Etiquette – The Art of Love

Richard Salbato 1-26-2007



Etiquette?  When we hear that word our imagination goes to the dining halls of the Queen of England and a table setting with too many spoons, forks and knives.  Why so many?  The truth is not our perception of the word.  There is a true etiquette even among the un-civilized tribes in Africa and in the migrant tribes of the Arab peoples.  Etiquette is nothing more than proper social behavior and respect for the comfort and life style of others.  In truth etiquette should not have to be taught because we are born with the knowledge of what is right and wrong in our relationships with others, but we loose it when we become “self-absorbed”.  


Self-absorbed people end up without friends, social skills, good jobs and even happiness.  Understand that etiquette is nothing more than the small actions of love, love being the action of wanting nothing but the good of others.


You might say that etiquette is a catch all word for the fruits of the Holy Spirit – charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness and faithfulness.  When you see someone who has these virtues you do not think of the virtues, you just admire him because he is almost always successful, popular and looked up to. 


On the other hand, often when we think of etiquette we think of pompous, snobs who have their noses in the air at anyone below their self-promoted class.  The truth is that these people have no etiquette at all because snobs go against the entire concept of making people (all people) comfortable around them. 


I have two close friends and their families who are billionaires and I am very poor, but these people have never made me fell less than them and they go out of their way to make me comfortable.  One good example of this is a time when I was visiting one of my friends but dressed poorly because I had just returned from hiking in the mountains.  Unannounced came the Federal Government’s Minister of Finance, dressed to the hilt.  He could have thought of me as the gardener but she put her arm around me quickly letting him know that I was a close friend.  Because of this he addressed me with great respect. Her mind was on my social comfort and not on herself.


I grew up in Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, and La Jolla - three very rich cites of California.  The rich, like the poor, are evenly divided between the snobs and the ethical. The poor, including my own family, had more bad social habits and probably this is what prevented them from being more successful. Bad grammar and cuss words do not lead to success.  Often poor language is deliberately done in order to “fit in” with other like minded dim-witted people.  Slang might be fun but it does not lead to a prosperous and happy life.


Hopping that I have defined the word and showed that it is not the exclusive providence of the rich, I would like to give examples of unacceptable behavior under any circumstance, and unacceptable behavior in specific areas or times. 


Before reading these examples it will become self-evident that there is a side effect to etiquette (good manners) without it being the intention.  You will be more popular, more successful, and even like yourself better – self esteem and self confidence.  This is not pride but honest   self knowledge.


These examples will make you an observer of others and yourself.  Learn how to be social in all situations.  Some things are self evident even to a child.  I can remember being only about six years old when my aunt let her baby pee on the table, which she wiped off but did not clean.  Then she cut open a watermelon on the table without a plate and passed it around.  Even at six years of age I could not eat it. 


Eating is a major guideline for all forms of etiquette.  Do you know why butter plates thoughout history always had covers and always had their own knives?  It is because thoughout most of history there was no air-conditioning and no screen-doors. Covering plates of food simply kept the flies and bugs off.  People did not bath so much so they always washed up before dinner.  In spite of this, they never used their own knife to take butter from the butter dish because it was considered unclean. 


Maybe the reason for these things in the past no longer holds water but we should know them.  It is easy, just watch what others do, and think about why they do them.  Then do not do anything that is sharply different than what they do.  You might be offending them.  There are some things that you do not do no matter what others do.  You do not blow your nose at a dinning table.  You excuse yourself and go to the bathroom where they cannot even hear you. In fact, never blow your nose in public at all.  You do not eat with unwashed hands.  You do not eat more then others at the table. You never take the last of any food.  If you are with a upper class household you never put your arms on the table.  This is also true if you go out to an upper class restaurant.


If you think this article is about dinning you are wrong, but dinning is a good place to start because it is where the lack of culture is most easily recognized by others.   Proper eating etiquette gives respect to God, who gave us this food, and to those who bought it or prepared it.  Today 80% of the Western World’s children are over-weight because they no longer dine, they eat anytime they want to and anywhere they want to.  They eat standing, walking, watching TV, in the Kitchen, in their bedrooms. Just think of why you are not allowed to eat in a classroom, a library, a store or an office, and you will see why you should not eat anywhere except a dinning table.  Even the exceptions show the reason for this.  Look at the clothes and seats of a football stadium after a game. 


Cleanliness is the next most important thing in social relationships.  It’s acceptable to have poor clothes but never acceptable to have unclean clothes, ears, fingernails, hair, etc.  Bad breath or unclean teeth can chase away a potential friend forever and you’ll never get him back.  It is permissible to have a messy house at times, baby toys, work you are doing, etc. but it is never permissible to have an un-clean house.  This is a reflection on your respect for others who live with you or who visit you. 


How you dress depends on what you are going to do.  You do not dress the same for church as you might for working in the yard.  You do not dress for someone’s wedding the same way you dress for school.  And you must be very careful how you dress for work or looking for a job.  There are web sites that teach people how to dress for work, but never assume because your friends like the way you dress that a boss will or even should.  He is the judge, not you.


