The High-school Girl and her Manners - Love as an Ameliorator of Brusqueness - The Politeness of Looking One's Best - Continental Opinion of English Manners - The Golden Mean of Geniality in Travelling with Strangers - The Iron Duke's Axiom - Etiquette of Addressing Social Inferiors Abroad
"She has such pretty manners," is said of many an English girl, and it is a cordial to a mother's heart to hear the words spoken of her daughter.
A close observer asserts that a high-school girl can be told by her manner for three or four years after she has left school. She detects in her a tone of conscious superiority which is at war with good manners. This may be but an individual impression. Were it universal, it would be regrettable.
Egoism is a masculine rather than a feminine foible; but in men, however young, it does not exclude polite behaviour towards those of greater age and superior position. Unfortunately, the high-school girl frequently allows her sense of superiority to do so. Her manner is brusque to a degree when she is conversing with her seniors; or, if not actually brusque, it is offensively tolerant. "I am listening to you with patience, though you are absurdly old and bore me greatly," is what her attitude and expression appear to convey. The girl, in her youthful crudeness, has just sufficient hold upon good manners to convey her real lack of them. It is but natural that her sympathies and inclination should be towards youths that she should feel the peculiar antagonism, slight but well-defined, that exists between young and old. If she has not enjoyed the gentle home-training that is the sole antidote to the hard, curt manner of school life, she will be rather an unpleasant companion to her elders, and not always a pleasant one to her compeers.
Being somewhat inclined to despise social amenities, she thinks politeness a foolish thing, not worth bothering about. Her best chance of escaping from this delusion is to contract an affectionate admiration for some gentle-mannered teacher, a romantic attachment in which so many girls delight. She then becomes a faithful copyist, and delights her mother and friends by the agreeable change in her behaviour.
Or there may be another cause at work. The girl may fall in love, and just as she tries to look her best in exterior, so will she endeavour to don all possible graces and the gentler qualities of heart and mind.
The result of her efforts will soon be visible in her manner.
No longer does she defy the conventionalities. No one is now more particular than she to fulfil to the very letter of the law the requirements expected of her. Instead of being guilty of the rudeness involved in carelessness in dress and neglect of appearances, she is as solicitous in these matters as she was formerly negligent. Hair once untidy and unkempt is now brushed to burnished brightness. Neckwear, signally a sufferer at the hands of careless youth, is now remarkable for its finish and neatness. The belt, a fellow-victim in previous conditions, is now adjusted to a nicety, and certainly pulled taut. The gown and coat are brushed. Buttons and shoelaces are no longer hanging loose nor grey with age. The bad manners indicated by indifference to the good opinion of others are replaced by the most anxious attention to secure it.
With regard to dress, it is in very bad form to go to an afternoon party in morning costume. A girl may regard herself as too insignificant a being for it to matter much what she wears. Unimportant she may be, but she should dress from the point of view of her hostess's importance, not from that of her own humility.
A girl invited to drive in the Park with a friend of her mother gave great offence by wearing a shabby tweed suit and a stitched cloth hat, the occasion being a summer afternoon in the height of the season. She was never invited again, and sometimes wonders why. Another girl, asked to go to a' cricket match with the wife of a headmaster, appeared on the scene in a crushed white cotton gown, no gloves, and a knitted scarlet brewer's cap. She, too, received no more invitations; and possibly she, too, wonders why.
But very often the girl who is invited out for some afternoon expedition makes as careful a toilet as circumstances will permit. If she has but a limited wardrobe she will at least take care that everything she wears shall be as perfect as she can make it. First of all, she sees to it that her shoes are well polished - a point too often neglected - and that her gloves are fit for the occasion. If not, she had better stay away. Shabby gloves are a terrible indictment, and shabby shoes are only a small degree less so.
When a girl has but a tiny dress allowance, she finds it a serious tax to be always dressed well enough to appear in society, an endless task of hook and eye and tape and button-sewing, of furbishing and mending, altering and sponging, brushing and pressing. Wonders may be accomplished by this unremitting industry, and there are girls who even manage to make a better appearance than others with ten times their dress allowance.
