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The Importance of Etiquette

Posted on: 30th November 2017 | Category: Academic Programmes, Surval Life

The Importance of Etiquette

By Tamara McVeigh


I haven’t always paid attention in my Etiquette classes. I am sure Madame Wahli can tell you that! I have been known to doodle instead of listen, look out the window wistfully rather than practice holding my cutlery correctly, and daydream about what I was going to do after school instead of learning my French vocabulary.

I didn't truly realize how important our lessons in etiquette were until I was in Scotland this October holiday  and I went to my Aunt’s garden club meeting - yes, those do exist! Throughout the meeting, I paid attention to what the people at the garden club were discussing, even though, if I’m being completely honest, I have no interest in different types of soil fertilizers…

Then one lady came up and asked me: “So what’s your favourite kind of garden?” I was like, “Ummm...a green one?” Maybe it wasn’t quite the answer that she was looking for, but she laughed and seemed to appreciate my effort!

And all the time, what I was thinking about (well, besides how much longer the meeting was going to last!) was what Madame Wahli spoke to us about last year about the art of conversation - about how important it is to try and appear interested, even if we aren’t, and to try and ask other people questions.  

So why is this?

Well, let’s think about that conversation. How would the lady have felt if I’d said, “Huh? I don’t know - I don’t care,” and shrugged my shoulders. And maybe gone off and sat in a corner and played with my phone, making it totally obvious that these people bored me.  She probably wouldn’t have felt very good about herself.

Instead, by putting in a little effort, I was able to make her laugh. I showed that I just didn’t know much about gardens, rather than showing that I simply didn’t care. I made sure that she wasn’t made to feel bad about herself.

So perhaps we should ask ourselves: what is etiquette? And why is etiquette so important?

Etiquette is how to behave at any social event; it's the way you present yourself in front of people, and hold a conversation. You don't realise how important these things are until you are in a situation where you have to use these skills. You can break a business deal by doing something as simple as picking up the wrong fork! When I was growing up, my family had a formal dinner every Monday night. This gave my parents a chance to make sure that we would be able to behave in a civilised manner when dining with others. We’ve all experienced the horror of having a meal with someone who uses their spoon like a shovel or - worst of all - eats with their mouth open! These small faux pas leave the people around us with an unpleasant taste in their mouths.

I have had etiquette drilled into me since I was a little kid. (Although Madame Wahli might not believe that!) My mum always told me to never create a scene in public and to always be polite - there will always be someone who knows someone who knows you. We’ve all heard horror stories about the guy running late for a job interview who swears at somebody for stealing his parking space, only to reach the interview and see the same man waiting to interview him! You should never think that nobody is watching or that nobody cares; act like you have someone videoing your every move and don’t do anything that you would be ashamed to watch afterwards.

Many of us may have dreamed about having our own Cinderella moment one day - that moment when we enter a room, whether it’s a party, a dance or perhaps even our wedding day, and everyone turns to stare in awe. That might sound silly, but actually, if someone has gone to the effort of hosting a party or dance, of making the room look beautiful, then showing that we have made an effort to look beautiful too is important. We can all feel shy in social situations; the right outfit can help armour us against our nerves. And, there’s nothing better, after a spending an evening in our party clothes and heels, to get home and change in our comfies!

Etiquette is also essential in our professional lives. We need to know our colours and style so that we can work with that and therefore make ourselves look presentable. Most of us will want to look elegant; we want to wear colours that will highlight our appearance rather than wash us out; and we want to wear clothes that are classic and stylish. When we walk into our first job interview, or the first day at our new workplace, we want people to think that we look smart,  attractive and, above all, professional; if we walked into that room in ill-fitting, unflattering clothes, slouched over our cellphone, nobody is going to be impressed. And first impressions do matter.  

Etiquette is also key in handling conflict effectively. It is difficult to tactfully confront someone about what they have done wrong. For someone in a leadership position, this will determine whether people will respect them - or not. We can't just go around shouting, screaming and throwing tantrums in public and expect people to respect us. We should act pleasantly and be polite to anybody and everybody. Be the bigger person. We should handle disagreements with grace and respect for the other person, and always listen to their side of the story. If we listen to one another, we can try to reach compromises that both parties are happy with.

Etiquette is not just about how we should behave in our own culture, but about how we should behave towards other cultures. We talk about the importance of respecting other people’s cultures. But what does this actually mean? It’s quite simple. We should never try to force our own attitudes or beliefs on other people, and we should be tolerant and accepting of our differences.

The world would be a dull place if we were all the same. Of course we will meet people and go places where the behaviour and customs seem strange to us. Instead of shying away or, worse, laughing at or mocking these differences, why not try to embrace them? To ask questions that show you are interested in learning more. To get involved in the experiences on offer. To broaden our own horizons by stepping into other people’s.

So what do we get out of practicing etiquette?

Firstly, having good etiquette in social situations shows class. It reflects on our parents and shows that we have been brought up well - that we are considerate of others. In turn, this will lead to positive attention from people, whether in our social or professional lives.

Moreover, thoughtful etiquette can help us to deal with and resolve conflict.

And, ultimately, etiquette enables us to be respectful, interested and tolerant of the beliefs, religions and lifestyles of others.

Imagine what our world would be like if everyone behaved in this way.

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