There’s an interesting conversational phenomenon that occurs when people learn I’m an etiquette consultant. In one breath, people ask whether we really need etiquette these days, given that modern society is more relaxed. In the next, they’ll share an anecdote about how someone was incredibly rude to them, or how someone they know has atrocious table manners. Which one is it? Do they want manners or not?
I worked as a waitress while I was in university. I will never forget the day when a family came in and when I asked the boy for his drink order, he said, “a Coke” to which I replied sweetly, “what is the magic word?” As I went to get the drinks in the back, my boss walked up to me and angrily asked what I had done. The mother was so annoyed that I had had the nerve to try and help her child learn manners that they had left the restaurant. I still find it amazing that she didn’t think a mere waitress deserved some common courtesy or that manners were a good thing for her child to practice.
Maybe shows like Downtown Abbey brought etiquette back into the limelight or maybe people have just realized anew that manners make a difference. Personally, I could not wait to get into my first day of finishing school and I couldn’t get enough. Simple skills, like putting on and taking off a jacket, or how to get out of a car gracefully while wearing a dress suddenly took new meaning.
Now don’t get me wrong – I get that etiquette evolves. For instance, in a single breasted suit, men never do up the bottom button because of an example set by Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) in the 1800s. Not to mention that there are etiquette needs today that were completely unheard of when Emily Post wrote her first edition. (They’re up to the 19th now, in case you were curious. Evolving is different than etiquette disappearing entirely.
So, for the record, my answer is YES – there is absolutely a place for modern manners in today’s society. In the past, they dealt with more formal dining – today our dining may be more casual, however manners now are just as important and the lack of manners is noticed just as much. I don’t think manners are something that need to be pounded into a child’s head – they come naturally when they’re practiced on a regular basis.