Tsk, tsk! Snippetz Reminds You to Mind Your Manners!
by Lindsey Harrison
“To do exactly as your neighbors do is the only sensible rule.” – Emily Post, American author
As a child growing up, you may have had those subtle reminders from your parents that you needed to mind your manners. Of course, as kids, we didn’t really care if it wasn’t polite to put our elbows on the table while we ate dinner, or if we had used the correct fork for our entrée. As adults, those strange customs that we call manners might seem a little more understandable. But, maybe they don’t. Think about it: who decided it was polite to shake someone’s right hand when first meeting them? We all essentially agree to certain societal behaviors, like stopping at a red light, because it makes sense. If you don’t stop at a red light, you could get in a car accident. Duh. But in our overly-individualized society where our differences are accepted and often praised, why do we still hold onto those old ways of behaving? There’s nothing blatantly inappropriate about choosing not to shake someone’s hand, but with our fragile egos, it can be considered a sign of disrespect. All across the world, there are many different examples of manners; some make incredible sense while others seem antiquated to say the least. And naturally, we at Snippetz just couldn’t ignore the intriguing topic of manners so come with us as we travel around the world (and back in time) to find out all about those all-important manners!
EMILY POST, AT YOUR SERVICE
In case you were confused by the quote from this incredibly well-written article, Emily Post is kind of the Queen of Manners. Her first book, titled “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home” or more simply “Etiquette,” was published in 1922 and became a best-seller.
“Etiquette” touched on a wide variety of situations in which a person may find themselves, as the name implies. Post literally broke down those situations into scenarios and then listed rules to follow so that readers could easily navigate the trials and tribulations associated with each scenario. Of course, what Post wrote in her book holds true (in her opinion) for Americans in 1922, not for the entire world then or now.
Interestingly enough, generations of Post descendants have taken a page out of their famous relative’s famous book. Peggy Post is the current spokesperson for The Emily Post Institute and is a contributing writer on etiquette for the Good Housekeeping magazine. Peter Post writes the Etiquette at Work column for The Boston Globe, and has authored various best-sellers on etiquette. Anna Post is the author of “Do I Have to Wear White? Emily Post Answers America’s Top Wedding Questions” and has become a leading expert in the field of wedding etiquette. There are plenty more Posts where that came from, but you get the idea!
Although the idea that etiquette and manners were such a big deal at the time, especially in our current, not-so-polite times, Post certainly had a lot of influence. In fact, in 1950, Pageant magazine dubbed her the second most powerful woman in America, alone behind Eleanor Roosevelt. And as if that wasn’t enough, her influence was most recently celebrated on May 28, 1998 when the United States Postal Service issued a stamp featuring Post as a part of the series called “Celebrate the Century.”
INTERESTING MANNERS AND CUSTOMS ACROSS THE WORLD
In most of the countries in the Middle and Far East, it is considered impolite, and actually an insult, to point your feet at another person. Even worse is to point the soles of your feet at them.
Business cards are a great way to network and give your professional, pertinent information to another person. Just don’t fold, crumple, crease or tear that business card if you receive one from someone in most Asian countries; business cards are considered an extension of the person who gave it to you and defacing or abusing that card is a sign of disrespect.
Imagine having a stranger run up to you and embrace you in a ridiculously tight bear hug. Most people wouldn’t particularly enjoy that; however, a good, firm handshake is usually an acceptable alternative. Unless you live in the Philippines, that is. A firm handshake is a sign of aggression, just as a random bear hug might be in the United States.
In China, Afghanistan and India, to show your gratitude and appreciation for a meal, leave some of the food on your plate instead of aiming to be a part of the Clean Plate Club. If you finish all your food, your host is obligated to keep filling it because it appears that you have not had enough to eat. However, if you are a guest for a meal in Kenya or Germany, clean that plate! To not finish your food is an indication that you didn’t enjoy the meal. Word to the wise: know what country you’re in before you sit down for you dinner!
Kazakstan has come up with a very unique if not subtle way to let guests know when they have overstayed their welcome. During tea, if you are served a full cup of tea, that’s your signal to move on out! However, if you are served a half cup of tea, feel free to stay awhile. Similarly, in Kuwait, when the host stands after a meal, whether you are finished eating or not, that meal is over.
In Vietnam, it is considered impolite to touch or pass something over someone’s head or shoulders. Emily Post would probably approve of such a custom, given that, in her words, “A man of breeding does not slap strangers on the back nor so much as lay his finger-tips on a lady. Nor does he punctuate his conversation by pushing or nudging or patting people.”
While Americans often give each other the OK sign (putting your thumb and index finger together to make a circle, while extending the rest of the fingers), we all need to be cognizant that it is actually an insult in Germany and much of South America. And what about the stupid “peace sign” thing high school girls seem to throw around in their selfies? The way it is often done today, with the palm facing in, is actually akin to “flipping the bird” if you are from the United Kingdom. The original “V for victory” sign that President Richard Nixon is often depicted as doing features the palms facing out and is perfectly acceptable.
And for the coup de grace, have you ever wondered why so many Arabic countries doing just about everything with their right hands? They eat with them, pass food with them, shake hands or greet each other with them . . . so what’s that all about? Well, before the days of toilet paper, if you lived in the desert, there weren’t many options for, well, cleaning yourself. Instead of causing any hygienic confusion, they would reserve their left hand for those less appealing chores. To clean their hands, they simply rubbed it in the sand and went about their day. Clearly, knowing which hand is used for which actions is kind of a big deal in the desert.
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