Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Etiquette is More Than Just Manners

Etiquette beyond this field, is now concerned with inanimate objects and ways of handling them -- silver, glass, writing paper, and many more. 
Etiquette is an important subject because it is concerned with human beings and their relations to one another. It is a system for the complex business of living in a community. Like life and people, it is full of paradoxes. Etiquette is based on tradition, and yet it can change. Its ramifications are trivialities, but its roots are in great principles. It is part of the web of customs, beliefs, laws, and morals which sustains and restrains every society of men.

When we apply this definition to our daily life, we can understand the changes etiquette has undergone. The origin of the word 'etiquette' was supposedly the 'ticket' of entrance to court ceremonies in France, on which rules of court behavior were written; and for us, the primary point of etiquette is still human relations. But now almost every degree of relationship is included in its scope. Reaching out beyond this field, it is now concerned with inanimate objects and ways of handling them -- silver, glass, writing paper, and many more. It prescribes the procedure of family events such as weddings and christenings and in minute detail it covers the smallest technicalities, such as how to address a letter or eat an artichoke.

Etiquette is a big subject, but it's no secret. And this is significant of the revolutionary change in its character. In the last 20 years, particularly in America, etiquette has become less arbitrary and more democratic, because it has discarded the old source of its authority and taken up a new one. The old sanction for its rules was, 'The inner circle (or the 'best' people) behave this way.' Its new standards of behavior are based on what millions of people have accepted as right or wrong. There's no longer any question of admission 'by ticket only.' It's a forum for citizens, open to anyone who cares about the amenities of living. Good behavior is everybody's business, and good taste can be everyone's goal.

The simplest proof of this change are its casualty list. Pretentiousness, which was once considered quite understandable, is now laughable if not pathetic. Condescension has disappeared. And 'noblesse oblige,' which might have been translated, 'Aristocrats acknowledge the responsibilities of privilege,' now reads, 'Citizens admit the responsibilities of freedom.' These are the general outlines of the change.

From 1948's
Vogue's Book of Etiquette:

A Complete Guide to Traditional Forms and Modern Usage by Millicent Fenwick, Associate Editor of Vogue