For most of us, the word ‘etiquette’ reminds us of detailed table settings, with separate forks for fish and fondue and what not. But as Emily Post, the American author says, “Nothing is less important than which fork you use”. And to think, this was said by the woman who wrote what many consider the Bible of Etiquette.
So, what exactly is etiquette? The dictionary defines it as “The customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group”. So is this some random western concept that is being shoved down our throats? After all, no self-respecting Bengali or Malayali would ever dream of using a fish fork!!!
This may appear to be something Victorian ladies followed during their lavish afternoon teas and hardly suitable or relevant today. The thing is, I think that our present generation is more in need of etiquette than any other. Etiquette is predominantly based on doing things in a manner to cause least discomfort to people, and also to set some sort of rules on the kind of behaviour to be expected from one another.
I remember reading a study in Reader’s Digest a while back that stated that India was among the world’s rudest countries. There was a hue and cry about it with people crying foul – how can you judge India based on western standards of manners?? That makes no sense absolutely – good manners are a basic human requisite, and it is something every child should grow up with.
Let’s forget about the fancy schmancy so-called ‘western’ concepts of etiquette and get down to the basics – decent and considerate behaviour towards everyone – regardless of age, colour, caste, religion, nationality or gender. Just think, if every child in the world were to grow up with this concept of etiquette, couldn’t we be rid of several crimes that take place in the name of the above mentioned discriminations??
Here are a few basics that I think are essential for every child to adopt (no matter where he’s from or what her socio-economic background is):
1. Saying the three magic words, Sorry, Please and Thank you – You can start training a child to say these from infancy. When they hear you say it repeatedly, they’ll know where each word is appropriate to use. If you think Thank You notes are too much, your kids can at least call a person to say thank you for a gift received.
2. Waiting for their turn – It’s unbelievable, the number of adults who can’t seem to do this even today. Standing in queues and letting people go into elevators without jamming are basics.
3. Considerate use of public facilities – This is especially important in India, considering the sheer number of people who use said facilities. Leaving the toilet clean for the next person, not blocking entry ways or exits while talking on the phone, being quiet in movie halls, and being on time for every appointment.
4. Speak without yelling – Unless it’s an emergency, ofcourse. Being polite to your parents and teachers goes without saying and is being drilled into kids’ brains everyday at school, but it is especially important to be polite to others – maids, gardeners, security guards, waiters at restaurants. A lot of people are rude to them and it is very easy for kids to pick up that tone.
5. Appreciate Differences – Just because someone is dressed a little differently from you or prays differently or eats different stuff, doesn’t mean they deserve to be made fun of. The world is a huge place and people in different places eat, dress and speak differently. It doesn’t make their culture better or worse than ours, it’s just different.
These are very basic rules and don’t really require a thorough knowledge of which fork should be placed on which side of the plate. They do, however, require a basic respect for humanity which all children are born with, it’s us adults who corrupt their impressionable little minds. However, no matter what their age, we can still try our best to inculcate the right values in them – but we need to make sure we’re following them too!!
“Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are.”
Fabida Abdulla is a former software engineer turned stay at home Mother Lion to her four year old son, whom she calls ‘The Cub’. She blogs about her crazy life at Shocks and Shoes.