Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Couth or uncouth?

We all have a different idea of what's meant by good manners, don't we? What to one person is quite normal behaviour strikes someone else as the height of rudeness and vulgarity. What one person sees as a stimulating argument, another sees as a blatant attempt to spoil a happy atmosphere.

People can feel so strongly about someone's "bad manners" or "discourtesy" that they cut them dead, even if they were close friends. They find the other person's conduct so repulsive and embarrassing they just don't want to be exposed to it again.

I remember carefully avoiding one woman after she invited me for a birthday drink and then steadfastly ignored me while chatting busily to her other friends. Jenny and I gave another friend the brush-off after she turned up an hour late for a (by then overcooked and inedible) meal. She breezed in without any apology as if this was perfectly acceptable.

Table manners can be a big bone of contention. I don't even notice if someone always talks with their mouth full, while someone else will be cringing with distaste. I loathe messy eaters who spray crumbs and food fragments in all directions, while other people aren't remotely bothered.

Conversational habits are another bugbear. Is the person who gushes non-stop about themself tediously narcissistic or admirably self-confident? Is the person who hardly says a word a good listener or a lazy deadweight? Is the person who finds the hole in every argument a pain in the arse or a breath of fresh air?

Attitudes to personal criticism vary widely. I can take very heated criticism without turning a hair, while others are grievously offended by the mildest challenge. I know I have plenty of faults and I don't mind if others point them out - as long as they're polite about it. But my father took the slightest criticism as almost a declaration of war, and would sulk for days.

What's meant by good or bad manners is a tangled question. But one we shouldn't waste too much energy on. If we're so obsessed with someone's eating habits that we pay no attention to what they're saying, that's absurd. It's jolly bad manners in fact.

20 comments:

Wisewebwoman said...

I, for one, find bad manners an enormous distraction.

Basically, I think it is all about respect for oneself and others.

Being late, spraying food with an open mouth, gulping and chewing noisily, finishing a half an hour before everyone else or sometimes before anyone else has started.... I could go on.

I'm a firm believer in respect, both in conversation and in eating habits.

XO
WWW

Ursula said...

Nick, you really don't like people, do you? I now find myself thinking: Yeah, let's meander over to Nick's. See what his gripe this week is about.

U

Ursula said...

@Wise Web Woman, I agree. To trump your examples: If there is one thing I raise an eyebrow over when, at a private dinner party, your host will whip your plate from underneath your nose before you have barely finished. How convivial is that? Still, mustn't keep the dishwasher waiting.

U

Nick said...

www: Sure, respect for oneself and others. But as I say, we all have different interpretations of respect and disrespect (or good and bad manners). Black-and-white definitions are hard to come by.

Ursula: Not for the first time, I'm perplexed by how you see me. How did you conclude that I don't like people? And do I gripe any more than your other blogmates, I wonder?

But I do agree with your gripe about plates being rapidly whipped away. Neat freaks or what?

John Gray said...

Lack of respect and bad manners are two different things I think .....
Bad manners can be forgiven

Bijoux said...

I think there are just a lot of socially inept people who don't understand the unspoken rules of behavior. The adults I know with poor table manners are also oblivious about other social norms.

Nick said...

John: Hmmm, I think they're much the same. Surely treating someone courteously means giving them due respect?

Bijoux: There are certainly plenty of socially inept people. And yes, come to think about it, I know someone with terrible table manners who's a bit lacking in social skills generally.

e said...

Another interesting post, Nick, including the comments. I agree that bad manners can be forgiven as we have all committed social sins at one time or another. Lack of respect is something else entirely. As for the unspoken rules of behavior, many people are simply not exposed to proper etiquette and haven't the slightest idea how they appear to others. Worse yet are those who do not care.

bonsaimum said...

I just think that I treat people the same way I would like to be treated, with courtesy. We are all different and I like to look for the best in people first.

Nick said...

e: I think you're right that many people have simply never been taught appropriate social behaviour and have no idea why they're annoying others so much.

Bonsaimum: Do as you would be done by is a very good principle. If only everyone followed it!

Grannymar said...

If someone has the grace to invite me to dinner (or any other repast at their table) I should show respect for the thought, time in preparation of the food etc., behaving with courtesy and respect not alone for my host and hostess but for all the other guests . As a guest, I am not being paid as entertainer, so therefore hogging the conversation would be really rude!

Sorry I was late to arrive for this feast, my routine is a little different these days.

Nick said...

Grannymar: Absolutely. The hosts have probably gone to a lot of trouble to prepare the meal, so why insult them by turning up late or not showing any appreciation? And hogging the conversation is not only selfish but suggests a total lack of interest in the other guests.

Oh, no apologies needed!

Secret Agent Woman said...

I'm one of those people who are frighteningly punctual, so it does trouble me some when someone is late, either to meet me somewhere or to my house for dinner. Seems disrespectful of my time. I don't care about most table manners that involve things like which fork to use, but disgusting eating makes me cringe.

Cheerful Monk said...

I agree with you, different people live by different rules, no sense getting upset by it. If it bothers us too much just try to avoid them if possible. Keeping in mind that we might be missing something.

Nick said...

Agent: True, it's disrespectful of someone's time. They're just hanging about twiddling their thumbs while the other person is casually ambling and dawdling towards them.

Jean: Yes, if you think you're going to miss a valuable friendship the occasional lapse in good manners is easily excusable.

Jenny Woolf said...

Some things just can't be good manners, no matter what. Ignoring you while chatting with others can never be OK. I think I am broadly in agreement with you about this matter.

blackwatertown said...

I think that the spirit of the behaviour is what matters, rather than strictly adhering to convention or ritual. So - at a meal - relishing the food, drink and company trumps all else.

Nick said...

Jenny: I think the woman who ignored me was pretty drunk at the time, but that still doesn't excuse her rudeness.

Paul: The spirit of the behaviour, exactly. If everyone's enjoying themselves, making a fuss over table manners is rather silly.

Liz said...

But one can not and should never forgive those who chew gum with their mouths open.

A blink of my eye seems to be the cue for people to tell me their incredibly long-winded and boring life history.

Nick said...

Liz: I agree with you on that one, it's incredibly unattractive. My sympathies over the life-history enthusiasts - are they usually men or is it both sexes?