The salutation, says a French writer, is the touchstone of good breeding. According to circumstances, it should be respectful, cordial, civil, affectionate or familiar:--an inclination of the head, a gesture with the hand, the touching or doffing of the hat.
If you remove your hat you need not at the same time bend the dorsal vertebra of your body, unless you wish to be very reverential, as in saluting a bishop.
It is a mark of high breeding not to speak to a lady in the street, until you perceive that she has noticed you by an inclination of the head.
Some ladies courtesy in the street, a movement not gracefully consistent with locomotion. They should always
If an individual of the lowest rank, or without any rank at all, takes off his hat to you, you should do the same in return. A bow, says La Fontaine, is a note drawn at sight. If you acknowledge it, you must pay the full amount. The two best-bred men in England, Charles the Second and George the Fourth, never failed to take off their hats to the meanest of their subjects.
Avoid condescending bows to your friends and equals. If you meet a rich parvenu, whose consequence you wish to reprove, you may salute him in a very patronizing manner: or else, in acknowledging his bow, look somewhat surprised and say, “Mister—eh—eh?”
If you have remarkably fine teeth, you may smile affectionately upon the bowee, without speaking.
In passing ladies of rank, whom you meet in society, bow, but do not speak.
If you have anything to say to any one in the street, especially a lady, however intimate you may be, do not stop the person, but turn round and walk in company; you can take leave at the end of the street.
If there is any one of your acquaintance, with whom you have a difference, do not avoid looking at him, unless from the nature of things the quarrel is necessarily for life. It is almost always better to bow with cold civility, though without speaking.
As a general rule never cut any one in the street. Even political and steamboat acquaintances should be noticed by the slightest movement in the world. If they presume to converse with you, or stop you to introduce their companion, it is then time to use your eye-glass, and say, “I never knew you.”
If you address a lady in the open air, you remain uncovered until she has desired you twice to put on your hat. In general, if you are in any place where etiquette requires you to remain uncovered or standing, and a lady, or one much your superior, requests you to be covered or to sit, you may how off the command. If it is repeated, you should comply. You thereby pay the person a marked, but delicate, compliment, by allowing their will to be superior to the general obligations of etiquette.
When two Americans, who “have not been introduced,” meet in some public place, as in a theatre, a stagecoach, or a steamboat, they will sit for an hour staring in one another’s faces, but without a word of conversation. This form of impoliteness has been adopted from the English, and it is as little worthy of imitation as the form of their government. Good sense and convenience are the foundations of good breeding; and it is assuredly vastly more reasonable and more agreeable to enjoy a passing gratification, when no sequent evil is to be apprehended, than to be rendered uncomfortable by an ill-founded pride. It is therefore better to carry on an easy and civil conversation. A snuff-box, or some polite accommodation rendered, may serve for an opening. Talk only about generalities,--the play, the roads, the weather. Avoid speaking of persons or politics, for, if the individual is of the opposite party to yourself, you will be engaged in a controversy: if he holds the same opinions, you will be overwhelmed with a flood of vulgar intelligence, which may soil your mind. Be reservedly civil while the colloquy lasts, and let the acquaintance cease with the occasion.
When you are introduced to a gentleman do not give your hand, but merely bow with politeness: and if you have requested the introduction, or know the person by reputation, you may make a speech. I am aware that high authority might easily be found in this country to sanction the custom of giving the hand upon a first meeting, but it is undoubtedly a solecism in manners. The habit has been adopted by us, with some improvement for the worse, from France. When two Frenchmen are presented to one another, each presses the other’s hand with delicate affection. The English, however, never do so: and the practice, if abstractly correct, is altogether inconsistent with the caution of manner which is characteristic of their nation and our own. If we are to follow the French, in shaking hands with one whom we have never before seen, we should certainly imitate them also in kissing our intimate male acquaintances. If, however, you ought only to bow to a new acquaintance, you surely should do more to old ones. If you meet an intimate friend fifty times in a morning, give your hand every time,--an observance of propriety, which, though worthy of universal adoption, is in this country only followed by the purists in politeness. The requisitions of etiquette, if they should be obeyed at all, should be obeyed fully. This decent formality prevents acquaintance from being too distant, while, at the same time, it preserves the “familiar” from becoming “vulgar.” They may be little things, but:
“These little things are great to little men.”
Original text by A Gentleman , edited and revised by D. J. McAdam - this text © 2005. Please note: all applicable material on this website is protected by law and may not be copied without express written permission.
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