Etiquette is defined as the `Rule of polite and correct behaviour` by the Oxford dictionary. Right from our childhood we are taught to behave correctly in different situations by our parents. `Eat with your right hand`, `say hello to uncle`, ` don`t bite your nail`.. `Do this… Don`t do this…`, the list is endless. While these are basics, we learn more about etiquettes in society as we are growing up in life. Some lessons we learn the hard way. As I did, early in my life.
The etiquettes that I had learned in my school and college days, staying in a chawl in Bombay, had not prepared me for how I should behave in high society. Especially when I entered the glittering world of advertising as a Management Trainee. So when I was invited by my lady boss for a celebratory dinner at her home in the posh Malabar Hills in Bombay, I was very excited. It was my first experience of attending a formal dinner and that too in a luxurious flat. At the party, when I saw the spread on the buffet table, I went berserk. I started piling up my plate with all the delicious items on the table and started eating like a glutton, using my fingers. Suddenly, I found a hand gently pushing me to a corner and whispering in my ears, ` You are embarrassing me Rajan`. It was my lady boss in her best attire. I did not know what wrong I had done. The food I was eating choked in my throat. Completely shaken up, I quietly made an exit from her home, much to her relief, I guess. I was crying all the way back home because I was sure that I was going to be sacked from my dream job for not following some etiquette.
The next morning, when I sheepishly walked into the office I found that my boss ignored me but did not sack me. Meanwhile, a good friend, who had seen what had happened the previous evening, told me that my behaviour at the dining area was a bit uncouth. He volunteered to teach me the etiquettes to be followed in high society starting with how to dress and how I should use the fork, knife and spoon etc.. Over a period of time I learnt quite a few lessons in etiquette.
Now, it was my turn to teach some etiquette to an old friend from my chawl days when he came visiting me in Chennai, where I had moved as a senior manager with an advertising agency , with a company car. When I offered to give him a lift in my car to go to his next appointment, he was delighted. I was in the driver`s seat and when I asked him to get in, he promptly got into the rear seat. When I requested him to come to the front he innocently remarked ` Oh, I am very comfortable in the back seat`
I had to gently explain to him that etiquette demands that when a friend or a near & dear one is driving the car, you sit next to him/her. Only when an employee driver is driving can you sit in the rear seat and do backseat driving. Of course I did not tell him that some politicians, like the former nonageneraian Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, always preferred to sit in the front seat next to his driver. Fortunately, by doing so he was not breaking any etiquette!
This article has appeared in Adyar Times issue dt 10-16th June,2018 under my column `Rajan`s Random reflections`
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