Why etiquette matters a lot more than ‘keep off the grass’
Good manners are essential in the age of Trump
Misconceived as an old practice regarding one’s posture, use of cutlery and social propriety, etiquette in its modern application, in fact, refers directly to the manner in which individuals engage with one another. Riandi Conradie of the SA Etiquette Academy answered some questions about modern manners:
Etiquette courses for children
The academy aims to instill the endearing value of etiquette and good manners in children because (even if the online realm forms a large part of young people’s experience) human interaction is still as important as it ever was.
As such, the courses develop interpersonal skills, etiquette, communication and confidence building, while charity work teaches children the importance and merit of giving back to their community. The academy believes that displaying impeccable manners and etiquette lays the foundation for success in every sphere of life.
Client services etiquette courses
This is an indispensable tool for any business operating in the client services industry. While many of the aspects of business have moved online, real-life interaction is still an enduring part of this industry.
Client-facing employees typically create the first impression of a business, and a lack of the etiquette and skills necessary to effectively interact with clients can have a detrimental effect on the way a business performs.
Personal presentation, greetings and introductions etiquette are still core components when liaising with clients and customers, yet these primary principles of employee-customer interaction are often replaced by a lackadaisical approach to communication in the modern age.
What is the point of etiquette? Why is it important?
The definition of etiquette is: “The customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group.” The goal of etiquette is to be considerate of others – it provides an international guideline on how to act in any situation.
Whose etiquette is it anyway? Who makes up the rules, and why should some cultural traits be valued over others?
We teach international etiquette (specifically for business) and we value and celebrate our unique SA culture and traditions. Etiquette teaches us to respect others, not that certain cultural traits are valued over others.
The history of etiquette?
Etiquette as we know it originated from the French royal courts in the 1600s and 1700s. Etiquette used to mean: “Keep off the grass.” When Louis XIV’s gardener at Versailles discovered that the aristocrats were trampling through his garden, he put up signs (or “etiquets”) to warn them off, but the dukes and duchesses walked right past the signs. Finally the king himself had to decree that no one was to go beyond the bounds of the “etiquets”. Gradually, the meaning of etiquette was expanded to include the ticket to court functions that listed the rules of where to stand and what to do. Like language, etiquette evolved, but in a sense it still means “keep off the grass” (socially acceptable rules).
When you are teaching etiquette, do you take other cultures into account? In some cultures it's considered polite to eat with your hands or slurp your food. When we teach etiquette, we teach the international way of acceptable behaviour but also take cultures into account. We pride ourselves on this. We celebrate our unique rainbow nation and etiquette. Some etiquette tips for taking other cultures into consideration when traveling internationally:
• If you attend an African wedding it is considered rude to ask for a knife and fork. You will follow your hosts’ example and eat with your hands.
• In Japan it is rude not to slurp your food, it confirms you are enjoying it. In Japan you will turn your chopsticks around and eat with the wider side of the chopsticks.
• In Arab countries, Pakistan, and certain African countries, only the right hand may be used for eating.
• When in India, China and Japan it’s expected to finish all the food on your plate. While in Philippines, Cambodia, Egypt and Jordan it is more polite to leave a little food to prove you had enough to eat.
• In Germany, don’t use your knife to cut the boiled potatoes that are usually served. It’s an insult to the hostess, and it indicates they are not soft enough to eat. Use your fork.
Are you sensitive to local tradition/manners/politeness?
Absolutely. We teach our students that you always respect your hosts. Having etiquette also means that you respect all cultures and all religions. We wouldn’t be proudly South African if we ignored this vital sensitivity. We celebrate our heritage. Manners exist in a changing context.
Do you change what you teach according to modern trends?
Modern manners is important. Although etiquette is sometimes seen as old-fashioned, it’s never been more relevant. If we look at the fierce competition in the corporate and business arena, you need socially acceptable guidelines to be successful. We believe in starting with etiquette training young so that children can learn that etiquette is inclusive, and nothing to be worried about.
How have manners concerned with opening doors and pulling out chairs for women changed?
These etiquette rules still exist and are still celebrated. It needs to be said that modern women are independent. Modern women appreciate and celebrate behaviour such as a gentleman opening a door for them, but are not dependent on it. It’s a kind gesture if a gentleman opens a door or pulls out a chair for a lady. It shows that you value her presence, and that you are familiar with etiquette rules.
Do you think manners are exclusionary (they keep you out of a social class or group if you do not follow them) or inclusive (they give the guidelines to make you feel comfortable in certain situations)?
Definitely inclusive. Etiquette and manners guidelines should create a confident space to conduct business in. Knowing the acceptable behaviour in every situation will assist with confidence levels, as well as the success achieved by the individual.
What are the manners around social media and the use of cellphones?
1. Don’t do business SMSs/calls/WhatsApps before 8am or after 8pm.
2. Put your personal cellphone on silent when entering a meeting or important event.
3. Your personal cellphone should not be visible to clients.
4. Phones should be put away when at a lunch/dinner table. If you expect an important call, mention to the person in your presence that you might have to answer your phone (in circumstances such as family emergencies or problems). In all other instances, your phone will be put away.
5. A tip for families – have a 30-minute dinnertime without phones. Set the phones to the side of the table and the first one to pick up their phone to read a message must wash the dishes.
Social media etiquette:
1. Never use social media as a platform to complain. If you want to complain about a company, use the correct channels. Social media should not be one of them.
2. Select a good profile picture (of yourself or at least you should feature you in it).
3. Only tag someone in a post if the post has a picture of them. Do not tag people who are not in your photos or posts.
4. Always give credit where it’s due. For example, if a photographer took the photos, give them credit.
5. Never post when you are angry or tired.
6. Do not comment on any posts that can be offensive. Refrain from participating in social media fights.
In the age of Trump, should we take manners seriously?
Never confuse etiquette and manners. Bad etiquette is using your dinner fork on your salad. Bad manners is pointing out that someone used their dinner fork on their salad. Manners will always trump etiquette. In true etiquette style, I am not allowed to point out any person’s (including public figures’) etiquette mishaps.
See Info@etiquetteacademysa.co.za for more information.