Posts Tagged ‘courtesies’


A little while back, one of FPB’s posts (alas, I forget which) mentioned how diplomats sent by the Ottomans to Western Europe in the 19th century, for purposes of deciphering the secrets of the West’s economic and technological superiority, came away with the distinct impression that Europe was ruled by women. One diplomat witnessed the Austro-Hungarian emperor, one of the most powerful men in the world, riding along on horseback and then stopping to allow some random woman to cross the street. Before the automobile necessitated new regulations, it was a universal and instinctive traffic law that social superiority gives you right of way; to the poor confused Turk, unschooled in the forms of European chivalry, the emperor seemed to be acknowledging the woman as his ruler and social superior.

This stuck in my head, and it occurs to me that most of the forms of respect towards women are like that – between men, they would constitute acknowledgement of authority and dignity. One kisses the hand (and specifically the signet ring, where applicable) of princes, bishops, kings, and women; one rises in the presence of royalty, high court judges, and women; servants open doors for aristocrats and important personages, and men for women; one doffs one’s hat in the presence of royalty, funeral processions, the altar of God, and women. And, of course, one bows to a woman, and to &c. &c.

…well, one used to do these things, anyway; a lot of them have fallen by the wayside, alas. One can still open doors and tip a hat (surreptitiously), and judicious bowing and kissing of a lady’s hand usually goes down as a pleasant surprise; but standing whenever a woman enters the room would look odd, and defying traffic laws for the sake of courtesy to the gentler sex would create problems unaddressable by merely pleading the imitation of dead Austro-Hungarian emperors.

It’s tempting to blame the republicans of the world for such things, reasoning that the rejection of royalty and dignity will naturally lead to the lessening of manners and courtly conduct; but it’s probably more a side-effect of feminism – a persistent rallying cry of “treat women just like men!” is not conducive to forms of etiquette that equate women with royalty.


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