‘Manners never go out of style:' Why it’s still cool to care about etiquette | St. Louis Public Radio

‘Manners never go out of style:' Why it’s still cool to care about etiquette

Jun 30, 2016

Is this you?

It’s Friday night and you look on Facebook, seeing several event invitations that you’ve responded “interested” to. When the time comes, you decide you’re just not that interested in going to anyone’s party anyway and instead opt to spend the evening on the couch watching Netflix. Meanwhile, your friend who invited you on Facebook is desperately waiting for someone to show up to their taco happy hour and only a few people arrive who responded they’d be interested in coming.

What went wrong here? This example is just one of the many ways that etiquette is changing in the digital age. Other examples include using your cell phone at family functions or wearing jeans to the office. As generations shift and technologies collide, there are many different ideas about what proper etiquette in 2016 should be.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh was joined by local experts Renita Jackson, founder of Jackson Etiquette, and Laura Beaver, assistant professor of social work at Fontbonne University, to discuss how etiquette is shifting in today’s day and age.

“We are doing okay, but we could do better,” said Jackson. “Manners never go out of style.”

Renita Jackson founded her own business - 'Jackson Etiquette' - to help others learn the basics of proper social skills.
Credit Renita Jackson | Jackson Etiquette

Both Jackson and Beaver see a need for young people in particular to learn etiquette skills. In fact, Beaver’s etiquette class at Fontbonne University is a required course for all social work majors. In the class, students learn how to write business letters and thank-you notes, what to wear for an interview, how to dine properly and how to engage in responsible Internet behavior.

Jackson explained that traditional etiquette skills used to be taught during home economics classes, but since those are no longer offered in most schools, young people are not receiving the same social skills training that their parents or grandparents did.

Sending text messages or looking down at a phone during a conversation, for example, is a behavior Beaver has noticed in her students and other young adults.

“What’s funny is, they don’t think that it’s rude,” said Beaver. “They’ve grown up with cellphones, they’ve grown up being told that they’re consumers and that the world is kind of there to serve them, so to speak.”

While Jackson and Beaver do not fault young people for being unaware of this social ‘faux pas,’ they believe that a basic of understanding of the principles of etiquette could improve a person’s interpersonal communication skills.

Laura Beaver is an assistant professor in the department of social work at Fontbonne University.
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

“The whole point of etiquette is being aware of somebody else and having a sensitive awareness of their feelings,” Beaver explained.

For her, learning these social skills is about more than just following a set of rules. It’s about acknowledging and respecting the people around you.

“You really have to learn how to be in the moment with other people and not let other things distract you,” she said.

This definition seems to offer a more nuanced understanding of ‘proper behavior’ than what typically comes to mind when considering rules of etiquette. Though traditionally associated with upper-class social settings, Jackson and Beaver explain that etiquette is relative to specific situations and groups.

The fact that specific rules of appropriateness can vary by group, however, has its drawbacks.

“In a lot of ways, etiquette is a privilege,” Beaver explained. “Learning business etiquette or even upper-class

"In a lot of ways, etiquette is a privilege."

etiquette is something that is a privilege.”

She referenced author Ruby Payne’s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty, which talks about how the ability to move between social classes relies on an understanding of social norms.

“A lot of times that doesn’t happen, and that’s why people have a really hard time moving up sometimes,” Beaver said.

Jackson added that, while developing this familiarity with the etiquette rules of the group you would like to enter is necessary, it is equally important for all people to recognize that there is no gold standard of ‘perfect behavior.’ As it turns out, etiquette is relative.

“Just because you do something one way doesn’t necessarily mean that they should do something that same way,” she said. “It is possible that within their company, you’re being rude!”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.