Today I saw a blog on the resurgence of etiquette. It was written by a woman who wondered if we needed etiquette in this day and age or if it was totally passé. My take on etiquette is that it’s a bit like Latin: a dead language that has lots to teach to those interested in studying it, such as the etymology of the words and its cultural evolution. Learning Latin with the intent to speak it is worthless; learning it with the intent to apply its logic, to reunite thoughts and meanings is of great use. Etiquette is the same way: learning it to become pedant and elitist has little value nowadays, but learning how and why one should behave provides a certain lightness, a “je ne sais quoi” that is often and simplistically interpreted as confidence.
One of my friends is a prince. He was born and reared in a modest family in Morocco and ended up winning two gold medals in the Athens Olympics. When I questioned him on his mannerism and grace, wondering what elite training he must have received through his world-class competitions, he told me that all he knows, he learned by observing: observing and never assuming that you are doing something right. Always wait to see how people handle a situation, a fork or a napkin, then mirror it. It works the world over, but of course receiving some prior training makes you more in control, more confident. When I teach etiquette to my clients, I encourage them to find their own style within the rules, which normally happens quite naturally. The rules are there to be interpreted based on context; moreover, the rules must mirror the person with whom you engage. In business and social contexts, it is of extreme importance to make “the other side” at ease by mirroring his behavior instead of pointing out his ineptitude.
And confidence, ease and adaptation are the skills 21st century jobs require. Develop a global mindset: a blank canvas that absorbs, retains, transforms. Implement with the intent to bond, to mark, to be seen, to be remembered, to make a difference. Nowadays we can easily say that thanks to technology, the world is borderless and people are bombarded by information and requests. Only the ones who differentiate themselves by having mastered the art of relating to others in a unique and gracious way will be retained. The others will be washed away, like seashells on the beach… So yes, etiquette is well alive. It has evolved and can be spotted as having perfect Netiquette for example… Etiquette today can indeed be interpreted differently, but the underlying concepts that form etiquette are more needed today than ever before.