The concept of ‘breeding’ or etiquette has been around for ages. They’re not exactly set in stone—we may not have a Bible for modern etiquette for example, but in general, people know what acceptable behavior is and have conventional measures for what is proper and what isn’t. I wouldn’t call myself Emily Post or an authority of any sort, but I’d like to think I was raised well–and I’m happy to say that most of the people in my environment, from home to school to the workplace, are gracious, considerate and kind. It was easy to follow their example.
Now that my world is a bit bigger however, it is surprising to find that what I’ve always considered common knowledge isn’t so common after all. And no, based on what I’ve seen, a person’s wealth, social status, educational degree or connections apparently have nothing to do with good breeding. So here are some reminders for everyone—we know all this already, but it’s always good to keep ourselves in check.
- Keep your promises. When you say the words “I promise”, you better mean them. Nobody likes to feel let down, so when you give your word to someone, you must ensure that you will do everything humanly possible to fulfill it. And if for some reason beyond your control you will not be able to, make sure you tell the person as soon as possible in order to manage his/her expectations, and be prepared to make amends. After all, the one thing you really have is your word—if people can’t trust you then you’re practically done.
- Return borrowed things. Here’s another pet peeve. When you borrow something, do remember to return it. It is your responsibility to do so, so try not to wait until the owner asks for the item before you give it back. And when you return it, make sure it’s in good condition, not tattered or damaged in any way. If something happened to it, come clean and tell the owner, and offer to replace or repair it. This rule applies to money too, as much as possible be trustworthy and make sure you are able to pay people back on the agreed dates. Otherwise people will tend to avoid lending you anything ever again.
- Say please and thank you. It is appalling to note how many people now skip the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ bit and I can’t understand why, when they won’t even take more than 2 seconds of your time to add it to a sentence. No matter who you are, whether you are some big boss or supreme goddess of the universe, you need to say please when you need something done, and thank you when someone has done something for you. Whether the task is trivial, whether the gift is something you wouldn’t be caught dead in, whether you paid the person to do that job, please and thank you are required. It’s that simple. If you actually take the time to hand-write thank you cards, that is even better.
- Be considerate. Always, always think of how others might feel and try to balance their needs with your own. If a friend needs you to listen and console her, be there and avoid gloating over what you boyfriend got you for your birthday, or whatever. If you know someone is having financial problems, try not to rub it in their faces by suggesting a super posh restaurant. If you know your colleague is loaded with work, try to offer a little support or be patient when she cannot attend to your requests right away. Be a little more sensitive and you’ll be a much better friend.
- Don’t talk down at people. It curdles my blood to hear people throwing their weight around others who are clearly at a disadvantage. I think it’s the height of bad upbringing to be screaming at waiters, hotel staff, househelp, people at the salon, the bank, the airline counter, and other service related individuals. If you need something you must ask for it calmly and be reasonable and respectful at all times, under any circumstance. The only thing you’ll achieve by being an irate little monster hurling insults and obscenities is to make a complete fool of yourself. Please remember that the world does not revolve around you and act like a decent human being.
- Apologize. If you’ve done something wrong or managed to hurt/disappoint someone in any way, be quick to say you’re sorry and mean it. Don’t be so proud and arrogant to think apologizing is beneath you and you can just get away with talking to the person like nothing ever happened. When you do say sorry, be sincere and contrite. Don’t dismiss the incident like it wasn’t important. And don’t carry on long cold wars, soon it will be too late to repair the friendship.
- If you have nothing good to say… I’m sure you know how to continue this sentence. I don’t know why people enjoy going around making blunt observations aloud like “You gained weight!” or “You have pimples!” or “You look haggard!” Unless you’re super best friends and have agreed to be totally honest with each other, such declarations are rude and uncalled for. If you are saying it out of concern and want to be of assistance, learn to say it better and offer some sort of help. Also, why are random people fond of asking very personal questions? Like—“Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” or “When are you getting married?” or “ When are you having children?” Really, it’s none of your business!
- Keep public spaces tidy. You are not the only person using a public restroom or hanging out at some public space. So leave everything spic and span– there is really no excuse for leaving sprinkles on the toilet bowl or vandalizing a chair, a library table, leaving gum under a bench, littering a lawn. You are not a forest creature or cave dweller, so don’t conduct yourself like one.
- Lock the diva in the closet. What is up with people who like throwing hissy fits to get attention or feel important? Stomping around, banging doors, rolling your eyes, whining about everything, yelling, arguing and all that makes you look like a bitter, pathetic loser. So get over yourself, and deal with people in a mature manner. Because if you had a healthy self-esteem, you wouldn’t need to turn into Bratinella to get respect.
- Listen. Listening is truly an art these days. With all the things beeping around you—your Blackberry buzzing, your Facebook notifications flashing, your Twitter mentions alerting, your emails popping—it’s almost an honor to get 10 seconds of someone’s undivided attention. So when you are talking to someone, focus on the person. Do not look at your phone (unless you are expecting something very urgent), do not type on your laptop while nodding absently, do not look around the room trying to spot someone cute, do not interrupt with your own charming little story. If you want to be an effective communicator, learn to make people feel important.
So that’s my top 10. If you notice, none of these are really hard to do—it just takes a little more discipline and a little more sincere concern for others. But good manners spring from a kind and gracious spirit, it cannot be faked… so if there’s anything you need to work on first, let it be that.