HomeReviewsInterviewsStoreABlogsOn Writing

AztecLady speaks: Manners.

Friday, September 5, 2008
Posted in: Azteclady Speaks, random musings

Instead of doing some things I have to do—with deadlines and everything—I’m spending some time thinking about manners.

See, I was brought up under the rule that you don’t correct other people’s manners. Not children’s, because you assume* that their parents will educate them. Not adults, because you assume* that they had manners drummed into their psyches while growing up, and that if they don’t use them is by choice, not lack.

But here’s the thing that got me thinking about this.

Imagine that you are visiting a friend, and so are a large bunch of other people. Some you know fairly well, some you have a nodding acquaintance with. Some you’ve just met recently and some are total strangers to you. They all have come to spend some time together at your friend’s living room.

Upon entering the house, each guest is told by your host that there will be all sorts of people there, with many different backgrounds and cultural mores, and to please remember to be considerate of each other’s feelings and respectful of each other’s opinions. (Note: you are not told not to disagree, only to be civil about it—and remember that disagreeing about ideas doesn’t equate with insulting the person one disagrees with)

Your friend is busy doing her own things, coming in and out of the room at what seem like random intervals while all of you people are having fun chatting around. And all is rainbows and kittens except…

~ ~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~ ~

First scenario:

At one point while your host is not in the room, one of the other guests does something mildly ill-mannered. Let’s say, for the sake of this piece, that this person farts. Hey, she’s from somewhere where farting in company is not bad manners unless oxygen masks are required as a result, so she’s completely unconcerned. Most of the people around blink a bit, perhaps look at each other in mild surprise or confusion, exchange a few shrugs, and continue with the conversation.

But there is that one person in every large group of people who marches across the room and proceeds, loudly and scathingly, to explain to the first guest how farting is akin to poisoning and to demand retraction… or something. (Yeah, the fart analogy, it ain’t working too good, but work with me, please.) Everyone else stops talking, and turns to look at this exchange with varying degrees of astonishment.

A third guests pulls the second person discretely to the side and says something to the effect of, “Wow, don’t you think that perhaps that was a tad too harsh? I mean, it didn’t even stink, you know?” to which she responds, “I reacted in the manner I deemed appropriate. I apologize if I offended you.”

Other guests, meanwhile, are feeling seriously upset at the abuse heaped on the head of the poor innocent farter, and express their feelings in a similar if less diplomatic manner—by talking about the incident loudly in the middle of the room so that every other guest knows they don’t support such overreaction. They may say, “Well, for goodness’ sake, it was a tiny fart! It’s not like you (meaning the second guest) don’t fart either! And if you felt you had to say something, couldn’t you have done so discreetly, in a side conversation?”

And things go sour from there.

~ ~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~ ~

Second scenario:

A heated conversation on a particular topic has dominated most of the room during one of your host’s absences. Suddenly she pops back in, overhears a particularly objectionable (to her) statement, and politely asks the person talking not to repeat that statement while in her living room. She smiles, and leaves again, to go about her business.

While she is gone, the person who made the objectionable statement and a couple other guests start wondering at what other specific statements your host may find objectionable. They start wondering if the rules of behavior—as were explained to them upon entering—apply different for the other guests. “Why, they cry indignantly, are our statements objectionable but not theirs?” while pointing wildly to the people they were arguing with. “It’s not fair! We demand that the rules be changed to specify this ‘new’ requirement!”

A person who had not participated in the conversation starts another conversation where, a bit self-righteously, she wonders at the lack of manners implied in questioning your host’s right to decide, not the topic of conversation (because she’s given all her guests free rein on that) but on the way such conversations are conducted.

A free for all ensues, until your host returns and, upon listening to all the arguments, finishes the discussion with a pointed, “My house, my rules, please behave or leave.”

~ ~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~ ~

Does anyone ever have the right—or obligation, if you prefer—to correct someone else’s manners in a space not their own? Assuming* of course that your host hasn’t charged them with keeping order or some such.

*Yes, that word. We know what happens.

