the Maypop: on Etiquette vs. Manners

Vintage Hints on Etiquette book from Eager for Word

Vintage Hints on Etiquette book from Eager for Word

A couple of years ago, I attended a summer cocktail party at a friend’s house. This was a small gathering, maybe 5 or 6 couples, and the host was one of my husband’s oldest and dearest friends. It was a casual evening, the kind of gathering where chips were served straight from the bag. While sitting on a bar stool in the kitchen, I helped myself to a few cocktail nuts. And, I was mortified in the process. You see, I reached my hand into the cardboard canister to sample the nuts. And, another party guest took it upon himself to educate me on this perceived faux pas, right there, in front of God and everybody else. I’d never met this gentleman before, so it wasn’t as if he were a friend teasing me. He literally chastised me for touching the nuts, rather than shaking a few out (no spoon was provided). So embarrassing!

I will never reach my hand into a communal jar of nuts again, but more importantly, I will never forget how he made me feel.

I may have violated a rule of etiquette, but he did not have any manners. In fact, after I got over the initial shock and embarrassment, all I could think was “Sir, you are no gentleman,” but it would have been rude to say so. Besides, I hated to waste a good Gone With the Wind reference. So, after stifling the urge to throw a vase (sorry, couldn’t resist that reference either), I simply apologized.

This experience cemented for me the fact that there is a clear distinction between etiquette and manners.

via Deep South Dish

via Deep South Dish

Etiquette is a set of helpful rules and guidelines for conducting oneself; etiquette is not a mode of correction (unless we’re talking about coaching one’s own children).

As a mother of two boys, manners are on the forefront of my mind. I want to raise kind, respectful, socially considerate children; and, of course, I want to be sure I am modeling that behavior too.

Good manners are timeless. That said, times are changing, and the courtesies that made sense previously are not always applicable today.

I’d love to talk more about etiquette and manners, in a modern way, here at the Maypop. But, I need your help. What are your etiquette conundrums? Not sure how to address an invitation properly? Witness to bad behavior? Please, tell me.

I’m excited about this regular feature. We will consult some classic etiquette resources, and we will also look at these things through a modern, practical lens.

I can’t wait to read your thoughts and comments. Feel free to comment anonymously, especially if you’re referencing someone else’s bad behavior.


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  1. Hampton Logan says:

    Some manners are just inherent. Grace is not something you can acquire. You either have grace, or you do not.

    • I’m so glad you weighed in. I thought of you while writing this post. I hadn’t thought of manners as being inherent…so, you think grace is more nature than nurture?

      • Hampton Logan says:

        Yes. However, though manners, grace, etc. may be somewhat “inherent,” they can be “forgotten.” Practice makes perfect!

  2. Lee Rowland says:

    Well that was the perfect example of manners vs. etiquette! So many people use the terms interchangably but I would far prefer someone with nice manners over perfect etiquette.

    • Thanks, Lee! I agree; I much prefer a kind and considerate person! Anything that you see in the workplace that would be fun for us to talk about here?

  3. I believe manners are the starting point of respect. If a children are taught manners, they are in turn taught respect. You would be shocked the lack of manners in children today. It’s very disheartening.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Stephanie! Any examples, especially from young children, that you’d like to see addressed in a future posts?

  4. Gay Nelson says:

    Darling, the lack of manners, particularly the decline in table manners of children, was something that bothered me tremendously during my 38 years as an educator. During those years, I saw, first hand, the decline. The fast food generation hit the schools and the end of the knife, fork, spoon, and napkin was evident. So many children today do not know what a fork is, and certainly don’t know which one to use. It brings to mind a show from my childhood that referenced “the fancy eating table”, but I always tried to keep my dining table set with china, crystal, fine linen, and sterling silver in the proper manner. My kids always thought I had lost my mind, and we rarely used that “fancy eating table”, but they at least had that as an example. Many kids today do not eat anything that is not served out of a paper bag, picked up from a drive through, on the way to their next game, class, or activity. I understand the need of families to be busy, but I firmly believe in the family dinner, around the table, with glasses, real plates, forks, knives, spoons and napkins, as the foundation of a family. I cannot believe the rudeness of your friend for even calling attention to the nuts, but I think that may have been his way of making up for his inadequacies. He should have checked with Emily before setting out food for an informal gathering. You still don’t put out chips in bags, and nuts in cans even for an informal gathering. That is why they make Walmart plastic containers and ironstone.

    • It’s lovely to hear your thoughts, Miss Gay, as an educator and mother. I think we will spend some time on table manners for sure. I love the idea of the fancy table as an example!

  5. Lindsey Montgomery says:

    It is astonishing to see how many students do not even eat dinner at a table. If they eat at home, everyone eats in different rooms. It makes my heart sad to think about how little time kids spend as a “family”. I am so thankful mom always had a dinner on the table for us when we returned home from ballet and baseball. It may have been a quick meal, but it was eaten at the table with family. It began with prayer and ended with permission to leave. Kids have no idea about table manners because the only table they eat at is the one in the school cafeteria!

    As far as manners, what kids won’t get at home they will get in my class. All of my students are required to speak properly and use manners (please, thank you, yes ma’am, and no ma’am). I try to teach the boys how to be gentlemen and the girls what being a lady means. They may not use any of it after 3:30, but at least they were exposed :)

    • I love hearing that you make your students say yes ma’am and no ma’am, especially at such a crucial age as middle school. So refreshing, and so rare!

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