Old-Fashioned Social Graces In The Digital Age
We speak of manners not to be self-righteous or condescending towards those who lack it. The point of manners, I believe, is to teach us to be considerate of others, and so that our public encounters always end up harmonious, we avoid ill-feelings or resentment towards others or give ourselves and the people around us unnecessary social stress.
While I'm an old-fashioned tita, I do not claim to have outstanding knowledge on manners. I have no formal training whatsoever, save for an office-sanctioned, one-day crash course we had at John Robert Powers and GMRC in grade school.
My first job was in public relations, and believe me, that kind of job has forced me, whether or not I was ready for it, to learn how to conduct myself well in public. While I might have found myself overwhelmed with all that I’ve learned on social graces, I look back on those years forever thankful for the experiences.
A book called Pinoy Manners: A Modern Guide To Delicadeza For All Generations, written by one of the pioneers of public relations in the Philippines (and the first-ever boss who believed in me, if I may add), Joy Buensalido, has inspired me to reflect on our generation’s manners… and how it can be undervalued and misunderstood at times.
Here’s my personal list of what still needs to be kept in mind, in this day and age:
THE EXTRA EFFORT TO SPELL AND PRONOUNCE NAMES PROPERLY
With all due respect to the parents, grandparents, and whoever else was present at the birth and naming of the child concerned, please make an effort to know the correct spelling and pronunciation of a person’s name.
To save you from the embarrassment, I know of friends with unconventionally spelled names, who have taken the liberty of already telling others how to pronounce their names upon introduction. That's fine, too. Otherwise, if they don't volunteer the information, I think it’s okay to ask if you’re uncertain.
BEING ON TIME
Ultimately, I believe being on time is simply respect for others’ time. Or even others' money, like in cases when the host of the party has spent for a reservation of the venue at a certain time frame. Maybe fashionably late is okay for parties or get-togethers with friends (although I know of people who will still shake their heads at this), but definitely not for things that are work-related.
We will all definitely have encounters beyond our control, and I’m sure people will understand, so once or maybe twice is acceptable. But being persistently, habitually late is a different story. I mean, we all know it's traffic in Manila, so what's your excuse?
THE UNAPOLOGETIC SORRY
It’s when people say “sorry” with an obvious inconsideration for the other party. This is difficult to explain, but I think it is when people apologize for a habit they consistently do—and keep doing. At best, it’s a simple sorry for asking you a question you’ve already explained answers to, countless of times; at worst, it’s sorry for cheating on you again with another of your friends…
RESPECT FOR SLEEPING HOURS AND VACATION
Yes, especially if it can wait. Of course, there are exceptions to this, depending on the nature of your job or the urgency of the matter. But other than that, I advice that you just go to sleep first. Because the other party definitely wouldn't want to be thinking of you last before he or she goes to bed.
ON PERSONAL SPACE, BELONGINGS, AND PUBLIC PROPERTY
Well, of course, when you’re in the MRT, the respect for personal space will forever be, unavoidably, violated. Elsewhere, I know of people who are very particular about other people being too close for comfort and it’s important that we respect that.
Second, others’ belongings aren’t displayed openly to be yours for the taking. While some wouldn’t really care at all, if you take all their Post-Its and boyfriends ("I have a lot of those naman!"), there are those who can be really specific with their belongings, and you can expect that they have the same regard with your personal things, too.
And lastly, as for public property, or even private, be it a well-maintained or a filthy jeepney, a public comfort room, the mountains we trek and the hostels we stay in, or even a random Potato Corner stall, should all be respected despite these not being living things and without feelings. We should leave it as we chanced upon it, without loitering longer than acceptable, behaving as if no one else is around, leaving trash or cluttering the space.
TALKING TOO LOUDLY
Please keep your conversations to yourself. We are absolutely not interested and do not want to be involved.
ASKING SENSITIVE QUESTIONS
This may vary from person to person, can go from money matters to relationships and family life, and definitely depends on your level of friendship. So if you’re not sure where you stand, I suggest playing it safe and just don’t ask. But if it’s out of genuine concern, maybe you can do so (I bet the other party will feel your sincerity, anyway) and just make sure to add that it would be absolutely okay if he or she isn’t up for a discussion about it.
I think the worst thing you can do is ask out of sheer curiosity, or for the sake of making chismis in a no good, very bad way.
From making sure your long and luscious hair doesn’t blow in the wind and land on the face of the person next to you, to sitting or standing properly so that others can also sit or pass by conveniently, the list of commuting etiquette is endless and will vary per mode of transportation. The bottom line, anyway, is to always be conscious and considerate of others.
DRESSING UP DECENTLY
Being fashionable and trendy is one thing, but being appropriately dressed and decent is another. The latter is a non-negotiable and is definitely not arte arte lang. Again, it’s a way of showing respect to the people you are meeting, the event they have painstakingly organized, and yes, even the venue or the food. Remember how our elders would ban male family members who are shirtless or wearing sando from the dining table? It's basic manners. Nakakahiya naman sa palitaw!
ELEVATOR DOORS, TRAIN DOORS, OR JUST DOORS IN GENERAL
Yes, they deserve a special section. Hold it open for the next person, not standing in the way of it, et cetera. We all know this but forget it at times. And while I’m at it, I’d like to have a go at elevator manners: don’t engage in lengthy and loud conversations while inside, don’t rush in when people are about to get out, and again, be considerate of personal space.
FALLING IN LINE
No need to explain this.
GENERAL MANNER OF SPEAKING
Sometimes, you can tell a person’s character by the way he or she speaks. The absence of a “paki” or “please” or even just the tone in general, the manner in which one asks nicely or rudely, makes all the difference.
MIXING WORK AND PLAY
Again, this may probably depend on how casual the work scenario is, or how close you are with your boss and colleagues. From bringing a plus one to talking about personal problems, there is always a right place and time and avenue for it. And I think we are old and smart enough to distinguish the proper time for it.
As a rule of thumb, if it makes you feel awkward or uneasy in the slightest bit, then chances are, it’s not entirely appropriate, unless you’re really just thick-skinned and would rather have it your way than be concerned with social graces.
PHONES, LAPTOPS, AND OTHER GADGETS
Scribbling nonsense in class while there’s a lecture going on is perhaps equivalent to playing games on your phone during a boring meeting in an office scenario. Like in school, there will be the proper students who are attentive and listening, and there will be the pasaway ones who’ll try to catch some sleep. The real world is no different.
As for gadget usage, I think the rules are pretty obvious, we really just easily forget. From putting phones on silent mode inside the cinema, on meetings, or places like funerals or the church; to politely excusing yourself when you’re about to address an urgent message on your phone or laptop, while in the middle of speaking with someone, I'm sure we're all well-aware of these. Sometimes, technology just gets the better of us.
You know when you meet a person for the first time and the first things he or she would say or make kwento are evil thoughts? Consider it bad manners when speaking ill of others, especially when you're not careful about damaging the other party's image or reputation. Simply letting out steam and disclosing your resentment to a decent friend is different, but allowing your negative thoughts to be known by others that might affect the hated party is unbecoming.
Technology has made it so easy, and I swear, our parents, grandparents, and great-great grandparents are shaking their heads in disbelief or even rolling over in their graves in disapproval. In general, as it is common decency to RSVP, it’s not really nice to cancel last-minute, especially for events or dates you know have been well-prepared for.
If you really have to, do it as early as possible, and be direct and honest about it.
ON HAVING "AN ATTITUDE"
Being rude, unpleasant, overly entitled, or demeaning just because you can and the other party lets you is the worst of all, if you ask me. Go back to kinder.
Photo by Jem Bautista.