Do Manners Still Matter?

person helping another

“Stop the insanity!”

That’s what I wanted to yell at the woman who sat across from me at the beauty salon a few Saturdays ago. She insisted on having her laptop computer in her lap, which forced her stylist to work twice as hard at coloring her hair, because she had to fight to keep the dye from dripping onto the device. After this customer shut down her computer, she stayed in true self-absorbed form, placing call after call on her cell phone, and speaking in such a loud voice nearly everyone in the salon was subjected to her conversations. And the grand finale was material for a Saturday Night Live skit: when the hair dresser lowered her client’s head back into the wash bowl for shampooing—and her head was engulfed in water—she still placed a call to her travel agent and booked a trip. Unbelievable!

I’m annoyed and concerned by the impolite public behaviors that permeate our society. Technology is not a license to lose our manners! So what’s the big deal about manners, those unenforced standards of conduct showing we are proper, polite and considerate of others? Danger lurks when we become so self-absorbed in our own world that we lose sight of—or don’t care about—how our behavior affects others. It’s a slippery slide down the ethical playing field of life when we stop treating each other with respect. Period.

What is called for today is a resurgence of manners and I see light on the visible horizon. College classes are being held to teach students the proper ways to conduct themselves at business luncheons and dinners. From what I hear, these classes are filled to capacity as students realize their career success will be hindered or enhanced by their manners. Recently, I’ve witnessed young people holding doors open in public for the elderly. And I still (occasionally) overhear parents out in public reminding their children to use the words please, thank you and excuse me at appropriate times.

Multiple books have been published and purchased on the subject of manners, and advice columns are still being penned and read today, so I have hope that somebody out there is still interested in manners.

Manners for everyday life

Phone etiquette

  • Don’t call anyone before 8 am or after 9 pm.
  • Don’t take a call when dining with others at mealtime, including family.
  • Don’t use your cell phone in the bathroom—ever!
  • Don’t hold cell phone conversations in confined areas, waiting rooms, in line at the grocery store, or anywhere else where people will be forced to listen to your conversation.

At work

  • Don’t steal people’s food from the office refrigerator or their drawers. Say good morning or greet people by name when you arrive.
  • Remember to say please and thank you. These words never go out of style.
  • Avoid wearing colognes or perfumes, Chances are someone in your office has a chemical sensitivity.
  • If you write on a board in a meeting room, erase it before you leave. Tidy up for the next group.
  • When you use the last of the paper in the printer, replace it.
  • Send thank you notes when colleagues go out of their way to assist you.

Out in public

  • Hold the door open for those behind you no matter who they are (old or young, female or male, big or small).
  • When driving, pretend you live in a small town and know everyone. Then drive accordingly.
  • Pay attention at grocery store deli lines and other places where people are queued. Don’t you dare budge!

Dining tips

  • Don’t talk with your mouth full.
  • Keep your elbows off the table.
  • When dining out, wait until everyone has been served before you begin eating, or until the person who has not yet received their meal encourages you to start.

Remington’s Remedy

Manners are protocols that remind us to act with respect, care and consideration toward each other. Will Cuppy said, “Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential.” What a wonderful world it would be if everyone behaved themselves just a little better than was absolutely necessary. Let’s be an example of good manners for those around us. Manners—good or bad—can be contagious.

Mary Rose Remington, a career counselor and keynote speaker from St.Paul. 

The following was printed in our May 2010 issue of The Phoenix Spirit.

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