Good manners vs. etiquette

All of us have that one most embarrassing moment, writes Lili Radloff. What's yours?

Yesterday I was reminded of the story, or urban legend (depending on how you look at it) of Paul Kruger at Queen Victoria’s table.

Now although Oom Paul knew how to kill a lion with his bare hands (probably another urban legend) he sorely lacked the skills needed to survive a Victorian dinner party.

The story goes that the hapless Paul, when presented with a finger bowl, gladly drank his down in a mighty swallow. The poor man must have been parched!

And what did the queen do? Did she send him to the Tower for his abominable behaviour? Did she call the guards to put him in stocks and have the illiterate peasants pelt him with rotten vegetables? (Forgive my historical inaccuracy here, but I’m trying to make a point.)

No.

She picked up her own fingerbowl and drained it daintily.

What a lady!

Why was I thinking of this heart-warming if somewhat fanciful tale? Well because, in my typical unfailing “grab life by the balls manner”, I recently rhinoed my way through the china store of propriety. Sigh.

I’ll spare you the details (okay fine, it involved me taking something scrumptious from a fellow diner’s plate) but suffice to say, onlookers halted their gossip momentarily to show how appalled they were at my “bad” manners.

I was mortified. Not for my sake but for my mom’s. She did her level best to ingrain ladylike behaviour in her three daughters. The poor dear failed miserably.

The only person who wasn’t offended by my boorishness was the so-called “victim”.

The gentleman merely stole my last bit of pork crackling that I had been saving and pointed out discreetly that I had something resembling spinach stuck between my teeth.

And just like that I relaxed.

Because you see, real good manners are not about propriety or etiquette. It’s about making the people around you feel comfortable.

So the next time you’re not sure how to act in a social situation, remember: kindness always trumps correctness.

Because THAT is good manners.

So now that I have spilled the beans, it’s your turn. What was your most recent social gaffe?


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