My grandmother was a stickler for table manners even if that meant she would have to forget her own manners in order to teach us about them. The younger generation in my family received a salad fork in the side of our thigh on more than one occasion if we became delinquent in our observation of proper table manners. Years later I had a job interview that took place during lunch at a fancy restaurant with even fancier people. It was at this moment that I was glad for the bloody thighs I had to endure as a child because I knew, as everyone at that table knew, that this interview wasn’t really about what I said as much as it was about what I did.
Manners, like society, evolve to meet the world around them. They should not be regarded as weapons designed to trick or humiliate those who may be less aware of traditional standards of behaving. Manners are guidelines that offer us opportunities to show respect to others as well as help guide us on how to behave in instances where we may be unsure. Any person who uses manners as a weapon to humiliate indeed has no manners of their own. They are just being a dick.
Etiquette and tradition, although similarly linked, are not synonymous with each other. Sometimes our traditions certainly originate from a good practice of manners and are passed down to model a way of honoring the past. Some traditions purposefully disregard etiquette all together in order to preserve and honor history in the same way. For example, standard etiquette would not normally view slamming a giant stein full of beer as a dignified way of drinking but at Texas A&M University seniors are encouraged to drop their class ring to the bottom of the stein and then drink the entire beer until they get back to the ring. Classy? No. Tradition? Yes. Fun? Totally.
Keeping that in mind, we shouldn’t turn up our noses at etiquette or manners any more than we should turn up our noses to those who may not be familiar with them. I don’t know of anyone who ever died because they didn’t use the proper fork. A considerate host will always overlook some minor faux pas when it comes to a dinner party. However, for guests that seem totally unencumbered by manners, their behavior can easily crossover into being rude. As is the case with most things, proper behavior lives somewhere in the middle.
Here is what you should remember when given the opportunity to practice your manners:
- Keep the conversation relevant and respectful.
- Always put a napkin on your lap and not on your collar.
- When in doubt ask discreetly what the protocol is.
- Never ask for seconds of the first and second course.
- When visiting a fancy hotel in Russia make sure that you pay the prostitutes up front and bring plenty of clean drinking water if you want them to pee on you or the bed.
Manners are easy.