Q&A Tuesday: Should we still mind our manners?

Sure, most of us would agree that it’s important to teach our kids to say “please” and “thank you.”  And I can’t imagine that Simple Mom readers don’t kindly leave a tip when their waitress serves well.

But… what about those rules that have been around for several generations, and – well, we’re not exactly sure why we do them?  How important is it in this day and age to slap a stamp on an envelope and mail a thank you note for a Christmas present?

Today’s question comes from Nick Cernis, writer of the famously funny and useful Todoodlist.  He asks:

“Are good manners and etiquette still relevant in our busy lives today?”

Nick is a writer and web developer from the UK with a penchant for pencils and a 43-a-day Hobnob habit. He lives at Put Things Off and recently launched 44forks, a kind of light-hearted internet finishing school for lost souls with a fear of cutlery.

Readers, I love Nick’s blogs, and it’s always a highlight when I see something new from him in my reader.  I have a fondness for good blog design, and his both fit the bill.  Plus, he’s hilarious.

I look forward to reading all your answers! I have some thoughts on the matter of etiquette and the exact definition of good manners, but… I’ll leave that for another time.  Today, you’ve got the stage.

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. I think good manners and etiquette ARE still very important today. People still like to feel appreciated and have their kind gestures recognized. (I do anyways!) I was raised to always phone or send a note to say thank you for gifts, or good hospitality. I plan to teach the same to my daughter, so she will appreciate what others do for her.

    Jennifer´s last blog post…Evey Sitting

    • “I plan to teach the same to my daughter, so she will appreciate what others do for her.”

      Ah, there’s the rub. I think that sending thank you notes really helps point out why you are appreciative for whatever causes you to send the note in the first place. Granted, there are times when you send them because you are “supposed to” even when you didn’t really care for the gift in question, but those are few and far between. In other words I think sending thank you notes is more to help remind yourself that you really are grateful (to whatever degree) for the gift or gesture, than they are to thank the person to whom you are sending them.

      Courtney´s last blog post…Christmas Part 1 (as promised)

  2. I feel that it is absolutely important to teach our kids their Ps & Qs. Even though there are more blatently rude people around as compared to before it doesn’t mean that we should let our kids evolved into such “monsters”. I believe through teaching them manners it will definitely help in their spiritual upbringing and aid building up a good and strong relationship with them.

    Dominique´s last blog post…Weekend Party at JWT Gym

  3. I think good manners are important as one of the little stop signs in life. As busy as we are our children will probably be 10 times busier by the time they are adults so it is important to teach them early in life to pause, reflect and be thankful. As the world gathers pace by the minute we may be physically busier than ever but our souls can get lonely and empty at the same time if we don’t take the time to feed them and appreciation and connection (both nurtured through good manners) are vital nutrients for the human soul.

    Sandra´s last blog post…Time to take the tree down

  4. I don’t think we should follow tradition just for the sake of tradition, and I see a lot of etiquette as that way. However, I do think we should be considerate of others, so sending thank you notes, holding the door open for others, eating politely at the table – those are timeless actions.

  5. Traciatim says:

    I don’t think etiquette in the strictest sense of ‘keep your elbows off the table’ and ‘Why are you eating the salad with your dinner fork?’ really matter so much any more as simply treating other people with respect. Just because the person is your server at the restaurant doesn’t mean you can treat them like your slave for the evening.

    Good manners like saying please and thank you come as part of respecting others. When people do nice things for you, you should show you appreciate them, the most simple and fastest way is saying thanks once in a while.

    • I agree somewhat with Chelsey’s answer. Following tradition for its own sake is not necessary for me, and for instance – using the thank you note example – we still send. I still expect my boys to say, “yes ma’am, yes sir”, though this mostly applies to other adults outside of our home. I simply require a “yes” or a “ma’am” when asked a question – anything but “huh?”. It still surprises me that I’m one of the only people my age I hear using those terms when speaking to my elders.
      For us it boils down to treating others the way we want to be treated.

      Christi´s last blog post…back in the saddle

  6. I love Sandra’s idea above of manners as “little stop signs.” That is wonderful, and illustrates why mannerly gestures might be more impartant than ever before.

    When we are doing thank you notes with our boys, for example, I encourage them to think through the whole process of receiving, that someone took time and care to select something just for them, and we give our time and words or drawings back in gratitude in the form of a thank you.

