Saturday, November 09, 2013

manners are medieval...,


npr | From that very first time we're first scolded for putting our elbows on the table at great-aunt Millie's house, we're inducted into the world of manners. After that, it's a lifetime of "pleases" and "thank yous," and chewing with our mouths closed.

But where did all of this civility come from? We can't give all the credit (or blame) to the English, but the average Brit says "sorry" eight times per day, so it's a pretty good place to start.

In his new book, Sorry! The English and their Manners, Henry Hitchings traces the history of today's customs back to medieval times, when polite behavior was a necessary precaution against violence at mealtimes. He spoke with NPR's Don Gonyea about the roots of English manners and etiquette, and the difference between the two.

On the difference between etiquette and manners
Etiquette, to me — I'm not saying it is inherently wrong, but it is a veneer. It is a code of cosmetic practices. It's about how long you should wear an armband after your second cousin dies, or what size your greeting card should be, or which fork you should use. And those things are not totally trivial, but ultimately they're not indicators of someone's inherent goodness or otherwise. And I think the problem is that manners essentially has an image problem. When I talk about [the doctrine of etiquette taking the marrow out of manners], I'm really talking about fundamental principles to do with sensitivity to others, respect for other people and their space, their belongings, and it just seems to me that the moment etiquette becomes the centerpiece of the agenda, manners and morality are essentially divorced. And I suppose I'd like to put the morality back at the center of the discussion of manners.