Good manners is often bad morals

Good manners is often bad morals December 7, 2013

When you’re working hard in the restaurant business and only being paid $7.25 an hour, while juggling an unfixed work schedule designed to deny you a 40-hour week, it can be hard to keep track of your other social obligations — like remembering how much to tip the au pair or your personal trainer at the holidays:

Fast-food giant McDonald’s has committed another employee advice blunder, listing pricey suggestions for tipping au pairs, personal fitness trainers and pool cleaners on its worker resource website.

This advice comes as fast-food workers from 100 cities across the nation push for $15-an-hour pay, a far cry from the wages most earn, in a mass strike on Thursday.

The tipping guide from etiquette maven Emily Post on McDonald’s website lists several high-ticket suggestions for givers during the holiday season, including “a gift from your family (or one week’s pay), plus a small gift from your child” for an au pair, “one day’s pay” for a housekeeper and “cost of one cleaning” for a pool cleaner.

The site also lists suggestions for dog walkers, massage therapists and personal fitness trainers.

It’s a reminder that the people paying those “wages” haven’t got any idea about anyone or anything other than themselves. At all. Their curiosity about and knowledge of the world does not extend beyond the reach of their own graspy little hands.

They should be horrifically embarrassed by this ignorance. That they are not either reflects a remarkable shamelessness, or perhaps just the fact that they’re ignorant even of their own ignorance.

It’s also a reminder that Emily Post isn’t written for most people, just for rich people. “Proper” manners always starts with Rule Zero: Have lots and lots of money. If you don’t have lots and lots of money, then “proper manners,” for you, is just a way of keeping you in line to ensure that your existence, your needs and your rights never disturbs the beautiful minds of those who do have lots and lots of money.

The polite thing is quite often the wrong thing. Good manners is often bad morals.

Not always, of course. Some forms of “proper” manners are an expression of respect for other people as people. But much of what is presented as good and proper manners, or as “civility,” has nothing to do with respect for other people. It is, rather, about respect for the status quo — no matter how unjust, oppressive, exclusive, or otherwise evil that status quo may be.

We should treat other people with all due respect, and we should treat an evil status quo with all due respect. In the latter case, “all due respect” doesn’t mean deferential politeness, it means crying “weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire.”

There’s nothing polite about paying deferential respect to injustice. Allowing injustice to endure, serenely imperturbed, is disrespectful to both its victims and its perpetrators. It is thus, in a word, rude.


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