Monday, April 15, 2024

Whatever happened to etiquette? - by Vijaya Shartz

 Raised in Europe, I remember learning to set a table as a child, and I hated all these useless conventions. Who cared about where the water glass or the wine glass went. How close to the plate, on which side, and in what order the knives, spoons, and forks should go. But knowing it served me well when writing historical stories.

The British still keep many rules of etiquette, from what temperature to serve tea, how to curtsy, or what “fascinator” to wear for each occasion… probably due to the Monarchy.

Japan still honors the “Tea ceremony,” a complicated ritual to make the perfect cup of tea to show appreciation for someone special.

Japan also adheres to a stringent etiquette and applies it to their business dealings. Here, again, maybe it’s a lingering remnant of the Samurai and of the Imperium. Like walking to the left of, and one step behind a superior, a teacher (Martial arts) or a husband (for a woman).

The Samurai cast used to not just bow and obey without question, but they would lay down their lives for the honor of their overlord… even committing Seppuku (ritual suicide) taking the blame to preserve their lord’s honor.

My mom used to say that punctuality was the politeness of the kings, their only way to show respect to others. Ever since, I like to be punctual, if not early for every circumstance. Maybe it’s a sign of self-importance on my part? It makes me feel like royalty.

In the US, however, except for a formal dinner at the White House, etiquette seems to have vanished from daily lives. There used to be a dress code to board a plane. Not anymore.

If I believe the dating sites, not showing up or showing up late for a date is common place. No one seems to care anymore. Is this a lack of respect for others? Or just a sign of the times. Our hectic lives give us all kinds of excuses to skip formalities.

I used to send good wishes to friends and family for the new year, a letter, a card. Now, they are lucky to get an email every other year. Still, some of my friends keep making hand-made cards and sending them in the mail for special occasions. She says she enjoys making them, and it’s like a relaxing hobby.

I feel guilty for not reciprocating, but who has the time? Still, I keep these hand-made cards, like precious relics of a tradition which will soon disappear. You can’t stop progress, but maybe we should sometimes look back and consider what we lost in the bargain.

I use many details of cultural etiquette in my books, even in Science Fiction, even with strong heroines and brave heroes. 

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Happy Reading!

Vijaya Schartz, award-winning author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats
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