Why Foreigners Dislike Us
English girls, if they would but realise it, have unique opportunities when travelling of commending our islands and their inhabitants to those of other countries.
There is, unfortunately, no doubt of the fact that many nations dislike English people extremely. We are considered arrogant, disagreeable, fault-finding, disdainful, hard to please and ill-mannered. And some travelling English seem to take pains to live down to this estimate of them. They behave detestably. They appear to think that the world was made for them, that all foreign nations are merely suburbs of the British Isles, and that Britons who visit any part of these suburbs are doing it a great favour.
Of such men and women there is still a depressingly large number. They go into churches where people are kneeling in prayer, and they laugh and talk their loudest; they tramp about, commenting on the monuments, the glass, the architecture, and reading aloud from guide-books.
In the streets they make remarks of a personal nature about those they meet, forgetting that English is now almost universally understood upon the Continent, and is rapidly replacing French as the universal language.
In hotels the haughty demeanour of British visitors has become a by-word. At one huge caravanserai, the little French manageress said to a visitor: "You English, madame? I can scarcely believe it. The English ladies are so abrupt in manner."
Sometimes it is the national shyness that gives ground for this impression, but it is too often caused by a lack of consideration. Therefore, let the travelling English girl set herself to do what in her lies to remove this disagreeable impression, to be polite and gentle, just as though she were at home in England, and to be considerate and thoughtful about the convenience of others.
The English are so stiff, so cold!" is a common complaint. "Even your young girls have such stand-off manners!" And, indeed, few have the secret of that genial courtesy which is a letter of recommendation for its possessor.
At hotels and restaurants, and during very long train journeys on the Continent, there is a continual demand made on one's politeness by those one meets. English stiffness must be starched indeed if it can be proof against companionship in a railway carriage from Paris to Constantinople. Effusiveness is not expected nor required, but civility should always be forthcoming.
An English girl can always win her way if she so chooses. Usually the subject of admiration for her figure, her complexion, and hair, she would find German, French, or Italian girls very ready to make friends. But their overtures are often met with chilly unresponsiveness. Why not converse? Even if not fluent in the stranger's language, one's mistakes are only something to laugh at, and often a tiring journey passes quickly in exchanging ideas with some lively companion. Friendships have been begun this way, and have continued throughout life.
At the same time, one must guard against undesirable acquaintanceships. It is possible to be civil, even genial, without being cordial or entering upon close companionship "with strangers of whom nothing is known beyond what they choose to tell.
At foreign hotels, and in most of the restaurants abroad, the proprietor or manager expects polite recognition from his visitors. Unaccustomed to anything of the kind at home, the English girl fails to return the polite bow with which she is greeted on entering, and again on leaving. If she bestows a hasty nod in return for the respectful salutation, it is something, but certainly not enough.
Was it not the great Duke of Wellington who, meeting one of his tradesmen who raised his hat, took off his own in response? His companion remarked, "What, you uncover to a fellow like that?"
"Certainly," said the duke. "Would you have me allow him to outdo me in politeness?"
Another matter in which English travellers need a reminder is as to the correct and polite mode of addressing persons of inferior social position - chambermaids, shopgirls, telegraph clerks, post-office officials, concierges, tradesfolk. Madame, monsieur, mademoiselle, mein herr, fraulein, signor, signora, signorina are easily pronounced, and should be freely used when travelling in France, Germany, Italy. To omit this point of politeness is to hurt the feeling of those accustomed to this civility. It also gives them the idea that We are deliberately rude, and they are sometimes deliberately rude in return.
Rudeness is met with rudeness, gentleness with gentleness. A scowl is received with a frown, and a smile is rewarded with a pleasant look. "With whatsoever measure ye mete, therewith shall it be measured out unto you." The good words are very true with regard to manners. To be continued.