This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
I was thinking about good manners on my way to work this morning when the person I gracefully gave way to, did not even nod to say thank you and I thought, ‘Where are your manners?’ Am I too old fashioned to think that saying thank you is a must? Or please? Or excuse me? But, there is a limit to politeness too. I remember getting irritated with some of my friends’ children who interrupted our conversations constantly just because they said, ‘Excuse me mummy…?’ in that whiney voice we all know. I thought, why not just say to the kid, ‘I am talking, please do not interrupt.’
Every country where I have lived has their own idea of manners of course. I was told once if France to cut out all the ‘pleases’. Not that they are impolite but we don’t realise how many pleases we use in a day in the UK. The same thing happened in Turkey when I was asked why was I using so many ‘thank you’s’. I realise, however, that after living in this country for 34 years, when someone asks me something, I wait for the ‘please’. When I give someone something and they just take it, I wait for the ‘thank you’. It is automatic with the Brits but not with other nationalities that I have had the experience of living with.
What constitutes good table manners is relative to this country too I think. I have no idea why, but at home we did not use a knife to cut ‘kofte’, Turkish meat balls. It was considered bad manners. I did not learn the real use of toothpicks until I was quite old. To me they were a gadget to pick up olives with at a drinks party. My mother was very strict about table manners. Often I would be pinched, discreetly, under the table if I put my elbows on the table for example. Speaking with a mouthful of food, waving cutlery whilst talking, putting your knife in your mouth were, of course, a sin. Now, I look around and see that not many people are aware of these basic manners. They are not even manners actually, to me they are just common sense. In France, using your baguette to spring clean your plate is OK but frowned upon here. A habit of the French, which I find quite repulsive, is using the same fabric serviette for a week or so! Yuk! I was delighted to observe that at my American, substitute-family’s home they were changed daily. Nancy, my second mother as I called her, had these amazing cotton serviettes from Mexico which did not need ironing.
Other observations that I have made include noticing that in many places in America it is OK to cut your meat into several pieces and put one hand on your lap whilst you eat with the other, using your fork only. In Mauritania, West Africa, it would have been very bad manners if one refused to take the rice that had been carefully turned into a perfect ball by one’s host. Refusing to drink the green tea which made you rather alert and awake would have been rude too. After you had said yes to one, two more little, delicious, sweet, cups of tea would follow and a ‘nuit blanche’ (no sleep) that’s for sure. A bit like the sand storms there. If at sunset the storm continued you could be sure it would go on for another three days!
I see a lot of ladies replenishing their lipstick at the table in restaurants. Is that good manners? Do you finish everything on your plate or not? In some countries it is rude to finish everything, one must leave just a bite.
I was taught that the person who calls on the phone is the one who should finish the call. A man should always walk on the street-side of the pavement was another one. My list is long…
I still aim to call to say thank you after a dinner party but never before 10am. If not I write a thank you card and insist that my sons write thank you cards to everyone who gave them presents for their birthdays and Christmas. And they always put the loo seat down!
Do all these little things make me too old fashioned?
Grace has a few thoughts on etiquette too, click here to read.
For an amusing and refreshing look at modern manners, click here