Etiquette and politeness, what do you think?

Inspired by a GQ thread about rising from ones table to greet people coming / going, I decided to start this a thread about it.

Personally, I detest many social customs because of the stupidity and circular logic involved, I don’t like etiquette nor the condescending attitude shown by those who follow pointless arbitrary rules. For instance, rising from ones table is silly just to do to show “respect” or whatever, the only reason it connotates a polite image is because its been used for that, it serves no practical purpose (besides shaking someones hand, which is different). I generally don’t like to go out of my way to comform to something just to “show” that I respect someone, and I myself consider trying to “show” your politeness to be something rude. If you want to make a positive impression, I believe it best to just be yourself, not using archaic polite gestures to try and mask your own personality.

I don’t mean this to be a rant at all, more a discussion of what you believe etiquette is, how it affects you, what you think about it. I’ll admit the attitude of people who scoff and look down upon you for not wanting to stand up when someone enters the room or whatever really does infuriate me, it sincerely bothers me just how shallow it is.

One of my biggest problems with etiquette things is formal wear. I can’t stand wearing ‘formal’ dress wear, when going out. I don’t understand why it is formal wear, nor how it became formal wear. I prefer something comfortable, sweatpants and a t-shirt is fine for me to go anywhere, but it’s considered ‘rude’ or whatever if I do wear those out.

I agree in that a lot of etiquette seems to be a set of rules for people who don’t know how to be polite. Rising when someone leaves or enters is not necessary, but acknowledging people leaving or entering is simply polite. Formal clothes is another fallacy in many cases, but there is politeness in taking time and effort to dress well (Jeans and tee-shirt can be dressing well in this sense, if they are well chosen for the event) there is also politeness in wearing clothes that add to an occasion, be it suit and tie at the opera, or cape and velvet shirt at the Goth club. If you are male don’t like a suit and tie, but want to go to a fine restaurant, don’t wear dirty jeans and tee-shirt. Wear something that takes effort, and shows that you care for both your own appearance, and the ambiance you create around yourself.

Etiquate is about showing respect to other people. Much of it is common sense and most of the Miss Manners crap isn’t is everyday use anymore, but the purpose is still the same.

For example -
Getting up - getting up from the table when someone enters demonstrates that you acknowledge their presence. Most people don’t do this at meals anymore, but it’s still good etiquate to acknowledge when someone has joined the table, eithe by making room for them or grunting in their direction.

Clothes - Like it or not, clothes projects a message about who you are and what your about. I’m not sure what you mean by “formal” but in general, one shows respect for a persons special day (wedding, award ceremony) by wearing nice but uncomfortible clothes (suit or tuxedo depending on situation). Showing up in sweatpants would be considered unspeakably rude and disrespectful. It says that you can’t be bothered to even try to make a good impression for just a few hours. If you are hanging out at the local bar, I’m sure jeans and a sweatshirt will be fine.

Food - There are a lot of rules (we had to take an etiquate course at my job). No one expects you to remember all of them. Basically they are guidelines for eating in public so you don’t look like a slob. No one wants to see you stuff your face or

“Party” Etiquate - This is what I would describe as practical etiquate rules for young guys. Calling “shotgun”, “fives” on a chair, designated driver, buying rounds, no sausaging rule, “grenade man”, no “double logos” (sports, school, fraternity). Basically rules of thumb for not acting like an inconsiderate jerk or looking like a dork.
While some rules are ourdated and archaic, many rules are still very applicable. There is a diference between not following some obscure affectation and being a slob or a bore.

Miss Manners herself–Judith Martin–writes that manners and etiquette are merely the art of making others feel comfortable and at ease. It has nothing to do with “the right fork” and never has.

As far as “being yourself,” well, from what I have seen, that rarely means being your best self. It usually means being lazy, selfish and boorish. You want to wear a stinky old T-shirt and sloppy jeans when you’ve been invited to a formal affair? Either dress in a way that will not appall your host and fellow guests, or stay home.

Without social amenities, we are nothing but barnyard animals. You may be perfectly happy rolling about in your own swill and grabbing at my ground corn because you’re hungry, but I prefer to having a nice tea at the Algonquin with people who know how to behave like civilized adults.

[Eve exits stage left, glaring through her lorgnette]

A friend of mine has been quite deliberate about teaching her children excellent manners, through consistant reinforcement and firm limits-setting (not shaming or shrieking, or any carrying on about forks). As a result, her children are welcomed and enjoyed. Adults smile at them and respond to them kindly and with respect. And it always occurs to me what a wonderful asset that will be to them going forward, that they know how to conduct themselves in a way that brings a positive response.

Etiquette - thank you Ms Manners - is about putting other people before yourself. Given that self-interest is our driving force, etiquette becomes about lying.

