Good manners are the first mark of good breeding and reflect directly on a person’s upbringing.
I have been given a very simple criterion for judging manners – good manners are based on consideration for other people. Tact, diplomacy and hospitality – all these are based on good manners.
For instance, take table manners.
You are not supposed to put your elbows on the table while eating because it doesn’t allow enough space for the person who is sitting next to you.
Similarly, it is important for you to respond to someone who wishes you ‘good morning’ or says ‘namaste’, even if it a stranger. If you do not return the greeting, the stranger will feel insulted and will not greet others easily again. For parents and teachers, there is one simple norm – do not tolerate bad manners. Give incentives and affection in return for good manners. But do not expect too much too soon. Children will learn by and by, but it is no point expecting a three year old to know about butter knives and a finger bowl.
There are some simple guidelines to follow actually, though there are cultural differences to take into consideration. What is rude in Japan may be perfectly acceptable in Latin America. However, you will be forgiven for not knowing the rules of an alien culture. You will not be excused for being careless in your own country. In any case, always remember the principle of not making others uncomfortable.
If you are in a mixed group, always greet the elders and the women first.
Don’t shout to be heard. Don’t interrupt others while they’re talking.
Don’t address elders and seniors by their names, unless they have specially asked you to, in India at any rate. Try ‘Sir/ Ma’am’ for strangers and ‘Uncle/ Aunty’ (or Chachaji, Mausiji etc) for familiar people. For a stranger who is not so old, it is better to suffix the name with ‘ji’, as a mark of respect.
Stand up when an elder or a guest enters the room and don’t sit until you’ve offered them a seat.
Offer a glass of water (and preferably a cup of tea) to anyone who steps into your home/ office.
Do not continue to watch TV or surf the net when you have a visitor.
Stand when the national anthem (of any country) is playing. Show respect to all flags and all religious symbols.
Lower the music or TV volume when others are talking or trying to sleep.
Do not ask too many intimate or invasive questions the first few times that you meet a person.
Do not comment on personal appearances or clothes in a negative way; if you cannot say something complimentary, do not say anything at all.
In Indian homes, always take off your shoes/sandals before entering a room, or in one corner near the door. At least, wait for your host to tell you that you need not bother.
There are some basic rules like –
Wash your hands before and after a meal;
Ask for whatever you want instead of reaching out directly or pointing at dishes;
Don’t make too much noise; don’t talk with food in your mouth;
Preferably eat with your right hand (unless you are a leftie and cannot);
Wait until everyone else is sitting down before starting to eat;
Help clear the dishes;
Don’t read while eating;
Don’t talk on your cell phone during the meal and if you must get up in-between, ask to be excused.