Sunday, 16 October 2011

Acceptable Etiquette and daughter-in-laws

One of our friends said he wanted to buy a book on etiquette to be able to teach his children good manners. Yet, much to his dismay, he did not find a book and thus still considers himself ill equipped to teach his children growing up in England, what the correct code of conduct should be.

I should hope that kids are taught that in school but looking around at young people today makes you wonder.

Recently a mother in law's letter of admonition to her future daughter in law went viral on the internet attracting attention from young and old. Lots of older people hailed the mum in law as a hero who had spoken up against what was an onslaught of "uncouthness and lack of grace" which they have had to endure from the younger lot on a continual basis. Ofcourse the young bride-to-be too, had her crowd of sympathizers.

It is no surprise for anyone to know whose side I would like to be on. Here is an excerpt from the legendary letter from the mother in law-

 "It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.

Here are a few examples of your lack of manners:

When you are a guest in another’s house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat – unless you are positively allergic to something. You do not remark that you do not have enough food. You do not start before everyone else. You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.

When a guest in another’s house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early – you fall in line with house norms.

You should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public. I gather you passed this off as a joke but the reaction in the pub was one of shock, not laughter........

I, like million others identify with this letter. I remember when I moved from Asansol, a small town to the capital,Delhi, I suffered from a culture shock. I moved from a Convent into a Public School (the much acclaimed Delhi Public School RK Puram)

I stood in the school ground on the first day listening to a succession of bells trying to decipher the direction I was meant to walk towards. Unlike my previous school where, within minutes or seconds, girls could be seen to assemble in an orderly fashion in a certain direction, this coeducational school was just a marketplace of children dragging their feet, laughing and joking, completely oblivious of teachers carrying armloads of notebooks in the corridors. It was shocking, to say the least, for me to witness time and time again this complete disregard for teachers. Young people who acknowledged them did so with an obvious sense of familiarity and the deference to authority which I still believe should be there between a parent and child, a teacher and student was disappearing even those many years ago.

And not unexpectedly I hear about the stories in classrooms today, both in India and in England from my children, which make me wonder what the world will be like in times to come.

But then again change is the only thing constant in our lives. My behaviour was a culture shock to my mother in law, when I got married, so there is not much point in my holier than thou attitude today. Acceptable behaviours change as do interpersonal dynamics, over time.

My mother in law was shocked not so much by my behaviour towards her and other members of the family (because I seemed to have learnt the good bahu ritual well from the movies) but my behaviour towards my lord and master, my husband, my pati parmeshwar. Which from her point of view was lacking in grace and bordering towards unacceptable, but perfectly natural for me.

I now think all my friends who have daughters are probably lucky in one way. They won't have to put up with uncouth behaviour from pretty young things in the twilight years of our lives- after all son in laws usually never stay long, do they? Or maybe that will change too!

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