    I was not raised with much etiquette per se, beyond please and thank you. However, my in laws are a former military family from the days of very formal entertaining. I have come to realize that as we teach our boys table practices for nice dinners at their house, that communicates love and care to my in-laws, even though we are more casual at home. A case of considering our surroundings. . .

    So many manners come down to putting the other person first– always good to teach.

  7. i think that the rules of etiquette that amount to kindness towards others and just plain politeness are still quite relevant and necessary in our society. while i could care less if someone uses their salad fork to eat dessert, and i don’t own a set of fish forks… not sitting like a slob, eating quietly, holding doors for others, and saying things like “please” and “thank you” are things i expect of my family. communicating love and respect towards others are important, and this is one way of doing so.

    Krista´s last blog post…Book Review: The Moon Shines Down

  8. My daughter is 2-1/2 and I’ve really been working with her on this one. I’ve been trying to teach her to call people Mr. SoAndSo and Mrs. SoAndSo, but people say, Oh she can just call me Sue. I think our culture has become more casual. I think that … please, thank you, may I, no hats in church, excuse me, may I be excused … are all still appropriate though.

    Nicki at Domestic Cents´s last blog post…Frugal Groceries

  9. Good manners, in the most basic sense, help you make the people around you feel comfortable. They drink from the finger bowl if a guest does so. They don’t point out flaws in others. They assist others, such as holding the door for someone. They show others that they are appreciated. Those things are timeless.

    Kim´s last blog post…Outside the comfort zone

  10. I think it is absolutely important. Since before my kids were able to talk, I have emphasized and taught them to say “please” and “thank you”. You wouldn’t believe how many people are actually surprised that I take the time to make sure my 4 year old is being polite in social situations. Those things are learned from us and I certainly don’t want kids who don’t know how to behave and interact politely. I think polite and manners goes beyond a trained please and thank you though. I work hard to teach my kids how to greet people when we meet them, how to say goodbye, and how to behave socially. All of those things make up politeness and manners to me, including when to talk, when not to talk, etc…Those are all things that if not learned young, probably won’t ever be learned.

    Emily@remodelingthislife´s last blog post…Cut Costs On Your Restaurant Bill – Eat At Home

  11. I think manners are even more important. Technology is wonderful, it’s ability to connect us like nothing before. However, we can’t allow it to swallow us. We should use our new wonderful tools to deepen our selves not dim them.

    Writer Dad´s last blog post…Writing Without a Niche

  12. I think that as we rely more and more on technology to communicate, manners and respect are what help us to connect. I teach my children from a young age to say “please” and “thank you,” and that adults should never be called by their first names unless they are your aunt or uncle, and then never without some sort of preface like “Aunt So-and-So” or “Uncle So-and-So.” I’m determined that my children will learn respect for others (even if they have a hard time showing it to each other). Also thank-you notes are BIG in our house. I know how wonderful I feel when I get a thoughtful thank-you note, and I want my children to learn to write and send them, too.

    Kelley´s last blog post…More technology to learn

  13. I agree that manners and etiquette are important (as do most all of us, it seems)! As I sent out my Christmas thank-you cards the other day, I was actually thinking about what a lost-art it is. I rarely receive a thank-you card anymore, which makes me all the more determined to send them out. I like the idea of letting someone know how much I appreciate something!

    Kelli´s last blog post…Photo update before the New Year!

  14. I think manners are even more important today than in the past. It’s because we are so busy that we need to be polite and teach that to our children. Although there are some days that I really feel in the minority. Most of us don’t have as much ‘face time’ with people as we used to even though we might be communicating more. People are losing what I call ‘social graces’ with the abundance of technology out there. I will continue to ask my daughter to call adults Mr or Mrs, say please and thank you, not interrupt, etc. And yes, we still send out thank you notes…

    Debra´s last blog post…Well, this hardly ever happens…

  15. As a teacher’s wife, I have come to realize how important manners are, and will be for my child as he grows older. His biggest problems with his students are the with ones who are rude and disrespectful. He’d prefer struggling polite students to rude, brilliant ones everyday. I know employers who feel the same way. I think that even if you’re not brilliant (though, like every mom, I think my son is 🙂 ) , having manners and a work ethic can take you even farther than brilliance with a bad attitude. This is why my mom was a ‘manners nazi’ (her words), and why I find I’m becoming more and more of one myself.

