Etiquette used to be the glue that held society together. It enabled people to get on with friends and neighbors without causing offense or harm. Sadly, these days it has mostly gone by the wayside. This list is of 10 of the best rules of etiquette that have now vanished. Perhaps it will inspire some to revive them!
Men’s Wedding Clothing
I have made this item 10 because it is more a case of correct dress rather than manners. First off, if your wedding is before 6 in the evening, you should not wear a tuxedo (black tie) or tails (white tie). You should either wear a formal suit or – if you want to be very proper – a morning suit. There is an excellent article here that will explain the rules of wedding dress for men. It is customary for the groom to give a tie to each of the men in the wedding party. If you are wearing a morning suit or a formal suit, give your wedding party ties that are similar but do not match. You want the party to look similar – but not like members of a choir. The photograph above shows you how this can be done to very good effect. It is, of course, Prince Henry and Prince William at their father’s wedding. If you are getting married after 6pm, you can wear a tuxedo or tails as these are evening clothes. Here is a guide for wearing tails.
Opening The Door
In days gone by, a gentleman would always open doors for ladies. Whether it be the lady they were driving, or a stranger entering a building, it was always the done thing. This has now almost entirely vanished – and it is not entirely the fault of the men. I have seen women sneer at men for opening a door for them. They seem to be confusing manners with chauvinism. My advice in this case is to smile at the sneering lady and open the door anyway.
Writing Thank-you Notes
In days gone by, whenever a person received a gift, they would write a thank-you as soon as possible. This rule was true even if the giver was a relative. Parents would sit children down after a birthday or Christmas and coach them in their first thank-you notes. It is a shame that gift giving has now become a virtual obligation and the idea of a thank-you note would be scoffed at. If you ignore every other item on this list, at least try to teach your children to write thank you notes – they will have a greater appreciation of gifts they receive.
Asking for Gifts
When people had a wedding or a special occasion party in the past, they would never have considered having a “gift registry”. To do so would be tantamount to asking people for a gift – which is extremely rude even today. It would also have been considered rude to say something like “no gifts” as it implies that gifts are an expected obligation. I can honestly say that I have never received a wedding invitation that didn’t also invite me to purchase a gift at my friend’s favorite shop. People seem to think it is okay as long as they include a few “cheap” gifts to balance out the extraordinary number of incredibly expensive gifts that I can’t even afford for myself! I have seen wedding registries that contain gifts valued in the thousands of dollars. Wedding invitations did not mention gifts – they did not ask for them and they did not include such silly things as “no gifts!” or worse still “donations to [insert charity no one cares about except you] in lieu of gifts”
Leaving At The Right Time
We seem to have completely lost the concept of correct timing when it comes to parties these days. People leave when they are bored, when they want to go to another party, when they are too drunk, when they are not drunk enough, the excuses are endless. First of all, a party normally has a guest of honor – this is usually the oldest woman present. It was considered extremely rude in the past to leave a party before the guest of honor – and once the guest of honor left, it was a signal to all that they should begin their own preparations to leave. The loss of this etiquette rule is because we have largely thrown away the concept of a guest of honor.
Arriving on Time
This seemed a fitting item to follow the previous: in the olden days it was rude to arrive late. There was no such thing as being “fashionably late”. Lateness was rudeness – always. In most houses, if you were invited to dinner and turned up 15 minutes late, you would end up eating alone in the kitchen surrounded by the household staff, only to be allowed to join the party when the polite guests (who arrived on time) had finished and were retiring for the evening’s entertainment.
I could write a whole list on the lost etiquette of dinner – but I shall simply abridge it for this list. First of all, people used to dress for dinner – and they would all eat together at the table. Dressing for dinner emphasized the importance of family and healthy food. It is no wonder that now that we scoff food down in front of TV and all eat at different times, that we are becoming fatter as a race. This is one area where I try particularly hard to follow the rules. I don’t dress for dinner, but I sit with my family every night at the dinner table. I strongly recommend it as a good way to build up a good family spirit.
I had to add this item because there is a brilliant and funny quote relating to it. Let’s start with the quote (it is from “Everyday Manners” by Emily Post):
[P]arents must never disagree before the children. It simply can’t be! Nor can there be an appeal to one parent against the other by a child.“Father told me to jump down the well!”“Then you must do it, dear,” is the mother’s only possible comment. When the child has “jumped down the well,” she may pull him out promptly, and she may in private tell her husband what she thinks about his issuing such orders and stand her own ground against them; but so long as parents are living under the same roof, that roof must shelter unity of opinion, so far as any witnesses are concerned.
That is how a strong a rule it was! I bet you won’t find any parents today who agree strongly with this one.
Discretion on the Street
This is probably the rule most ignored these days: in the old days, people walking on the street would dress discreetly, talk discreetly, and never do anything which would draw attention to themselves. It was forbidden to mention names of friends as it is indiscreet. The gentleman always walked on the road side of the sidewalk – to protect the lady or ladies from passing traffic (which the two fakes in the photo above appear not to know). People would not look or talk to strangers passing and would never call out to a friend on the other side of the street.
This is another large topic. Let’s give a quick rundown: A gentleman would have never:
1. Borrowed money from a lady2. Borrowed money from a man without security and the intention to pay it back as quickly as possible3. Discussed money4. Discussed his possessions or their cost5. Name dropped: “When I was dining with Mr Rich…”, “I am great friends with Miss Gottabuck”
On the other hand, he would have assumed the debts of a deceased family member as it was a debt of honor. How far we have come! Money and the pursuit of wealth has become so obvious these days that a whole new term has been coined because of it: conspicuous consumption. There was once a day that we did not try to keep up with the Joneses – because we didn’t know what the Joneses had and no one knew what we had.