Rules and Laws?



Did you ever wonder where the word etiquette comes from and what does it mean?

Mrs. Price Post  (popularly known as Emily Post)  spent much of her adult life helping people learn to live in harmony with one another.  That is what etiquette really is.  It is knowing the rules and being able to apply them appropriately with concern for the other person.  A simple way of putting it is  “We do the right thing for the right reason”.  Learn to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason.  This recognizes that there are circumstances that impact what is right in a current situation. In order to be able to do this, we must first know the rules, assess the situation and do the right thing.  Therefore, we don’t bend the rules we apply them correctly.    

The following definitions from Webster (1962) show the progress of these terms. It could be argued that they are all the same thing varying only in degree.

•    Etiquette: from the French meaning a “ticket” or “label”. The forms, manners and ceremonies established by convention as acceptable. (It just isn’t done.)
•    Manners:  ways of social behavior especially with reference to polite convention.
o    Polite: Polished, cultured, refined.
•    Rules: fixed principles that determine conduct; habit custom
•    Customs: usual practice established by usage. Such usage as by common consent and long established uniform practice has taken on the force of law.

Laws: the rules of conduct established and enforced by the government authority  
Protocol: the ceremonial forms and courtesies that are established as proper and correct courtesies that are established as proper and correct in official interaction between heads of state. (Thus Protocol is etiquette on an official or international scale.)

It is interesting to see Emily Post’s description of the word “etiquette”
in her own words from Etiquette “The Blue Book of Social Usage”  by Emily Post (1928 edition).

To the French we owe the word etiquette, and, according to one of the many legends on the subject, it is amusing to discover its origin in the commonplace familiar warning—“Keep off the grass!”  One story, which is as good as any other, runs as follows:  It happened in the reign of a great French King, when certain magnificent gardens were being laid out, that the master gardener, an old Scotsman, was sorely tried because his newly seeded lawns were continually trampled upon.  To keep trespassers off, he put up warning signs or “tickets”---etiquettes—on which was indicated the path along which to pass.  But the courtiers paid no attention to these directions and so that the determined Scot complained to the King in such a convincing manner that His Majesty issued an edict commanding everyone at Court to “keep within the etiquettes.”  Gradually, the term came to cover all the rules for correct demeanor and deportment in court circles; and thus through the centuries it has grown into use to describe the convention sanctioned for the purpose of smoothing personal contacts and developing tact and good manners in social interaction.

The following bullet points used for emphasis are taken from the first edition of Emily Post's Blue Book of Social Usage (published in 1922).
  • Manners are made up of trivialities of deportment which can be easily learned if one does not happen to know them; manner is personality—the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude toward life…
  • Etiquette must, if it is to be of more than trifling use, include ethics as well as manners.
  • Certainly what one is, is of far greater importance than what one appears to be.

The essential ingredient that is often over looked is that to apply the rules properly in every case, requires work to understand the situation and the people in the situation.  This takes real work!  Just to know the rules and use them regardless of the situation or with disregard to those who might be hurt by the strict adherence to the rules….IS NOT ETIQUETTE!  It is arrogance and hurtful. 
For example, if you are sitting at a table and the person next to you has mistakenly taken your bread and butter plate or your glass or your napkin, you must determine the most unobtrusive and graceful way to handle the situation…even if this calls upon you to look like the mistaken one. Your role as a Lady is to figure it out, take the lead and move on with grace.  However, as you see, one must know the rules in order to apply them.  They are not complicated nor are they difficult to learn.  It is well worth the effort.