A commenter in response to my last blog post expressed her opinion that the focus of etiquette seems to be an over obsession with using the right fork over being respectful of people. (In actuality of the 8 posts I wrote, this was the first post where I actually addressed utensil usage). I have discovered in mentioning my profession in social settings, that this person’s perspective is a very common one. People seem to only associate etiquette with eating with the right fork or some snooty behavior that looks down on other people and nothing could be further from the truth.
I explained in a response that historically the very foundation for etiquette and good manners was born from the fact that Africans, Arabs and other cultures would not eat or do business with the English or other European countries because their poor table behavior was very disgusting; spitting on the table, blowing their nose in their hand, wiping it on their clothes then reaching for the food dishes, picking their teeth with their hand blades, loudly passing gas, urinating on the floor and so on.
In their desire to expand their business prospects, the British and other Europeans decided to reform their conduct. They implemented rules of etiquette and manners to be more appealing to the people they wanted to do business with (and less repulsive). 90% of the rules of etiquette were created by men for business purposes because they knew that how they behaved was just as important as their business savvy and in some cases even more so. After all would you want to shake hands with a man who just blew his nose in it even if he had the brilliance of Donald Trump or Warren Buffett?
As aforementioned in a previous post, the word etiquette is a French word that means “a ticket or a label”. It was a set of instructions of proper behavior when you were interacting with royals and nobility (which included what knife and fork we use). Another good way to look at it is look at the label inside your clothes. the label will provide instructions on how to properly care for the garment. If you do not follow the instructions, the garment will be ruined and in like if we do not understand the rules of etiquette we can “ruin” great opportunities and relationships.
Here is the message I want to convey, every one practices a form of etiquette, everyone! It is in every level of society not just among the wealthy elite in country clubs and old money families as we have been led to believe. Because of the misconception about etiquette I did some research and found different forms of etiquette in places you would not expect. Gang members have a form of etiquette in how they interact with each other and rival gangs. I found etiquette for gambling, there is even a clue in Kenny Roger’s song The Gambler, “you never count your money sittin at the table” meaning it is rude to count your winnings in the presence of the people you just beat at poker! Goths have a form of etiquette; the Japanese have etiquette for tourists when it comes to interacting with geishas! The NBA has a code of conduct (etiquette) they expect their players to follow. Even the military has a book on etiquette for their officers. You and I have a form of etiquette we practice and expect others follow. Do we ask people to take off their shoes when they enter out home? Do we ask people not to touch the remote control to our TV? How about our children? No desert before dinner? No running in the house? etc. these rules and expectations are our personal etiquette, our code of conduct we expect ourselves and others to practice, so you see it is way bigger than what knife and fork we use (though eating properly is very important!). The practices should be geared at helping us make each other comfortable and make life run smoother and not to bombard people with rules for rules sake.
What are your personal rules of etiquette? For yourself and those who interact with you?