgressions and non‐adherence to cultural norm manners commonly result in alienation.   Cultural norms, by their very nature, have a high level of between‐group variability but are likely to be common to all those who identify with a given group identity.

Many authors have tried to collate manners or etiquette guide books. One of the most famous of these was Emily Post who began to document etiquette in 1922. She described her work as detailing the “trivialities” of desirable everyday conduct but also provided descriptions of appropriate conduct for key life events such as baptisms, weddings and funerals.  She later established an institute which continues to provide updated advice on how to negotiate modern day society with good manners and decorum. The most recent edition of her book provides advice on such topics as when it is acceptable to ‘unfriend’ someone on Facebook and who is entitled to which armrest when flying.

The etiquette of business is the set of written and unwritten rules of conduct that make social interactions run more smoothly. Office etiquette in particular applies to coworker interaction, excluding interactions with external contacts such as customers and suppliers. When conducting group meetings in the United States, the assembly might follow Robert’s Rules of Order, if there are no other company policies to control a meeting.  Office and business etiquette overlap considerably with basic tenets of netiquette, the social conventions for using computer networks.  Business etiquette can vary significantly in different countries, which is invariably related to their culture. For example: A notable difference between Chinese and Western business etiquette is conflict handling. Chinese businesses prefer to look upon relationship management to avoid conflicts- stemmed from a culture that heavily relies on Guanxi.  While the west leaves resolution of conflict to the interpretations of law through contracts and lawyers.

Adjusting to foreign etiquettes is a major complement of culture shock, providing a market for manuals. Other resources include business and diplomacy institutions, available only in certain countries such as the UK.    European etiquette is not uniform. Even within the regions of Europe, etiquette may not be uniform even within a single country there may be differences in customs, especially where there are different linguistic groups, as in Switzerland where there are French, German and Italian speakers.

The Japanese are very formal. Moments of silence are far from awkward. Smiling does not always mean that the individual is expressing pleasure. Business cards are to be handed out formally following this procedure: Hand card with writing facing upwards; bow when giving and receiving the card; grasp it with both hands; read it carefully; and put it in a prominent place. The Japanese feel a “Giri” an obligation to reciprocate a gesture of kindness. They also rely on an innate sense of right and wrong.   The Japanese believe in bowing when greeting someone, they do not display emotion and when entering a home, business or restaurants one must remove their shoes.  Ladies should avoid wearing heals, and when people stand they are not to have hands in their pockets. Plus so many more rules are tied into manners and etiquette.  Kenyans believe that their tribal identity is very important. Kenyans are also very nationalistic. Kenyans rarely prefer to be alone, and are usually very friendly and welcoming of guests. Kenyans are very family-oriented.   Handshakes are common greetings, they like to engage in small talk, and laugh readily.  If you are out taking photography one must ask for permission when taking pictures of people.

Etiquette is dependent on culture, what is excellent etiquette in one society may shock another. Etiquette evolves within culture. The Dutch painter Andries Both shows that the hunt for head lice, which had been a civilized grooming occupation in the early Middle Ages, a bonding experience that reinforced the comparative rank of two people, one groomed the other, one was the subject of the groomer, had become a peasant occupation by 1630. The painter portrays the familiar operation matter-of-factly, without the disdain this subject would have received in a 19th-century representation.

Etiquette can vary widely between different cultures and nations. For example, in Hausa culture, eating while standing may be seen as offensively casual and ill-omened behavior, insulting the host and showing a lack of respect for the scarcity of food—the offense is known as “eating with the devil” or “committing santi.” In China, a person who takes the last item of food from a common plate or bowl without first offering it to others at the table may be seen as a glutton who is insulting the host’s generosity. Traditionally, if guests do not have leftover food in front of them at the end of a meal, it is to the dishonor of the host. In America a guest is expected to eat all of the food given to them, as a compliment to the quality of the cooking. However, it is still considered polite to offer food from a common plate or bowl to others at the table.

Etiquette is a topic that has occupied writers and thinkers in all sophisticated societies for millennia.   I find it upsetting that in the world we live in today, more and more people lack even the basics in manners and etiquette.  This could even extend to “friends and family” who continually say they are there for you if every there is a need, but truth be told, they aren’t, and it’s a rare and unique individual that actually steps forward.   Everyone else bails and disappears.     Just like those that say that they will call you back, etc.  They never do, by all appearances they never intended to make the call, it’s just words. Even those that are pleasant and nice to you in person, but when in actuality they never mean a word they say.    What a shame!   Good well-meaning and decent people are few and far between.  Much of society today has become so cold, ill-mannered, ill-tempered and distant.  I know that this is not always the case, but much of the good and decent folk are scarce.  But they exist.  There is so much to learn on this and other important topics.   I could actually make it into a small chapter in a book.

kathy Kiefer


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