Etiquettes: Is it one kiss on each cheek or two? Fork on right or left?

It’s English etiquette that everyone wants! To learn how to say ‘Sorry’ an average of eight times a days as the English do.

David Rigby

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Being in the moment and non-critically observing what is going on around you means that you are much more able to see and make conclusions about how people present themselves and how they behave. This is part of Mindfulness which these days is an essential characteristic of successful people.

It can be no coincidence that the rise of mindfulness has happened at the same time as a rise in the quest to know how to behave.

BBC radio has broadcast no less than 10 programmes on etiquette in the first two weeks of 2016.

From ‘The Rudiments of Gentile Behaviour’ by Francois Nivelon first published in 1737 to ‘Sorry! The English and Their Manners’ by Henry Hitchings published late 2014, it’s English etiquette that everyone wants. To learn how to say ‘Sorry’ an average of eight times a days as the English do.

American manners is another thing all together. Using a fork with their left hand when cutting meat then transferring to the right to pop the food in the mouth. Using a pocket knife to pick one’s teeth as noted by Fanny Trollope mother of author Anthony Trollope. Lady Astor declaring that she only had space for 400 to dine – an excuse to keep out foreigners, riff-raff and ‘Non-U’ people. It’s not what the world wants.

It's all in the handshake

The handshake was developed for practical purposes. Putting your right hand out towards the other person to shake demonstrated that you were not about to garrotte the person with your sword conveniently kept by that right hand.

The rules of handshake between men started from this, but the cognoscente know about how firm the grip, hand palm up or down, and, whether to grasp the elbow - beloved of presidents. Handshakes are now used internationally between men, and sometimes, depending on local culture between the sexes.

And maybe the British men prefer it to kissing as a greeting. Kissing! Is it one kiss on each cheek or is it two? Especially difficult when both parties are wearing glasses and there is no agreed protocol.

Etiquette was really developed by the middle classes to help them raise themselves from the working classes. And as the aspiring aspired more, the more the rules became complicated to keep them out. The working classes and the upper classes were and are less concerned. The British upper classes just checking whether you said ‘Napkin’ not ‘Serviette’ and ‘Lavatory’ not ‘Loo’ or ‘Toilet’. But just try asking ‘where is the lavatory?’ in UAE – you will get a blank stare.

Manners, manners

Most of us know a bit about what passes for good manners―holding doors open, sending thank-you notes, no elbows on the table―and we certainly know bad manners when we see them. But do we to hold a glass by the stem, which glasses to use for what drinks, which cutlery to use in what order, how to recognise a fish knife let alone how to use it. The British know all this!

They also eat with a knife and fork, not fork and spoon or fingers. But they also know it’s good manners to eat with the hands out of respect for local culture, and to put up with plastic cups and cutlery if there really is no civilised alternative.

That is why organisations such as The English Manner founded by Alexandra Messervy formerly of the Royal Household of Her Majesty The Queen of England, are successful, particularly in India and China and to a lesser extent UAE.

What’s it got to do with Mindfulness? Mindfulness is about observing – if you don’t know about etiquette you don’t what you are looking at or hearing. And if you are being observed , albeit ‘non-judgementally’, you better know how to present your body in the most favourable way no matter how elegantly dressed you might be.