The Problem with Manners

Sometimes I find dealing with other people to be perplexing. It can be hard to know the appropriate way to respond or handle situations and it seems to come down to manners.

Manners are culturally determined. In a multicultural community, it’s possible to appear to be rude even when we are following all the rules for good manners that we learned growing up. We also risk judging others far too harshly when we believe they are being rude to us.That’s the problem with manners.

Blowing your nose is a good example. I was raised with the belief that it was rude to sniff in public. It makes an awful noise which is quite repellant to those around. I was told that the polite way to deal with a runny nose is to blow it.

Japanese culture teaches the opposite. In Japan it is rude to blow your nose in public, but it seems to be okay to sniff until you find the opportunity to absent yourself and blow it in private. I remember spending time on Japanese trains being absolutely revolted by the number of people sniffing, not realising that when I blew my own nose I was disgusting those around me.

Last year, one of my students from an Asian background would rarely make eye contact with adults. Teachers would often interpret this as surliness, or an indication that he was not listening. In Australia we see eye contact as a sign of engagement and respect. He used to get into quite a lot of trouble until we worked out his lack of eye contact was his way of respecting us – direct eye contact would have been insolent. The poor little boy was attempting to be well mannered, but to the primarily white, Anglo teaching staff, he appeared rude.

So how can we possibly have good manners when we live in a diverse community? I think our intention and attitude are the most important thing. If our intention is to respect those around us, put them at ease and make them feel welcome, we will probably do just fine. And when we are offended because someone has been rude – we could try seeing things from their perspective. Its quite possible they aren’t intending to be rude at all.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know I’ve been wondering about the best way to respond when other people are rude to you while still being well mannered yourself. I thought I might find some ideas looking around on Google. While there are loads of blogs and web pages devoted to good manners and etiquette, and forums filled with people complaining about bad manners in others, very few talk about how to respond.

I did find this article though, which has a few ideas.


5 thoughts on “The Problem with Manners

  1. Good manners means you don’t respond to bad manners. Good manners are for making people more comfortable. Commenting on someone’s bad manners, unless you are their mother, does not make a person feel good about himself.

    Having taught Hmong students for many years, I know their culture to be much different from ours. I did teach American manners in my classroom so as to help students make their way in the world. We all need to be more comfortable wherever we may go, and knowing the manners and customs of an area can help us do so.

  2. I think you make a really good point about not responding, Delaine. Thank you so much for your comment.

    I also like the fact you would explicitly teach manners in your classroom. I teach a social skills program which covers aspects of manners (sharing, etc) but this year I think I might try your suggestion and run an Australian manners program. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Pingback: What’s the point of manners anyway? | oneregard

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