Manners Maketh Man: If We Could Only Agree on ‘Manners’
As Brits in the U.S. very quickly discover, not only are there many differences between American and British English, but customs and etiquette “rules” can also deliver a few curve balls.
My most common example of an etiquette difference is when Americans refer to someone as “he” or “she” and that person is standing right in front of them. Although I tell my British guests that this isn’t rude in the U.S., there’s always a frisson of silent outrage or a look of disbelief when the Brit first encounters it.
Ditto with the absence of the word “please”. Where Brits probably say “please” too often, Americans tend to imply it in their tone and smiley expression, rather than with the actual word. I know this will provoke outrage among some Americans, and I’ll be barraged with examples of how they were brought up, yada yada, but after 23 years of unscientific research on this matter, I’m sticking by it. The last time I had a conversation about this, an American woman told me that she would never dream of omitting the “please” and then turned to a complete stranger and said “Do you have the time?” Not only did she miss the irony in the situation, she probably would have denied missing out the word “please” too. Just as Brits aren’t aware of how many times they say “please” (too many), most Americans don’t realize how little they say it, and Brits need to remember that this isn’t the etiquette bomb that it is in the U.K.
During a recent #MindtheChat twitter session, I discussed the use of the word “kids” versus “children” with an American. She noted that when Brits say “children” it sounds a tad precious, whereas many of my British friends still can’t resist the absolutely hilarious retort, “They’re not little goats” if I’m ever caught saying “kids”. Again, we should accept that “kids” isn’t disrespectful, and “children” isn’t Victorian and stuffy. One word I still have difficulty with however is “brat”. My husband and I once met a guy at a party; after a couple of minutes of ‘Where you from?” and so on, my husband remarked, “Oh, so you’re an army brat?” As I raised my arm to cuff him the “brat” smiled broadly and said “Yup, so was my dad.” Someone called him a brat and he was OK with it? Hmmm….
Although this differs from one social scene to the next, Americans in general tend to start and end their socializing earlier than Brits. House parties will often kick off fairly early in the evening, and it’s not unusual for guests to depart by 10 or 11pm. Again, there are obviously parties that go on into the wee hours, but in many cases don’t be surprised if you’re one of few towards midnight, and make sure you’re not the last guests to leave. (Guests often leave all at once as it gets to the witching hour, so take the hint.) You may think you’re being friendly and not abandoning the party, but the hosts are probably eyeing the clock and will almost certainly have stopped serving drinks.
Table manners also differ on either side of the Pond, the most famous disagreement being about the use of silverware (cutlery). Brits often accuse Americans of eating like babies, cutting up food first, abandoning the knife and then eating the meal with just a fork, held in the right hand. On some occasions knives aren’t even put on the table and food is simply half chopped, half cut with the fork. Brits … this is not wrong, just different. Americans do not consider it bad table manners any more than drinking beer straight out of the bottle is. In some areas, it’s not considered particularly polite to hold onto your knife. I have to say though, watching a person recently trying to cut a tossed lettuce salad with only a fork was a little trying to witness. It took every ounce of willpower not to pass her my knife, or reach across the table and cut the darn salad up!
Have you witnessed a difference in “manners” where you live?