Are good manners now a thing of the past?

Nov 22, 2023
Our world has changed, traditions have changed and our whole culture seems to have changed - but have manners really gone the same way. Source: Getty Images.

As I entered the busy shopping centre a couple of young boys pushed past me almost knocking me over. Now, as I have osteoporosis I prefer to remain on my feet, but no, they bowled on past without giving me a thought.

“No manners” I  muttered to another old dear who was nearby. She nodded grimly as we tottered in through the sliding doors. As I dislodged a trolley from the tangled mess it was almost whisked out of my hands. I realise I am invisible because I’m older, but it was a bit much. “Where are your manners?” I grumbled a bit but regained my cheery mood as I did the shopping.

Our world has changed, traditions have changed and our whole culture seems to have changed – but have manners really gone out of style?

As I remember my mum and her friends going to the shops they wore a hat and white gloves and carried a handbag over their arms. Men would generally hold open a door for a lady, and let her enter first-It was always “ladies first.” He might beat the crap out of her at home, but in public they would be courteous.

They would light her cigarettes, and open car doors for the lady to sit down first. Chairs would always be pulled out for ladies in a restaurant. Now it’s a bit of a free for all, with the most nimble and speedy of either sex making a dash for it. Not a white glove or pillbox hat in sight.

It’s all beefy muffin tops and stretchy leggings and a screaming kid in a trolley while mum talks on her mobile phone. Food courts, and fast food. Fast lives and no time for contemplation.

As kids, we were to be seen and not heard. If we had visitors, the kids would be herded away into another room to supposedly play and stay out of the adult’s hair. And we did,  there was also no calling the adults by their Christian name, it was always Mr or Mrs.

We did not interrupt the adult conversations, in fact, we would not have dared. Mind you, we kids could get up to a fair bit of mischief while being very quiet. Peeling wallpaper off a wall, drawing rude figures on the path with chalk and eating all of the strawberries in Dad’s garden were just some of our misdemeanours. 

When mum took us on the bus, we always stood up for the elderly or for “expectant” mothers. Recently on a crowded Melbourne tram, I swayed perilously from a hanger while stone-faced teenagers gazed fixedly at their mobile screens. Men would raise their hats to the women, and shake hands with the men. Men did not shake hands with the women.

When eating a meal together there were no elbows on the table and we washed our hands first. No phones of course. We ate together and asked to leave the table when we had finished. Nowadays the kids eat in front of the television or the computer and family dinners are a struggle.

But of course, our world has changed. Both parents work away from the home. Kids are ferried to and from school and after school activities. Teenagers have after school jobs.

We are more casual and in some ways, I really like that. We don’t have to be formal all of the time, but showing respect never goes out of fashion. The words “please” and “thank you” will never be outdated.

Being courteous, thoughtful and kind are indications that we are still empathetic beings who want to make our passage through life one that leaves a gentle footprint. 

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