Tag Archives: Etiquette


Such a lovely old-world word.  It isn’t used often.  It makes me think of high tea with fine China and little tiny sandwiches. It makes me think of gentlemen and ladies and well-behaved children. Has that time really gone? Do we now turn our noses up at the idea of etiquette? Perhaps.

Many people look back in horror at the perceived injustices of times long past. Men and women had pre-ordained roles that society dictated. Individuals were expected to act in a particular way, only do jobs that were deemed fit for that particular sex. It had nothing to do with ability and more with perception of what a man or a woman should do. We have evolved. But have we?

In the third millennium BC, the Ancient Egyptian vizier  Ptahhotep (2375–2350 BC), wrote a book extolling civil virtues, such as truthfulness, self-control, and kindness towards other people, and that the pursuit of justice should be foremost.

Confucius  (551–479 BC) was the Chinese intellectual and philosopher whose works emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, the pursuit of justice in personal dealings, and sincerity in all personal relations.

In the mid-18th century, Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, first used the word etiquette to mean “the conventional rules of personal behaviour in polite society.”

Even more recently, the rise of the Internet has necessitated the adaptation of existing rules of conduct to create Netiquette, which governs the drafting of e-mail, rules for participating in an online forum, and so on. And yet how often do we hear about trolls and scams and malicious viruses?

In society, there are either good manners or  bad manners to indicate to a person whether or not his or her behaviour is acceptable to the cultural group.  And yet our world is made up of many different cultures who have different manners and customs. Do we dismiss another’s actions because we don’t do it that way?  I was offended once by a man who burped after a particularly lovely meal. His wife saw the horror on my face and explained that in their culture that was a sign of respect to the cook. I had never heard that. I was in the wrong. And yet that is exactly what we all do. We judge based on our customs and manners. In a world of 7 billion people with hundreds of cultures and thousands of different customs it’s hard to know what is polite and what is not.

In my research what I found was surprising:   each generation was extolling the virtues of kindness, morality, respect and justice. These are concepts that should be universal and should dictate our behaviour. In fact, it does through laws that have been created. And yet these concepts shouldn’t have to be enforced, they should be the way we live. Some people do but far too many do not. Simple respect should be the norm, should be.

Even more surprising was that the concept we classify as etiquette exists in the animal world as well. There is a hierarchy in an assembly of animals that is viciously enforced. In a group each animal has its role to play: there are the protectors and the food gatherers, baby sitters and leaders. For example, In Meerkat families, only the matriarch is allowed to have young. If another female does, she is violently evicted from the troop. Even the solitary animals understand instinctually when they have to come together to procreate.

Human beings have lost many of our instincts that the animal world still uses to function. As a result, we have to put things down in writing or make laws to guide the way we live our lives. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

All I can continue to do is what my mother told me. And of course mothers are never wrong.





Good manners at any time and in any situation just makes good sense.  Proper etiquette for wheelchairs and scooters is a must.  As individuals we are ambassadors for all people with disabilities.  The way in which you behave may make someone look at another in a similar situation a little differently.  It could be for the worse but it could and should be for the better.  First and foremost, running over another’s feet is considered very bad manners.  In a crowded room it may be disregarded because of the volume of potential victims. But you really can avoid the situation if you try.

When someone approaches you with the intention of giving you a hug or a kiss may I strongly suggest you turn the power OFF if you are using a device with power.  It is a little difficult to explain your sudden departure through the nearest wall when a well-wisher taps your controls.  Don’t laugh, it has happened to me and the poor friend felt awful.  No real damage was done but another person standing nearby did walk a little funny for a few days.

If a stranger approaches and asks if they can help you, (say you’re shopping in a store), do not take offence.  This may be someone who genuinely wants to reach out to another human being and assist.  If you were able-bodied and needed help, I hope someone would be there to assist you.  If you do not need assistance just smile, say thank you and decline their offer.  Perhaps chat for a moment or two, one human being to another.  If you can use the assistance, accept it politely.  The best way to educate other people on the correct way to treat someone with a disability is to be pleasant.  You can be quite self sufficient while graciously accepting assistance when necessary.

When a child approaches and asks why you are in a chair, be kind.  This young child could one day grow up to cure the world of some dreaded disease.  Be aware that what you say could be forgotten in an instant or remember for a lifetime.  TELL THE TRUTH.  I have never believed in telling lies because it is easier.  However giving a six year the specialized ramifications of an exacerbation doesn’t make much sense either.  I have had several conversations with children and by extension their parents.  They usually went something like this:


child:           why are you in that chair?

me:              because my legs don’t work very well

child:           why?

me:              because I got sick and my legs got weak

child:           does it hurt?

me:              no. I just sit down a lot


I find a smile and a genuine interest usually appeases the child and the parent.  The parent at this point is often trying to drag Suzy or Joey away while apologizing to me.  I tell them that I welcome the honesty of a child’s questions.  And I do.  Adults are either afraid to ask so they don’t look you in the eye or they are ghoulishly trying to get ‘the dirt’ so they can gossip later.  Occasionally you do meet people who don’t care about the chair or the disability.  Those are the people I prefer.

How do you deal with those people who condescend and discriminate?  Well, toe squashing is an option but that is bad etiquette. You can explain succinctly that their behaviour is not appropriate or my personal favourite: loudly inform them that you have a disability, you are not stupid and they should stop treating you as if you are.  That does get a few looks. And yes, I do feel a certain amount of satisfaction.  Of course it is necessary to know your audience.  Some people are dense enough that they will not understand what you are saying.  Some people just need a gentle nudge; they don’t realize they are treating you inappropriately.  Take the time to understand them before you respond.  Most people are not malicious, just ignorant.

Finally, stop thinking of yourself as a disabled person.  Think of yourself as a person.  Hold your head up in public and be proud of who you are.  Show confidence to the world.  People will respond to how you treat them.  If someone condescends to you, explain how that behaviour is unacceptable.  Do it pleasantly and with respect.   Now who is behaving appropriately?  If you go out into the world with a smile on your face and in your heart you will meet pleasant people.  If you are miserable you will find just that.  Life is too short to be miserable.