20 Comments »


  • Sparky
    September 5
    1:54 pm

    My take:
    No duty to correct bad manners generally (even if they’re REALLY annoying) because it’s kind of presumptious and my standards may not be there’s anyway. I wouldn’t, for example, ask someone to extinguish a cigarette in someone else’s home even though I hate people lighting up near me and think it’s rude to do so without asking. In general people get on with their lives and I get on with mine

    There are 3 times when I’d intervene:
    1) Genuine ignorance (I’ve known non-native speakers occasionally use words not realising they are crude or offensive, for example)

    2) To defend myself if I can’t just leave. If someone’s rudeness amounts to a personal attack on me and/or is just harmful to me then I’ll defend (though I’ll usually complain to the host or leave)

    3) To defend someone else – as you had above, I’d be one of those slapping the indignant fart indicator.

    ReplyReply

  • I think tone is everything. You can talk to the farter in a quiet voice, you can pop in and change the topic of conversation. Personally I think being righteous in correcting someone or slapping down edicts as ‘my house my rules’ are both overly precious and bound to cause offense. A person can do it all you want, but the guest list might dwindle to those who thrive on drama rather than those who prefer a pleasant atmosphere where their co-guests and hosts give them the benefit fo the doubt until the social boundaries of the event become clear.

    ReplyReply

  • I wouldn’t correct the behavior nor would I say anything to anyone at the event. I WOULD have one hell of a conversation with my husband on the way home.

    The part of all this that is puzzling to me is that if you are having an event at your home wouldn’t you make certain that the people meshed, knew how to behave or, you know, not invite them?

    I can think of plenty of instances where you might have a political fund raiser or charitable event where it is less social and more about an issue where you are less worried about the social aspects of the gathering and more about people attending and participating. In those sorts of instances the situations you mention might, could and probably do happen.

    Manners are a big deal to me. Not which fork or napkin to use but just courtesy, kindness and consideration for other people. It just shouldn’t be that hard to be kind.

    ReplyReply

  • Hi, long time lurker here. I think the proper thing to do is to take some one aside and speak to them privately. Manners differ from culture to culture. I’m an American who just recently moved to Japan, and I didn’t realize until a week or two ago, that in Japanese culture, blowing your nose / sneezing is considered the equivalent of farting in public. I had been walking around, doing that in front of all sorts of Japanese people, and no one ever bothered to tell me. Now that I know (via another expat) I definitely won’t blow my nose or (try) to sneeze in public.

    ReplyReply

  • In moving around I think I have done the lot, from leaving my shoes on to swearing, not saying grace and probably plenty of others I was never told about. It is a good idea to let people known discreetly when they have transgressed, even if it is by phone call after the event…. 😉

    ReplyReply

  • The social rules I was taught are simple: its good and proper manners not to assume you’re the manner enforcer except in a few exceptions. Exceptions include, 1.: Boisterous drunks should always be politely invited to leave, even if you have to convince them it was their idea to do so. And real men are never to be shy about volunteering to be the offender’s escort home. 2. Men don’t tolerate rude or abusive behavior from one guy toward a lady, even if that lady really isn’t behaving like a lady at all. 3. Anyone waving a gun on the premises should be introduced to either the local law enforcement officers OR the cold hard floor under the persuasion of the combined mass of your weight and that of your friends. 4. Anyone suddenly turning the radio dial to a country music station are subject to immediate request to leave the premises. 5. All physical confrontations are to be delayed until you and your confrontational party or parties can meet at another designated location, except in cases involving the Exception rules 2 or 3. 6. Priests or other clergymen making passes at your Grandmother, mother, wife or other lady of your acquaintance are immune to repercussions of breach activity until after you and/or your companions have made your next confession.

    ReplyReply

  • For me, it will all depend on the individual situation.

    Say I’m out eating with my kids around 7pm or so and there is a rowdy group of people in the booth next to us, cussing swearing, carrying on. Will I say something? Oh, yes. And I have. People should display respectful behavior in areas where they are going to be among large groups of others, especially if it’s an environment where kids are likely or expected to be. Unfortunately it’s something that happens more often than I like, and it’s a situation I have to address too often. I doubt I’m always uber nice when I do it, although I try to keep my annoyance to a minimum and just get their attention and point out that there are kids in the area. Usually, they stop. When they don’t, I’ve either gone to a manager or kept pressing the issue until they figured I wasn’t worth the hassle and they shut up to shut ME up. *G*

    If it’s just me and my husband in the above scenario, unless they are getting really obnoxious, I ignore them.

