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Social Distancing… In My Day It Was Called Politeness…

By 14 May 2020No Comments

The world has gone mad and things have changed, however, on a positive note, perhaps we may go back to some basic etiquette and politeness…

Knowing how to act appropriately in social situations can be difficult at the best of times. It’s made harder when visiting a new country, especially the UK, which is famous for its strict British etiquette rules. While much can be learnt from books and the media, nothing helps one comprehend a culture quicker than interacting with local people and observing their customs.

Being born and brought up in the UK, when I was a lad, my Mum, Dad, Aunts and Uncles plus my school and even the other ladies in the street made sure I respected and followed all the basic etiquettes. In my belief, etiquette is defined as the formal manners and rules that are followed in social or professional settings.

Whether it was at the supermarket, train station or a cinema; we were taught not to stand too close to anyone, and to be polite while speaking to others. Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ were the two important things to remember. It doesn’t matter who you are speaking to, politeness and good manners were always welcomed. Saying ‘excuse me’ when needed to pass by someone in a tight space, forming neat and tidy queues while waiting to be served, with no moaning or anxious twitching of I must get to the front… I must get to the front…! The worst mistake anyone can make is to commit queue-jumping. This was always met with disapproval from those who had been waiting patiently.

When walking down a street on the pavement, we would step to one side and make way for older people or for anyone with children, sometimes stepping into the road to let them pass…

In a lift we would not crowd it, instead, wait for the next one. Similarly, we would give up our seat for any woman and especially older or elderly people without even being asked.

In contrast, I think of the difference between etiquette and manners in this way: etiquette provides the form or structure within; while good manners operate as a code of polite conduct based on social acceptance and efficiency. Manners are polite behaviours that reflect an attitude of consideration, kindness and respect for others.

However, chivalry in gentlemen and other more traditional etiquette guidelines still stand. For instance, holding a door open for a lady and standing up when one enters the room for the first time is still considered good manners for the men of Britain.

No guide to etiquette would be complete without mentioning the Brits’ love of apologising. Although one would expect to say sorry for stepping on a shopper’s toe or bumping into a passer-by, many will be surprised to find when two Brits engage in a stand-off, both will offer their apologies for being in the other’s way. They don’t care who is at fault. Apologising is a default reaction to many of life’s little incidents. This is a quirk Brits are famed for!

To conclude, what we have at the moment here in Australia just reminds me of my younger years in the UK, so perhaps we may actually respect one another a little more, make space, give some time and have a chat while socialising going forward…

Therefore once these lockdowns are relaxed let’s hope we return to some of the wonderful, but simple etiquette and politeness in the world that will work for all of us…

P.S: Some of the information has been sourced from

Purnima Kabra