I don’t know about you, but I confess I often mope for the ‘good old days’ of manners and discipline, simple little rules that make all the difference between civilisation and anarchy. When I was a kid in primary school I was taught a lot about this subject. I attended an ordinary, Council school too, not one of those flashy schools for the rich and famous or the trendsetters of our day. We were all shown the rules and they have stuck with me ever since.
For a start, we were taught how to use a knife and fork properly, how to keep our mouths shut while eating and how, out of courtesy one should ask permission of the hostess before leaving the table at any but the mass exodus at the end of the meal. We knew how to put our knife and fork together on the empty plate as a signal that we had finished and we were even instructed on how to use the various pieces of cutlery that might be laid out before us (‘start at the outside and work your way in’ was the basic rule).
We learned that a gentleman, walking along a road with a lady, should always walk on the outside, so that any splashes of water or mud, thrown up by passing vehicles wouldn’t hit and possible ruin, an expensive dress. The gentleman should always open a door for a lady and hold it open to let her through first. In fact, in almost all situations the gentleman should let the lady go first, the only exception being coming down stairs, when the man should lead in case the lady stumbles and she falls against him instead of ending at the bottom of the flight with a broken leg — or worse!
The ‘door thing’ extends to cars as well. The lady should remain seated and the man should walk round the car to her side and hold her door open for her, also taking her hand to assist her as she gets out.
A gentleman should never swear, or use any sort of bad language in front of a lady, he shouldn’t blow smoke in her face if he has a cigarette alight, and should never comment on a lady’s attire, except to compliment her on how beautiful she looks.
If a lady comes into a room, any gentlemen already sitting there should stand until she has found a seat for herself, a rule which applies in restaurants as well. At dinner, he should pour the wine, and help the lady sit down by gently pushing her chair under her as she lowers herself.
A lot of these things may seem archaic or out of date in a modern world, where we don’t often get mud on the road or have stairs that cause a lady to stumble because of the long skirts that were worn then, but it’s these little gestures that make for civilised and comfortable living. If you know the rules it is very rare for mistakes to be made, and even today, someone who eats with their mouths open, showing a pile of half-chewed food inside, doesn’t present a very satisfactory picture.
It’s not just manners either; the other vital commodity in civilised living is discipline. Queuing for a bus causes much less hassle than an unruly crowd all trying to get on first, and a theatre audience that throws missiles at the stage (as they once used to do) could very soon turn watching a decent play into a riot, with people even getting injured. Any disciplined crowd has an advantage over an undisciplined one; you have only to look at soldiers fulfilling their duties against a mob to see how well it works.
I think it is very sad that a lot of these simple rules no longer seem to be taught to children these days, anything goes it seems, and they are given as much power as adults have, something that can never work in the long run. Let’s hope the rule is learned before everything gets really out of hand.