This week, I attended a class about my chosen field: Social Intelligence/Etiquette. The instructor shared a story to explain the difference between etiquette and manners. She used what some call an urban legend about Queen Victoria entertaining another country’s dignitary at Buckingham Palace. Over the course of the meal, finger bowls were brought out and placed at each attendee’s setting. The dignitary, assuming standards of his own culture, respectfully picked up the bowl in both hands and drank the warm water. Those of Queen Victoria’s court anxiously looked to the Queen for her next action. With grace, she picked up her bowl in both hands and followed suit, changing the purpose of the finger bowl in that setting and for that meal. Some would say, “It’s good to be Queen.” The instructor complimented Queen Victoria’s good manners in choosing not to embarrass her guest, even though it is improper etiquette to drink out of a finger bowl or use it for any other purpose.
My ‘take-aways’ on the instructor’s point:
Louis the XIV required visitors to respect his time, his court, and his authority by providing written rules on how they presented themselves and their concerns for his consideration. Those who didn’t follow these were not heard until they met his rules … Europe marveled at this orderly process. England adopted “etiquette” as the term for rules of orderly behavior (manners) and the world followed.
Both etiquette and manners are part of the bigger picture of “social intelligence” which speaks not only to “how we arrive in social events” but also “how we affect others by our actions” and “how we’re perceived by others.” The more I learn, the more I see how easy it is to get on the wrong side of others and wonder what went wrong.
While going against social standards produces great stories like Queen Victoria’s, who wants to be an example particularly when you’re in important social situations. If you’re turning down invitations to visit royalty or any other important people you value, it’s time to refresh what you know and learn current social intelligence trends.
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