The State of Manners Today

When I was 10 years old, I had a dear friend, who, when I met her, was in her eighties. I loved to visit her and listen to the stories of her youth, her family, her career and the highlights of her life. “Churchy,” as we called Miss Gladys Churchill, was what you’d call a “grand lady.” She introduced me to a time older than I knew, where proper manners were part of everyday life, and any etiquette breeches were simply inexcusable. She had a rocking chair I loved, and would unconsciously rock as I sat and listened. Sooner or later, she would say, “Dear, would you mind not rocking? It makes me a little queasy.”

I remember being shocked that what I was doing bothered my old friend. Of course I stopped rocking at once. I began to wonder what else I might be doing without thinking that might bother someone else, or be considered rude. I think of her so often, and wonder what she would think of the world today. Manners seem to be a thing of the past, and feel  as distant as the dinosaurs.

I do understand that ignorance is sometimes the culprit; if someone doesn’t know that something they are doing is rude, that’s one thing. However, once you know that something is rude, there shouldn’t be an excuse to be rude.

Webster’s dictionary defines “rudeness” as:

  1. “discourteous or impolite, especially in a deliberate way: a rude reply”
  2. “without culture, learning, or refinement: rude, illiterate peasants”
  3. “rough in manners or behavior; unmannerly; uncouth”
  4. “rough, harsh, or ungentle: rude hands”
I further define it as:
  1. mentioning something personal about a person that they might not want noticed or mentioned
  2. doing something offensive to others, i.e., picking one’s nose while sitting at the table with others or alone in public, chewing with one’s mouth open (worse, doing this and talking), chewing gum loudly around others, swearing in public, and so on
  3. interrupting people when they are talking
  4. blasting music in traffic or in a neighborhood so loudly that you can feel it in your bones

Before I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, I would get so tired at work that I would go sit in my car at lunch time and nap. During one of these lunch naps I was awakened by a woman rapping loudly on my window; I rolled it down and she said, “you were sleeping.” I said, “I know–that’s why the window was rolled up.” I thought that that was pretty rude. Why in the world would anyone bother a perfect stranger taking a nap in their car?

It comes down to the good old Golden Rule: do to others what you would have them do to you. In the case of the window rapper, it’s possible that she was worried that I might lose my job if I slept in my car too long. She may have been one of those people who feel they can live other peoples’ lives better than they can. But I guess I can file that under “Business, None of Mine” these days.

I am a huge fan of  Downton Abbey, and often in my mind I liken Churchy to Maggie Smith’s portrayal of Violet, the Dowager Countess. No doubt they both would be scandalized by today’s version of manners. But, as with the fall of the Edwardians in Downton Abbey, times change.

Still, I think it wouldn’t hurt to resurrect some of those manners today!





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