Social Etiquette Then and Now

Social etiquette has changed as times have changed. Some changes are due to practical reasons, some due to cultural changes, and some due to the bobsled ride to ruination that western civilization has embarked upon. Following is a short list:

  • Gentlemen used to open the door for ladies. Now, a man is afraid because it would be chauvinistic for him to open the door for a woman who is his equal, or else because he is afraid that the woman will think he is some pervert trying to ingratiate himself to her. I still open the door for women because I am fearless and quite obviously not a threat. Also I could pass for old enough not to know better.
  • It used to be thought that children should be seen but not heard. Now if your children don't interrupt your guests or scream, shout, and stamp their feet to get their way, people think they have a disability or that you abuse them. I guess that's why everybody thinks my kids are so well adjusted.
  • Cohabitation with a person of the opposite sex prior to marriage used to be considered a sin, and was not publicly discussed. Now it is considered the norm and is a perfectly acceptable topic of conversation. In fact, if a couple is considering marriage and they don't live together, many people think that there is something wrong. What, are you getting married so that Abdul can get citizenship?
  • Pregnancy was a delicate subject. If a teenage girl became pregnant prior to marriage, she was whisked off to deliver the baby in exile at the home of a maiden aunt. Today they make a television show about her.
  • Table conversation was considered good manners, but because our busy schedules have made dinner together such a rarity, and even when it occurs, such a rushed affair, that we hardly know how to speak to each other any more. Sometimes, of course, that's a blessing.
  • A related phenomenon - speaking with your mouth full was a sign of bad manners, but apparently not any more. It is difficult to find someone who does not, although I will keep looking.
  • When a person said, "Excuse me," they used to wait until they had the attention of the other person. Now, people say, "Excuse me," as they shove other people out of the way. That's one reason I took up Kung Fu.
  • Today, "Give me that, will you?" is considered the same as, "May I have that, please?" I say to my kids, "What's the magic word?" and they look at me like I am nuts, and I probably am.
  • It used to be perfectly fine to smoke in public, but now you are likely to be fined. It used to be thought that smoking was not a health hazard, but now we know better. Might as well let someone spew anthrax in public.
  • During conversation, it was formerly expected that both parties would make eye contact. Now, if you insist on making eye contact, the other party is offended that you interrupted their interaction with their electronic device. I usually interpose my face between my intended audience and the screen of their device.

I predict that the next nicety to go will be the ritual of shaking hands to greet friends. Since we've strengthened our germs with antibiotics and antibacterial soaps, shaking hands just might be the last thing you ever do.

By the way, thank you very much for reading my article.

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Comments 21 comments

MomZof3 profile image

MomZof3 7 years ago

Tom, I really liked your article. Well thought-out, and well-written. I have pondered many of these points as well. Especially resonant was the point that you made about children being seen but not heard. I'm only 35, but I was raised not to interrupt, and not to be rude to adults by ignoring them when they are addressing you. Now, I am trying to raise my 3 kids in the same manner, but I notice that many of my friends are not. It seems like a small thing, but it isn't. It's huge, actually.

The other point I liked was the one that you made about personal electronic devices interrupting face-to-face conversations. If I have to "hang on a sec" while one more friend accepts a cell phone call or answers a text message, I think I might combust. Truly.

Anyway, nice work!

All best,

Molly


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

please let me know when you are going to make live appearances on stage.


Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 7 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

Hey, Tom. Great hub. People are much ruder today than then. I saw a doc on Canadian TV, in which all the experts and non-experts agreed that people, especially young people, are ruder - not because they mean to be; they've just never been taught!

The consensus was that boomer parents did not want to set boundaries, or make rules, so they basically abdicated that aspect of parenting so they could be friends with their kids. But it's causing big difliculties when the kids try to find work, or do it when they get it. Companies are spending tons trying to train the boomer's kids in basic manners and social comportment and communication skills.

Recently, I read a bit in the paper about increasing stress leave requests from Human Resources managers because, they said, just like boomer parents got involved with their kids teachers, now they're getting involved with their kids managers! LOL!

