Etiquette always here
Lord knows, it’s easy enough to look around and believe one is witnessing what has been called a disintegration of manners. It is probably cold comfort to suggest, with Edgar in King Lear, that “the worst is not, so long as we can say ‘This is the worst’.” It may be a trifle more comforting to remember that there will always be etiquette. There will always be something that “isn’t done” and ways of signaling that one knows how to behave.
Admittedly, these periods of flux and changing manners can be nerve-wracking. We must not let personal prejudice obstruct our vision. Not all that is different is savage. “Barbaric” is really just Greek for “that which is not Greek.” But even savages and cannibals have their etiquettes. Even if it is permissible to eat your dead uncle, there will be something society frowns on, and the well-bred necrophage will strive not to do it.
What is accepted as good manners may change more quickly than we might like. Not so very long ago Monsieur Montaigne was holding forth at dinner some very enlightened humanist views. It is still popular to quote him, but few today would much enjoy sitting at a table with him. He had little use for those newfangled spoons and forks, preferring to eat with his hands, a style that was only just beginning to be viewed as old-fashioned. Ladies of culture could still be seen to wipe their fingers in their hair. STANLEY G. JOHNSON Little Rock