Carol Platt Liebau: Minding Our Manners

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Minding Our Manners

What better way to prove your egalitarian credentials than by adopting the supposedly free and easy, utterly informal manners of those at the bottom of the social scale? The freer and easier the better, for such informality demonstrates another quality beloved of, and praised by, intellectuals: a superiority to the dictates of convention. Thus you can never be quite informal or unconventional enough.

With that observation, Dr. Theodore Dalrymple skewers the dumbing down of etiquette in this country (and his own native Britain), associating it as something akin to a liberal disease. He also goes on to point out -- quite rightly -- that exquisite manners are certainly not a function of money. In fact, I was brought up to believe that good manners were nothing more than a matter of kindness: When in doubt, do the gracious thing, and chances are that it would be the "proper" thing. Manners are, in short, a set of rules by which civilized people can live together in harmony.

With the abandonment of any formality in dress, conversation and so much more, we are all the poorer. Many instinctively feel this -- it's one reason, I believe, for the popularity of Jane Austen novels and other similar materials . . .

It's actually fun to know why certain things are done a certain way. Why, do you think, are wives always seated to their husbands' left (when they are seated together), giving rise to the aphorism "a lady on the left is no lady"? During Edwardian times, if a man was out in his carriage and the lady sitting with him was seated on his left, it was a subtle signal that he was accompanied by his mistress and that neither of them should be acknowledged by acquaintances. If the lady with him was on his right, he was out with his wife. Interesting.


Blogger Cliff said...

"Why....are wives always seated to their husbands' left".....If the lady with him was on his right, he was out with his wife."


6:39 AM  
Blogger Marshall Art said...

Sounds like a typo, Cliff.

But I wholeheartedly concur with the point. Manners, ettiquette, decorum. These are ways of demonstrating what kind of person one is. It shows a desire to be seen as one with of good character and values. Of course, manners are often used to hide scoundrels (Eddie Haskel), but the lack of manners shows something else altogether.

6:43 AM  
Blogger COPioneer said...

And all these years I've managed to go without a tie...and now I feel I should start cutting off the circulation to my brain? ;-)

If I was a salesman, or interacted with my customers daily, I certainly would dress the part, but other engineers just don't care if I wear jeans and polo shirts (since they wear the same...including our VPs).

7:28 AM  
Blogger Marshall Art said...

Dress codes are only a part of the concept, Copioneer. As to the circulation problem, I've found wearing shirts with the proper neck size solved that for me. Just a tip.

12:02 AM  

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