During the period between 1600 and 1700, the nobles in the French royal court had much time on their hands and did not have much work to do. Ample free time led them to create elaborate social practices. They made a list of appropriate social behavior and called it ‘etiquette’. The word originated from a French word that translated to 'ticket. Some of the interesting social practices followed in the court of Louis XIV were - people who wished to speak to the king were not allowed to knock on the door and were instead instructed to use the little finger of their left hand to gently scratch on the door for permission to enter, ladies were allowed to touch only the fingertips of men in public and both men and women were not allowed to cross their legs.
Soon, formal etiquette practices spread all across Europe and eventually, the upper class people in Western countries began following these codes of behavior too. Till this day, there are many codes of conduct that need to be adhered to, in order to appear appropriate in public. However, the etiquette and codes of behavior vary from country to country. For instance, in Japan, it is bad to put chopsticks in a vertical position in a bowl, as it is done only in Buddhist funeral ceremonies. If you are invited to a place that has a different culture, remember to learn about its customs, so that you do not end up offending anybody unknowingly. Although codes of conduct do vary from place to place, there are some general rules of formal etiquette that remain the same. They have been discussed further.
Rules of Formal Etiquette
- For formal events, choosing an appropriate dress is essential to prevent offending the host. Usually, invitations mention the kind of clothing desired and it is strongly advised that people adhere to such conditions. However, you need not necessarily be one in the crowd and can always add your individual style through accessories. At the same time, it is important to wear polished shoes and if women are wearing gloves, they should remove them before shaking hands.
- Men should always guide women first, to hand over their outerwear to the assistant, before handing over their own. It is appropriate to first exchange introductions with people and then think about drinking or eating.
- You should always try to greet the host of the party first. Giving a gift is essential to show your appreciation of being invited. When shaking hands with other men, guy's palm should be facing sideways and when shaking hands women, they should face upwards, in order to hold the women’s fingers gently.
- While getting seated at a table, it is inappropriate to sit before the host does. If you have not been assigned a place card, it is best that you wait until you have been requested to sit at a particular place. If you are with female company, make sure you help her sit and get up.
- There are many norms to be followed at the dining table. The table setting should not be readjusted. Women should take their gloves off and place them on their lap and not on the table. It is bad manners to lift your plate to be served food, wait until the bearer places the food in your plate.
- Chewing food noisily or talking while eating is bad manners and is repulsive to other people seated at the table. Use the right cutlery item when eating or taking different kinds of food. If you are not sure as to what to use, wait till someone uses it and follow the lead. Once you finish eating, do no move your plate or other items.
If everyone adheres to basic social customs, it will prevent being offensive unintentionally. Etiquette is necessary to maintain order in public places in and create a pleasant environment.