Hoi Yee: My husband opens the door for me. He takes my hand to help me out of the car or taxi, he pours tea for me when my cup is empty. He never allows me to carry any bags except my girlie handbag. He is a gentleman . . . and I love that about him.
I am used to the custom of bowing in Thailand, Korea and Japan. Hotel staff will bow to us when we enter or leave, waiters will bow when taking payment for the bill, even my son has learned to bow to his teachers at his pre-school. It is respectful and a sign of humility.
Life in Asia is so different in this regard. In the West, individuality and sexual equality have been hard earned and when I lived in Canada, I prided myself on being self-sufficient and not needing anybody’s help. But one of the consequences of individuality is the loss of gentlemanly manners which I think, is a great pity.
It is the respect between people that is missing when a gentlemanly act is not performed. I insist that my son practices good manners, and he understands that this will make people around him feel appreciated. He is beginning to understand that instead of saying, “Give me that! . . . That! (fingers pointing, while jumping up and down) . . . That car up there!” he should say, “May I have the yellow and black car, please?” He realizes that this way of speaking shows people respect and in return people will respect him.
Julia: I am always enchanted when a door is opened for me. This happens a lot in Hong Kong because all the hotels have doormen, and I find it a charming custom. I also like the way a Chinese hostess serves guests before herself at a meal, no matter whether formal or informal. This gesture makes the guest feel very honoured.
Good manners play an important role in our daily encounters. They oblige us to be polite in situations that might otherwise be tense, they encourage us to listen and not hog the limelight, they help us smile when we might otherwise frown. Manners help us to demonstrate respect for each other. We may not know the person we are speaking to, but good manners require that we communicate in a considerate way and this makes it easy for us to be amicable to each other.
In the Middle Ages, an Italian book on good behaviour, Il Cortegiano, was an authority on the appropriate manners for various social situations. The book gave tips on having a cool mind, eloquent conversation, on being athletic, and standing tall. Guidelines for respectable social behaviour have been appearing in bookshops ever since. In Victorian times, husbands were expected to bid their ladies step forward first, and to walk on the outside of the pavement to prevent their women from being splashed by passing carriages.
Whilst being polite and respectful may not prevent angry outbursts, they do pave the way towards creating good relations, improving weak ones, and soothing hurt ones. I truly believe that good manners make it possible for deep and lasting friendships to evolve.