The Evolution of Etiquette; In Celebration of National Courtesy Month

I feel just the slightest bit of cool as I sit in my swing, enjoying the early mornings in my little courtyard.  Soon the temperature will drop to our friendly and pleasant New Mexico autumn weather, and we will hear leaves rustling and hot air balloons overhead.  We are on the cusp of my favorite season, fall.  I don’t know about you, but my thoughts at this time always turn softer, somehow, limpid and clear – uncluttered and less fettered by rush and urgency.  I have been reflecting upon that old idea with much modern significance – Courtesy and Etiquette. What is Etiquette, where did it come from, and why is it so important?
Within civilization the world over, manners have always been important.  Manners and civilization have always been inherent.  Every civilization has had its own code of etiquette, its own foundation of courtesy.  The term “etiquette,” however, originated in France during the reign of King Louis XIV.  The head gardener came to the King with a problem: visitors to the palace and admirers of the gardens were stepping on the delicate new seedlings and crashing through flowerbeds and wearing the grass thin.  The two of them decided on the way to handle this.  They would put up “little tickets” or “etiquettes” on the grounds, to tell visitors how to behave in the gardens: “Please Stay on the Path,” “Please Do Not Walk on Grass,” “Please Do Not Pluck the Flowers.”  “Little tickets” became a reminder of thoughtful behavior.
Etiquette is simply a code of behavior based on consideration and thoughtfulness.  It is practical advice for everyday living, providing a sense of order.  It is a sensitive awareness of the needs of others.  Etiquette is NOT optional among civilized people.
Our manners are only a surface indication of what is underneath.  What you ARE is more important than what you APPEAR.  Etiquette is not pretentious, but, instead, is based on the Golden Rule – ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’  Manners and civility are only a surface indication of what is underneath.  More important than which fork to use at a dinner party is the type of dinner partner you are.  Are you enjoyable to be with?  Do you make your dinner partners feel important, valued, appreciated, comfortable?  Courtesy and etiquette are the underlying principles for behavior among civilized people based on respect and ethics.
Manners are fluid though, and change with the times.  Have you heard of the new “netiquette” or “petiquette?”  How does one apply thoughtfulness to the Internet?  We are also developing a code of behavior for the use of cell phones (and high time, I might add – in a very small voice.)  Did you know that 59% of Americans would rather go to the dentist than sit next to someone who is talking on a cell phone?
The good news is that etiquette is back in style, courtesy is making a comeback.  This is fabulous, and it is encouraging to note that we now have a National Courtesy Month – September!  After letting it all hang out during the 1960’s, we are beginning to want to tuck it back in.  There is burgeoning interest in this subject all over the country.  Good news, indeed!

All of us here at The St. James Tearoom hope you have a gentle and courteous September, and don’t forget to watch for positive, courteous behavior around town, and join our Facebook Contest (and win a tea reservation for four guests!)

 Yours for Grace, Civility, Beauty, Gentility, and Excellence,
Mary Alice  and Daniel Higbie