Do You Observe Everyday
Etiquette Rules?

Friends Walking Together

A student once asked me, "Should a person comply with every etiquette rule?"

My answer was, "It depends."  An etiquette guideline from 200 years ago such as leaving a calling card when you attempt to visit someone, wouldn't fit with today's social environment.  After all, we have smart phones now!

The most important thing to remember is that doing the right thing is what everyday etiquette is all about.

It Begins with Awareness

Aiming for more awareness helps you know if a courtesy is to be extended, a kind word said, or gratitude expressed.  And sometimes, it means just being quiet.

A friend of mine recently commented that he never learned how to handle the tools of the table, as his father didn't believe in etiquette.  My comment was, "What's not to believe about etiquette?"

As P. M. Forni puts it, "Courtesy, politeness, manners, and civility are all, in essence, forms of awareness."

The more aware and mindful of the people around you, yourself and the space you occupy, and the actions you take, the more "etiquette-ful" you become.  Etiquette is all about "how-to."

Awareness at the table, and mindfulness of those with whom you are dining, are the main ingredients of a mannerly meal.  Methods and procedures are helpful, but common sense should prevail.

For example, as George Washington wrote, "Cleanse not your teeth with the tablecloth, fork, or knife." [“Rules of Civility, Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation,” by George Washington, 1787.]  He was encouraging his peers to be aware that using a tablecloth, fork, or knife to pick one's teeth at the table could be offensive to fellow diners.

The everyday etiquette in my friend's case would be to remain aware when dining with others so that courtesy and civility are shown.

What's So Important About Everyday Etiquette?

Many people still hold the perception that etiquette is reserved for the elite or for formal occasions.  I would even guess that this perception prompted the question from my student about following every etiquette rule.

Sure, the rules are important.  Otherwise they wouldn't be relied upon by so many people to keep interactions civil.

When you are mindful and aware of others, and use courtesy and kindness as an everyday etiquette guideline, the finite rules of etiquette naturally fall into place.  Some observations on why we learn these rules are:

  • We gain appreciation of being humans: that is, as being a part of one social scene or another.  Etiquette helps you avoid feeling awkward and inept when you’re around others and we’re always learning, knowing we’re not perfect.
  • No one wants to be the person others would prefer not to be around.  Knowing how to do things, such as the understanding the basics of table manners and how to correctly hold the table tools regardless of whether you’re eating at home or dining at a fine restaurant, or attending a luncheon interview helps you navigate most social situations with confidence.
  • As distinct individuals, we all have our styles, tastes and preferences, and in a society that values human expression and freedom, we want to make room for others showing up as they are.  What’s so profound about etiquette is that the conventions observed have wisdom built right into them.  Example: the rule, “Be friendly and polite,” would inform a person why he needs to be aware of others walking on the sidewalk such that he doesn’t knock someone over as he is posting on social media. 
  • It’s fun!  When it’s a bad hair day and you need to be out and about, there’s nothing like aiming to look outside of yourself.  Being in line at the grocery store and noticing that the person behind you has only two items and your basket has three times that many, and letting her go ahead of you is far more pleasant in comparison than getting out the door and heading to your car a tad more quickly.  The gratitude expressed to you is a game changer for having a good day.
  • It’s enlightening to practice understanding that you don’t have to get everything right.  Aiming to be etiquette-ful frees you from this worry.  You realize that you simply need to observe, and take note of what is outside of you.  It may or may not call for a response.  This is civility: the kind and empathetic action that follows observation.  You feel great when you notice that someone needs a hand - and you offer it! 

What I’ve discovered the past several years as I focus on what it means to be etiquette-ful is that it’s not unusual to feel more and more at home as an authentic me.  There’s something harmonious about that feeling.

If being aware, and using everyday etiquette yields authenticity and confidence, I'd say it is something we should all partake of!

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