“Is etiquette teachable? I hold a sensitive job that sees me mingling with the high and mighty but the man I am dating is an embarrassment. He conducts himself uncouthly and won’t even observe simple things such as table manners”
Many years ago, a man invited us to dinner in London, and we accepted the invitation to what turned out to be a rather expensive restaurant. The confusion that then ensued, was understandable on the basis of the different cultures that seemed to be in collision.
He had been home for dinner many times, and on this visit to his country, he explained that we could not go to his house, because his place had flooded and there were repairs going on. So far so good.
After the meal, the bill came and he asked the waiter to split it four ways. The waiter said he had already done so because he had assumed that each was paying his own bill! That was etiquette British style. We each paid our portion and sulked as we went our way.
When we told the story upon our return, a young man present told us of an experience he had gone through a few months earlier. His was the opposite of ours but made the same point on culture collisions.
He had asked a girl in his faculty to go out for a drink with him, and at the end of the evening, he did what he knew boys should do, which is to pay for “his quest”. The girl was furious when she came from the bathroom and found the bill had been paid. Etiquette did not allow her to accept drinks from a boy on a first date, which in her view was not even a real date. The bill was retrieved and each paid their portion. That is etiquette!
Like all things that we learn, etiquette can be taught but again the earlier, the better.
As a doctor, in clinical practice I notice some very simple things that at first used to upset me, but which now leave me with a knowing smile.
When a couple get up to leave my office, some men get up first, go to the door and let the lady go out first. That is a gentleman’s behaviour. Other men struggle (like matatus) to get to the door and often end up pushing the lady he is with this way and that way. Sometimes it seems that both will get stuck in the door. Often, one or the other seem like they might fall. Such men leave me wondering if the word etiquette exists in their vocabulary.
Other similar and fairly simple behaviour is observed when a lady enters a room. The gentlemen get up, acknowledge her and offer her a seat. Other men simply remain seated or ask her to pull “that chair from the corner”. On the other hand, some young men follow the correct etiquette, and offer to pour drinks for the lady friends. Others gulp their drinks long before the waiter has finished putting the drinks on the table.
Let us first admit that etiquette is heavily culture bound and as such, what is correct in one culture might be frowned upon in another. A recent argument in this regard occurred in a Japanese restaurant in Nairobi.
A man and a woman were eating sushi. Correctly, the lady was using chopsticks, but the man decided to use his hands. The girl was upset and called the man uncultured. A Japanese man sitting next to them settled the argument for them. In some parts of Japan, men may use their hands to eat sushi, women must always use chopsticks. This is all to do with culture and etiquette. A very small point that makes the point that culture and etiquette are not universal. Let’s now look at other aspects of etiquette to make the same point.
Did you know that a man should always walk on a woman’s left hand side (except military men who may have to salute). Did you also know that in some cultures it is bad etiquette to discuss age, wealth, religion, love affairs other than with family?
A middle-aged man was ostracised by his friends because he often bragged about his prowess with young girls who he often paraded in clubs and restaurants. The man had crossed the red line when he brought “bedroom matters” to the clubhouse.
Did you know that good etiquette demands that a lady always carries her handbag. A man may, however carry her coat to the cloakroom. Another relevant breach of etiquette is to put one’s mobile phone on the table during a meeting or dinner. It tells the person with you that he or she is dispensable in the event that a more important event takes place, for instance a call or a text.
Yes, etiquette is teachable if one has a student who is for whatever reason motivated to learn. If the man you are dating is serious about how you feel about his poor etiquette, then he should be teachable.