Great hub!


foxility profile image

foxility 7 years ago

It's hard to miss something that I never had growing up. I grew up with an unruly public, but the few times that I experienced this etiquette phenomenom it was satistying and wish it could always be that way. I also wish men would wear hats, but not caps, and suites, and women would wear skirts... that's not gonna happen though.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

Tom, Tom, Tom -- when are you going to write a book that I can buy?!  Amigo, your hubs are so totally on mark for my tastes that I can't but hope about an extended version.  Or a live appearance as GT suggested --though that may make it a bit difficult for me!

On the points you make, I'm not sure wich one I dig more, the electronic device, the children, the speaking with one's mouth full, the smoking... maybe the last one about handshakes. Just wait and see, it really may be the next one to go!  Thumbs up!


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

Don't worry Elena, we'll post the show on Youtube for you.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

I'm overwhelmed by everyone's kind words - oh and you, too, Mr. Goldentoad. Ha. I will respond to all after the dishes be done. Thank you!


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Molly, it boils down to respect, I think. It is very hard to teach respect when society teaches cynicism. Thanks again.

Golden, and now, live on stage... ha! It's too weird. Locksmith philosophy?

Bruce, you say a lot that I can agree with. The warrior generation raised me - us, I would hazard a guess - with corporal punishment and a lot of freedom. I grew up respecting my elders and conscious of responsibility and consequence.

Foxility, thank you for your take. Mutual respect and well delineated boundaries are actually comforting.

Thank you Elena. I'm glad our views resonate. I am in good company.


The Real Tomato profile image

The Real Tomato 7 years ago

 bobsled ride to ruination that western civilization has embarked upon? Whoooya

My mother used to talk about being socially acceptable. I have come to realize that their used to be a consensus about this. Now it is whatever you feel like doing is acceptable.

I enjoy the peppering of humor in your writing. Thanks for taking the time to write this one.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, Tomato.

I'm not sure what it is, but everybody's attention span seeems a lot shorter these days.

All the best.


G-Ma Johnson profile image

G-Ma Johnson 7 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

Yes is a good one...and I remember to when the male would always walk on the curbside of a sidewalk to protect his girl...and love when a man opens a door...like they used to when getting in and out of a car...It is shame we have lost the considerations we used to share...even waiting to eat till everyone is seated...especially for the one that cooked it...

Life is always a changing...Nice hub sweetie...G-Ma :o) hugs & Peace


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, G-Ma! I remember that walking on the streetside rule, too. The little considerations we show each other add so much to life.


MomZof3 profile image

MomZof3 7 years ago

G-Ma, I am with you re: waiting until everyone (including the cook) is seated to eat. I can't tell you how annoyed I become when I have company over, and they actually begin eating (or allow their kids to begin eating) before I can even sit down at the table. It makes me feel like a short order cook/waitress. I am trying to raise my kids to know better. :0


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 7 years ago from India

Common courtesy is very uncommon these days...and not only in the western civilisation! It's a global affliction.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

I am not sure the politeness pandemic is global. When I played with a salsa band with South Americans I found them to be extremely polite, as well as the people we played for. It is different in different cultures, I think.


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 7 years ago from India

You're right of course, and I don't mean to generalise, but every culture has its share of not-so-palatable behaviour. If you're lucky you meet all the right people! :)


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Yes, that's true. I was just remembering how there was a knife fight at one of our gigs. That wasn't very polite.


Eldritch Elegy profile image

Eldritch Elegy 7 years ago

"When a person said, "Excuse me," they used to wait until they had the attention of the other person. Now, people say, "Excuse me," as they shove other people out of the way. That's one reason I took up Kung Fu."

So many favorites, but I think this made me laugh the hardest.

However, you can't just blame the shovers -- they're used to the way no one listens to "excuse me" these days. ;)


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

True enough, Elegy. :0)


funmontrealgirl profile image

funmontrealgirl 5 years ago from Montreal

I am still laughing gratefully. These are all true and well-written to you. Kudos to you!


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks so much :)

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