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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.