Recently, in a large-ish meeting room when there were several conversations going on, I caught the eye of the person I wanted to show something to on my laptop, and beckoned to her, with a gesture that to me is not impolite, crooking my fingers at her.

As she walked round the room she started telling everyone how rude that was. In her culture that is how you attract the attention of a lowly creature, such as a dog.

I apologised and explained how, for me, it was more polite to use a hand gesture than to try and shout over the others in the room. With goodwill on both sides it was quickly sorted out, but I am careful not to gesture to her again.

The differences in what is considered polite and what is regarded as  “not good manners” between societies can be huge.

Sometimes I wonder how on earth people from different backgrounds can manage to get along when so many things we take for granted do not mean the same to others.  Then I think of a story, told to me by my mother when she was explaining that consideration of others was the basis for good manners anywhere.

When Jan Smuts (who had been a General fighting against the British in the Anglo-Boer war) was later making a formal visit (as politicians do) to London, he was entertained at some event that included the Queen.  He in his somewhat rough way (a boer is literally a farmer) scooped peas onto his knife to eat them. The Queen, apparently not wishing to embarrass him, did the same, eliminating any comment from others at the table.

54 thoughts on “Manners

  1. It does show that one should be sure of the norms in a culture before taking offence. The classic example is of a person from a black culture sitting immediately in the presence of an interviewer, to show respect by not being higher than the latter – who, of course, then regards it as a lack of manners.

  2. I had the exact same situation many years ago with the hand gesture. But the person in question was quite obnoxious about it and considering his job was that of a messenger between departments I am pretty sure he had been summoned by a hand gesture before. No doubt he would not have told off senior management but thought I was fair game.

    There has to be give and take on both sides of the cultural divide, arrogance only breeds intolerance.

    1. strange how long it can take before someone opens up about what they think is rude.

      of course that is all tangled up with the issue of when to compkain, and what is or is not rude

    1. do a conflict of manners ever provoke a war? Imagine dying in the trenches because someone wants you to cock the pinky when slurping your tea

  3. Thank you, I enjoyed that very much. The pea incident reminds me of a fabulous scene in Doctor Who from the classic season, where Leela (companion to Tom Baker’s Doctor) who, as a warrior of the Sevateem, sits down to dinner in a Victorian dining room. When invited to eat, she picks up a leg of meat and bites into it. Her host – pretty much like the queen – does no more than pick up the other leg and do likewise.
    Of course, it’s just picking up on George Bernard Shaw’s line for Higgins in Pygmalion: “It’s not about having good manners, or bad manners, but having the same manner to all.”

  4. Consideration, manners, apologetic (the latter, to me is not a sign of weakness, though in some cultures it is)……and a smile once in awhile doesn’t hurt either.

      1. can the same be said of Bloody Mary though? does chopping heads off, left right and center make people feel at ease? maybe the folk on her side…everyone else…busted?

          1. hmmmmm, serious contemplation so early in the morning – would you like a shot of something or other in your coffee to make the madness go away?

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