We’re told that the epitome of courtesy was when Sir Walter Raleigh laid down his coat so Queen Elizabeth I wouldn’t get her shoes muddy. Was that chivalry, courtesy or good manners? And does it matter?
The laying-down-of-the-cloak days are gone, but yes, courtesy and good manners matter. I believe they open more doors of opportunity than do education and experience. They imply a certain level of sophistication.
Here on the East Coast, the Golden Rule is largely alive and well. We can be proud of our attitudes and our behaviour toward strangers and each other. How often have you had a shop door held open for you by a complete stranger, male or female? I’ve even had people hold the door for me when I was 10 or more steps away!
We’re told that tourists love Atlantic Canadians because of our friendliness and politeness—courtesy and good manners generally seem to be ingrained in our culture.
But sometimes we see the discourtesies rather than the courtesies. The disappearance of simple “please” and “thank you” from vocabularies is one example. Consider scenarios where cell phone users disregard those physically present so they may talk with others by voice or text, politicians who are looking for the next person while shaking the hand of one supporter, and couples who treat each other insultingly in the company of others.
Why is this type of behaviour tolerated in today’s society? Is it because we don’t care, or that we’ve become accustomed to it? How are we going to maintain decorum and set an example for our youth if we don’t insist on good manners and courteous behaviour from our contemporaries and from ourselves? One of the most important ways to do so is to acknowledge and recognize, in a positive way, those who have done us proud.
Contemporary men and women tend not to identify with the old rules laid out in the etiquette books for ladies and gentlemen. A former mother-in-law of mine was fond of saying that all females were ladies and all males gentlemen unless proven otherwise. These days it’s quite de rigueur for both ladies and gents to hold doors open or to pick up the tab in a restaurant.
This is not to say, though, that some women don’t enjoy being treated in a special way by a special guy. I’m old-school enough to appreciate having my male friend hold or stand beside my chair until I’m seated at the table at home or in a restaurant.
Another place that we in the East show an abundance of courtesy is on the road. Of course there are exceptions, but generally when we’re behind the wheel we tend to consider and respect others, be they drivers or pedestrians. On a rural road the two-finger wave or a nod is common when meeting another driver. In an urban setting, drivers often give way, and are gratefully acknowledged with a hand signal or a smile. While travelling with my son Steve in a Western city recently I was surprised, and pleased, when he demonstrated
Eastern-style driving habits. He stopped for pedestrians who wanted to cross a street, and periodically gave the right of way to other drivers.
Courtesy is an action. It’s important to admire the courtesy in others and be proud of it in yourself. Manners tell us how to compliment courteous behaviour and how to respond in instances of discourtesy.
We can all help to create an atmosphere of courtesy and generosity of spirit. Take notice of the displays of courtesy around you—large and small—and be proud that you live in Atlantic Canada.
This is a follow-up to Katharine’s column called “Mindful of Manners,” which ran in May/June 2010.
Katharine’s social rules of order
Fed up with occasional boorish behaviour? Here are a few courtesy reminders. I’d like to hear yours—together we can begin to blow our horns louder about being the courtesy capital of Canada.
On the road
- Be considerate of all road users (bikers, pedestrians, truckers, auto drivers)
- Wave or nod to thank another road user
- Avoid tailgating
- Don’t text, and use only a hands-free cell
- Give a slow driver the benefit of the doubt—he or she may be in unfamiliar territory, or having a bad day
- Try to avoid splashing pedestrians or cyclists in wet weather
- Be gracious: allow other drivers the right-of-way when you can
- Show appreciation for the kind gestures of others
- Offer to hold the door open for people, regardless of their gender or age
- Focus on the person or task at hand, not someone on the phone or over your shoulder
- Be pleasant in the workplace—smile!
- Avoid interrupting
- Avoid raising your voice in public
- Promote and practice good manners at home, in public and in the workplace
- Admire courtesy in others and be proud of it in yourself
Just yesterday, I was in a busy grocery store parking lot, putting my bags in my trunk. It was blustery and I was in a hurry to get back to work. A stranger (who was returning her cart to the corral) offered to take my cart as well. I have to admit she was better dressed for the nasty weather than I was and I was excited not to have to make that trek myself. It was one of those random acts of kindness you hear about and left me feeling great all day! Thanks stranger!