Thursday, February 20, 2014

Etiquette vs. Manners and What's the Difference?

Are “Etiquette” and “Manners” the Same Thing? 


Many people are confused by the question of whether etiquette and manners are the same thing. Maura Graber, who has been teaching manners for nearly 25 years and is the director of The R.S.V.P. Institute of Etiquette, offers some background information on the two terms and their definitions: "The word 'etiquette' originally meant 'ticket' or 'label'.  It still does translate to that in French and in Spanish. Most of the basic etiquette, or manners, of today that we consider to be proper in the United States and in Europe, were invented for capitalistic purposes, and to show social rank or standing, by European men, hundreds of years ago.  Also, the European nobility of the time did not want to offend others with whom they were doing business throughout the rest of the world. Some of the sillier rules of the time have fallen away, but basic social graces, like the general rules of how we set a proper table, or responding to an RSVP on an invitation, remain today.

Overall though, manners have been around the world since man has been. Every society has needed manners to survive socially. It is just that the use of the word 'etiquette' to describe those manners, is relatively new, chronologically speaking.  Our usage of the word 'etiquette' in the U.S. comes from the French royal court, when tickets or labels were posted, listing what we would today consider the 'house rules.' A good comparison of this would be if you went to a hotel and saw the rules listed for the hotel pool outside. Those rules, or the 'etiquette', are the 'manners' that are expected of people using that hotel pool." 

So, are etiquette and manners the same thing? According to Maura "Yes, and no. 'Manners' will vary from place to place. 'Etiquette' is simply defining what those manners are." Essentially, proper manners are what is expected of us in order to be seen as respectful, during a specific situation or around certain people. The etiquette, is the way in which those rules are defined. 

To explain further, a formal dinner party in Texas may be quite different from one in New York, and even more different than one in Hawaii.  The way you should dress, how early you should arrive, how late you should stay and the topics of your conversations, etc... will all vary, just as the "proper etiquette" of different circles of society varies.  You may be able to wear jeans and a t-shirt to a barbecue with your friends although that might be considered in very poor taste at a business luncheon with clients.  Proper etiquette is that set of rules you must follow, in any given situation, in order to be viewed as having good manners. Having good manners is simply doing your best to follow those rules of proper etiquette. 

As you can see, the two words are quite interchangeable, but without one, you cannot have the other.  If you think about it for awhile, it is not as confusing as it first appears. Most aspects of social grace are based on common sense. You wouldn't tell a risqué' joke during a church gathering or wear a pair of cut-off shorts to a festive, faculty Christmas party.  Graber adds that you should, "Always show common courtesy to others. Open doors for other people, especially if someone is carrying a heavy bag  or physically challenged in some manner.  Or bring children to an event only when the children are invited.  Basically, treat others, and their homes and businesses, the same way you would want to be treated."  

If you move to a new area and are invited to a formal function or if you ever face a new circumstance where you are not sure of what is considered proper, Maura advises, "If you have any doubt in your mind, regarding the etiquette or manners expected of you in any given situation, you need to check what the expected etiquette is or watch for cues and clues from your host or hostess. Then follow those rules to the letter." As Maura says, "The bottom line of etiquette and manners is showing respect for others and treating yourself with respect at the same time." 

Updated interview (originally from Expert Village) by Demita Usher of Social Graces and Savoir-Faire, with Maura Graber of  The RSVP Institute of Etiquette.