Michael Herrick's blog

Bad manners even you may be guilty of

Anyone who knows me will insist I admit that I’m not the politest person around, but I still like thinking and even writing about good and bad manners, first because I should try to do better myself, and also because I just like the ritual and formality of it all. I think the older you get, the more you enjoy elaborate traditions that may not have made much sense when you were younger. Conventions are occasionally constricting and burdensome, but some do us no harm and yet give us a feeling of connection and community, and I think the traditions I like the most are the ones that are the most arbitrary.

Those more gracious and refined traditions we might call by the name of “courtesy” and I’ll write about some of my favorites in a future article. They’re the fussy little rules about which fork goes where and they can be fun to observe provided we don’t take them too seriously. Courtesy can be pleasant to practice, but socially speaking, it’s just the fine, glossy finish; the real sandpapering-down of our splintery selves we call good manners, which you can’t neglect without running a grave risk of annoying, embarrassing or alienating your fellows.

Other pet-peeve cataloguers have documented manners so egregious that they’re not even worth setting down since the only offenders are obviously so little civilized that not even their literacy can be confidently assumed. Such essays reach not the perpetrators but only the victims of bad manners, who would probably read rather less than more about the trousered apes who broadcast thumping music from their cars, spit on the sidewalk, or make hideous messes in public toilets. The chief advantage to compiling such lists is that you can vent a little spleen without courting a charge of priggishness, since most readers can be depended on to side enthusiastically with your denunciations of nose-picking, queue-jumping, and almost anything to do with mobile phones.

There’s no point trying to teach manners to boors, but those of us who actually care about such things can sometimes benefit from a discussion. I’ve made a list, not of outrageous offenses, but of simple yet important manners that many folks — even you and I — too often overlook.

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