Do you put on clothes that suit someone else’s idea of appropriate or your own? Are you pretending to be someone you’re not or are you allowing people to see you as you are? Do you put on a false front or do you reveal your true self?

See what I mean about lying?

Tying clothes to social situations (pun intended) is about social control and economic predatorialism (neologism!) rather than any inherent comment on the value of the event or its participants. Wearing a suit doesn’t make you any more respectful than wearing sweatpants.

We are born naked and the rest is drag - RuPaul

Here are MY acceptable reasons for wearing clothes:
[li]It’s hot. Or cold.[/li][li]There are sharp things.[/li][li]There are burning things.[/li][li]You have communicable diseases.[/li][li]You need to carry lots of little things.[/li][li]You are on a sports team.[/li][li]You are sweating on public seats.[/li][li]You are performing in a historically correct film/play.[/li][li]You are playing dress-ups.[/li][/ol]

Help a foreigner out here: what are “fives on a chair”, “no sausaging”, “grenade man” and “double logos”?

As to the topic: all I’ll say that if you want to accrue the benefits of society–polite company, career advancement, stable relationships–then you gotta play by the rules of society. It’s a game like any other–not everything in life requires a “practical purpose” and following the rules doesn’t make you any less of an individual. Complaining about the unfairness of it all while still demanding the benefits is a trifle silly.

Ba-nanner oil. If you show up at someone’s wedding or a formal dinner or nice restaurant in sweatpants, you are showing your contempt and disdain for your “friends.” You are saying, “I don’t care enough about you to try and look my best. You’re not worth making an effort for.”

You wear appropriate clothing to appropriate occasions. Otherwise, you will be accurately typed as a boor and a slob, and you’ll find yourself only associating with other boors and slobs.

Which, I suppose, may make you perfectly happy.

Perhaps it’s worth adding that “appropriate” doesn’t always mean “smart”. If you know your friends are planning to hike over a hillside to have lunch at a country inn, showing up in stilettos and a cocktail dress wouldn’t be a good idea either.

Eve is exactly right: ettiquette isn’t just a bunch of arbitrary rules, and those who decry it are only looking to justify their own crass behavior.

Put somewhat more pedantically, etiquette is a mechanism by which you demonstrate your membership in a particular social group and function. You might want to try doing some reading on the subject of frame theory, or check out some recent books on social psychology or cognitive sociology.

Madame Eve - thank you, m’dear.

There is an appalling lack of manners and common courtesy going about these days disguised as “self-expression.”

The OP claims that etiquette is shallow, but in fact the opposite is true - failing to observe the niceties is shallow of YOU, and clearly sends the message that you think you are above the rules of polite society. If you continue to do so, polite society will simply stop inviting you (politely, of course.)

You probably think it’s OK to spit on the sidewalk, too.

I think that etiquette and politeness are positive things when used for the purpose of making others feel more comfortable. Wearing formal clothes to a formal occasion and not belching at the table reduce awkward situations. Less awkward situations = good. And really, some things are Just Plain Unacceptable. Once I was working retail and a 12 year old girl walked up to the counter, looked at me and belched. Absolutely disgusting. Some etiquette is just basic politeness and consideration, which everyone should practice.

However I felt that parts of the GQ thread were leaning towards etiquette for the sake of etiquette - if the point of standing up is to acknowledge a woman, then why is a smile/wave not sufficient? Obviously it’s an arbitrary distinction; in the thread, Jervoise mentioned that he didn’t stand because it would make his female friends feel awkward, while a couple of women argued that they would feel strange if men didn’t stand for them. In a hypothetical dinner between a group of friends, a man standing up might seem out of place, especially if he makes a point of doing it. If his actions make others feel awkward they might technically be correct, but they’re missing the “spirit” of etiquette.

I disagree on several points. I was raised with proper manners and all, stand when a lady enters, treat your elders with respect, never refer to adults by their first names, etc. etc. and frankly, I quickly realized that a lot of it is ridiculous. If I believe people would be uncomfortable around me, then yeah, I will comform to their rules. But none of the people I count as friends would be offended if I wore sweatpants to a formal occasion of theirs, maybe their friends friends would be, but not them directly, because they know me.

I notice how you implied that one is lazy because they don’t value fashion, well, maybe so in your opinion, but I definately have different views of what is “lazy”. I don’t judge people by how much time they spend on their appearance if it doesn’t affect me (hygeine).

There’s a large difference between basic social amenities, and self perpetuating useless social customs.

I disagree, you may not be saying “I dont care about you” etc., maybe this is what YOU would take from it.

If dressing comfortably brands me a boor and a slob to you, then you’re correct, I’m happy to be one of your definition. I define a boor or slob as someone who does not bathe, sits around all day or purposefully disgusts others.

If etiquette isn’t just a bunch of arbitrary rules, then what is it to you? Besides, thats quite a silly thing to say, obviously if you define crass as not having etiquette, then anyone who behaves differently and those who decry etiquette are obviously going to be crass.

