Friday, February 5, 2016

For Etiquette Critics of Americans

"Bad manners here in America have been attributed to various causes. First of all, the hurry of the life in which most people live. Often it is a kind of fictitious hurry, but the effect on one's manners is the same." –1912

Fashion Arbiter of 
"New York 400"on Criticism of America's Manners and Etiquette 
By Frederick Townsend Martin

AMERICANS are said to have bad manners, as a rule. Foreign visitors always make that criticism, and Mr. Townsend Martin was asked if he thought the criticism was just. “Bad manners are not characteristic of American only—though I admit among a certain set they are flourishing at present.” said Mr. Martin. "There is a sort of epidemic of bad manners among the same class all over the world. It seems to be the fashion to have bad manners just now, just as at other periods it was the thing to have the most perfect and exquisite manners possible. 

Like a pendulum the fashion swings between the extremes of bad manners and of the most polished, exquisite courtesy, which we now call the ‘old school,’ showing just where the pendulum is at present. During the time of Charles II of England, bad manners reached their apotheosis, and again after the French revolution. Whenever manners have become absolutely impossible, the pendulum swings back again and gradually the ideal of what we call good manners and courtesy prevails again. Manners will grow worse before they get better, I think; the pendulum has not swung far enough. 

Various Causes 
Bad manners here in America have been attributed to various causes. First of all, the hurry of the life in which most people live. Often it is a kind of fictitious hurry, but the effect on one's manners is the same. There are always a few who belong to the 'old school,’ no matter what the fashion is. Good manners take time and many people feel they haven’t time to spare. At the club I frequently hear the older men complaining of the lack of manners of their own sons and of the younger generation generally. They sometimes attribute it to the prevalence of sports, but personally I think it is only the swinging of the pendulum. When we have reached the extreme of bad manners we'll swing back again, and 'good manners' will become more fashionable. 

On the whole, even our worst manners are not so intolerable as the bad manners of other days, when, for instance, etiquette demanded that the host and his guests should drink in excess. There is much less drinking in society nowadays than ever before. Good manners in former times were confined exclusively to the small select aristocratic classes. Their treatment of their social inferiors lacked every element of kindness, politeness or good manners. Yet these people— I'm speaking of the time of Louis XIV of France —were celebrated for their perfection of etiquette and all the forms of manners. 

Manners are more uniform today and more democratic and less confined to one class alone. When the pendulum has swung forward,  ‘bad’ politeness decreases among all classes of society. That is the condition at present,” Apropos of Mr. Townsend's comments on bad manners is the laxity displayed by greeting acquaintances. Few women know how to bow graciously and yet formally when introductions are made. They give a curt little nod, while the men no longer salute each other, or even women, except in a casual sort of way, as if it were too much of an effort. Perhaps it is the prevailing hurry in which we all live that makes men tip their hats instead of lifting them, and hurry and thoughtlessness are, the cause of most breaches of etiquette which make up the sum of our bad manners. 

Thoughtlessness makes the boy forget the cigarette between his lips when speaking to a woman, and in his desire to hasten her steps he catches her under the arm and yanks her off the car, greatly to her own discomfort. On her part she takes out her powder rag and daubs it over her nose, pats her hair, fixes her frock and finishes her toilet in public, probably at the theater, without being conscious that this is in bad form. 

A Few More 
She sits with her knees crossed and assumes attitudes which she has seen on the stage, and if they are not correct for her she does not know it because she has no set standards of etiquette or good form. She is generally not quite sure how to introduce people and passes her mistake off with a cough. 

The formulas of introduction are: Introducing a man to a woman, 'Mrs. or Miss B——. may I introduce Mr. S ?' or, 'I want you to know.' or 'May I present Mr. S ?' A foreign critic has made fun of the fact that every American woman said, 'I'm glad to meet you.' when he was introduced to her. 'How did she know she was glad or delighted to meet me?' he inquired quite justly. When she feels any doubt on the subject she need only repeat his name and bow. It is not necessary to shake hands on being introduced, except when there is some special reason for cordiality." – Los Angeles Herald, 1912

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

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