Good manners involve much more than just being polite at the dinner table, or saying please and thank you. Those are just the basics one teaches to young children.
As we grow, manners evolve into a way of being considerate and respectful of our fellow man, whether that’s in a business situation or in traffic. It becomes an issue of human dignity.
Unfortunately, most people seem to think we’re doing a pretty lousy job of it. In one recent survey, 70 percent of U.S. adults said people are more rude now than 20 years ago.
Certainly, the formal code of behavior prior to 1960 has become more casual and familiar in the intervening years.
Esther Tecklenberg, a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, recalled a time when men and women were expected to be respectful in their interactions.
Men would tip their hats at ladies, rise when they entered the room, and offer their seats on the bus or subway. As women entered the workforce and equality became the standard, those niceties faded away, she said.
“Children aren’t taught to behave that way anymore,” Tecklenberg said.
Etiquette experts say that as times change, the basics of how people treat each other should not. As Emily Post said, etiquette is a code of behavior based on honesty, respect and consideration.
Post became the voice of all things proper with her book on etiquette in 1922. She died in 1960, but her timeless lessons live on through her family members and fans.
In the 1990s, Msgr. Lawrence B. McInerny, pastor of Stella Maris Church on Sullivan’s Island, used the book “Emily Post’s Etiquette” by Elizabeth L. Post as the inspiration for his own guide on how high school students should conduct themselves — with reverence.
“While the deductions of etiquette may change with cultures, times and places, they are meant to embody the basic value of courtesy,” Msgr. McInerny wrote. “Courtesy and thoughtfulness are perennial values well worth preserving in any civilization.”
These virtues can guide one through an infinite number of situations, from how to behave in church to good sportsmanship.
A number of people said the increased use of profanity demonstrates a lack of respect for others, with Msgr. McInerny calling it “the mark of a poorly developed vocabulary.”
Another area of concern is rampant cell phone use, whether talking or texting.
“If you are in a situation where your attention should be focused on others, you should not be texting,” wrote Cindy Post Senning, a successor to the etiquette maven.
This is especially true during meals or other social gatherings, and the same rules apply for e-mailing, checking Facebook, browsing the internet, or anything else that makes guests feel they don’t have your full attention.
The results of a recent manners test [see sidebar] reveal that the majority of people know how to behave in a courteous, polite manner.
But the survey, which stated people are ruder now, indicates that our knowledge of how to behave isn’t always applied.
Contributing factors to this dichotomy include working parents, which means less time to enforce standards of behavior, and the loss of the extended family, which traditionally helps reinforce values, according to Deacon Ed Peitler, a licensed professional counselor.
“So much of what is required for people to conduct themselves in a civil manner depends on having established from the earliest years a sense of one’s own boundaries,” Peitler said.
Msgr. McInerny said he has taught classes and given talks on the subject and stresses that most manners are timeless, such as speaking properly and dressing for the occasion.
One area that is of perennial concern for priests is being able to recall everyone’s name. He said if it seems someone has forgotten your name, offer it at once. This position is supported by “Emily Post’s Etiquette.”
“There seems to be a genuine interest and desire among many young people for the knowledge of how to act in certain situations,” he said.
The most polite city in the world. Really.
In an announcement that astonished people across the globe, Readers Digest named New York as the most polite city in the world.
That’s right, New York City — home of the honking taxi cab and a reputation for impatient behavior — finished first in a 2007 global courtesy rating with a score of 80 percent.
It was followed by Zurich, Switzerland, with 77 percent and Toronto, Canada, at 70 percent.
In each location, reporters conducted three tests:
- They walked into public buildings 20 times behind people to see if they would hold the door open.
- They bought small items from 20 stores and recorded whether the sales assistants said thank you or not.
- They dropped a folder full of papers in 20 busy locations to see if anyone would help pick them up.
Readers Digest called it the world’s biggest real-life test of common courtesy, with more than 2,000 samples of actual behavior.
It isn’t the first time that New Yorkers have surprised the rest of the world with their ability to be polite.
In 2001, the city that never sleeps tied with Charleston, S.C., as the most well-mannered city in America.
That list was compiled annually for 30 years by the late Marjabelle Young Stewart. Charleston was honored with the No. 1 spot 10 years in a row and was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Think your manners are impeccable?
Take the quiz below to see if you’re an etiquette ace
1. When someone sneezes you …
- Say “God bless you”
- Offer the person a tissue
- Do nothing to acknowledge the sneeze
- Ask if he or she is OK
2. You run into an old friend you haven’t seen in forever, you …
- Shake his or her hand
- Give the person a hug or kiss
- Wave and keep moving on
- Offer a quick hello, but don’t make any small talk
- Pretend like you don’t know the person
3. While driving to work someone cuts you off, you …
- Wave as a gesture that it’s OK
- Lay down on your horn
- Return the favor by speeding up and cutting the person off
- Count to 10 and try not to lose your cool
4. When you are in a public place and your cell phone rings, you …
- Step outside so as not to bother anyone with your conversation
- Take the call and make no effort to keep it down
- Wait until you get home to call the person back
- Carry on as if you were in the comfort of your own home
5. You’re behind two people in the grocery line when another lane opens, you …
- Let the people standing in front of you go first
- Race to the next lane before anyone else gets there
- Wait a few seconds and give the people in front of you the opportunity to move before going yourself
- Stay where you are
6. What do you do when you hear a juicy tidbit of gossip?
- Spread it around as quickly as possible
- Only discuss it with close friends
- Forget about it immediately
- Ask the person concerned if it is true
- Acknowledge the gossiper but don’t contribute to the conversation
- Yell at the gossiper for spreading lies
7. When someone gives you a present, you …
- Send a “thank you” note
- Say “thank you” in person
- Don’t say anything
- Refuse to accept the gift
8. Your dog does his business on your neighbor’s lawn, you …
- Only pick it up if someone’s looking
- Pretend not to notice
- Pick it up with a plastic bag
- Return to the scene of the crime after the fact to take care of business
9. Which of the following are you most likely to wear to a wedding?
- A black dress
- A white dress
- Any color but black or white
- Who cares about color? The more revealing, the better
10. How much do you tip your server?
- I don’t
- Almost 30%
11. How often do you use “please” or “thank you” when asking someone for a favor?
- Most of the time
- When I remember
12. What are your thoughts on four-letter words?
- I never swear
- I only swear when I’m really angry
- I swear all of the time in casual conversation
- Once in a blue moon I use a swear word
13. If someone says something you don’t hear, your response is …
- “I’m sorry. Could you please say that again?”
- “Excuse me?”
14. For whom do you hold open doors?
- Anyone who follows closely behind me
- Only women who follow closely behind me
- I let the door close behind me without holding it open
- Only older people and those who can’t open doors themselves
- People don’t need my help opening doors, and it’s insulting to do so
If you answered like the following you are an Etiquette Ace:
- 84% say God bless you
- 64% give a hug and kiss
- 55% count to 10 and try not to lose their cool
- 71% step outside
- 49% wait a few seconds; the most polite: 33% let people in front go first
- 42% acknowledge gossiper but don’t contribute to conversation
- 66% say thank you in person; thank you notes garnered 33%
- 79% pick it up with a plastic bag
- 74% any color but black or white
- 47% tip 15 percent
- 68% always
- 38% swear only when angry, followed closely by 31% who swear once in a blue moon
- 48% say “I’m sorry, could you please say that again?” A close runner-up is “Excuse me” at 32%
- 93% anyone close behind me