The Difference Between Etiquette and Manners

The salad fork and the soup spoon. The wine glass and the water glass. The napkin in your lap.

All the rules and rituals of proper etiquette will certainly serve you well. Such knowledge is admittedly in short supply at present.

More important, though, are manners, as it takes very little learning to master them, but a great deal more diligence to practice them consistently.

You may know the protocols, but without sincerity, your elegant exercises will fall short.

With manners that spring from common courtesy, you may not know it all, but you will be forgiven by those who can see that you endeavor to extend kindness to all.

Manners are a mindset. Adopt that first. Open a door for someone. Offer your place in line.

Smile. Be interested. Listen.

Then study etiquette.

  • BGT


26 thoughts on “The Difference Between Etiquette and Manners

  1. You are so right! My maternal grandmother grew up poor and had to drop out of school after completing 8th grade to take care of her younger siblings when her father passed away. She was always very self-conscious about her lack of education. But she had more true friends than anyone I have ever known. She was innately kind, loving and had a generous heart. Those were the qualities that were on display whether she was dealing with the family who paid their dental bills with bushel baskets of apples and sweet corn from their farm because they had no other means or when dinning with the mayor and his wife.

  2. I couldn’t agree more Byron and this “difference” is what I centre my blog and book around. Here in England we have an abundance of “etiquette” experts the TV companies and magazines like to wheel out on occasion but they do little else than make people feel inadequate and useless.

    How to handle your knife and fork correctly, while useful, will never carry you in polite company unless there is a brain and a innate desire to actually get on with everyone. Good manners, like correct etiquette can be learnt but you have to *want* them to improve your heart and approach to daily life, not simply as a tool you can use to get ahead or climb the social ladder. PLU can sniff out those types of people from a mile away.

  3. Yes, I think good manners should have a foundation upon genuine consideration for others. This while etiquette stems more so (though not wholly) out of self-interest in a desire to make a good impression.

  4. Just my 2c, and a bit off-topic: What I find fascinating with etiquette and manners is that those born into the upper class (as opposed to those who worked their way up) not only know the manners by heart but also know when and how to subtly break them. That’s the thing with the etiquette guides: as a social climber you can practice dresscodes, smalltalk and dinnertable manners to perfection, but you will never achieve the savoir vivre of those who did not learn but were born with them. Someone who learned etiquette rules from a book does still not know when and how to bend them. Certainly there are examples of people born into the working class with excellent social skills who found acceptance in the highest social circles but according to sociologists these are the exception. The German sociologist Prof. Michael Hartmann calls it the ‘social pedigree’ of those born in the upperclass.

    1. I think you’re right, David. There is a social grace and ease that tends to be in the DNA of OMG’s. There’s also, many times, an awareness and appreciation for someone who is not born into, but still takes the time and makes the effort to follow the rules of manners and etiquette. Thank you for the astute observation. – BGT

  5. Oh Byron, whatever happened to manners? Where have they gone? Etiquette is another issue entirely, though we would all do well to learn some of that also. But even basic manners seem to be as obsolete as a pencil and paper. I find it so disheartening. I guess I’m a dinosaur. Thanks for this post.

    1. Keep the faith, Bev. There will always be a segment of society that aspires to refinement: an ambitious young woman who realizes that manners and etiquette are key to career advancement, or a romantic young man who realizes that they may help win the heart of that same young woman. We can never confuse being traditional with being obsolete. Being polite will always be relevant. – BGT

  6. Both etiquette and manners are learned. The willingness of parents, family, friends, schools and peers to teach them is now largely lost. This site is a welcome oasis in a desert of incivility. Thank you.

  7. I must say that I do know a lot of young people with good manners, particularly some of the youth at the church I attend. One of the great pleasures in life is talking to 18 year olds who are telling you their plans for college or university who you remember as babies getting baptized. I’m sure this must be a common experience for people attending temples, mosques or synagogues. Alsidair Macintyre is one of my favourite philosophers and he wrote a book called “After Virtue” about how virtue is built up and he suggested that it grows in close knit communities where people know each other. Examples are small towns, religious communities, other clubs and groups (yacht clubs, camps, sporting organizations). It’s a great book but also a major philosophical treaties so a bit of work to read. It’s well worth the effort, in my opinion.

  8. I often think of etiquette as a formalized or ritualized expression of manners. A part of good manners is making every situation comfortable and seeing that it proceeds as expected, and etiquette makes that possible. One never needs ask which bread plate is one’s own, as the rules of etiquette make clear that it is to one’s left. Good manners, of course, also make it apparent that if one’s bread plate is mistaken for someone else’s, one does not make a fuss over it and embarrass the person who took it.

    Some forms of etiquette have softened over the years. I’m always very pleased to be able to choose whichever stationery I prefer for the notes and letters I write, rather than being confined to white or ecru in very specific sizes and thicknesses. Of course, today I am glad to receive any correspondence, no matter the handwriting, style, or lateness.

  9. As children we were taught that etiquette and manners were opposites; the point of etiquette is to exclude people who are “not like us” (i.e. a set of rules which, if you don’t know them, will exclude you from certain circles) and the point of good manners is to include people (i.e. to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome).

    We were taught both, though it was made abundantly clear which was considered more important!

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