    As for thank you notes- they’re a lost art that gives the sender huge credibility. I always sent one after a job interview, and I have been hired for any job I interviewed for. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

    Rae´s last blog post…under the weather

  16. elizabeth laufer says:

    My Mother instilled the importance of Thank You notes and I am passing it on to my kids. They didn’t even grumble too much this year. It is thoughtful to recognize the giver’s generosity and good handwriting practice too!

  17. Manners are tricky because for us in the middle class it’s not important on a day-to-day basis. So we tend to forget that there are some situations where they become remarkably important. As parents it’s our job to give our kids the tools to function in as many situations as possible.

    We should all hope that our kids will meet a Queen some day, or run for President, so we should all be teaching our kids how to behave in either of those situations. To not teach kids manners is to limit their options down the line.

  18. I think manners are very important. I think it’s a sign of respect.
    That being said, I’m no Emily Post. I still hand write thank you notes and have my daughters help me write thank you notes for them to send.

    I teach my daughters to say please, thank you and to use respectful terms when addressing elders (Grandma ___ or Mr.___). I try to say “your welcome” instead of “sure” or “no problem” and to use eye contact.

  19. I think that etiquette and good manner are a reflection of our character and the kind of person that we are. They reflect a deeper sense of compassion and respect for others, that we care enough about others to make our behavior pleasing to be around. Many of the rules of etiquette stem from expressing gratitude and we should never be too busy to tells others that we appreciate what they do. I was amazed at how quickly my child picked up saying “please” and “thank you.” I didn’t make a concerted effort to implement these words as part of a structured lesson; he simply observed my husband and I saying the words to each other and he started saying them as well. It is amazing how contagious good manners can be!

  20. I agree that good manners are important. I live in the South so “yes ma’am” and “yes sir” are routine parts of our day. There’s not much teaching here , the children simply imitate their parents.
    I also agree that good manners help people to feel more comfortable around each other. It’s just easier when you know what to do.
    My mama always said that we should treat others the way we would want them to treat us. I think good manners help us to do that. When we practice good manners we’re in effect putting the other persons” feelings before ours.
    We are big on teaching by example but we also remind the children and sometimes ourselves.
    Busyness should never be an excuse for rude disrespectful behavior.

    Debbie´s last blog post…Will We or Won’t We?

  21. Good manners and etiquette are always relevant, even in our busy culture. Their purpose is to honor another person. Putting someone ahead of yourself should never go out of style.

    We teach our children manners. Please. Thank you. Sit at the table during a meal. Etc. As a result we receive many compliments on the behavior of our children (5, 4, 2 years, 2 months). Those compliments are encouraging to keep doing what we’re doing. So the next time you see small children in public behaving be sure to compliment the mom – she’ll appreciate it.

    stephaniesmommybrain´s last blog post…Stephanie’s Mommy Brain 2008 in Review

  22. I think that above all else, good manners and etiquette are more important than ever. It seems that in today’s paced world good manners and proper etiquette are often left by the wayside, and often the next generation (be it ourselves, or our kids) weren’t or aren’t taught the finer points (or any points at all it seems in some cases). If we always took the time out to send that thank you note (or even just shoot an email or make a quick phone call) would we brighten someones day? Even if it were just as simple as a genuine smile and thank you to the clerk at the store or helping others pick up a dropped object instead of hurriedly rushing past because their mess is making you late for work. Having been on the other side of the cash register (as many of us I’m sure have) I can tell you most certainly that having someone actually smile and say thanks every now and then helps get you past the otherwise crummy shift.

    I had to learn (and in most cases teach) myself a lot of things when it comes to manners and etiquette, not because my mom didn’t try, but because I didn’t want to learn and she didn’t force me to. It’s now becoming more of an act of gratitude than a chore of duty for me to send out thank you cards after birthdays and holidays. Hopefully by the time my daughter is old enough to start helping do so in a year or two my attitude will be even better so that she learns it’s a good thing to do as well instead of a cumbersome task.

    OK, this comment was a bit longer and more “soap box” esq than I’d thought it would be. So to summarize, yes, I think manners and etiquette are important, but in teaching our kids, I think it’s also important to explain why we do these things, not just that they have to do them.

