Let’s face it, how we behave is a choice, and as you move into adult life, the choices get more complicated. You are out in the world, meeting all kinds of people and going different places on your own. Questions of etiquette seem to pop up everywhere you go:
Not to worry, help is at hand!
Teen Manners: From Malls to Meals to Messaging and Beyond is a useful guide that answers questions that come up in real life from the most trusted name in etiquette: Emily Post.
In this chapter we'll cover:
1. Etiquette is really about relationships. It can help you start new relationships and build and strengthen those you already have.
2. Etiquette can shape the way you interact with people and create the mood for your day.
3. Etiquette can guide you in unfamiliar situations and tell you what you can expect from other people. It can make every new situation a little easier.
4. Etiquette is about choices. You can act in ways that are respectful, considerate, and honest, or not.
A French Word from Yesterday for Today
In the seventeenth century King Louis XIV had a magnificent château with beautiful gardens and parks all around it. Often, when he hosted parties, people would walk all over the grass, pick the flowers, wade in the fountains, and leave litter behind. They didn't have formal gardens and parks at their own houses and didn't know how to behave. The head gardener went to the king in great distress and asked what he could do to keep things nicer. They decided to put up little signs all the over the place:
Keep on the paths
Enjoy the flowers, but please don't pick them
Stay out of the fountains
Please don't litter
The French word for "little sign" or "ticket" is etiquette. All these years later, etiquette still is simply a collection of "little signs" to guide us in unfamiliar situations. That guidance helps us get along better with others and feel more comfortable everywhere.
What is etiquette?
When asked this question, people often respond:
Which fork you use
Taking off your hat
Caring for others
All of them are right. Some talk about specific manners, and some talk about principles that help us get along. Etiquette is actually a combination of both.
No matter what they think etiquette is, most people agree that it is important.
What Etiquette Is Not
A little pinkie stuck up in the air as you drink your tea
A limp-fish handshake
An officious, superior attitude toward others
A bow tie and white gloves
Old-fashioned and only for some people
Manners tell you what to do in a myriad of situations. Are you going to a wedding and wondering what's expected? There are manners that will help you out. Are you going to your sister's concert and trying to decide what to wear? There are manners to guide your decision. Are you unsure how to reply to a party invitation? There are manners to help you respond, whether or not you can go. Sometimes manners tell you what to do in specific situations; sometimes they tell you what you can expect others to do.
Principles Matter More
So how do manners come into being? Who decides and how? That's where the principles come in. All manners are rooted in just three principles:
1. Respect: caring for and understanding others just as they are—whether they look different, come from different cultures, or have different beliefs. It is important to show respect for everyone with all his or her differences and similarities. And you look to others to show respect for you.
2. Consideration: thinking about how your actions will affect others around you.
3. Honesty: more than just not telling lies. If the truth might be hurtful, it means finding the most positive way you can to tell it . . . or sometimes keeping silent.
These principles are timeless and universal. Manners, the ways that people apply the principles of etiquette, change over time and from culture to culture, but the principles do not. It is respectful to greet someone when you meet, but the specifics of the greeting may be different. In some cultures you shake hands, in some you bow, but in all cultures the respectful thing to do is to greet the people you meet.
You can trace every manner in this book back to one of the principles. When society changes and new behaviors emerge (cell phone use, for instance), new manners develop too. For example, using a cell phone inconsiderately by talking really loudly on the phone at the movies disturbs other people. So the movie management might post a no cell phones sign. Soon people learn that loud talking in movie theaters is unacceptable. Over time those behaviors that show consideration and respect become the accepted norm, and new manners emerge.
Sometimes manners become obsolete. For example, it used to be accepted manners that the girl never called the boy for a date. Today girls often call boys and ask them out.
No matter what the situation is or where you find yourself, if you don't know the manners, all you need do is choose to act in a respectful, considerate, and honest way, and you'll do well. Whether or not you know the specific manners, you can act in a way that makes those around you feel good. Knowing the manners just makes it a bit easier. And while being considerate, respectful, or honest sometimes seems to benefit just the other person, it can make you a better person.
The Ultimate Benefit
Etiquette is all about relationships. When you meet someone and make your first impression, you set that relationship off in one direction. Changing direction is doable but difficult. Why not start out on the right path to begin with? Acting toward that person with respect and consideration—using good manners—will set things up in the best way possible.
Once the relationship is established, you can choose to build and strengthen it or not. How does it feel when a friend greets you warmly as if he is truly glad to see you? It's not rocket science. It really is that easy. All it takes is intention. Make using good manners a habit. Make the principles of etiquette the basis for how you act. If you do, you'll have the tools you need to begin, build, and strengthen all your relationships with friends and family. In addition, by choosing to use good etiquette, you'll develop a sense of self-respect and self-confidence that will make you a better friend and family member.