It’s traditional for the older generation to bemoan “things aren’t how they used to be”. Well of course not…life is one long process of change. For no particular reason I’ve been reflecting on some of the little courtesies that were prevalent in my youth, some of which have faded from sight, and some still remain, perhaps in a changed form.
- Men walking on the road side of the footpath (pavement). As I recall the intention was they would deflect the dangers of a runaway car, or earlier, a horse and cart.
- Children standing up for adults on public transport. This one definitely seems to have gone the way of the horse and cart. Small children might have been bundled on to their parent’s lap, but older children were always, always expected to stand if an adult needed a seat. Similarly, men would stand for women, and anyone would stand for a pregnant woman, older man or woman, or someone who had a disability.
- Men opening the car door for women. I still see this happening – but not in our family. As my husband quite rightly points out, he’d have Buckley’s chance of getting there before I’m out <smile>. However, there are some of our friends for whom this remains de rigeur.
- Men raising their hats and people standing silent when a funeral passes. This too has passed except in country areas where I think it does continue.
- Men doffed their hats when meeting a woman. Now men rarely wear hats.
- Women not shaking hands. Men were definitely not to offer their hands for a handshake to a woman without first being offered theirs. This has changed with the presence of women in the workforce, though for many years men were left with the confusing question – to shake or not to shake. For men of course the handshake is compulsory – and for some the stronger the better. Personally I don’t like a wishy-washy handshake, but I don’t like it being a test of power or strength either.
- Women wearing gloves and hats. Not really a courtesy but a lady would never be seen out in the public domain without her gloves and a hat – and wearing stockings.
- Women were never to be congratulated on getting engaged as it implied they were lucky to have finally achieved this transition to marital status.
- Never discuss religion or politics. Perhaps we’d have been wiser to maintain this courtesy these days…fewer “debates”.
- Men never swore in front of ladies, and ladies, of course, never swore. In my family that was certainly true. As for myself these days…”no comment”.
- Children were everyone’s responsibility – a badly behaved child would be reprimanded by whichever adult was close by. Of course children were often expected to be seen and not heard too.
- Writing letters to friends and family to thank them for gifts.
- All adult friends of the family were called “aunty” or “uncle” irrespective of kinship. Otherwise they were Mr or Mrs or Miss. Does your family still do this?
- Men opening doors for women. I notice this still happens often. My personal habit is to always thank them for the courtesy, rather than just sail through. One of my pet bugbears is opening, or holding open, a door for people who just walk through without a sideways glance as if you’re a paid doorman.
- Women were allowed on the bus/tram first. And look where that got the men on the Titanic!
- Thanking the bus driver when you got off. I’m pleased to say that this still happens most of the time on public transport in Brisbane.
I’m sure my genimates will come up with some other old-time courtesies that I’ve forgotten…I’d love to hear from you.
Do you think courtesy still matters and is practiced in the 21st century?
Are good manners the same thing as courtesy? What do you think?