    If I’m in a restaurant where it’s no-smoking and then somebody lights up at the table next to me, I’ll say something whether or not my kids are there. I’m asthmatic and I don’t need to be inhaling their smoke-health takes precedence over manners 😉

    If I’m in a place where there is a conversation that offends/insults me on some level, chances are I’ll just ignore it, unless I think it’s bothering others. If I think it’s likely to bother others who can hear or others that are involved, then I’d try to address in the best manner possible.

    And if I’m in a friends house and people are carrying on in a manner I know my friend won’t like, yes, I’ll say something. I won’t make a big fiasco of it, because that makes things worse, not better. I doubt I could just let it go, because if my friend has invited others in, it’s to be a friendly thing, and friendly things don’t work without respect.

    It’s all about respect, though. If you expect others to treat you with respect, then they do something that bothers you and strikes you as disrespectful, and you lash out in a less than respectful manner, you’re not going to get the desired reaction.

    Edited for typos, grammar…man, I’m bad today

    ReplyReply


  • Michelle Monkou
    September 5
    4:59 pm

    It depends. If the comment is offensive, as in racist, sexist, or something like that, then they are going to get nailed to the wall in front of everyone. And sometimes in the heat of a discussion, someone spouts a thought that clearly originated from their arse. I’m too old to be polite and let stuff fly. However, just a disagreement of views or farting will make me move to the other side of the room.

    ReplyReply

  • The only time I would say anything is if I know the person who stuck their foot in their mouth. The reality is that people are free to make fools of themselves…

    Now when it comes to kids, I try to curb my tongue but I admit I have a potty mouth. I’ve never had someone tell me to hush because their kids are around because I usually mind my P’s and Q’s if I know kids are near.

    That said – if someone did tell me to hush because their kids can hear me (and I didn’t know the person), I wouldn’t like it much. I’m a grown up and I express myself how I wish.

    I did catch a snippet on talk radio earlier this week. In Pittsburgh (or was it Philly) the police will write you a disorderly conduct ticket for cursing in front of them or flipping someone off in their presence. Talk about Big Brother!

    ReplyReply

  • Dude, are we talking about parties, or about blogs?

    ReplyReply

  • I think the biggest thing about ‘manners,’ as much as it various from culture to culture, is about courtesy and being polite about it.

    A personal experience was almost like the second example where I was chattering on happily about something I’d learned and was sharing with a group of friends. Rather than simply tell me that she doesn’t agree, or I was annoy her, or whatever. She suddenly yelled at me to shut up and never speak of said subject again in front her presence. As much as the other people were annoyed by whatever it was I was talking about, they thanked her for yelling and shouting at me and happily chittered on to their own lives.
    If I remember correctly, I was talking about how looking at women’s status in a culture tells a lot about that society.
    Was it a sensitive subject to her? Maybe. Did she say anything in those terms? Not really. Should I have been publically yelled at for her own sense of comfort when I had no idea it was disurbing her? F*** no.
    I come from two very different and somewhat opposite cultures so I’ve learned that sometimes, one thing may be acceptabled in one group may not be so in another, and it’s actually good manners to be civil and kind when voicing concerns over disagreements. Isn’t that what’s called agreeing to disagree?
    I don’t see any problems with speaking up about something that may be really offensive to someone, but the delivery makes a huge difference is my conclusion. Or just ask nicely,’did you know what you just did______?’or ‘why did you do ______?’ for clarifications before jumping on someone rudely and completely contradicting the whole ‘manners’ issue.

    ReplyReply

  • I’m a born and bred Southern Girl. We correct bad manners by saying, “Well bless your heart! Do you feel better letting that little bit of gas out?” All with a smile. Let’s the person know it’s noticed, and, thusly, probably not “normal” behaviour in a crowd. And they don’t feel like an idiot. Plus this can be said in a normal speaking voice with a smile, taking the pressure off the rest of the folks who heard the offending emission.

    You can say anything to anyone if you preface it with “Well bless your heart” – ever notice that? “Well bless your heart! Aren’t you the homeliest little ol’ thing!” “Well bless your heart! Don’t you smell like you got rode hard and put up wet!”

    WRT setting “house rules” about what can and cannot be said in a house or on a blog: I find that particularly presumptuous. It’s like you’re assuming your guests are complete idiots and don’t know how to conduct themselves in public. It’s insulting.

