At some stage in the future, lockdown will end. For months we will have been meeting, talking, and socialising with the images of people on screens. When we finally get to meet with them again, how will we cope?
Can we remember the ‘social niceties’ as we used the call them, the social conventions that ensure mutual respect and deference?
I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some of the social decorum or etiquette that we were expected to follow when we were younger (which is probably before you were born, dear reader). Yes, in such prose as these when addressing the reader they were often referred to as ‘dear’ or even ‘gentle reader’!) The following relate to ‘greetings’ in the 1960s. Some of these conventions are still applied by the ‘old school’!
• If a lady entered a room all the gentlemen were expecteed to stand. If a large room or hall, or in a large gathering it was understood that only those whom she approached would stand until she was seated.
• All gentlemen would stand to shake hands but the ladies would remain seated to do the same. (I believe this is still expected and correct behavior.)
• Unless they are a relative or long standing friend or aquaintence, no kissing is allowed. If the lady leaned forward for a peck then this could be offered or received, but this was unlikely.
• Anyone senior to us in years we would call ‘sir’ or ‘madam’, unless instructed by them to do otherwise. If respect needed to be emphasised then these could be used at any time.
• If you knew someone’s Christian name you would not use it unless invited to in an introduction. It would be Mr., Mrs, or Miss as appropriate. Again, Sir or Madam could be used if superiority is clear or even suspected.
• If passing someone you know, gentlemen should raise or touch the rim of their hats. If a lady then stops to engage them in conversation the hat should be removed until the lady moves on.
– there is a lovely story involving my Father. In the early sixties he was a civil servant working in the city of London, in Somerset House. The ‘uniform’ in the city was great-coat and black bowler hat. This hat was raised or the rim touched at all required moments. One day when returning home and almost at our garden gate, he met an acquaintance. He started to raise his hat. At the same moment, his acquaintance offered his hand for a handshake greeting which was also acceptable, but was a more familiar approach. Dad accepted this and so started to offer his hand in return. His friend had also realised the disparity and was starting to raise his bowler hat at the same time. My Mother relays this story as she was watching from the window and says that the greeting was attempted three times with hats being raised and hands offered alternately, until finally they gave up and just said hello.
• On ending the conversation, if with a lady, the hat was returned to the head and with a gentleman it was raised or the rim touched on parting.
That may seem very involved but that was the way we were taught to behave, the expected ‘norms’; and THAT was just for the greeting!
I am not suggesting we re-adopt these social expectations, this was just a bit of fun. But, we can be certain that when our ‘normal’ is returned we will feel very strange shaking hands with strangers or even standing right next to them in a meeting or gathering.
I used to give a talk called ‘Selling, Ballroom Dancing and Space Invaders’. The latter reference is to those who invade our personal space. I would not be surprised if our normal personal space has been extended due to ‘social distancing’.
Let’s hope we can soon return to ‘social nearness’, or for the brave, ‘social closeness’, and we can look forward to sharing time AND SPACE with everyone we wish.