Here’s what I feel are the basic essential “Must Do’s” of Manners. If anyone thinks I’ve missed out something, do let me know, and I’ll add it to the list. Similarly, if something seems too complicated or hard, I’d like to know that too. It may be that all those years of busting a gut to train myself have made my expectations a bit too high.
1) Say ‘Hello’, when you meet someone, and ‘Goodbye’ when you part from them.
How you say this will differ of course according to who you’re with and where. It might be hey, hiya, yo, gidday, chow or see ya for your friends and family, but use hello and goodbye in formal situations like job interviews, or any time when you don’t know the people well.
2) Say ‘please’ when asking for something, and ‘thank you’ when you receive it.
If you’re amongst close friends and/or family, saying thanks or ta is usually okay for thank you, but be more formal with anyone else. Also say thank you when you get a gift – even if you don’t like it. (And DON’T SAY that you don’t like it! Just thank them and quietly put it aside.)
3) Wait your turn, and don’t push in.
Don’t assume you just can walk up to counters, checkouts, buffet tables, etc – look to see if there’s a queue forming or formed, and put yourself on the end of it. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient, but pushing in is truly not acceptable, unless there’s some really, really good reason for it, and the onus is on YOU to let people know what that is.
4) Say ‘excuse me’ in the following situations.
i) If you have to push past people in a crowd. In a large crowd, you will need to say it repeatedly until you get out of it. It’s a good idea to say sorry or thank you also.
ii) If you have to interrupt other people’s conversation or activity. (Note I say have to – I will cover the acceptable reasons for interrupting in my ‘Don’ts’.)
iii) If you have to reach around someone, for any reason. Though it’s best to avoid doing so if you can – if it’s necessary to get past them, ask POLITELY if they could please move, and why.
iv) If you have to get close to anybody for any other reason at all. (Yes, I know we usually avoid this like the plague, but it can happen.)
5) Be especially nice/polite/helpful to the vulnerable.
This includes the following groups : -
i) The elderly. Even if they are grumpy. Or especially if they are grumpy!
ii) Mothers with children. Or fathers, if they’re burdened with kids too.
iii) The disabled, and those who are obviously unwell or injured.
Being polite to them generally means things like:-
a) Holding open doors for them.
b) Letting them go first in queues.
c) Offering any other help they might need, such as getting pushchairs up steps.
6) Use your table manners.
What is considered good table manners of course differs between cultures – in some, eating with your fingers and burping afterwards is considered polite! However, in Western cultures, the following are usually expected when dining with others : -
i) Use your knife and fork for the main course, and a spoon for dessert. Use your fingers only for things like kebabs, sandwiches, or ‘finger food’. Watch what others do, if you’re still not sure.
ii) Chew with your mouth closed, and don’t talk with your mouth full. Truly, no-one wants to see your half-chewed food. Wipe your mouth (or front) if you dribble or spill food.
iii) Ask for things to be passed to you, rather than reaching across other people. If you must reach, say excuse and sorry, as I mentioned above.
iv) Don’t simply help yourself to the last potato (or the last slice of pie, helping of rice, etc) on the serving dish – always ask first if anyone else wants it, and be prepared to share it or give it to them, if so.
iv) Put your knife and fork neatly on the plate when you’re finished. (Some say together, some say crossed. Follow what others are doing, if you’re not sure.)
One final word – it’s not table manners as such – but if you’re eating at someone else’s place, it’s often considered polite to offer to clear the table and/or help with the dishes afterwards, but this will vary a lot. Some won’t expect it or even want it. Even if your offer is refused however, it will probably still be appreciated.
In my next post, I will cover the ‘Don’ts’ of Politeness.