Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Etiquette and Polite Conversation

One young woman who is not shy of displaying her emotions.

Display Of Emotions–
It is needless to say, avoid all exhibitions of temper before others if you find it impossible to suppress them entirely. All emotions, whether of grief or joy, should be subdued in public, and only allowed full play in the privacy of our own apartments.


Undue Familiarity–
Avoid all coarseness and familiarity in addressing others. A person who makes himself offensively familiar will have few friends.

Pretenses-
Avoid all pretense at gentility. Pass for what you are, and nothing more. If you are obliged to make any little economies, do not be ashamed to acknowledge them as economies if it becomes necessary to speak of them at all. If you keep no carriage, do not be over-solicitous to impress your friends that the sole reason for this deficiency is because you prefer to walk. Do not be ashamed of poverty; but, on the other hand, do not flaunt its rags unmercifully in the face of others. It is best to say nothing about it either in excuse or defence.

Aristocratic Assumptions–
Do not, of all things, in this republican country, boast of blood and family and talk of belonging to the "aristocracy." Nor, unless you wish to be set down as a superlative fool by all sensible people, put your servants in livery and a coat of arms upon the panels of your carriage and upon your plate.

Interruptions In Conversation–
Never interrupt a person who is speaking. Wait until you are sure he has finished what he has to say before you attempt to speak.

Dogmatic Style Of Speaking–
Never speak dogmatically or with an assumption of knowledge or information beyond that of those with whom you are conversing. Even if you are conscious of this superiority, a proper and becoming modesty will lead you to conceal it as far as possible, that you may not put to shame or humiliation those less fortunate than yourself. At all events, they will discover your superiority or they will not. 


If they discover it of their own accord, they will have much more admiration for you than though you forced the recognition upon them. If they do not discover it, rest assured you cannot force it upon their perceptions, and they will only hold you in contempt for trying to do so. Besides, there is the possibility that you over-estimate yourself, and instead of being a wise man you are only a self-sufficient fool.

Flattery–
Do not be guilty of flattery. Commend the estimable traits of your friends to others whenever and wherever you can, and you may even express your honest approval directly to them if you possess a delicate tact. Indeed, it is one of the most imperative social duties to let others see our appreciation of the good in their characters or actions. But beware of insincere praise bestowed from an unworthy motive.

Faultfinding–
Do not be censorious or faultfinding. Long and close friendship may sometimes excuse one friend in reproving or criticising another, but it must always be done in the kindest and gentlest manner, and in nine cases out of ten had best be left undone. When one is inclined to be censorious or critical, it is well to remember the scriptural injunction, "First cast the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother's eye." •

Topics To Be Avoided–
Avoid political or religious topics in general conversation, also in a tete-a-tete conversation if there is any likelihood of your listener differing with you. These topics always call out strong personal feeling, and when a difference of opinion arises, there almost invariably follows a warmth of expression which is certain to be regretted after the heat of the argument has died away.

Egotism–
Do not be egotistic. If you find yourself using the pronoun "I" too much, change the topic of conversation to a less personal one.

Wit–
Be witty and amusing if you like, or rather if you can; but never use your wit at the expense of others.

Correct Speech–
Be careful to speak correctly yourself, but never take notice of the inaccuracies of either grammar or pronunciation of others.

Absent-Mindedness–
Do not appear to be preoccupied in the presence of others. Lord Chesterfield said: "When I see a man absent in mind, I choose to be absent in body."

Whispering In Company–

Never whisper in company. Neither engage a single individual in the discussion of matters which are not understood by the others present.

Private Affairs Of Others–Never directly or indirectly refer to the affairs of others which it may give them pain in any degree to recall.

Impertinent Questions–
Never ask impertinent questions; and under this head may be included nearly all questions. Some authorities in etiquette go so far as to say that all questions are strictly tabooed. Thus, if you wished to inquire after the health of the brother of your friend, you would say, " I hope your brother is well," not, " How is your brother's health?"

The Confidence Of Others–Never try to force yourself into the confidence of others; but if they give you their confidence of their own free will, let nothing whatever induce you to betray it. Never seek to pry into a secret, and never divulge one.

Unpleasant Topics Of Conversation–Never introduce unpleasant topics or describe revolting scenes in general company.

Giving Unsought Advice–
Never give officious advice. Even when your advice is sought, be sparing of it.

Evil Speaking–
Never attack the characters of others in their absence; and if you hear others attacked, say what you can consistently to defend them.

From E.B. Duffey's, "The Ladies' and Gentlemen's Etiquette: A Complete Manual of the Manners and Dress of American Society," 1877


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