Always remember that the way you dress is how you want to sell yourself to others. I ask my grandchildren to look around the school at the boys and girls and then write down what they are selling by the way they dress.  I remember a girl when I was in high-school who changed the way she dressed to get attention from a boy she wanted.  She suddenly dressed very sexy and got his attention, but at the same time she offended all her other friends who dressed normally.  Of course, they did not say anything to her.  People make judgments based on what they see and perceive to be the real you.  Even the boy saw sex and not respect. 


My obsession with etiquette started when I tried to figure out why people at Mass were being so disrespectful compared to 50 years ago.  I concluded that it is a spill over from people’s loss of respect for everything else. Their bad habits in life are taken to Church.  Of course, there is a different etiquette in church as apposed to outside in the same way there is differences between the home and the library. 


In a Catholic Church we are entering into the presence of the real Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of God.  We are not entering into the chamber of the Queen of England, or the Holy Father, we are entering into the Holy of Holies, the House of God.  Because we have lost all respect for each other we have also lost respect for God.  We should greet people with a smile and even a handshake but we should never talk even to say, “Hi” because people are praying in this House.  When we talk we are interrupting a conversation with God. 


Sometimes even the priest, trying to be overly friendly, offends the people around him who are trying to pray.  I admit that in Protestant Churches there is more open friendliness but they do not have the physical God with them. They do not go there to pray, they go to socialize. 


So etiquette even tells you when to shut up.  Speaking of silence, the best time to pray is before and after Mass, so why is it that priests like to talk on the mike before and after Mass.  Isn’t during Mass enough?  


OK! I am off on a personal tangent so let us go back to the subject.  Etiquette instructs people to greet friends and acquaintances with warmth and respect, to refrain from insults and prying curiosity, to offer hospitality equally and generously to our guests, to wear clothing suited to the occasion, to contribute to conversations without dominating them, to offer assistance to those in need, to eat neatly and quietly, to avoid disturbing others with unnecessary noise, to follow the established rules in any situation, to arrive promptly when expected, to comfort the bereaved, and to respond to invitations promptly.


Not long ago my grandson asked me how he could find a good woman to marry.


“Become a man worthy of a good woman.” I responded. 


Becoming someone lovable means to become somewhat humble but with self confidence, very cheerful at all times even when not feeling good, kind even to enemies, pleasant to strangers,  not easily angered, always thinking of how to make others happy.  When I see a young man with politeness but not shyness, I think of a potential Knight. Unless you have Knightly virtues why should a girl be interested in you?       


Should you get drunk and act like a dork in front of a girl who might someday be your wife?  How often have I seen men (really boys) work so hard for attention that they drive good girls away and are left with only silly girls who are desperate for any man.  Not all men have the same personality but all should try to be the calm, quite, confident kind. This confidence can only come when you are sure that your dress, your cleanliness, your actions are proper. 


Young girls have a harder problem in finding a good men and future husbands. First of all, girls mature faster than men, and when a girl becomes a woman, the boys around her are still boys.  Most men do not mature socially until they are at least 25 and in many cases 40 or more.  Frustrated with a lack of mature friendships with boys, the girl emulates what she sees on TV, which glorifies fornication, dating, and dressing for seduction. 


She is really looking for recognition that she is now a woman, but cannot get that from boys who are immature.  So she turns to attention by being seductive.  Her intentions at first are not sex but just attention.  Boys, however, see only someone who wants sex.  The boys, themselves, do not want sex, but will never admit it to themselves or to the girls.  It would not seem manly; at least that is what they are told on TV.


But let us face facts by using mature logic.  God created man and woman with sexual drives to enhance love and “be fruitful and multiply”.  All the biological functions of the body are God given and good.  But – just like stated above in the respect for food and dining, there should also be a respect for God’s demands on sexual love.  When two people have an eros type of love, any contact, holding hands, kissing, hugging, etc. can stimulate sexual desire.  This is a God given stimulator to make us ready for proper sexual love.  When un-married people experiment with these sexual contacts meant to end in sex, frustration happens.  They end up in mixed feelings of good and frustration.  Carried on for any length of time will end in fortification. 


Why does the Priest say: “You may kiss the bride.” after the marriage ritual?  Because, at least in the past, he assumes this is the very first time.  This is why everyone applauds. Why else is a kiss part of the marriage ceremony?  Now is the time to start the desire which is good in the eyes of God.  In fact, it is God given.


All actions with others, which we call social, are judged by motive.  Look into yourself and see if your actions are for the good of others or to use others for your own selfish wants. Watch others and think. What does this person need that will make him have a good day?  What good can I do to others today?  How can I avoid offending someone?  When must I offend one for the protection of others? 


When you know and practice all the above in you life at home and away, you will then be able to see when it is OK to violate these rules.


Rick Salbato


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