Sunday, August 23, 2015

Etiquette and Manners at Home

Good manners shouldn't be shed, like tight collars and irritating shoes, when the family is sheltered beneath its roof.

There are many books published on "Social Etiquette," "Polite Form of Public Society," and "The Ethics of Smart Society," all conducing to the highly polished manners and conversation of men and women when associating together as "company." Yes, it's "company manners" and "company talk" that are made much of in printed volumes, large and small, cheap and expensive in price.

In comparison, the output concerning "Home Manners," "Domestic Politeness," and "Family Courtesy," is startlingly small. Perhaps this scarcity of elucidation of conjugal and parental and filial courtesy, in print, may be held accountable for a large share of the lack of good home manners – since this lack of kind and gentle treatment of others is so seriously apparent in the large majority of homes.

Even when bad home manners are not at all abusive, they are tinged with a certain unkindness that blurs a moral perception of each member of the family. This tends to a certain mental laxity that bodes evil for the citizenship.

How much more important then, is domestic courtesy then the ethics of smart society to a standard of responsible municipal government! Bad home manners conduce to unhappiness and crime. Unhappiness and crime are conditions of all the people.

Polite forms of smart society conduce to the polish and glitter of a part of the people, the comparatively small part known as the wealthy and aristocratic. But, even this small part that has use for, and practices, the ethics of smart society is more or less tinctured with the unhappiness and crime that accrues from bad manners in its homes.

Dean Hole said, in a magazine, that he once rebuked a woman because her children were ill-behaved when he visited the home. "Lor' bless you, sir," replied this woman, boys and young 'uns must have some place where they can enjoy themselves."

Clearly, this woman felt that polite language and gentleness toward others were species of cruel restraint, that had no free-to-all place, in the happiest home. Apparently she believed that good manners should be shed, like tight collars and irritating shoes, when the family was sheltered beneath its roof.

There are scores of folks like the children of this woman. They don't enjoy good manners. They delight in freedom from a sense of being made to behave by the other fellow who demands the half-way, right of way, out in the open. They take that freedom in the home. Since each member of the family is apt to take this freedom at the same time, trouble may be predicted.

The larger part of matrimonial dissension, including divorce, is due to the bad manners of husbands and wives in homes. A discourtesy, a challenging criticism, an ironical retort – and the row begins! Then there are rows and rows that develop into mutual bitterness of spirit and estrangement.

Max O'Rell tales of a man saying to him: "Brown is a most peculiar and finicky chap. He takes his hat off to his wife when he meets her in the street. He turns over the pages of music when she plays on the piano for him. Just as if she were a stranger."

There's not a bit of doubt that Brown showered this kind of "peculiar" treatment upon the girl while courting her. Indeed, "the man" would have dubbed Brown an ordinary fool had he not lavished pleasant attentions upon the girl. Provided Brown wanted to win the girl as his wife, and the wedding was proof that he did. But when married, "the man" seemed to count Brown as a good deal of an oddity for being as courteous to his wife as to the girl he courted.

Frederick Leighton relates that a man entered a hotel parlor hastily and rather rudely brushed against a woman, so that his cuff button caught in her hair. He scowled, and in doing so glanced into the woman's face. Quickly he took on a gracious attitude and said: "I beg your pardon, madam; I thought you were my wife, and I was in a hurry."

Alas for the domestic atmosphere of that man and his nuptial mate, since his policy is that any kind of manners will do for a wife! However, by the same token, their wives a-plenty who consider a courtesy misplaced when bestowed upon her husband when there's no favor to be gained through "such a bother."

When there's a millennium of good manners in the home, unhappiness and evil will dim into the great minority.
— by Dorothy Fenimore, 1906

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Moderator for Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia