The term “etiquette,” as a collection of rules for refined and cultured behavior, has been present in all societies for centuries, despite varying in form and content. It is a fact that these rules have changed over time, and some customs that have become unnoticed or comical have been replaced by modern versions to fit into contemporary times.
It was once unthinkable for a woman to smoke, and gentlemen were strictly prohibited from lighting a cigarette in the company of a lady. As a sign of respect, they were required to change their attire when in the company of the opposite sex to avoid smelling of tobacco.
Such social norms, dating back to the 19th century, have been abandoned due to societal progress and change, but many have endured to this day and are a hallmark of good upbringing. It’s essential to note the significant differences between cultures. While in the West, it is considered impolite not to make eye contact when shaking hands with someone, in Japan, avoiding eye contact during a greeting indicates untrustworthiness. This practice stems from ancient times when a bow was a gesture of trust, leaving your neck at the mercy of the person in front of you.
Despite all the differences and numerous changes, there are certain manners that are timeless and universal. Any gesture that conveys respect, moderation, assistance, or kindness will never go out of style. Even in a smaller measure or in a different way, we still adhere to the rules of etiquette. Or at least we try.
Certainly, we all make mistakes when it comes to certain protocols, and these are perhaps the most common.
1) Entering and Exiting a Restaurant
Despite the general rule that ladies have precedence, there are exceptions, such as when entering a restaurant, café, or any hospitality establishment. In this case, the man enters first to ensure the woman isn’t met with an unpleasant surprise. The gentleman clears the way and selects the table.
When leaving the restaurant, the woman exits first.
2) Hats, Caps, and Gloves
Regardless of changes in fashion and trends, the tradition of men removing their hats, caps, etc., as well as gloves when greeting or entering a room, has remained in place. Women do not follow this practice.
There are many theories and rules about how to use specific utensils, especially during a formal, multi-course meal. What etiquette demands in all cases, regardless of refinement, is that silverware is never left on the plate during the meal. The knife and fork should be placed gently crossed on the plate.
4) Walking on the Street
Etiquette rules dictate that if there are more than three people, they should not walk in a single line to block the path for other pedestrians. If only two people are walking together, the woman or the older gentleman has the honored place on the right. Thus, the gentleman always walks closer to the street to have a protective role. When three people are walking, the lady takes the central position, and the gentleman walks between the two ladies in the opposite case.
An interesting note is that there is an exception to this rule, and it applies when it’s raining. In this case, the man positions himself in a way to protect the two ladies from the rain, even if it means he gets wet.
Etiquette dictates that the woman enters and exits the elevator first. However, if the elevator is empty, some theories suggest that the man should enter first to check for safety before the woman enters. Due to its limited space, smoking is not allowed in the elevator, and you should try not to be noisy or cause discomfort to other passengers with your actions.
When it comes to climbing stairs, etiquette states that if there’s enough space, both the man and woman should go ahead side by side. If the space is limited, the woman goes first. When descending, the order is reversed, and the man goes first. This rule is supported by the fact that this way, the man can protect the woman in case of a fall or accident.
7) Holding the Coat
A true gentleman with good manners will always hold the coat for a lady and pull her chair in. It’s interesting that this is the responsibility of the companion, not the waiter. The man should reject such an offer and take this duty upon himself, showing that he cares for the lady he is with.
8) Touching Up Makeup
Although sometimes impractical, the rule dictates that makeup should never be touched up in the restaurant or café itself but in the restroom. A true lady only uses the mirrors in the establishment as a decoration, and for makeup touch-ups, she goes to the designated area.
9) Ordering in a Restaurant
This rule has almost faded in today’s world dominated by technology, but according to etiquette, the man is the one who orders – first for the woman and then for himself. She conveys her choice to the man, who then communicates it to the waiter. The man always selects the wine, of course, in consultation with the woman.
10 Personal Messages
Given that we live in a time dominated by technology, the last rule may not make much sense, but it still holds a note of respect and culture. Although letters are no longer in vogue, and communication happens through phones or computers, don’t forget that personal messages are always handwritten. So, if you decide to dedicate a few words to someone next time, don’t type it, but write it by hand. It might be old-fashioned, but with this gesture, you’ll show the person that they are special.
In the 21st century, when the internet, social media, and gender equality prevail, many such norms may be seen as old-fashioned, strict, and something not worth paying attention to. Although some rules may change, good manners and cultural behavior are a matter of style and will never go out of fashion.