Of growing children and social etiquette

Of growing children and social etiquette

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We’re on our annual visit to my hometown. As we walked out of the airport we were met by our driver, who has been with us for a long time. He greeted us with a loud Namaste! and followed it up with a, “Mashaallah, bachhe kitne bade ho gaye hain.” (My Goodness, how the children have grown). To my complete surprise and his (even greater) shock the twins promptly bent down and touched his feet. (If you didn’t know this, in India that’s a way to show respect to  elders). Of course it would have been perfectly fine had it not embarrassed the poor fellow out of his wits.

It’s strange, this transformation the children undergo here each year. Back home they need to be prodded before they deliver their dutiful ‘Hello Uncle’ and ‘Good Evening Aunty’ but here the namastes come pretty quickly and they don’t think twice before diving at everyone’s feet.

I’m not complaining. I’d much rather they overdo the courtesies than forget them completely.

When we were children…
..growing up in joint family meant our house was always full of visitors. There were friends – across generations. And there were relatives – a constant stream of them – aunts, uncles, cousins. Some would come for a visit, some would stay back for a day or two while others would stay on for months or even years till they completed their treatment at the city hospital, finished a course or a training programme or, sometimes, till they found a job.

Slowly but very surely we picked up basic social etiquette
Not only were we supposed to appear with that mandatory glass of water as soon as someone arrived, we were also supposed to ask ‘Uncle’ if he wanted tea, coffee or a cold drink and then serve it too.

Our dad would say, “Don’t just dump the glass of water and run off. Sit for a while and talk.” It was terribly awkward and we had no clue what to say. But the good girls that we were, we would make the effort, however stilted. We’d answer questions, often inane ones – What class are you in? How are your studies going? and so on.

My sister and I would sit with polite smiles on our faces, making secret eye contact, asking each other if we’d sat long enough, if it was okay to leave. Over time we figured it out. We knew how formal each set of visitors was, who should be offered tea and what biscuits would go with whose coffee.

Our parents wouldn’t think twice before pulling us up if they didn’t see us doing our namastes or getting up to see off a guest to the door. They thought nothing of embarrassing us in public.

Things are different for the twins.

We barely have any formal visitors. Nobody stands on formality of any kind. As a result when we do have one the children have no clue what to do. Either they disappear after a ‘hello’ or they go about their business as usual.

I was reading this post from Rachna here and it only confirmed what I felt – that they seemed rude, unconcerned and stand offish through their acts of omission. A lot was forgiven till they were young. As they’re growing up they need to learn the courtesies beyond thank you, sorry and please.

We’ve been working on it. And I have some simple rules for them:

  • Stand up and switch off the television when a guest arrives.
  • Wish them.
  • Get them a glass of water.
  • If you know them, sit and talk for a while.
  • See them off when they leave.
  • Oh and one last one – No fighting before the guests.

Seriously! Every little thing needs to be articulated.

They’re getting there but it is a struggle because the opportunities to practice are so very few.

However, making a guest feel welcome goes beyond rules
It is about being warm and friendly and welcoming even to someone they might not know too well. And there really are no guidelines for that. I am hoping that at some point, their instinct will take over and as their shyness fades they’ll pick up the right way to do it. Meanwhile, the basic rules will have to do.

Linking up with Tweens,Teens & Beyond 
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18 Replies to “Of growing children and social etiquette”

  1. “Manners maketh man” as my husband is so keen on stressing to our teens. It is important that they grow up knowing how to behave in these situations and respecting your elders is something that is so easily forgotten by this generation. I am, always, very proud when someone says one of my teens is a delight and so polite! It reassures that they have been listening to something at least. Thanks for joining us again. Hope to see you tomorrow. #TweensTeensBeyond

    1. Glad to link up as always Jo. I agree. Good manners are such a delight in these times when youngsters are so casual about everything. It pays to be particular about the basics of behaviour.

  2. It was EXACTLY the same for we sisters too back then. I am smiling and remembering at our side… “They thought nothing of embarrassing us in public.”
    I see every parent now-a-days prodding their kids to say hello, bye etc. Agree with you, kids need to have social etiquette which is more than hello, thank you, please etc.
    AG is getting better at it. Thank God! Courtesy his school, he says ‘Sir’ to all the people whom we call Bhaiya ie the shopkeepers, guards, electrician etc… I found it weird initially, but I stopped myself when I saw that this made the people feel good about themselves. Touching feet is something that he has learnt from KG and he does it for all the relatives and family friends too. And this is something that warms my heart, truly!
    Shilpa Garg recently put up this amazing post…ZZZ… #AtoZChallenge @AprilA2Z

    1. Seeing the children behave well with others is such a delight. I can imagine how ‘Sir’ would sound but you’re right about it making people feel good when being refried to as that so it’s totally worth it, though bhaiyya sounds sweet too. I hope the children never give up our old-fashioned values like touching feet. Unfortunately for us we hardly have that kind of a circle any longer. Which is why these trips to my hometown are ever more important.

  3. Your post and mine both contain the same line this week ‘turn off the tv when guests arrive’ – different cultures, same message. I love this post. Thanks for coming back to #tweensteensbeyond Nicky

  4. Hey, first of all, I liked the new look of your blog! I guess, I missed it as I was not online a lot these past couple weeks.
    Secondly, your description of your childhood reminded me of myself and how my parents would see to it that I “behaved” when the guests arrived, said my “Hello”, and touched their feet if they were elderly relatives (whom I knew not!). Back then, I would just do it to keep dad happy, but I realised it later how important these things are. Now, I train my nephew to do the same. He does comply sometimes, but I guess he needs a bit more of growing up to do before he will do the rest of it..

  5. I understand what you mean, Tulika. It can feel awkward and uncomfortable when basic courtesy has to be taught. But it’s a process and a journey. I think we’re doing the best we can and should hope that the kids get it as they grow older. I know a lot of social etiquette is what I really appreciated only when I joined college. That is not to say we can excuse rudeness,of course. Gently telling them and hoping they pick up on the nuances will help.

    1. Nothing excuses rudeness. However, sometimes children (and even adults) aren’t sensitive enough to realise they might be appearing rude. We need to make them aware of that. Etiquette comes slowly of course.

  6. Oh how I relate to this. How we were initiated (pushed) into socialization. I do the same with my kids. Say namaste or hello, smile, offer water and then call us. Say bye when they go. Smile when you make eye contact. Any kids, make small talk. Show them your room or watch TV together. I think it may feel unpleasant initially but most kids pick up the ropes. It makes entertaining easier and gives your kids good life lessons. Now, the kids touch the feet of their grandparents and elders spontaneously and it warms my heart. These are the sanskars I want them to have all their life. Call me old fashioned but snooty kids just does not cut it with me.

    Thanks for the mention as well.
    Rachna recently put up this amazing post…Summer Vacation Swishes By

    1. It feels good na, when the children are well-behaved? Somehow H and N become different people when they come to my hometown with me and revert to their selves when we’re back. Here they’re all about spontaneous ‘namaste’ and feet-touching. There they’re all Hello – Hi, that too when they’re prompted.

  7. Reliance on basic rules is certainly a good idea until their own instinct kicks in. I love the ‘no fighting before guests’ rule – I alawys used to tell me girls to sort their arguments out after the visitors had left! Thanks so much for sharing your post with us at #TweensTeensBeyond

    1. As kids the no-fighting rule came to us automatically. In fact, we rarely go even to our parents with our complaints and preferred to sort it out ourselves. But my kids need to be told and reminded.

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