    Now, if someone at a party in your house starts a fracas over something you find offensive, you’re totally in your rights to say something and even ask them to leave. But to set rules like that from the get go? I’d either drink all of their most expensive booze and leave, or eat as much of the most expensive hors d’oeuvres and leave. But I’d still leave quickly.

    WRT children: again, this is probably a Southern thing, but all children within the area around an adult are fair game for correction. If a child is being particularly ill-behaved, it’s perfectly within a nearby adult to make a comment to the parent and/or the child, if the parent isn’t close. No laying on of hands or belts, but a good scolding isn’t considered ill manners down here if a child is being a horse’s butt.

    ReplyReply

  • You can say anything to anyone if you preface it with “Well bless your heart” – ever notice that? “Well bless your heart! Aren’t you the homeliest little ol’ thing!” “Well bless your heart! Don’t you smell like you got rode hard and put up wet!”

    Gwen, thanks for sharing LOL Kinda makes it tempting to move there, doesn’t it?

    ReplyReply


  • Dorothy Mantooth
    September 6
    2:03 pm

    1. The person who yelled at the farter and made a scene was terrifically rude. Had I been there, the minute he finished his tirade I would have turned brightly to the room as a whole and said in my most chipper voice, “So! Isn’t the sky a lovely shade of blue today?” and then taken the farter’s hand and led him/her to the window to look at it with me (failing that, I would have farted loudly myself, had I been capable, to make the Farter feel comfortable). Polite society ignores embarrassing bodily functions of this type.

    2. The hostess in this situation is unbearably rude. First of all, the guests in her home are her responsibility; there is no excuse for sticking a bunch of strangers in a room together and wandering off to let them fend for themselves. She should have been the one to change the subject when the Fart-Yeller started his/her tirade. Actually, she should have headed that off at the pass.
    Second, while the statement made by the Speaker may have been offensive to her, apparently it wasn’t to anyone else–or the others were willing to let it go for the sake of not being rude themselves. For her to suddenly appear, berate her guest, and disappear again is rude (with one exception; had the Speaker made a racist comment or something along those lines, she should have taken him/her aside and asked them not to repeat it.)

    The appropriate response to statements of that nature is polite company is a sort of stunned, disapproving silence before the conversation moves on to a different topic. Not to mention, if the Speaker is the sort of person who makes those kinds of statements, why has the Hostess invited him/her over to begin with?

    It is the job of the hostess to make her guests comfortable and welcome. Inviting them over then ignoring them, joining them only to pass out reprimands, is shameful.

    Had the hostess been doing her job properly, all of the above described situations would have been avoided, and a lovely time would have been had by all.

    There is a story about a First Lady whose name I forget, who had a distinguished guest to tea. She had just finished telling the guest about how the teacups they were using were very old and they were proud to have them at the table, when the guest nervously crushed the cup. The First Lady said, “Oh, don’t worry about it. They’re very fragile, see?” and crushed her own cup. President Kennedy once drank from his fingerbowl because a nervous guest did so first. History is littered with such tales, tiny bits of noblesse oblige from people who knew how to behave when they had guests.

    Because the feelings and comfort of your guests are more important than anything else.

    Oh, were you using this as an analogy about blogs? Sorry. 🙂

    ReplyReply

  • Kirsten my first thought was blogs and bloggers too

    ReplyReply


  • Dorothy Mantooth
    September 6
    4:56 pm

    BTW, Alice, I hope you never spoke to any of those people again. Their behavior toward you was disgusting. What a terrible thing to do to you.

    ReplyReply

  • kirsten saell for the win–yes, I was talking about blogs or online forums, and wondering at how our perception of what is acceptable (good manners) changes from a physical environment to a virtual one.

    In that context, and while I can understand what you say, Dorothy, I have to disagree. Blogs and online forums are available 24/7. No one can reasonably expect the owner to stay on top of what is happening in her virtual living room–current and past conversations–every second of every day, ready to fend off ruckuses at the pass. Sometimes by the time the owner gets there, it’s mostly for clean up duty–and sometimes blood is spilt over what, in hindsight, started as a very minor thing.

