I’m going to prelude this by saying I know I’m not perfect. I usually forget to say please except in business emails, I am tardy with thank-you notes, and I swear too much — a bad habit I picked up in Ireland and have been trying to kick ever since. But I try to improve: I like to see myself as a work-in-progress.
I am fascinated by the concepts and evolution of manners and etiquette. While some of the “rules” seem a bit archaic or unimportant, others just seem like common sense ways of dealing with other people in the smoothest and most pleasant manner possible. But as someone once said, common sense isn’t actually all that common.
Why is this on my mind? I’ve just been noticing lately that a lot of common courtesies seem to have gone out the window. This was brought to my attention the other day as I was on my way to work. First, I passed someone who did that nasty throat thing people sometimes do and then spat on the ground. Honestly? This is just gross. If you do have some kind of spitting emergency that just can’t wait, find a bush or something to hide behind.
But then it got worse. When I got to the waiting area for my morning transport, there was a guy there flossing his teeth! Now I get that flossing is an important part of dental hygiene. But it’s for private time. Do it in your home. In the washroom. With the door closed. No one needs to see you picking at your teeth. And definitely no one needs to be around the disgusting tooth gunk you’re flinging everywhere. Seriously, it made me gag.
Ok. To be fair, these are extreme examples of people who were apparently raised by wolves.
But I do think that manners have gone by the wayside . For example, I spend a bit of time on the phone with my job and one thing I’ve noticed is that when I say thank you, no one says you’re welcome anymore. They say “Uh-huh.” Lovely. When did that become acceptable?
There is also this whole world of etiquette created by technology. Or that should be created anyhow. It kills me the times people think it is appropriate to pull out their cellphones. At dinner? At the movies? No. Or the volume at which they conduct private conversations in public. No one cares to hear what you are talking about. You are annoying. (I’ve actually noticed that Asians are really good at having quiet cellphone conversations. Maybe it’s because they had the technology first. Whatever, I think we can all learn from them.)
Also, and I’m not sure if this is a regional thing, I’ve noticed that people have stopped training their kids to use titles when addressing adults. I don’t even know if this is bad, to be honest. In most respects, I understand it. As someone who could conceivably be called “Ms. Me” by a child, I would find it quite formal and weird if one did call me that. But what if taking away that boundary of formality has also chipped away at the respect children once had for their elders? I’m not really sure about this one, but it’s just something I’ve noticed has changed in my lifetime and I’m interested to see what the results of that will be down the road.
It’s come, in my mind, to the point where it becomes a surprise and a delight when you meet someone who is well-mannered. Think about it. When was the last time someone sent you a thank you note? I’ll bet you were surprised to get it. Good manners sometimes even leave me feeling flustered. Like when someone holds a door for me, my reaction is always shock and a bit of, “Oh! Gosh! Thank you!” and then I feel a need to rush through the door so the person isn’t kept waiting. And if someone says “Bless you,” when I sneeze — male or female — I instantly develop a mini crush on that person.
I worry a little about what this says about our “progress” as humanity. We spend a lot of time these days on figuring out our personal needs and how to be happy and fulfilled and all that. I think that’s great; I really do. If you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will. But it might be coming at the expense of thinking about how our words and actions affect others. And that’s not so great. The world is becoming more and more densely populated. Being able to live in harmony with other people may well become something of a survival skill. Maybe reverting to old-fashioned manners is a good step toward developing that skill.