Mind Your Manners ~ No. 1

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Take your elbows off the table…

Do not speak with your mouth full…

I’m sure you have heard these words of wisdom once or twice over the course of your lifetime.  Perhaps, they were uttered by a parent, grandparent, teacher or other figure of authority.  As a child, I often wondered – why do I need to “mind my manners”?

Ingrained in childhood, minding my manners is something that I have carried with me into adulthood.  Yes, in the past, I have been referred to as a member of the “Polite Police”.  I may have also had “#polite” engraved on a Stella and Dot necklace (judging me is very impolite).  All because, to me, manners are important.  Not because you may offend someone by using the wrong fork at a dinner party (quel embarrassing) but because good manners are a way to show others that you care for and respect them.

Pier Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who has published several books on the subject, describes manners as “traffic lights for life”.  “The rules of good manners are the traffic lights of human interaction,” says Forni.  “They make it so that we don’t crash into one another in everyday behaviour.” (source)

Manners are by no means a recent phenomenon.  Early humans lived in groups in order to hunt, share food and keep one another warm, but to live close together, humans had to learn to think of others.  Moreover, the original etiquette manuals of Western Civilization were in fact success manuals.  As author Steven Pinker notes, these manuals, a predecessor to today’s etiquette guides,  taught knights and nobles how to conduct themselves in the court of the king. (source)

We no longer live in a world of knights, and as such, manners have evolved.  While most of us do not dress in a top hat and tails to eat dinner, many of us do believe that it is impolite to text at the dinner table.  Why?  Well, generally, it sends others the message that you are disinterested in the people or goings on around you.

While time and manners do change, they aim to do the same thing.  Make others feel appreciated and respected.  Not only does it make those you interact with feel good, but it makes you feel good too!

In the spirit of making the world a more polite place, here is the first installment of what I expect will also be a reoccurring series on the blog.  Here are the first of five ways to mind your manners:

Say “please” – According to Emily Post, using this phrase expresses both a respect and consideration for those you are interacting with, because it changes a command into a request.  It sets the tone not only for the present interaction, but possibly, all that follow with that individual or group.  (source)

Say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” – Unless you were raised by wolves, you should know how to express your thanks for gifts, favours, awards etc.; however, we often fail to acknowledge the everyday courtesies that we encounter.  In the past, Miss Post has deemed thanking someone as the hallmark of civility. If someone holds the elevator door for you, be the civilized individual you are and say thank you.  Further, if you do something kind or courteous for another, and they say thank you, the polite response is “you’re welcome”.  Please, whatever you do, do not say “no worries”!  This is a pet peeve of mine that I share with a former colleague.  When he encountered this, he would often assert that he was not worried!  “I am not worried that you delivered my mail, nor was I worried that you refilled the paper in the photocopier.”  A simple “you’re welcome” is perfect. (source)

Say “excuse me” – This phrase and the like (“I beg your pardon”); all express your awareness that you have inconvenienced someone else.  Make life a little easier for yourself and those around you by saying excuse me when you are:

  • Acknowledging an error: “Excuse me.  I did not realize you were waiting in line”.
  • Acknowledging a faux pas (like burping): “Excuse me”.
  • Making a necessary interruption: “Excuse me, but you have a phone call”.  I was visiting my little friend Mia last week and at the age of three, she has mastered the art of this manner wonderfully! 

Hold the door – Holding the door for someone is a thoughtful and relatively painless act that you can do for family, friends and yes, even strangers.  Be especially mindful of those who are carrying heavy loads or may be unable to open the door themselves.  Now, some of you may be hesitant about holding the door in a heavily populated area, fearing that you will stand there for hours while several thousand people pass through.  While manners are important, you do not have to go so far as to be late for your appointment.  Allow a few to go through and then gracefully but firmly, make your way through the door while some other kind soul takes over.  You have done your part!

Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze – If I became Prime Minister of Canada, I would enact this as my first “Mandatory Manner”.  Germaphobe or not, no one likes to be on the receiving end of someone’s unobstructed cough or sneeze – YUCK!  Do others a favour and cover your nose and mouth!  The new way to do so is to cough or sneeze into the crux of your elbow, that way, when you have finished and go to hold the door for someone (as you would, because you are polite), you aren’t leaving a present for the next person that comes along.  Don’t be a shmuck, cover up…please.

While I expect those of you reading this are already connoisseurs of etiquette, take a moment and think about how you can raise your own bar.  A door held here, a “please” and “thank you” there are all it takes to change someone’s day for the better.

P.S. For your reading pleasure, here are a few of my favourite books on the subject:

  • Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition
  • Miss Manners’ Guide to Excrutiatingly Correct Behaviour
  • Tiffany’s Table Manners
  • Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners

~ Thank you (polite until the end) for stopping by!

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One Comment

  1. Ashleigh,

    You are the poster-child for manners and etiquette and I LOVE that about you.

    Thank you for bringing these issues to the general populations attention (I can assure you it is necessary and we’ll received)

    I’m looking forward to your next blog!

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