The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

31 May 2011

Of manners and etiquette

Depending on where you get your news, you may have heard about Pres. Obama's dinner at Buckingham Palace, at which he toasted the Queen.  Depending on where you get your news, either it was a gauche debacle, an international gaffe, or the British were too high on their pomp and circumstance horse, rudely cutting off the leader of the free world mid-oration.

This is a perfect example of the benefit of manners, social etiquette, a standard of protocol.  Yes, it may be restrictive. It may be more formal than we're accustomed to. However,  manners not only provide us a blue print of how to behave in a given situation, they provide a safety net when in an unfamiliar situation, or when things go wrong in a social setting.

Granted, British Monarchy has its own protocol, but they helpfully publish a guide, and staff an entire office of specialists to guide visitors meeting a member of the royal family through the details.  The visitor is then responsible for learning the etiquette - and not presume themselves to be an exception to the rule.

It seems the age of the gentleman statesman is over.  The politicians of North America at any rate, are eager to seem ordinary and common. They appear on talk shows in their shirt sleeves, and drape their arm over the shoulders of monarchs.  In my opinion that doesn't make them the same as me; it shows a want of good old fashioned courtesy.

If this is the example we're being shown, it's no wonder people go to Church in shorts and flip flops; it's no surprise that shop keepers feel no compunction in using colourful language with their customers; it makes sense that young people have no idea how to introduce themselves or have a civil conversation with a stranger; it's a natural progression for men and women to be familiar and crude with each other in the workplace.

It used to be that manners were taught at home, and presumably they still are, but our lowest common denominator is so low now that an ant could straddle it. Boys and girls were taught etiquette in school, at the various service clubs they belonged to, and at dance class where they learned to relate to each other.  The idea in doing away with such old-fashioned fustiness as manners and etiquette may have been to level the playing field, or to allow life to be more spontaneous, I don't know, but it seems to me there's room for a little more civility and good behaviour in public life.

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