I wonder, where have those etiquette columns gone, which almost all newspapers in the past used to carry. Instead of those etiquette columns of yore, agony aunts grace all magazines and broadsheets. I have no gripe against agony aunties but I'm of the opinion that there must be at least a monthly column about social etiquette and frequent occurrence of faux pas and gaffes in all magazines and newspapers.
The French adage that 'Etiquette is one's ticket to the auditorium of life' is an apt compliment to the great importance of etiquette or social grace, in the modern context. Etiquette is not just saying hi, hello, thanks and sorry with monotonous continuity. It's beyond all these mere words of perfunctoriness. And today it has a much bigger ambit as it also encompasses net and cellphone etiquette, something that is lacking in most of us. Man is a social animal and he has to live in a society.
So long as we live amidst people of all hues, we must be careful not just about our appearance but also of our attitude, demeanour and behaviour towards them. Long ago, a reader asked an etiquette expert in The Reader's Digest that he was good looking with a great sense of humour and struck conversations with people, even strangers, in no time.
Yet, people seemed to avoid him after a period. The expert opined that people didn't like those who tried to hog the limelight, spoke incessantly and were too assertive. This a great lesson in social etiquette. A person shouldn't try too consciously to leave his/her impression on the people in the very first meeting. As I have stated, etiquette is not just being able to speak well and act in an anglicised manner. Etiquette is the sum total of a person's personality, precisely his/ her persona.
It's not etiquette to talk only in English despite having the knowledge of Hindi in a get-together where the common language is Hindi. On this count, one can learn something from a megastar, who's still acting. You question him in Hindi and he'll answer in impeccable Hindi unlike other actors, who act in Hindi films but converse in put-on English. Here, this iconic actor's considerate behaviour is his etiquette. It's his humility. And what's etiquette, if not humbleness? In this age of gender equality, one will certainly not call chivalry to be etiquette. It's too theatrical and pompous. But to be nice (not extra nice) to women is indeed etiquette.
It's against etiquette trying to be on back-slapping terms with a woman, however close she may be. A former super cop will vouch for that after his deliberate faux pas when he patted his female counterpart's ample derriere in an inebriated state. Who should you address by name and who you shouldn't is etiquette. Nowadays, anyone calls anyone by his/her name. We call it modern etiquette. Balderdash!! Someone said, 'Austra- Americans and today's call-centre as well as corporate professionals call people by name, but the true blue refined people steeped in social etiquette, see to it who is older and who is younger before calling a person'.
A senior person must never be addressed by his/her name. This is flippancy and against all norms of acceptable good behaviour and etiquette. Mr/Mrs are the most dignified universal honorifics that must be used while addressing a person older than you by a decade or more. To avoid addressing any known or unknown person 'uncle/aunt' is also counted among good manners. This shows one's maturity and sagacious avoidance of cloying familiarity. Because too much familiarity often breeds contempt (and also children!!). Readers perhaps know, why Urdu-Persian culture puts so much accent on, aap and shuma (Persain for aap)? Because so long as you call someone using 'aap', you maintain decorum, etiquette and don't allow unnecessary closeness or familiarity.
Refined language is integral to the cultural etiquette of Urdu and Persian speaking people. Interestingly, etiquette and ethics have similar etymological roots and semantic ethos. So it's not wide off the mark to call 'etiquette, the ethics of life'. And if you have read this article till the end despite not liking it very much is also etiquette!!