    Courtney´s last blog post…Christmas Part 1 (as promised)

  23. It’s amazing to me how teaching children to have good manners affects their overall demeanor and attitude, making them pleasant to be around! If you take two naturally sweet children but teach one of them to have good manners, I believe that child will be more considerate of others and fun to be with.

    I have particularly noticed with one family I know that they have taught their children to say, “I don’t care for that” instead of “I don’t like that” or even worse “I hate that.” It definitely is a small thing that goes a long way!

    Barb @ getupandplay´s last blog post…One of the best nights of my life (aka GO UTES!)

  24. I believe good manners and etiquette are 100% necessary in our busy lives. The more hurried we become, the more it is appreciated when someone takes the time to pause and be polite.

    I particularly wanted to comment on the topic of thank you notes. My parents taught me to write them for our Christmas and birthday gifts and I plan to teach my son (15 mos.) to write them when he grows up. I also take the time to write thank-you notes when someone has us over for a meal or goes out of their way to do something thoughtful. When someone makes time in a hectic schedule to host a dinner party or pauses to really find out how you are doing (not settling for a quick “how’re you?” “fine.” but thoughtfully engaging you in a good conversation) or picks up an extra bottle of wine at the store, I think it is appropriate to thank them for these gifts.

    Gratitude is a critical value that our children need to learn. Our lives are busy, but being grateful for the many blessings we have been given is something worth taking the time to do.

    Rachel´s last blog post…Model

  25. I think it is more important now than ever to give our kids a solid base and understanding of social etiquette. Not your usual please and thank-you, but the ability to decide WHAT is good etiquette and WHERE.

    With the internet and a gazillion ways of communicating and interacting, we have to teach our kids to be sensitive and respond the right way and the right moment – for some this could be a handwritten note and for another a call over Skype …

    A big part of teaching is by example – especially the part about keeping is genuine and respecting the other person – no matter what. Certainly my biggest challenge!

    Maya´s last blog post…The Happiness Quilt: Part 2

  26. Yes, manners and etiquette are still relevant. I have no doubt about this…with children who range from 9 to 17 in age, I can absolutely attest that manners and etiquette are still relevant and people do still notice. From the little sampling ladies at Costco to the first employer, the kids have stood out in a positive way for their courteous, respectful ways. Being courteous does not mean you’re a doormat, it just means you are aware you are not the only person in the universe with wants and needs.

    Erin´s last blog post…The Real Rules

  27. I believe manners and proper etiquette are absolutely necessary, especially in this day in age. Handwritten thank you notes are so great. They really make you think what it is you are thankful for, and when you put pen to paper magic happens. Computers are great, but just not as personal as a card!!

  28. I don’t think that basic manners are being taught enough these days. It’s a shame when boys are no longer taught by their father’s to be gentlemen and little girls are never shown how to be ladies. I am working on Chistmas thank you cards with my 22 month old son right now, and I hope that what my husband and I teach him now will stick with him through his entire life.

    Missy´s last blog post…Not Me! Monday

  29. I am all for “hacking away at the unessential” but I don’t see manners being on that list. Although the methods have changed, we encounter more people in a given day than ever before. The sum of all these interactions defines our character. Manners and etiquette should be second nature, save rudeness as a tool for when you really need it.

    Corey´s last blog post…CrazyLittleFingers keeps your work and temper in check

  30. YES, YES, YES!!!! Today, good manners and etiquette are more important that ever. I am always drawn to people who still follow the “golden rules” of etiquette. If I receive a hand written thank you card from someone, whether it be for a gift, a dinner, or an interview, that person immediately moves up two notches in my book. I think as the world get “busier” and more “accessible”, good manners and etiquette will be one way that an individual can stand above the rest.

    Shawn S.´s last blog post…Waste not, Want not-The failed Gym Membership

  31. I think it is important…I can’t tell you how many times I have spent days hand-making a gift, or put special thought into it to not receive a thank you. I am not a stickler for a time frame–we are all busy–but it hurts if someone doesn’t recognize the time and effort that you put into the gift.

    Lately my biggest concern has been buying gifts for various young relatives only to have it flung aside with no comment at all, not even a verbal thank you! Or the wonderful “uhhh, clothes…” I work at my 4 year old who has progressed pretty well…as much as there is an art of giving, there is a way to receive too. Has anyone else experienced this?

