Sunday, June 21, 2015

Etiquette and "Good Breeding"

Retrieving one's handkerchief does not necessarily make one a "gentleman" and being "well-bred" doesn't automatically make one a truly polite young lady.

The Letter and Spirit of "Good Breeding"

An excellent old gentleman, once upon a time, discussed the virtues and faults of his son with the young woman who was to be his daughter-in-law. "Dan's mother died when he was a baby," he said; "he has no near female relatives, he has spent nearly all his life in school and at college, so that he has never had that training which comes from association with well bred women. He is a good boy—as good as gold. There is nothing that he would not do for you. He will give you all that he has, he will be as true as steel, he will honor you and love you with all his heart, although he may forget to tell you so. He would die for you, but he will probably not pick up your pocket handkerchief for you." The young woman listened respectfully to a father's pardonable praise of his son, then she said, "But I do not want him to die for me, and I shall want him to pick up my pocket handkerchief." 

She preferred, says a correspondent of The InterOcean, who relates this little incident, the letter to the spirit. There are among many superficially polite people tremendous respect for certain requirements which they believe are an index to social position and indication of honorable origin, says the same writer. They would consider themselves hopelessly disgraced were they to put the knife to an improper use; to confuse the various spoons, forks and glasses about their plate at dinner, but other matters which affect their relations with their fellow being are passed over as of no consequence. 

One of the most common offenses among the superficially well bred is the slight and discourtesy which they show to dependents, or those whom they consider their social inferiors. The poor relation in his shabby coat and patched boots receives scant courtesy. The faithful dressmaker, met by chance in a public assemblage, is confronted with a stony stare, or is passed by and not seen at all. This is always the ill breeding of the snob, of the newly rich who, not feeling sure of themselves, knowing well what they are and whence they came, believe that their hardly earned place can be retained only by this stern discrimination. They believe that, like liberty, eternal vigilance is the price of "position."
Los Angeles Herald, 1891

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