A civilised society can be spotted by its democratic laws, robust infrastructure, and healthy citizens. But when we consider the very core of the word, civilisations are supposed to be… civilised. It’s time we talked about our own decay in the way of etiquette.
‘The customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group.’
In this manner, we are discussing the customs and norms that make up the social fabric of our society. It is how the individual holds himself, and how we interact with one another. Therefore, etiquette is important – from knowing what order to use cutlery in, to keeping elbows off the table or opting not to discuss politics with relatives.
Manners create the basic protocol of how we act around one another. In their absence, we are barbarians. And it seems many of us have become barbaric in our etiquette; pushing our way on to trains and buses, shouting over one another in public, and many of us are guilty of failing to exercise basic hygiene. Even forgetting to say please and thank you – one of the first things we learn (or should learn) as children.
But just as this cornerstone of civilisation is crumbling in the West, it’s being rebuilt in the East.
British Etiquette In A Foreign Land
China is growing and will soon dominate the world economy. A clash of culture is inevitable. As money and humans move around the glove, understanding the respective cultures is of utmost importance. In 2013, the Chinese government passed laws mandating that citizens travelling to Western countries need to begin watching their manners. These manners, it was being observed, were not acting in accordance with traditional etiquette of the lands they were visiting.
In cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, rushed work days mean rushed transport and rushed eating. There is no time to politely queue for buses and thank the driver or to slowly enjoy a nice three-course meal. It appears this cultural divide is being recognised by countries like England, The United States, and Australia – all tourist hotspots for the Chinese.
A BBC story in 2015 found that more and more of China’s affluent class were paying top dollar to learn basic etiquette. Soon Miss Universe contestants and international CEO’s alike were lining up (or ‘queuing up’, I should say) for lessons on table manners and the art of being polite company. It is this same class in China who can afford overseas trips in the name of pleasure. That class is expanding, and it is companies like Debrett’s who are offering to bridge this cultural gap.
Debrett’s – Masters in Etiquette
Today, Debrett’s is known predominately for its absolute authority on etiquette and manners. The company’s British heritage is fitting, as their island home is the original Garden of Eden for politeness. Formally, Debrett’s was founded in 1769 with the publication of The New Peerage – which is what the Financial Times has described as ‘the Linkedin of its day’. The book essentially comprised of the ‘who’s who’ of British life, extending beyond the traditional confines of the Royal Family and into those who are loyal to them.
Debrett’s successfully transitioned its business model to the modern age through focusing less on who is important to how the important act – that is, the act of good etiquette. Debrett’s online guides cover forms of address, rites of passage, modern manners, and the Royal Family, all with a, particularly British tone. Furthermore, Debrett’s A to Z is an online compendium of hundreds of etiquette based norms and customs, from dining to dating and of course, dressing – ‘Cocktail’ is not a dress code people.
The company is clearly unapologetic in its British traditionalism – and this is exactly what the Chinese market desires. Selling classes in etiquette to the East is a chief source of revenue for Debrett’s. More than simply showing how Debrett’s in-depth knowledge of the history and tradition behind each move of the fork or each gesture of thanks is important to Chinese customers. Debrett’s also extend their services into luxury events, ensuring that everyone enjoys a jolly yet courteous time.
A Call to Action
Debrett’s evolution is a fine balance between tradition and modernity, and it is a balance that sees them dominate the adult education market. Unfortunately, as generations continue to pass in the Western world, we are simply not being taught good manners. If we are being taught good manners, we are certainly not maintaining them.
From an outsider’s perspective, China has isolated the best of Western culture – our once pristine social etiquette. As our unique cultures continue to intertwine, it is crucial that these manners are maintained and proper etiquette placed atop the hierarchy of social interaction.
Just like Debrett’s, our cultural and social evolution must continue to progress. For what is a society without progression? However, tradition is important. Tradition seals the very foundations of our society and a culture that has stood for centuries. Eating a nice meal with family – minus the buzz and hum of technology – requires effort. Helping an old lady across the street requires effort. Giving up your seat for a woman on public transport requires effort (and will perhaps even receive backlash in this age). But they are all small features of a wider society; they are the features that have sustained civility in this seemingly always-dying civilisation. Unlike the Romans, the barbarians are not outside, at the gate. The barbarians are inside, within us.
Check out Debrett’s website for all the etiquette you need to know.
By Jay Bowden