I started thinking about how manners have changed over the course of my lifetime and that led me to the conclusion it can be difficult to know what is considered good manners in some circumstances. I also realised new 'rules' evolve in response to changing attitudes and new technology.
Here are a few changes I have noticed.
How to address people When I was a child, adults who weren't family were generally Miss, Mrs or Mr. Then there were a few who had another title such as Dr. My parents' close friends became honourary aunts and uncles as this was still considered polite but less formal than Mr and Mrs.
I continued to call my relatives Auntie and Uncle into my adulthood. Some years back one uncle asked me to call him by his first name. It took me a while to get used to this as it seemed disrespectful at first.
When a woman married she became Mrs Fred Smith or whatever her husband's name was. Letters would be addressed to Mr and Mrs Fred Smith and even if the letter was just for her it would be addressed to Mrs Fred Smith. I recall writing to a married couple about thirty years back. I followed this convention and the wife told me in no uncertain terms I had offended her as she wasn't property of her husband and to please use her own name in the future. Oops.
In spite of the way I was brought up, I have always been quite happy for people to call me by my first name. The exception is when I was teaching. Then I expected to be addressed as Mrs. Over the years my surname has changed twice, a not uncommon occurrence for women these days. (Of course some woman don't change their surname even if they do marry but that's another story.) My christian name stayed constant so it was easier that people were accustomed to using that name.
Holding a door open for a woman It used to be considered good manners for a man to open a house or car door for a woman. This is rarely done these days.
Some woman are offended if a man does open a door for her and will call him sexist. There are people of both sexes who believe this act is an example of 'benevolent sexism' suggesting women are incompetent and need protection. No wonder guys don't hold a door open these days.
It used to be considered good manners for a man to offer a woman his seat on a crowded bus or train so she did not have to stand. Now many people see this as unnecessary and again some consider it sexist. These days the general opinion seems to be anyone who is able bodied, regardless of their sex, should offer a seat to an elderly person or a pregnant woman but able bodied women are capable of standing.
Image by Marie Vonow
Cleaning up after your dog Decades ago it was common for people to let their dogs roam the streets. Now dogs have to be kept confined to their owner's property. In many areas legislation demands a dog is kept on a lead when taken for a walk. It is considered bad manners, as well as breaking the law, to not clean up after your dog. When I was a child no one even thought of doing this so it wasn't considered bad manners.
Smoking Cigarettes Both etiquette and laws in regard to smoking cigarettes have changed over the past few decades. Whereas cigarette smokers were generally free to smoke in restaurants, on public transport, at their desk at work, in cars and in other people's homes, this is not the case now.
There are places were it is still legal to smoke but it is considered bad manners to do so without asking the consent of non smokers. These days dropping cigarette butts on lawns or in the gutter is seen as bad manners, as well as a form of littering. A few decades back it was just what people did.
Now some people are vaping and there are questions about good manners in regard to this activity. Debrett's New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners, suggests vaping should not be carried out in any work environment.
Emails New technology has necessitated the formulating of guidelines in regard to good manners. Different organisations provide different advice. For example I read in one place it is bad manners not to acknowledge the receipt of an email and then I read elsewhere it is bad manners to send an email which simply says, 'Thanks,' as this is 'clogging up the inbox'.
Mobile Phones Not everyone is in agreement about mobile phone etiquette. Sometimes users feel it is okay if they are the one texting, answering or making a call in the company of others. However, if the tables are turned and their companion is the one on the phone they feel it is rude.
Many people feel modern society has little regard for manners. However, Jo Bryant, the editor of Debrett's New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners disagrees. She says, 'The sheer number of enquiries we receive demonstrates manners are still highly important to people.'
She adds, 'It can be a minefield knowing how to behave in social situations, but the key is to always consider those around you.' This sounds like good advice.