“Considering manners even in their superficial aspect, no one — unless he be a recluse who comes in contact with no other human being — can fail to reap the advantage of a proper courteous and likable approach, or fail to be handicapped by an improper, offensive and resented one."
— Emily Post, Etiquette, 1937 edition
The 20-something young lady at the service counter was adamant. “We are very busy and can’t put your order ahead of everyone else’s”, she announced, staring at me as though I had grown a second nose.
I hadn’t asked to be placed ahead. I only wanted to know if she could possibly give me a clue how I could get my printing done there or elsewhere, before an event happening in two hours. She motioned wordlessly to the self-serve machines.
I got my printing done, thanks to a patient guy whose job it was to walk from one machine to another helping the other totally clueless customers. The first machine ran out of ink, the second printed a line through my page, and the third finally finished the job.
I left steamed. Not as much because I had to do the job myself, but because her attitude was rude.
Daily we come in contact with people who have no regard for basic manners. They take our parking spaces, crowd ahead on planes, talk loudly on cell phones and treat us like cattle in stores. Sometimes we find ourselves doing the very same thing, out of self-defense or perhaps just ignorance.
But it gets worse. People avoid standing out in a crowd, expressing an opinion, writing a letter to the editor, or running for office, because inconsiderate louts wait to pounce on personalities, not on the issues. Talk-show hosts and columnists say things that would have been considered inappropriate not long ago, but now encourage followers to imitate.
While we don’t have to worry about what the maid is supposed to wear, or which cloth to use on a tea table, as my grandmother did while working for the doctor and his wife who once owned my copy of 1937 Post’s Etiquette, quite a lot of this book is still relevant. Here are a few choice quotes that could apply today:
1) “All people in the streets, or anywhere in public, should be careful not to talk too loud.”
2) “Consideration for the rights and feelings of others is not merely a rule for behavior in public but the very foundation upon which social life is built.”
3) “Never take more than your share-whether of the road in driving a car, of chairs on a boat or seats on a train, or food at the table.”
4) “Lacking of consideration for those who in any capacity serves us-whether in restaurants or hotels or stores, or in public places anywhere-is always evidence of ill breeding as well as inexcusable selfishness.”
5) “Argument between cool-headed skillful opponents is delightful, but very, very dangerous for those who may become hot-headed or unreasoning.”
6) “Remember that in every conversation with a ‘dull’ person, half of the dullness is your own.”
7) “If you go to stay in a small house in the country, and they give you a bed full of lumps, in a room of mosquitoes and flies, on a floor over that of a crying baby, under the eaves with a temperature of over a hundred, you can the next morning walk to the village, and send yourself a telegram and leave! … but by not so much as a facial muscle must you let the family know that your comfort lacked anything.”
8) “It is true that lateness is on occasions tolerated in those whose compensating assets of talent or charm are sufficiently great. But even so, very few of us find amiability unstrained and our enthusiasm undimmed after repeated experiences with those who are never on time.”
9) “The letter you write, whether you realize it or not, is always a mirror which reflects your appearance, taste and character.”
10) “Of all the qualities that make us likable, none is greater than tact.”
11) “The first impression we make upon others entirely depends upon what we wear and how we wear it. In the community where we live, character is the fundamental essential, but for the transient impression that we make everywhere in public, two superficial attributes are alone indispensable-good manners and a pleasing appearance.”
12) “Remember that well-bred people are never self-conscious as to what impression their possessions, or lack of them, may be making; whether their estate be great or small, they accept the one as unselfconsciously as the other."
Taimi Dunn Gorman is the former owner of the Colophon Café and is a marketing consultant at Gorman Publicity. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org