I am currently studying the 12th Edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette from 1969. I am jotting down little notes of things that are new ideas or of interest to me. The first part, The Art of Conversation, has one idea that I liked the moment I read it.
(From Words and How We Use Them)
“…Usually, to speak as the educated people in one’s hometown speak is sufficient for all social and domestic purposes. Be sure, though, not to confuse the educated or cultivated with the caricature- the “lady” with the comic-strip “society” manner who says “pahdon me” and “charmed” and talks of the elegant affairs she attends. Of course, there are certain exceptional people with very little education who overcome all handicaps. They may say “He don’t want to” and “I done it,” proving their lack of grammatical training, but at the same time are respected by everyone who knows them, because they are what they seem and pretend to be nothing more. This is far better than the extreme of pretentiousness. A genuine, sincere man or woman can go anywhere and be welcomed by everyone, provided that he is a person of some natural ability, wit, or charm.”
I know many people who find the idea of studying etiquette pretentious. And I can surely see in the media where that belief has been used over and over again, slowly teaching new generations. Unfortunately it has even been used as a “burden” women (although men were always expected to know proper etiquette too at the time) have overcome since the feminist movement took off.
But from all that I read, I have never seen one inch of piety or pretentiousness in studying etiquette books. The idea of etiquette is to make people feel as welcome, respected, and comfortable as possible in your presence. It is not for the person being polite, but for who is receiving the polite gesture. Sure, many of the ideas shared in these books can be placed under the “artistic” category and give much pleasure to whoever is handling the task, (Decorating and serving a Springtime brunch on the lawn? Yes!) but the end result is the same. It is for the pleasure of those around you.
I know that we can not be sure of everyone’s intentions. Anything people touch can be used for the good of someone else or the disservice. So etiquette in itself is not anything to shy away from just because you saw a show once with a snobby lady that turned her nose up to someone eating with the wrong fork. Being a gracious host and executing proper etiquette really do go hand in hand, and how you choose to use the knowledge is up to you- to make a lovely comfortable place for guests (as the books imply is the true purpose) or to make others feel inferior to boost your own self esteem.
As I go through the book I will write up what I found most useful or interesting. Maybe some ways to show respect and grace even in a culture that no longer teaches such things consistently. I also think it would be most wise to consider etiquette something you learn to respect others and make them feel welcome, but to not expect others to show the same to you. It could be easy to take offense that way and in our current culture that sort of thing just can not be expected, as many are not taught etiquette or manners, and therefore may not be purposefully disrespecting you.