You have no manners (and neither have I), part 6: Seven Pointers

We’ve been looking at how our sense of propriety, also known as “manners,” affects touch, language, food, and pretty much everything else we do. Now it’s time to make that famous list of pointers where we try to be intelligent and practical-minded.

  1. I’ve often asked Americans to explain the rules of baseball to me. Everyone has always failed—the game is so deeply ingrained in their unconscious that they can’t verbalize the rules in a coherent and comprehensive order. Your sense of propriety is the same: it develops so early in life that you won’t be able to fully grasp it intellectually; it’s a nearly biological reflex by now. You take an awful lot of your tribe's customs for granted!
  2. There are very few absolute propriety values, shared by all nations, cultures, and tribes. You should never assume a trait of yours is shared by all, or that it should be shared by all.
  3. Looking at people from a culture different from yours, you might think that their manners are crazy, absurd, and unhealthy; and you might wonder why on Earth don’t they give it all up already. First, manners arise for reasons that at the outset may be quite logical. Second, those crazy people aren’t aware of their craziness, and in fact they don’t even consider themselves crazy—not in the least. Third, to them you’re just as crazy, absurd, and unhealthy. So… why don’t you give it all up already?
  4. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In other words, adapt the mores of the culture you visit or the country you move to. In France, say “Bonjour, Madame,” every time you enter the bakery—every single time, always! Entering a Catholic church, uncover your head—always! Entering a synagogue, cover your head—always!
  5. Clashes of manners are inevitable. An overly sensitive introvert meets a brash extravert. The introvert finds the loudmouth extremely rude and insensitive. But the extravert considers the introvert terribly stifling. Whose manners ought to change, to accommodate the needs of the other? Oftentimes there are no fair solutions.
  6. Although we learn most of our manners intuitively, from a very early age, we can also learn new behaviors as grownups. It takes discipline, sensitiveness, and imagination. But, most of all, it takes a little “distance,” the capacity to leave your own certainties at the door.
  7. When someone invites you to dinner, ask what’s on the menu before you say “yes.”