I had a revelation at a restaurant in Seattle last night. There is a major difference between manners and etiquette. Let me explain. My grandmother lived with my family and she helped raise me. I was told at an early age that until I learned proper manners we couldn’t dine in a fancy restaurant. She taught me how to sit upright at the table; how to hold my utensils; how to conduct myself in a social setting. Everything was proper. In her day, you could tell the social status of any individual by how they ate a bowl of soup. (The cultured always draw the soup spoon away from the chair. The naïve scoop the soup toward the chair. The boor tips the bowl to finish it.) Needless to say, you never went to any decent restaurant without wearing a tie and jacket.
In the $100/plate restaurant where I dined last night there was no one there wearing a tie and jacket. Most were in shorts and flip flops. One guy ate cross-legged—a Victorian taboo. He had tattoos on his exposed arms. Another guy had no idea how to eat spaghetti (with spoon and fork). He didn’t even twirl the spaghetti around his fork. He just shoveled it in and sucked up the straggling one-foot long noodles into his mouth. Over the past few generations, very little has been formally taught with regard to manners.
But etiquette is another matter. Etiquette is a code of polite conduct based on social acceptance and efficiency. In my grandmother’s day, you never spoke to strangers. You avoided a homeless man. Stay within your own class of people. Whereas table manners were taught, etiquette evolves within a society. What I’m seeing in world-class cities like New York, where there within one block you will find fifty different countries and five religions represented, I am finding that people have evolved in their etiquette toward one another. Frankly, it’s refreshing. In today’s world, it’s not about what you wear, or how you eat, but who you truly are. I’ll take etiquette over manners any day. Nonetheless, it’s better to have both.
You only get one chance to make a first impression on anyone—a business prospect, a new friend or a romantic first date. Bad manners can overrule other good qualities. Work on your manners, but finely-hone your etiquette. You’ll find that there is no substitute for chivalry and Dating for Life.