Social Airs and Disgraces


Jane Austen's "Good Manners"

Go into any book shop. Try Waterstones, Borders or even that one with the records in the window on Lancaster High Street and I can bet you’ll find what I’m looking for.  They’re originally French, they’re something your mum told you to mind and they are currently responsible for selling quite a few books around the world. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s all about manners.

Originally coined in the 18th Century, manners or “Etiquette” seem to be making a return; “Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners” is a highlight. Now, before I go all Austen on you or even a bit “Keeping Up Appearances’”, bear this in mind. Do you keep to your manners at university? I mean after Freshers’ week and first term once you get to know your flatmates and everything; are you bothered about where you put your things in the kitchen or how loud you keep your music? So taking the 18th Century in mind, is it possible to keep up the etiquette at University?

Let’s start with the modern take on “the Ball”. What was once a formal dance is now probably more associated towards a casual (or not so casual in some cases…believe me, I’ve seen it) “bump and grind” at one of Lancaster’s many clubs. In the 1800’s, there was no drunken brawls, slurs or “Alright darlin’, can I buy you a drink?” and whilst bowing may seem inappropriate (can’t imagine people bowing to each other in the middle of the Sugarhouse) a little etiquette may not go amiss.  In the social rules of a French Bourgeoisie, a woman should never ask a man to dance; this still largely applies as a rule of thumb.  Guys, since when was it courteous, strike that attractive even, to surround a girl and gyrate? A simple tap on the shoulder gets any girls attention.  Being courteous at dances was also a priority for young men and women, so in a modern sense this can be applicable too. When you move past someone, if you push them how about saying “sorry” once in a while?

Modern etiquette can also be helpful in dealing with problem housemates. Airs and graces would suggest that women especially should “bite their tongues” (Warning: SCAN is not responsible for anyone biting their tongue here) when it comes to problem people and men should deal with the conflict in a calm and orderly manner. Now, it would be an insult to women’s rights to suggest that a girl can’t deal with conflict but taking a leaf out of the 18th century book, why not try the calm and orderly manner? If someone is taking up your space in the kitchen, ask about it. When the music is too loud, don’t turn yours up louder. Just call the porter; no, I’m joking.  It shouldn’t get to the point where you can’t knock on a door and sort something out.  And if it has, just try and resolve things. In the end girls, instead of bitching and moaning, think: what would the Bronte’s do?

So that’s just a small insight into how you can combine 18th century manners and modern university life. Remember, manners aren’t always the strict ideas your mum tells you to keep to, just to be nice and polite, it’s about just being that little more courteous and calmer by following these old ideas. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a little bit like Elizabeth Bennett?

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