    Angel´s last blog post…Easy Baking

  32. It occurred to me quite some time ago that good manners are simply a form of kindness. And who doesn’t want to spread a little more of that? As for a handwritten note . . . there’s just nothing that compares.

    julie´s last blog post…color your world

  33. With the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, I believe manners are even more important. They are what make us human and help connect us to each other. Electronic thank you’s are everywhere. Thanks for buying a new book at Amazon.com, thanks for paying your bills, etc. It’s the personal thank yous that really mean something.

    My 3 year old and I do thank you notes for all her birthday and Christmas gifts. I write on the front and I help her “write” and draw on the back of each card. It becomes a fun activity we do together and it teaches her gratitude.

    With the amount of time people spend watching TV, there really is no excuse for not having enough time. It’s just a matter of not enough effort.

    P.S. What is a Hobnob?

    Shopping Queen´s last blog post…Second Hand Clothes More Dangerous Than Second Hand Smoke?

  34. Absolutely! I believe that good manners and etiquette become even more important as we become busier and communicate more virtually. There seems to be a temptation to be less polite as we communicate virtually, that the lack of face-to-face communication somehow makes being rude all right. I think that’s wrong and brushing up on one’s etiquette, saying please, thank you or just a simple “hello” in real life or at the beginning of an IM or email could do wonders to make the world a better place.

    Michelle´s last blog post…Menu Monday — 01/05/08

  35. I think that manners are vital to existence. I teach my children to be polite. As for gifts I try to either say thank you in person or send thank you cards. Close family like the grandparents or my brother get a face-to-face or phone call and I try to send others cards.

    I wasn’t raised to send thank you cards though so it’s something new to me as well.

  36. From an early age, our kids have heard us talk about “The Golden Rule”. But with almost everything our children learn the most from our actions.

    The other day at the grocery store I said “thank you” to the cashier. My 2 1/2 year old daughter said, “mommy thank you for remembering your manners.”

    Alana @ Gray Matters´s last blog post…Sewing Project #1: Crayon Roll

  37. I think there is a difference between teaching a kid to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and teaching them to respect other people’s time and efforts, and to be a thoughtful, generous citizen. The latter are far more important in my book.

    Lauren fromNorthwest Cheapsleeps´s last blog post…“Great Weekends”… All 52 of Them

  38. My vote is a resounding yes. Good manners are modeled from care givers and learned in the home. Of course, it can be exhausting to remind our children (10, 8, 3) to chew with their mouth closed, participate in grace, sit up staright at the table, keep elbows off of the table, politely ask to have something passed to them or in the most basic sense, how to properly set a table for dinner (guests or no quests). A well mannered person stands head and shoulders above an ill mannered person, in pursuit of life and profession. I had a bit of mommy bliss at Thanksgiving this year when my 10 and 8 year olds were seated at the college kids table. From the grown up table, I could see my bambinos practicing good manners and engaging others in conversation. I love the small moments, when all the work pays off.

    Kimberly´s last blog post…Nigella- and I don’t mean Lawson

  39. Heartfelt thanks to all for sharing your thoughts so politely on the delicate matter of etiquette, and for coming to a loose consensus that mirrors mine: that good manners are as important as ever, but that our lives are too busy to worry about the intricacies of fork juggling or which socks are acceptable on a Tuesday before 11am (hint: never the ones that play Amazing Grace when you click your heels together).

    Good news also that many of you care about imparting the same light-hearted sense of kindliness to your kids; the evidence here in the UK, I’m afraid, is that such an upbringing takes a back seat, a fact for which the blame lies almost entirely on Sky TV and the phrase “go and play outside in the traffic, children”.

    @ShoppingQueen: A HobNob is a devilishly more-ish type of biscuit consisting of oats, far too much butter, and (if you’re bad) lashings of melted chocolate. It’s disappearance here in the UK would probably prevent me from ever getting out of bed*, and would undoubtedly result in the decline of civilisation as we know it**.

    * This doesn’t sound so bad, now I think of it.
    ** Which probably wouldn’t take long: there’s not much left.

    Nick Cernis´s last blog post…Walking on the roadside: charming or trying?

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