Originally published August 3rd 2008
A survey published a few months ago reported that the British people were ruder than they were a decade ago. They didn’t say how many of those interviewed had a full understanding of exactly what particular interpretation of ‘rude’ they were researching. It is usually assumed when someone is said to be rude that they are ill-mannered. If that was so in this survey it could be very misleading.
Did You Know?
In the past, the Upper Class’s interpretation of good manners was completely different to that of any other group of people. Their children were brought up in an environment where they were unlikely to come into direct contact with people whose way of living was different to that which they were used to until they reached maturity.
A private Nanny and Tutor followed by Boarding school ensured exclusion from the outside world until they were ready to meet it with that certain arrogant confidence they all seemed to develop. No matter what they did or where they spent their life as adults they always knew exactly how they were expected to behave.
Nevertheless, whenever they were obliged to be in the company of people from other walks of life they were invariably discourteous and patronising. That of course was rude!
That attitude, which still prevails among some of the Upper Classes, probably goes back to the ‘Dandies’ during the Regency Period who concerned themselves only with their own circle of friends and had nothing to do but indulge themselves, dressing in outrageous clothes and attending lavish parties.
More recently it was usually the Middle Classes that were the most concerned about their children being educated in the ways of good behaviour and decorum. Almost as soon as they could sit up and utter a few words their parents started to teach them fundamental etiquette and table manners.
Many of the Lower Classes tried to do the same but unless their circumstances allowed it, it was an uphill struggle. However, most did their best to set standards and teach their families right from wrong. In those early days, almost everything an infant learned was as a result of copying the examples set by their parent’s.
The biggest difference between the pupils attending the Grammar Schools and those at Council Schools became apparent when they reached their teens. It must have made the challenge even greater to those who were lucky enough to pass the Scholarship or later the 11+. They had to adapt quickly and adhere to strict rules of conduct even though to many of them there was no visible rhyme or reason to have them.
Many were probably there either out of tradition or just to keep everyone focused on how they should behave. For the first time in their lives they had to wear a uniform and pay particular attention to how they dressed. The boys all wore a cap which they were obliged to raise from their head whenever they met or passed someone they knew.
Boys also had to stand back at all times to permit girls, ladies and any senior person to go first and always step aside to allow them to pass, moving off the pavement if necessary. Other rules included holding doors open for those following or meeting you, allowing them to go first or waiting until all members of the opposite sex are seated before sitting down. Not forgetting the etiquette that had to be observed when dining.
One of the most serious offences was failing to act correctly if you came into contact with a teacher out of school hours. If that happened you could be sure of receiving appropriate punishment when you were next at school. Woe betide anyone caught anywhere not abiding by the rules.
It was probably a bit easier for the girls who only had their seniors to respect but they did have to get accustomed to the extra attention and courtesies they received as a result of these ways and learn to accept them graciously.
This all had to change after the last World War when women started their fight for ‘Liberation and Equality’ in real earnest. They no longer wanted men to do anything for them that suggested they had any kind of superiority. It was still OK for a Head Waiter to show them to their table but they no longer wanted him to push in their chair as they sat down nor spread a napkin on their lap. Many even insisted on going ‘Dutch’ which of course many men were pleased about.
In some areas ladies now have the equality they sought and no longer look to a member of the stronger sex for protection. Can they honestly say they are not flattered when a man makes an unnecessary but polite and well mannered gesture?
Our younger generations will never consider courtesy to be as important as their grandparents did but manners are not just something that goes on between members of opposite sexes. We should all learn to be polite and considerate to each other whether we are acquainted or not.
The amazing fact is that more often than not, the person exercising decorum by holding the door or stepping off the pavement to allow someone to pass gets a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from his action. Of course, this warm serene feeling of fulfilment increase tenfold if these gestures are acknowledged!
valley lad – [FIFTY-FOUR]