Good manners are in a
state of flux as they were never before. One can no longer turn to the rules that worked 50 or even 20 years ago. Casual life styles seem to be the order of the day because good manners are regarded by most people as formal and rigid in outlook. Thus, in the bid to survive the harsh economy of our time, most people trade pleasing personalities for bread and butter. This is very unfortunate because one’s actions and behaviour will be observed by others and a wrong first impression is more lasting than any number of good deeds that may follow.
The kind of manners and etiquette you have, reveal a lot about you, especially your home upbringing, your class, your personalities etc. It is unfortunate that it is those who are devoid of class that continuously remind themselves and others of possessing an abundance of it. Have you ever heard some persons who talk of their most recent trip abroad, their imported household goods, their fleets of cars, their intellect and fame, their good accent and diction to mention but a few. All these do not constitute pleasing personality themselves but good manners, etiquette, modesty, honesty, politeness, sincerity etc.
Sound manners and good etiquette are based on three most enduring of all human traits-kindness, thoughtfulness and consideration for others. The primary enemies of good manners and etiquettes are anger, impatience, greed etc. Because of human nature, sometimes even very civilised or well-behaved people can be found wanting in good manners. If you want to save your reputation, keep your temper or desires in check and respect the rights of others. The benefits of good manners and etiquette cannot be over emphasised. Good manners are essential in building good relationships with other people. A person with a fine sense of etiquette exudes confidence. Such person is able to put everybody at ease regardless of their social rank or status.
Thus, by cultivating correct mannerisms and using them constantly, one is sure to be able to tackle various occasions with confidence.
Children are at the learning stage, they have an uncanny sense of perception and memory. Children not only learn what you teach them but also observe your behaviours, attitude and ways of dealing with them and others. That is why teaching your children basic manners take top priority. Just as you provide them with the best of food, clothes and education, teach them the best of manners so that they can do the right thing at the right time.
Thus, to inculcate good manners and etiquette in your children, it is very important that you observe these golden rules at home regularly. For instance, studies have revealed that when parents and elderly members of the family show proper respect for servants/subordinates, children will emulate this behaviour and are equally respectful to their teachers/guardians.
But a child whose parents shout and abuse the servants/subordinates is usually very disrespectful to the teacher/guardian. Again, a young lad who has the habit of pulling out the chair for the elderly members of his family at the dining table and offering the comfortable chair he has been sitting in when his mother comes into the living room will easily do so to other women and elders in the society.
Although manners can never be completely standardised, various societies place emphasis on the proper forms of behaviour. For instance, in a typical African society, one of the ways to access a thorough bred individual is the way he or she holds himself or herself.
It has become a common sight now to see some young persons stand slumped over like a loose-joined puppet with their hands tucked in their pockets and shuffling their feet lazily as they walk. Good posture habits include the way you sit, stand or walk. How you stand, walk and sit strongly influences people’s judgement of you because posture is very closely associated with one’s nature. If you sit erect, use your hands properly and know how to manage your legs while sitting in a group, you portray an image of a confident and composed person but if you plonk down on a chair or scrabble for a seat or sit with legs wide apart revealing the most private of all areas and with unrelaxed hands, you portray an image of lack of an aura of sincerity and poise.
Thus, by teaching your children good posture habits, you have not only saved their physique but a lot of future embarrassments as well.
Another way of judging one’s breeding is greeting. It is polite custom to greet people at least the first time you see them each day. Greeting enhances your image, break the veneer of formality and spells goodwill. There are several forms of verbal greeting, namely, a friendly smile, a nod, a wink, a handshake, a hug, verbal greetings etc. Verbal greeting is the universal verbal forms of greeting which is acceptable in most situations. In this part of the world, it is good morning or good afternoon. In this age of casual lifestyle, instead of good morning or good afternoon, most young people say “how far” or even try to shake their elders. Children should be properly guided by parents on the various pattern of greeting. Leave-taking, dismissing or escorting someone is also part and parcel of greetings.
Another way of judging one’s class is conversations. Speaking is idiosyncratic. It is a reflection of learned pattern of talking and personality. For a child, the first rule for a good conversation should be politeness and respect for others. Slang should be out of “polite” conversation and when talking with your elders, family friends and superiors.
A child should also be taught not to interrupt while two persons are talking. People with communication problem frequently and rudely interrupt others. Polite words such as please, thank you, excuse me, bye, hello etc should be essential part of their speech.
Another area of judging one’s breeding is table manners.
Lack of table manners can make one ridiculous. Good table manners are second nature to someone who has been taught correct manners right from cradle. It is embarrassing that in some homes, toddlers feed from the floor while their plates are empty.
Teach the child gently yet firmly all that he should gradually know starting with the basic things first. A practical method of teaching is always better. Seat your child beside yourself when you eat and show him or her what to do.
As a general rule, when used with spoon or knife, fork is held in the left hand with the prongs facing upwards but when used alone, fork is held on the right hand with the prongs facing upwards. All gravy dishes such as rice, beans etc may be eaten with a spoon not a fork. Chicken can either be eaten with fingers or knife and fork while fish is eaten with a fork and knife and salad with fork. African eating habits rely upon our God-given five fingers and do not demand the strict use of knife or fork or even spoon.
The worst table manners are those that suggest greediness or show an entire lack of consideration for others such as chewing with the mouth open, eating fast, shoveling food into the mouth in large forkfuls, swallowing with gulps, noisily sucking through the teeth, licking the fingers, talking through a mouthful of foods, blowing hot food to cool it, crumbling bread into tea, tearing the last clinging bits of meat from a chicken or any other bone with the teeth like dog, asking for another helping like Oliver Twist, spitting out hot food etc.
Other signs of ill breeding includes, cleaning your nose or your ears or your fingers in public, yawning without bringing your hand to your mouth, sleeping with mouth open, appearing in public with disorderly hair or clothings, standing with hands on the hips, cracking vulgar jokes in the presence of a lady banging doors, clattering down the stairs, using another’s property without permission, nagging, not remembering birthdays of family members etc.
Lack of good manners and etiquette is simply an indication of one’s level of sophistication and on the whole put one in poor perspective. Charming personality begins from the home. Some part of behaviour pattern in time becomes a part of our personality. Thus, ill breeding in the family if not corrected can degenerate into some social menaces such as robbery, violence, corruption etc because as a being is so the being acts.
Marie C. Obasi