As children, we’re taught that good manners are important. We need to say please and thank you, share with other kids, and chew with our mouths closed. The importance of etiquette is never questioned.
As adults, etiquette is just as present in our lives. The difference is that now we have the ability to question and define etiquette for ourselves. What is etiquette? Why, exactly, is etiquette so important?
At first glance, the principles of etiquette seem like a lot of arbitrary rules that literally no one would be able to follow 100% of the time. We’re not perfect, so why do we have a set of guidelines that we’re always trying to live up to?
What Is Etiquette? How Can We Define Etiquette?
The actual word etiquette is derived from the French work estique, which means to stick or attach.
But what is etiquette really? According to the dictionary, etiquette is “the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.”
The rules vary slightly whether you’re in a casual social situation, a business meeting, or are attending a wedding as a plus one, but there is always a set of guidelines that will help everyone know how to conduct themselves.
I define etiquette as a set of rules that people can follow to know how to fit in and treat others in any specific situation. While we all know that it isn’t that easy, it’s at least a starting place when we don’t know what to expect and how to behave.
The Importance of Etiquette: Why Do We Bother Following It?
A hundred years ago, the principles of etiquette had more to do with power than social niceties. Those in charge made the rules and everyone else had to defer publicly. The most important people could go to dinner first, sat at the best seat, and were served first. Etiquette was used as a means of control, but since then the principles have shifted.
The importance of etiquette now has to do more with kindness and making others feel comfortable. True politeness isn’t thinly veiled rudeness, it’s authentically treating others with sincerity regardless of who they are and how they behave back.
Our modern day etiquette books do have some specific rules such as when to send a thank-you note and how to properly introduce two strangers, but to me, the importance of etiquette is about way more than these guidelines.
We have social interactions every day. Whether we’re chatting with the cashier at the grocery store or planning a project with a business colleague, the way that we talk, move, and act affects those around us.
In my opinion, the rules of etiquette that are written down are just a starting place to teach us how to treat others nicely. When someone is rude to me while I’m going about my day, I instantly get a sick feeling, something I’m sure many people can empathize with. However, this isn’t necessarily because I labeled their actions as rude, but because they were unkind. The rules just put a name to what we already know.
Well-meaning kindness, even if it breaks one of the etiquette rules we all generally know, isn’t often thought of as rude. Doing something that is technically politeness but comes from a place of judgment or malice isn’t truly following the rules of etiquette.
But Isn’t Etiquette Culturally Based?
Yes, and there are differences between cultures, so I can’t technically say that etiquette is just simply kindness. The importance of etiquette has to do with both good will and protocol.
For example, standing close to someone in Europe might be normal, but in America the proximity could make someone uncomfortable. Even with the kindest of intents, this could cause a difficult situation. There are different types of etiquette based on the culture you’re interacting with.
So in some ways, etiquette is a combination of important rules that help a person fit in culturally and authentic kindness. To have good etiquette, you need both.
Etiquette Is Being Considerate
By memorizing an arbitrary list of rules and following them, you’re actually showing a lot of consideration for the people around you. This list of rules matters not because someone wrote them down, but because most people believe them to be true.
By following them, you’re demonstrating respect for all of the human beings around you.
Why Is Etiquette Important? 5 Specific Reasons
In case you needed a few more reasons to solidify the importance of etiquette, here they are:
- Etiquette creates self-confidence. When we know how others expect us to act and we can easily follow those expectations, we feel more comfortable being our authentic selves within those boundaries.
- It teaches us about how a culture functions. If we are in a new place or situation and feel unsure, we can refer to written guidelines and feel relaxed.
- It promotes effective communication between people or groups. Knowing about etiquette means we are more easily able to tell what someone else means, even when they don’t bluntly state their intentions.
- Etiquette helps children learn how to fit into society from a young age. Before we have abstract thought and when base most of our actions around our own needs, we can refer to a simple list of rules and act appropriately towards others.
- It protects the feelings of others. Proper etiquette tells us to never call out a flaw in someone else; we should always treat others positively.
How to Learn All Types Of Etiquette
There are many types of etiquette, and tons of resources out there that can teach you. You first need to define etiquette and learn about the importance of etiquette for you, then you can look for a resource that teaches you the specifics.
Emily Post’s Etiquette is one of the most classic and comprehensive etiquette books of all-time. Although Emily Post herself is no longer alive, the Emily Post Institute is run by her grandchildren who keep both basic and complex etiquette information up-to-date.
Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior is another great resource; it’s general for all types of etiquette.
If you’re looking for more specific guides for particular types of etiquette, these are my favorites:
- Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding
- Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette
- Miss Manners’ Guide to Domestic Tranquility
- Emily’s Everyday Manners
- Emily Post’s Table Manners For Kids
- Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say
- The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness
- Emily Post’s Great Get-Togethers: Casual Gatherings and Elegant Parties at Home
And let’s be real here: no one can have perfect etiquette all of the time. It would be pretty hard to follow all of these rules for even one day. But if we can use these principles to better ourselves, then why not try?
True etiquette is fluid and constantly changing. We can try to keep up with every new rule or addendum, but at the end of the day, what is most important is how our actions make us feel about ourselves.