Why we have Etiquette Etiquette vs Manners why have Etiquette

It is easy to distinguish etiquette from manners. Manners are the day to day practice of “The Golden Rule” where people show respect, act with kindness, avoid inappropriate behavior, use appropriate language, make other people comfortable, and otherwise make reasonable efforts to not offend others. We do not chew with our mouths open. Children do not address adults by their first names unless allowed. We let a heavily burdened person go ahead of ourselves. We say “please” and “thank you”. We do not engage in brawls when the political opposition or the significant others go too far with their rhetoric. 

Etiquette is associated with gaining social approval by following (or not following) specific rules that are used in formal, business, official, court, social, fine dining or other situations. These are situations where demonstrating advanced social skills will have an effect on the job, social standing or the outcomes of legal cases.  We know what to do with our cloth napkin. We do not interrupt the division manager and loudly disagree. We wear the appropriate clothing for different events. We do not bring red roses (which symbolize romantic love) to the supervisor’s house when invited to dinner.

In most situations, knowing too much about etiquette and requiring everyone we know to follow the rules will lead to social disapproval. Eating pizza with a knife and fork is how it is done in Italy, but eating pizza with a knife and fork in America is virtually a crime. We do not come to backyard barbecues in suit and tie or formal wear. We kick back with our friends, and do not demand a monster truck rally of etiquette. 

As a result of the conditional need for formal rules, the first importance of  etiquette is to know when it is appropriate and when using simple, good manners is the better option.

Etiquette originated in the courts of rulers or leaders. The handshake developed in order to show that the visitor was not holding a knife. Ties, or cravats were invented to keep the shirt from getting stained with food. Americans eat by exchanging the knife and fork after cutting food because the puritans wanted people to be so busy that they would eat less. Europeans frown on such eating style.

Some rules of etiquette seem to be ridiculous, but all of them had some origin in a practical matter or a seriously taken superstition or belief. Perhaps a prominent woman or man was observed behaving wrongly and a new rule was made. Sometimes a superstition or myth was behind the imposition of social order.

As an example of silly myths as the origin of a rule of etiquette: Upper class women were ordered not to show alarm when a bee came around, because virgins had special protection from bee stings. The real reason was probably to prevent to prevent young women from showing the men how helpless they were, or drawing attention to themselves by bashing around and acting foolishly every time a bee showed up.

From “Slip Into Something Victorian” comes a pair of ridiculous seeming rules of etiquette.

” Swinging the arms when walking, eating upon the street, sucking the parasol handles. . . .are all evidences of illbreeding in ladies.”

“Never make noises with the mouth or throat. But you may pound on the table with your fist, or your utensils.”

A little research into Motley Prose revealed that many young women of the Victorian era had a habit of sucking their parasol handles. It must have been the “hanging pants” controversy of the times.

Making loud noises while eating is against the rules in most countries. But noisy eating is approved of in China. Perhaps Victorian travelers came back from China with some terrible habits. 

Many rules of etiquette were built to show differences between the classes. People of higher breeding carried themselves in certain ways while lower classes were actually ordered not to carry themselves in the same ways, as it would be above their station in life. This allowed people to know who belonged to which class.

Even now, new rules of etiquette are being built to keep up with the uses and abuses of technology. There are plenty of rules for driving etiquette, using email, participating in traditional forums, operating at Facebook and Twitter, and engaging in other online social networking.

As in the past, etiquette is based in real human need for functional rules that make life easier, kinder, more hygienic, less disgusting and better for others. An ability to follow the rules will prevent a person from being ostracized or gaining social disapproval. Although many claim to not care about social approval, all it takes is to have a conversation with a person who has been ostracized from their group and, somewhere along the line, some type of group etiquette rule was violated on a repeated basis.