Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Etiquette (EP) - Introduction

Okay, so I tried this once before, and with little success. I started a blog about working my way through etiquette books. That failed. Why? #1: because I lost the password to my own blogsite and I can't get back to it. Whoops! #2: I tried so hard to force myself into it; it was like homework - something I had to do, and it lost all of its fun. Couple that with getting busy (as I sometimes do) and then there was a couple months where I didn't have the book with me ... well, I sort of began to resent my research project and cast it aside. I know, I know, I am terrible.
So what makes me think this go-around will work out? I don't. But I'm not pressuring myself to get it done; I have the book; and I still have the desire.

"What desire?" you ask. I may have already talked about it before, but here it is again. I have always wanted to be a Lady. When I was little I was fascinated by being proper and good. That little girl inside of me still wishes that. It seems like, in this day and age, there can be no such thing. I mean, really think about it - when is the last time you heard of a real gentleman or a lady? They don't seem to exist anymore - at least not in the way we think of them. Not the old-fashioned tip-your-hat, calling-cards, social-engagements, Mr. -and-Miss, pleased-to-make-your-aquaintance kind of way. There are still vestiges of it in our society (thank God), but with our advancement in equality and human rights, we have also become much more casual. This is not a bad thing, but we've also seemed to lose the charm of those dear days gone by as well.

So, what a girl to do? I admit here and now that I will probably never be a Lady in the way I have always wanted to be. But that leads to a question: how can you be a Lady in today's world? Which leads to a lot of other questions. So, I want to study it. And as I have no access to classes on this sort of thing, I decided to try my own hand at it. And how do you usually start to learn something? You begin with history.

And so, by chance, one day at a flea market I found a copy of Emily Post's "Blue Book of Social Usage": Etiquette. Okay, so this is a far cry from the beginning of subject at hand, but it would be an easier jumping off point for me. A kind of place to begin. From here, depending on what books I can find, I can jump forward in time, or jump back and go further into the social etiquette of different time periods. So really, all of this depends on the availability of textual material.
So we begin with chapter one: "The True Meaning of Etiquette" Right away, I must confess, I am a little prejudice because of the modern day interpretation on what etiquette is. Even my own sister thinks little of what it is beyond the daunting: "which fork" question - and most others see it only as something you need when you are getting married (no kidding, in the etiquette section in most libraries more than 50% of the books have to do with weddings -at least, in my experience).

Post goes head to head with this myth right away and points out that etiquette is more than just a single correct thing to do or say in any particular moment. Etiquette is more like guidelines for the polite - and more than that, it is simply knowledge that has been passed down to us for practical use. She goes further to point out that everyone can benefit from displaying proper, courteous behaviour. Now there is a word that few people think about these days: courteous. Really, it all stems from the desire to be kind to others; to treat them with polite respect. Maybe the problem today is the root of that: people just don't seem to what to do that anymore.

In our advancement, we have come to the idea that respect has to be earned. I don't argue that point completely. But I also do think that everyone is entitled to respect. I know that is contradictory - but it also works well. There is a level of respect that every person deserves - Everyone. Call it common courtesy, I guess. It does not matter how well or how little you know a person, or like them, it shouldn't matter. Everyone deserves to be treated with at least a little dignity. But beyond that, a person has to earn greater respect, which most of the time leads to being liked or loved. You can not like a person at all, despise them, even, but you need to respect them. Unfortunately, most people don't take that attitude. which often stems from misunderstanding and can lead to not so nice things.

Anyway - sorry about the hiatus there. But be prepared for those little sidetrips - I make them a lot.

I particularly like her feeling that etiquette is really " the code of instinctive decency, ethical integrity, self-respect, and loyalty." She also notes that a person should be judged by who they are, not what they have. She also makes a lot of observances that can be boiled down to this simple idea: one has to be willing in spirit to have etiquette. That is half the battle. A person can never be a true lady or gentlemen without wanting to be - and that one should not be self-conscious of the act. So, basically, want to be good without flaunting the fact that you are. (By the by, this is getting to sound more and more like something from the Bible. Is that just me? Well, no one ever called Jesus rude, so maybe there is something to that.) Granted, these things have to be practiced - so you can't be wholly unconscious of it - but the goal is for these polite gestures and ways to become instinctual.

So, *gulp* here we go. Off into the world of Emily Post...

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