– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)
The origin of the word etiquette is the French etiquet or estiquette, which refers to a notice attached to something.
A few hundred years ago, in Western Europe, it was a custom to attach the code of dress and behaviour to every party invitation, especially to those coming from the royal or aristocratic families. This was to ensure that people conducted themselves well and there were no faux pas to embarrass the hosts.
Luckily, we no longer live in that uptight era. However, basic social etiquette is still important. Let’s see how familiar you are with contemporary etiquette norms.
1. Which of the following behaviour, do you think, is appropriate when it comes to doors?
a. Chivalry is long passé – simply hold the door open for yourself to pass through. The others can take care of themselves.
b. In a business context, always open doors for clients, superiors or guests and let them pass through first.
c. While exiting from rooms with self-shutting doors, you need not hold the door open till the person behind you takes over.
2. Which of these options is not correct with respect to a handshake?
a. Keep the thumb up and let the webs of the thumbs touch before wrapping your fingers around the other person’s hand.
b. Maintain eye contact with the person when you are shaking hands.
c. When you are being introduced to a new person, the handshake should go on throughout the introduction. Ideally, this would mean there are about 6-7 pumps before you stop.
3. When someone compliments you on your attire, you should……
a. Talk about the designer of the outfit and how you prefer that particular label for your work clothes.
b. Simply smile and thank the person for the compliment.
c. Furtively glance at the person to find how can you return the compliment.
4. Given a choice among the following, which option would you pick to initiate small talk at a party?
a. How pleasant the weather was at the weekend getaway you had been to recently.
b. How the education system needs improvement and the expenses involved in educating a child.
c. How the politicians are messing up the administration of the country and corruption is gnawing at the exchequer.
5. At a party, you prefer to avoid or abstain from alcohol. Your host offers you a cocktail. How do you react?
a. “I don’t drink alcohol.”
b. “Sorry, but I have just recovered from colitis. My doctor has advised me to avoid alcohol for two weeks. I would love to have that cocktail, but you know……”
c. “Thank you, but could I have a soft drink instead?”
While chivalry in the old sense of the term may be passe, courtesy is not. It is important to hold self-shutting doors open if there is someone coming behind you from a standpoint of safety and avoidance of injury. And of course, it always great to be courteous towards seniors and ladies – it may not be expected, but is always apprecciated.
Eye contact during a handshake reflects on a person’s confidence and trustworthiness. It is important to remember that a handshake should start and stop crisply. Ideally, there should be about two to three pumps. Do not continue to hold hands through the length of the introduction.
When a person compliments you, it is not necessary to return the compliment. You can simply thank the person and graciously accept the compliment. Etiquette demands that no matter how expensive your clothes and accessories are, you should not brag about designer labels or their cost.
Boring though it may sound, the safest topics that make for small talk and serve as icebreakers in social get-togethers are the weather, popular sports or the pleasant party setting. Even if you are passionate about issues such as improving the education scenario or uprooting corruption, do not bring them up. For all you know, the person you may be talking to might be an educationist or a local politician himself/ herself! Topics such as religion, politics, family and personal appearance and grooming are an absolute no-no.
It is perfectly fine to refrain from alcoholic drinks. However, do not make it sound as if drinking alcohol is a crime. Whether you drink or not is a personal choice and you are not bound to give long-winded excuses as a reply. Simply thank the host for offering the drink and state your preference. S/he would be glad to get you the drink of your choice.