Pardon me! 400 years of Etiquette


By Sarah Casha: 

I would like to begin by thanking you kindly for reading my article. If you would be so kind as to read on, I will endeavour to enlighten you on the intricacies of why manners are so important to us all, and indeed to our way of life.

As many an etiquette guide would suggest, when you enter someone’s home for a special occasion, you exchange the usual pleasantries.

But what are these elusive gestures of appreciation? Well, they are just that. When we are invited to a function, the host or hostess has been kind enough to consider our company important to them. When an invitation is accepted, it is manners to prepare a dish to take to the gathering, and then help out when we can at the gathering. By the end of the night, not only does the host feel appreciated, but you feel good about yourself for your show of appreciation.

According to Jeremy Dean’s 2010 study, undertaken with 69 people, 66 per cent of those who received gratitude from someone would help them again while a mere 32 per cent of those who received no thanks from them would provide further assistance.

It is important to remember that good manners do not simply begin and end at the dinner table. They relate to how we communicate with others in society, in our family, or in other relationships.

However, in today’s society, rules of etiquette are not so clear cut as they once were. One simply needs to watch a period film like Pride and Prejudice, to note the almost formulaic manner with which men like Mr Darcy would remove their hat in the presence of a woman, and members of both genders would bow to each other as a respectful greeting. The ways in which we show respect to each other may have changed form through the years, but they are no less valued. It is apparent that manners have been ingrained into today’s young adults as much as they were in the previous generation, and their importance upheld.

A selection of young adults were asked the following questions:

  1. Do you think manners are important? Why/ why not?
  2. When it comes to manners, what in your opinion, is the most important thing or things you should definitely do to show your manners?
  3. Where do you feel your manners come from? Are there a number of sources?
  4. How would you describe manners in one word?
  5. Have you ever had an experience where someone has shown really bad manners that you were appalled by?
  6. Have you ever had an experience where someone has demonstrated fantastic manners?

The very fact that they responded to my questions was, in itself, an exhibition of their exquisite manners, and their answers were quite encouraging. One young lady, Olivia Maurice, said “manners are important in order to communicate politely with others, and to gain and maintain respect and relationships.”

Her experience of a gentleman opening a door for her at school, and his insistence that she go through first, indicate the respect being shown by young people, through their manners.

Her experience of a peer calling her an idiot for her taste in music, on the other hand, highlights the rudeness that some people choose to convey.

A young man by the name of Dylan Calabrese said ‘”manners are incredibly important to interactions within society. They maintain a level of respect of others’ opinions and viewpoints.”

He also stated that his manners have been influenced by his parents, other relatives, and peers.

The answers shared by Olivia and Dylan are reflective of the responses of their peers, and hopefully of most others around their age as well. Their appreciation of manners highlights how very important they are.

When we need to be able to show our appreciation, be considerate, show respect, and foster and maintain relationships, manners are the key to our ability to do this. Without manners, we would literally be at a loss for words in these circumstances, and we certainly wouldn’t be very good company.

Thank you for reading on, and I sincerely hope that you have learnt a little more about manners and their use.




21st Century Manners

  • Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, as well as opening a door for somebody, are manners which remain highly important.
  • If you find yourself running late, make an apology to the person you were to be meeting, whether over the phone or otherwise, and endeavour to be there less than 20 minutes after the original meeting time.
  • Show everybody respect through your words and actions.
  • Be true to yourself in all that you do.
  • Have respect for yourself through the way that you present yourself.
  • Think about the needs of those around you, rather than just satisfying your own needs.

(Barnett, 2013).


20th Century Manners

  • Don’t be a showoff when you are out in society.
  • As much as possible, don’t try to foster conversation between different social classes.
  • If you are hosting an evening, ensure that all guests are welcomed, and try to make sure that everyone feels comfortable.
  • If a guest offers entertainment at a function you are hosting, and you are preoccupied at the time, ensure that you ask them to perform again later, so that they feel appreciated.
  • If you are a gentleman, do not push in font of a lady when entering a room, and if there are women in a room you are entering, be sure to take off your hat.
  • If you are a lady, always appear neat and organised when unexpected guests arrive at your home.
  • Young ladies should simply put up with their brother’s teasing, and maintain an interest in sport and literature outside of school.
  • Young men should always appear confident, and always offer a chair to a lady at dinner.
  • Never read over somebody’s shoulder.
  • Chaperones should accompany young ladies to most functions, although a hostess may take up this role at a private celebration.

(Sterling, 2014)


19th Century Manners

  • Having good manners is getting a little bit more complicated because industrialisation means that you can talk to people from other classes.
  • Proper use of language will now be highly important to you being able to show you have good manners.
  • When on the train, do not talk too loudly, because you may interrupt someone who is reading.
  • Make sure that you express yourself properly, so that the meaning of your words is clear to the person you are talking to.
  • Do not use slang words or refer to an object by something it is not.
  • Do not use gestures when talking to someone, simply make use of the words at your disposal.

(Okrent, 2013).


18th Century Manners

  • Whether at a private or public function, guests will be introduced to each other. A polite man will then ask a single woman to dance.
  • If a member of society is your senior, you will lift your hat, should you pass them on the street.
  • When greeting someone new, tilt your head slightly to one side, or give a small, subtle wave.
  • Violence, aggravation, threats, swearing and unruliness brought about by the consumption of drugs and alcohol will simply not be tolerated.
  • Do not communicate with members of another class, you will be able to differentiate them by their manner of speaking, and by the way they carry themselves in society.

(Lovers and Liars, n.d.).


IMAGE: Vince Boothe

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