Maybe, wouldn’t know myself, I do have manners and common courtesy in public, I just think it’s silly and pointless.

Well thank god I do observe the niceties and follow them as to not make others uncomfortable. I don’t think I’m above the rules of society, I think some of the rules of society are outdated and pointless.

No I don’t, because its unsanitary.


Ridiculous to whom? To you, of course. The thing that repeatedly strikes me about these anti-manners conversations is how it’s almost always a person defending his or her right to make him(her)self comfortable. Me, me, me. For people who practice old-fashioned manners (which to me includes standing when a lady enters, and never addressing an adult by his/her first name without an invitation first), doing those things is a sign of respect. Remain sitting on your duff when a (probably elderly) lady who expects you to stand enters the room, and you have conveyed to her “I do not respect you enough to do you the courtesy of standing.” Call the same elderly lady by her first name without her permission, and you have been overly intimate and disrespectful in her eyes. You may consider the action itself to be “ridiculous,” but you must know not everyone agrees.

And almost invariably, people who claim not to see the point of manners actually do – on several levels. They understand that other people value them, which is why when it’s in their best self-interest to do so, they conform – like at a job interview. They also practice manners of their own, which they in turn expect others to conform to – like demanding that people bathe or practice good hygiene. But they value you “I want ME to be comfortable” above “I want YOU to be comfortable.”

So I’m glad to hear you generally practice good manners in public, even if you profess to not understand them. All you really have to understand is that they make social situations smoother for others.

Question-how can you tell who is uncomfortable around you and who isn’t? I’m squarely in the “manners are about making other people feel comfortable and at ease” camp. When I’m with people I don’t know well, I find manners are good for making me feel comfortable, whatever they may do for other people.

How does standing up when someone enters a room show respect? I understand that some cultures have made this a tradition but what is respectful about standing up? Does this rule apply to people in wheelchairs and if not, why not? Does their “respect” not matter to a walking person? What if I stand up just because everyone else does it? What if I stand up because I want to go to the toilet? What if a deaf-blind person doesn’t stand up - are they being disrespectful and would the walking-in person feel affronted? What if the walking-in person is deaf-blind: how will they know if anyone stood up? What if you don’t respect the person walking in? Should I stand up, thereby lying about my feelings toward them? Why should old people be shown respect in the first place?

All these questions are intended to show that etiquette is silly. Men used to tip their hats to a woman as a sign of respect, now no-one does. Doesn’t that mean that hat-tipping was, in fact, NOT a sign of respect but just some silly tradition?

As MomReepicheep explained to me when she was teaching me manners “Manners are not about rules they are about making the other person feel comfortable.” She used the following story as an illustration of two people using “good manners”. A finger bowl is shallow bowl, which looks like a saucer without the indentation for the cup. It is filled with scented water and during a meal one dips ones fingers into it then wipes them on a napkin between courses.

Story: A hostess was giving a formal dinner party to which she invited the house guest of one of her friends. The house guest was from another county. During the meal the house guest did what any well mannered person does when unfamiliar drink is served to them, smiles at the hostess picks up the finger bowl and drinks it. The hostess, not wishing to make her guest feel uncomfortable, then smiles at the house guest, picks up her finger bowl and drinks it too.

I’ve heard said that manners are about making people comfortable. Therefore, any actions you take to make others comfortable should be considered, by definition, good manners. This may include wearing a tie, or not wearing a tie. Belching, or not belching. Swearing, or not swearing.

Some may think I’m joking. I’m not.

At work, I swear a lot. It makes my coworkers more comfortable around me. If I talked the way I do in most other situations, my coworkers would probably be very uncomfortable.

If I were to stand when one of the three females who work in the factory with me entered the break room whilst I was sitting there, they’d be remarkably uncomfortable.

Anyone who says that action X is good manners is probably wrong. What they mean is that action X is good manners in situations where it makes others comfortable. In other situations, action X could well be very poor manners.

Do you like seeing women chewing gum with their mouths wide open ? People picking their noses in front of you ? Spitting on the floor ?

If you answered YES to these then you are ettiquette concious too.

We tend to think of ettiquette and politeness as only which fork/utensil should be used to open the lobster... but in fact we shake hands with our friends. We call people to say Happy Birthday... we send them Get Well Cards. I think of these as part of being polite and educated.

 Consider this scenario:  2 candidates for a job. One gets up to greet you... the other doesn't... its an instant bad impression. You might think people judging your manners as elitist... but what else can they judge until they have had time to know you ? Would you chose an unpolite employee ? I doubt it. 

 Can excessive ettiquette seem false and insencere... for sure... but overall having ettiquette is a plus with girls and with bosses. Snobbery is too much... but being a redneck and proud of it won't cut it in certain levels.