In the South, a premium is placed on learning proper manners and etiquette from an early age. We're taught to say "yes ma'am" and "no m'am" to our elders, "please" and "thank you" whenever warranted, and "bless you" when someone sneezes. So I was intrigued to watch The School Of Life's latest video about how manners have evolved throughout history. Are Southerners as polite as we like to imagine we are? Or, in the grand scheme, are we lagging behind in the etiquette department?
Well, the good news is that American society as a whole seems to have come a long way since our days as hunter-gatherers who spent their spare time finger-painting on cave walls (although there are always exceptions to every rule, amirite?). But for the most part, we're gradually cruising along and picking up slightly better manners as we go. Interestingly, what constitutes good manners has always been subject to interpretation and guided by what part of the world you hailed from. So perhaps there is something to the idea that Southerners hold manners in especially high regard.
In any case, it's of particular interest that manners have largely centered around gender relations. Sadly, treating women with respect and decorum has been a painfully slow learning process — not the standard. Just check out a few of these anachronistic moments in the history of manners below; to watch the full video, scroll down.
1. Cave Rape and Ceremonial Human Consumption Were A-OK
In 13,000 BC, cave people in Somerset, England left behind rather telling cave drawings illuminating one simple truth: primitive humans didn't do manners. Sexual promiscuity wasn't uncommon, and cave people considered rape an acceptable offshoot of sleeping around. They would also occasionally eat their human enemies and drink out of their scooped-out skulls. Charming.
2. People Begin To Take a Vested Interest in Hygiene
In Rome around 20 A.D., humans (at least the wealthy ones) realized personal hygiene was a thing we'd been sorely neglecting. As such, they starting bathing once a week, trimming their nose hair, brushing their teeth, and even policing behavior towards women — perhaps a small victory at the time, but an important step in the history of manners as they pertain to women's rights.
3. Wily Women Use Poetry to Subconsciously Civilize
In France circa 1152, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II and began having a troubadour play love songs for the couple. Aw, how sweet! Not to mention incredibly savvy — Eleanor used the lyrics of the songs to subtly civilize her husband and other men of the royal court. (Get it, girl. Get.It.) Thanks to these cleverly coded expectations, chivalry rose to prominence, essentially calling for a stop to sexual harassment. Women = 1; the patriarchy = 0.
4. A Guide Book for Good Behavior Emerges
All of this etiquette stuff was clearly tricky to navigate at the time, so in 1209 Daniel of Beccles published a straight-up field guide for manners titled The Book of the Civilized Man. This came with some handy tips, such as "look up when you belch" and "do not attack your enemy while he is squatting to defecate." Both of which are still pretty darn solid game plans.
5. Fragile Glassware Celebrates Delicacy
In Venice during the 1450s, a type of tableware took off in popularity. Not necessarily because it was beautiful, although it was. Rather, it was popular because it was made to shatter easily ... by design. Uh, say what? This was to encourage people (and men in particular) to be more delicate in all things.
6. Catherine de' Medici Introduces a Game-Changer
When 14-year-old Catherine de' Medici (yes, 14!) married the future Henry II of France in 1533, she brought with her certain refinements that took hold fast. Think gelato and macaroons. Perhaps most notably, though, she introduced forks to general European society. Eating with utensils was so unheard of at the time that the mere act of dining with a fork was considered a barometer of civilization. Something tells me pizza would have been considered uncouth.
7. A Call to Arms Is Issued to Return to a "State of Nature"
Just when the world was getting the hang of this whole civilized society thing, along comes Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1750 touting the virtues of the more "natural" side of humanity — you know, the belching, hairy-nosed, unmannered variety. In fact, he went so far as to claim the overcivilized were actually uncouth and said man should return to a state of primitive frankness.
8. Casual Manners Suffer a Serious Blow to the Ego
In 1827, a French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to New York, whereupon he was immediately dismayed by the lack of manners. He deemed manners an important tool for establishing heirarchical differences in society, and suggested Americans' casual manners were cruel because they merely disguised class and wealth differences. Suffice it to say, he would not have been a fan of casual Friday in the today's workplace.
9. An Absentee Article of Clothing Sparks Controversy
You may think it is something major — like pants, for example — but what got everyone up in arms during a global summit in 2013 was the absence of neck ties. When some of the most powerful men in the world, including President Obama, appeared at a press conference in Ireland without this article of clothing, it made a statement to the effect of "To hell with Tocqueville; long live casual manners!"
10. Sexual Assault is Officially Cemented as a Poor Manner Punishable By Law
In London in 2014, a DJ was convicted of indecently assaulting a female employee — two decades earlier. The behavior he exhibited (groping her breasts) had finally made its way into mainstream culture as anachronistic and illegal, clearly a far cry from the cave rape days but not yet on the level of Victorian-era attitudes toward women.
Watch the full video below for more:
Images: The School Of Life/YouTube (10)