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Are good manners a thing of the past?

“Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot”- Clarence Thomas

In times of constant change, manners such as holding a door open for a lady or pulling back a chair, are often considered as old-fashioned and outdated. Acting like a lady is sometimes understood as deferring to men. This week The Circular sat down with Orla Brosnan, director and founder of the Etiquette School of Ireland to talk about how manners have changed in the last decades. “It is a different landscape we are living in. Women are rightly standing in solidarity with each other. It is a little difficult for men who would like to behave like a gentleman when with a lady.” Being polite in the 21st century is often considered as boring, and well-mannered most likely means you are a snob.

Traditional manners such as saying “thank you” or “please”, keeping your elbows off the table, or not using your phone while eating are all in danger of dying out. As Brosnan stated that “Some people argue that etiquette no longer matters, that the rules of etiquette are old fashioned and out of date. [They are] merely a set of guidelines for politeness and good manners. The kindness with which we should always treat each other will always matter. It costs nothing to be nice, professional and considerate to others.”

Rules about etiquette and manners have been part of the human world for more than 4,500 years and as they may vary from country to country there should be a basic set of rules, which can be expected from a civilized person in the western world. “We should know our own customs and rules, but we now have to be flexible and have a very good understanding of other countries individual customs to avoid any etiquette faux pas when we deal with people from different countries,” Brosnan claims.

Especially in times of globalization and a world that is much more accessible than a few years back, people should generally be generous, sociable and for the most part courteous. Lifting heavy bags for taxi drivers or elderly people, holding doors open for the person behind you or help reading a map for lost tourists, should rather be considered helpful than snobby.

All around, there are people with more respect for their smartphones than towards other people, which may question their upbringing. Mostly when we talk about modern manners, we seem to always fall into a “back in the day” kind of nostalgia. Whether that means it was better during the 1860s or the 1970s, or most likely just before the smartphones overtook our attention.

Here is a list of eight things that used to be good manners, but people no longer do:

1. Dressing up for a flight

With Ryanair, Vueling, Wizz Air and many other low-cost airlines hopping on to a plane have never been cheaper. The days of glamorous air travel of the past decades is long gone. Besides all of the nicely dressed business people, running around with their leather laptop bags, you would most likely see people in their tracksuits or comfy denim waiting to board the aircraft. People used to dress up for flights, as you would for a fancy dinner or event. Nowadays, most people try to keep things as casual as possible, in terms of what they are going to wear when traveling by plane. However, insiders suggest, there is a higher chance of getting an upgrade for fashionably dressed customers.

2. Sitting down for family dinner

This is considered a lost art as families are often busy and do not sit together anymore for a nightly meal. Fast food tends to be the norm, while dining skills are pushed aside when trying to stay on top of all the extracurricular activities kids are involved nowadays. Which leads to a lack of…

3. Proper table manners

If you don’t know proper table manners by the age of 16 you should maybe wonder about your upbringing. This is sweet and short because there are just some things that are not negotiable when sitting down for dining. First of all, no chewing with your mouth open. (Side note: there is actually a phobia of the hatred of the sound of chewing called Misophonia) Up next, do not reach in front of other’s plates, keep your elbows off the table and under no circumstances talk with your mouth full. When needed, ask to be excused from the table and, for men, in particular, all “natural gases” should be kept inside your body- AT ALL TIMES.

4. Proper sidewalk etiquette

Back in the “golden days” of proper manners, a man would escort a female wherever for safety reasons. It was normal that the male would walk on the outside of the road, having the female in between himself and the buildings. This kept the lady safe from sewage splashing on to her dress or flying fecal from buildings above. (Should not be an issue in the 21st century anymore, however, if you live in Dublin you never know)

5. Picking someone up at the door

Gone are the days where boys picking up girls for a date at the front door, or friends ringing the doorbell to let you know they have arrived. Instead, people send text messages letting the other know they are waiting in front of the door, in order to avoid contact with the parents.  

6. Introducing yourself to new neighbors

Who can’t remember Bree Van de Kamp’s iconic muffins every time someone new moved into a house on Wisteria Lane. Yet, unless you are living the real-life version of “Desperate Housewives”, you probably live in a neighborhood where simple eye contact or smiling at the people next door is more than enough effort in getting to know who lives next to you.

7. Addressing people the right way

A good few years back, people made an effort in addressing people the right way, meaning addressing new acquaintances by their last name. During those times, calling people, especially those of a higher rank or older people by their first names was considered rude and very distasteful.

8. Paying attention

Meaning PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY. We have become so attached to tablets, smartphones and other wearable electronic devices that it can be very hard to disconnect. Yet, there are situations when pulling out your phone and interacting with the device instead of the person next to you is offensive. Checking up on your Facebook or Twitter notifications when with others reflects poorly on yourself and your company if doing so while work. It is just impossible to give someone your full attention while being distracted by your phone, so just put it away.

As a matter of fact, manners simply change with time. History showed us that over the period of time different actions were considered as good or bad manners, we are so eager to get rid of all kind of nutty old-fashioned manners nowadays, to prove that we are not snobby, some of us have become slightly rude in the process. People leaving the table as soon as they finished their food, without waiting for others to finish up as well. Brosnan claims that “in the modern world we are eating our dinners at different times, watching TV and not sitting down to have a meal with family so not learning the basic dining etiquette skills.” Conversations are being interrupted to check the latest social media updates and last minute cancellations became a norm.

Maybe some of our manners need to be updated, but without manners and a decent amount of respect, this world is not left with much. We should all learn the art of well-behaving and to respect others, but where should it come from? Should it be thought at home? Probably yes, but who taught us to shake a person’s hand, whether it was our parents, our grandparents, or our teacher in primary school, there was not a whole lesson on it. Now, who is to blame for the lack of manners nowadays? Is it Technology? Maybe to a certain extent. Today when we are lost in a city or at a bus stop, we would rather look down on our phones than asking people around us for help. If we are waiting for someone we are playing around on our iPods, phones or other technological devices, rather than talking to the person next to us. “There has been a shift back to etiquette training in many countries, with many schools internationally focusing from a very young age on social skills. There is a need in Ireland to really focus on this and ensure that our students graduating from schools are equipped with the skills to allow them to compete on this increasingly competitive international platform.” Brosnan states.

A guy holding a door open for a woman should still be considered good manners in the 21st century, without the woman being thought of as the men’s possession! According to Bosnan “the guys who behaved like a gentleman, respectful, held the door open etc. were the most popular and seemed to get the second date! All I say is that men should respect the viewpoint of women, be sensitive to their feminist views and behave accordingly. But respect, good manners, and being treated well will always win out in the end.”

Asking people for help when lost, doesn’t make you weak it makes you brave enough to talk to strangers. Offering your seat to an elderly woman at the bus is still considered polite and helps others. Having good manners does not depend on where you are from or who might have raised you, what smartphone you have or what sex you are. Good manners are human and common sense and they help the world to be a better place.

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