Understanding Etiquette and Manners

True Definition of Etiquette

Formal dinner party
  Caiaimage/Robert Daly / Getty Images

Have you ever wondered about the true meaning of etiquette? Do you instantly think of the manners you'll learn in charm school when someone mentions the word?

When many people think about etiquette, the first thing that pops into their minds is knowing which fork to use at a formal dinner or how to shake hands with someone. While those are important things to know, it doesn't get to the foundation of what etiquette really is.

Basic Definition

The word "etiquette" comes from the French word "estique," meaning to attach or stick. The noun "etiquette" describes the requirements of behaviors according to conventions of society. It includes the proper conduct that is established by a community for various occasions, including ceremonies, court, formal events and everyday life.

The short definition at Merriam-Webster.com is "the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave." The full definition is "the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life."

Essence of Etiquette

Most of the etiquette experts agree that proper etiquette begins by showing respect for others, being honest and trustworthy, putting others at ease, and showing kindness and courtesy to others. Only after that should you focus on the details of specific situations.

"Nothing is less important than which fork you use. Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor." Emily Post

Code of Conduct and Behavior

Etiquette includes having a strong moral code of conduct. The basics include allowing personal space, following the Golden Rule (treat others as you wish to be treated), obeying the 10 Commandments, and respect for elders. All of your actions affect others. For role models, pay attention to celebrities who are gracious and courteous. If a famous person exhibits bad manners, use it as an opportunity to reflect on what the person should have done and discuss it with your children.

Teaching Etiquette and Manners to Children

Good manners and etiquette need to be passed down to the next generation. How can anyone show what they don't know? Children need to be taught good manners, praised when they follow the rules, and corrected when they don't. It is a parent's responsibility, but other adults in the children's lives need to cooperate and assist when possible.

Here are some tips on teaching children proper etiquette:

Adult Manners

Children aren't the only ones who need manners lessons. All you have to do is take a look around when you're out in the public to see adults who should know better than to behave the way they do. Chances are, they were taught as children, but unless they've been practicing, they've forgotten the basics of good manners.

Here are some guidelines to refresh what you know or should know about etiquette:

Follow these guidelines for communicating with others:

Things to Consider

Etiquette includes a wide range of behaviors, including kindness, consideration, elegance, style, and decorum. Here are some quick tips to help you with the social graces:

  • Ask yourself if the behavior is kind or generous before engaging in the act.
  • Make sure you are putting others first without putting yourself down.
  • Practice good etiquette so that it comes naturally and from the heart.
  • Since etiquette varies from one society to another and periodically changes, continue to learn the new rules and follow them.