Take your elbows off the table.
Dont talk with your mouth full.
Look people in the eye when you speak to them.
Write your thank-you notes.
Youve probably heard all or most of those orders from your parents. And even though you do them, you might wonder why grown-ups make such a fuss about good manners.
I think manners are important, but I wouldnt like to be one of those high-society English people with their pinkie stuck out, said Isabel Uriagereka Herburger, 11, of Washington. For myself at home, I could care less about manners, but at other peoples homes Im more careful.
Manners are about more than using the right fork or not slurping when you drink. Those rules of etiquette might be expected in certain situations, but not doing those things isnt going to hurt anyones feelings.
Good manners are a way to show others that you care about them. Manners also make it easier for everyone to feel comfortable in social situations.
Think of manners as traffic lights for life, said Pier Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who has written books about manners. On the road, traffic lights turn a world full of cars moving in different directions into an orderly system that allows everyone to get where they are going.
The rules of good manners are the traffic lights of human interaction, Forni said. They make it so that we dont crash into one another in everyday behavior.
Manners have developed over tens of thousands of years as a key element of human society, and they might even have helped the species survive.
Early humans lived in groups in order to hunt, share food and keep one another warm. But to live so close together, Forni said, humans had to learn to think about others, not just themselves.
Think of it this way: If every person in the group looked out for only himself, the group would fall apart.
Our distant ancestors developed behaviors to show others respect, fairness and kindness. Those have evolved into todays manners. You cannot have any kind of community if there are not some rules, Forni said.
Of course, manners have changed a lot through the years and are still changing. They are more relaxed than they were 100 years ago, for example, when good manners for kids meant never speaking unless an adult spoke to you first!
Some manners are still used even though the original reason for them is largely gone. Have you ever wondered why youre told to keep your elbows off the table? The rule dates from the Middle Ages, Forni said, when tables often were just a big board placed on a stump. Leaning on the table with your elbows could easily tip the table and make everyone lose his food.
Today, its not good manners to text at the table, because it sends a message that you arent interested in the people around you. People felt just as strongly about that kind of thing before texting existed: President Jimmy Carters 9-year-old daughter, Amy, created a manners outcry more than 30 years ago when she was spotted reading at the table at a formal White House dinner.
But even as they change, manners are always aimed at doing the same thing: making other people feel appreciated and respected, which also helps friendships develop.