    Moderating all comments could seem like the way to go, but that would break the flow of the conversation as well as imposing what I see as undue burden on the owner. That is why most big forums–and plenty of smallish ones–have at least a few hard and fast rules of behaviour for posters/commenters. The owners provide the space for the guests to enjoy themselves, but the onus to behave is on the latter.

    emily, I also disagree with you on the “my house, my rules” being too precious. Please bear in mind that the guests in question were arguing with their host about what behaviour the host should/could allow in her own space. If a guest at your house were to do that, how far would the discussion go before you said something to the effect of, “you don’t like it, feel free to go”?

    ReplyReply

  • Please bear in mind that the guests in question were arguing with their host about what behaviour the host should/could allow in her own space. If a guest at your house were to do that, how far would the discussion go before you said something to the effect of, “you don’t like it, feel free to go”?

    Heh, I would say the conversation should go exactly as far as the host feels appropriate, then she can tell them where to go, and what to stick where when they get there. It’s kind of sad that this is a question we even have to ask.

    My house, my rules may come off as high-handed at times, but it is no less appropriate because of that. If people don’t like it, they can get the eff out.

    The blogosphere is huge. There are plenty of other places they can go.

    ReplyReply

  • Here’s how I look at “Commenter Rules” for a blog: I don’t like them. I feel insulted when I’m confronted with a “thou shalt not” series of things I have to abide by to speak my mind. I’m an adult – I try to behave like a civilized person. People don’t need to tell me what that means.

    If I comment, and the blog owner feels my comment breaks unspoken rules or manners, then they should feel free to remove the comment, or edit it (with attribution), and state why on the blog – ‘fess up to what you’re changing and why. Don’t just change it, or delete it, and say nothing.

    But I’ve stopped participating in sites that were overly regulated. It’s how I ended up on TGTBTU, in fact. J.R. Ward’s forums were so heavily regulated to the point that they just weren’t fun any longer. I couldn’t be myself on them. So Sybil got me (heh heh).

    ReplyReply


  • Dorothy Mantooth
    September 6
    10:21 pm

    In that context, and while I can understand what you say, Dorothy, I have to disagree. Blogs and online forums are available 24/7. No one can reasonably expect the owner to stay on top of what is happening in her virtual living room–current and past conversations–every second of every day, ready to fend off ruckuses at the pass. Sometimes by the time the owner gets there, it’s mostly for clean up duty–and sometimes blood is spilt over what, in hindsight, started as a very minor thing.

    Oh, no, Azteclady. When I said “Is this about blogs? Sorry.” I meant it. I was taking the scneario literally and talking about it as an actual party in someone’s home.

    I agree it’s totally different for blogs. No, the blog owner cannot always be there and yes, moderating comments interrupts the flow of the conversation. And I don’t have an answer, really. I’ve always thought simply asking everyone to be respectful of others would suffice, until something happened on my own blog that made me realize people couldn’t even agree on that. A commenter emailed me to berate me for not “backing her up” when “So-and-so started shit with [her]” in the comments thread. And that by not replying to her comment and backing her up I was throwing her to the wolves and keeping my mouth shut to kiss ass.

    The truth of the matter was, the comments she saw as “starting shit with” her, I’d thought were perfectly respectful, friendly disagreement. I hadn’t ignored her post because I was afraid other people wouldn’t like me; I hadn’t responded to her because I disagreed with her and someone else had already said everything I’d planned to say.

    The point is, what I thought was no big deal at all was bad enough for her to start screaming at me in email for being a little bitch, playing stupid games, and not defending her.

    And at that point I realized the only was to be respectful to some people in their minds is to kiss their asses. Of course, I also realized that anyone that freaking touchy wasn’t someone I wanted hanging around my blog anyway, especially not since I’d given this person a lot of career advice and help in the past.

    But I still think “Be respectful” is a good guideline to use, at least because it gives you a reason to delete comments or boot people or do whatever else needs to be done, and reminds people in general to keep things to a certain level. I don’t blog about controversial things at all, but if I did, that’s probably the only rule/guideline I would post.

    JMO. But like I said, I really was talking about an actual party. 🙂

    Although, having said that, I do think it’s a good idea for a blogger to save their really controversial posts for when they’re going to be around. Not 24/7, but don’t post leaked emails from Author X calling her readers morons on the day you’re going out of town and won’t be around to keep an eye on things a bit, you know?

    ReplyReply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment