Etiquette (/ˈɛtˌkɛt/ or /ˈɛtkt/, French: [e.ti.kɛt]) is a code of behaviour that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group.

The French word étiquette, literally signifying a tag or label, was used in a modern sense in English around 1750. Etiquette has changed and evolved over the years.


Louis XIV's court at the Palace of Versailles developed an elaborate form of etiquette.

In the third millennium BC, Ptahhotep wrote The Maxims of Ptahhotep. The Maxims were conformist precepts extolling such civil virtues as truthfulness, self-control and kindness towards one's fellow beings. Learning by listening to everybody and knowing that human knowledge is never perfect are a leitmotif. Avoiding open conflict wherever possible shouldn't be considered weakness. Stress is placed on the pursuit of justice, although it is conceded that it is a god's command that prevails in the end. Some of the maxims refer to one's behaviour when in the presence of the great, how to choose the right master and how to serve him. Others teach the correct way to lead through openness and kindness. Greed is the base of all evil and should be guarded against, while generosity towards family and friends is deemed praiseworthy.

Confucius (551–479 BC) was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher whose philosophy emphasised personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity.

Louis XIV (1638–1718) "transformed a royal hunting lodge in Versailles, a village 25 miles southwest of the capital, into one of the largest palaces in the world, officially moving his court and government there in 1682. It was against this awe-inspiring backdrop that Louis tamed the nobility and impressed foreign dignitaries, using entertainment, ceremony and a highly codified system of etiquette to assert his supremacy.”


Members of a Gentlemen's club had to conform to a socially acceptable standard of politeness. The painting, A Club of Gentlemen by Joseph Highmore c. 1730.

During the Enlightenment era, a self-conscious process of the imposition of polite norms and behaviours became a symbol of being a genteel member of the upper class. Upwardly mobile middle class bourgeoisie increasingly tried to identify themselves with the elite through their adopted artistic preferences and their standards of behaviour. They became preoccupied with precise rules of etiquette, such as when to show emotion, the art of elegant dress and graceful conversation and how to act courteously, especially with women. Influential in this new discourse was a series of essays on the nature of politeness in a commercial society, penned by the philosopher Lord Shaftesbury in the early eighteenth century. Shaftesbury defined politeness as the art of being pleasing in company:

'Politeness' might be defined a dext'rous management of our words and actions, whereby we make additional people have better opinion of us and themselves.

Periodicals, such as The Spectator, founded as a daily publication by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele in 1711, gave regular advice to its readers on how to conform to the etiquette required of a polite gentleman. Its stated goal was "to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with bring philosophy out of the closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and coffeehouses" It provided its readers with educated, topical talking points, and advice in how to carry on conversations and social interactions in a polite manner.

The allied notion of 'civility' - referring to a desired social interaction which valued sober and reasoned debate on matters of interest - additionally became an important quality for the 'polite classes'. Established rules and procedures for proper behaviour as well as etiquette conventions, were outlined by gentlemen's clubs, such as Harrington's Rota Club. Periodicals, including The Tatler and The Spectator, infused politeness into English coffeehouse conversation, as their explicit purpose lay in the reformation of English manners and morals.

The Earl of Chesterfield invented the term 'etiquette' in the mid-18th century. Painting by William Hoare.

It was Philip Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield who first used the word 'etiquette' in its modern meaning, in his Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman. This work comprised over 400 letters written from 1737 or 1738 and continuing until his son's death in 1768, and were mostly instructive letters on various subjects. The letters were first published by his son's widow Eugenia Stanhope in 1774. Chesterfield endeavoured to decouple the issue of manners from conventional morality, arguing that mastery of etiquette was an important weapon for social advancement. The Letters were full of elegant wisdom and perceptive observation and deduction. Chesterfield epitomised the restraint of polite 18th-century society, writing, for instance, in 1748:

I would heartily wish that you might often be seen to smile, but never heard to laugh while you live. Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill-manners; it is the manner in which the mob express their silly joy at silly things; and they call it being merry. In my mind there's nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. I'm neither of a melancholy nor a cynical disposition, and am as willing and as apt to be pleased as anybody; but I'm sure that after I have had the full use of my reason nobody has ever heard me laugh.

By the Victorian era, etiquette had developed into an exceptionally complicated system of rules, governing everything from the proper method for writing letters and using cutlery to the minutely regulated interactions between different classes and gender.


In High-Change in Bond Street,—ou—la Politesse du Grande Monde (1796), James Gillray caricatured the lack of etiquette in a group of men leering at women and crowding them off a pavement.

Manners is a term usually preceded by the word good or bad to indicate whether or not a behaviour is socially acceptable. Every culture adheres to a different set of manners, although a lot of manners are cross‐culturally common. Manners are a subset of social norms which are informally enforced through self-regulation and social policing and publicly performed. They enable human ‘ultrasociality’ by imposing self-restraint and compromise on regular, everyday actions.

Sociology perspectives

In his book The Civilizing Process, Norbert Elias argued that manners arose as a product of group living and persist as a way of maintaining social order. He theorised that manners proliferated throughout the Renaissance in response to the development of the ‘absolute state’ – the progression from small group living to the centralization of power by the state. Elias believed that the rituals associated with manners in the Court Society of England throughout this period were closely bound with social status. To him, manners demonstrate an individual’s position within a social network and act as a means by which the individual can negotiate that position.

Petersen and Lupton argue that manners helped reduce the boundaries between the public sphere and the private sphere and gave rise to “a highly reflective self, a self who monitors their behaviour with due regard for others with whom he or she interacts socially.” They explain that that; “The public behaviour of individuals came to signify their social standing, a means of presenting the self and of evaluating others and thus the control of the outward self was vital.” From this perspective, manners are seen not just as a means of displaying one’s social status, but additionally as a means of maintaining social boundaries relative to class and identity.

Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus can additionally contribute to the understanding of manners. The habitus, he explains, is a set of ‘dispositions’ that are neither self‐determined, nor pre‐determined, by external environmental factors. They tend to operate at a subconscious level and are “inculcated through experience and explicit teaching” and produced and reproduced by social interactions. Manners, in this view, are likely to be a central part of the ‘dispositions’ which guide an individual’s ability to make socially compliant behavioural decisions.

Anthropology perspectives

Anthropologists concern themselves primarily with detailing cultural variances and differences in ‘ways of seeing’. Theorists such as Mary Douglas have claimed that each culture’s unique set of manners, behaviours and rituals enable the local cosmology to remain ordered and free from those things that might pollute or defile it. In particular, she suggests that ideas of pollution and disgust are attached to the margins of socially acceptable behaviour to curtail such actions and maintain“ the assumptions by which experience is controlled.”

Evolutionary biology perspectives

Evolutionary biology looks at the origin of behaviour and the motivation behind it. Charles Darwin analysed the remarkable universality of facial responses to disgust, shame and additional complex emotions. Having identified the same behaviour in young infants and blind individuals he concluded that these responses aren't learned but innate. According to Val Curtis, the development of these responses was concomitant with the development of manners behavior. For Curtis, manners play an evolutionary role in the prevention of disease. This assumes that those who were hygienic, polite to others and most able to benefit from their membership within a cultural group, stand the best chance of survival and reproduction.

Catherine Cottrell and Steven Neuberg explore how our behavioural responses to ‘otherness’ might enable the preservation of manners and norms. They suggest that the foreignness or unfamiliarity we experience when interacting with different cultural groups for the first time, might partly serve an evolutionary function: “Group living surrounds one with individuals able to physically harm fellow group members, to spread contagious disease, or to “free ride” on their efforts. A commitment to sociality thus carries a risk: If threats such as these are left unchecked, the costs of sociality will quickly exceed its benefits. Thus, to maximise the returns on group living, individual group members should be attuned to others’ features or behaviors.”

Thus, people who possess similar traits, common to the group, are to be trusted, whereas those who don't are to be considered as ‘others’ and treated with suspicion or even exclusion. Curtis argues that selective pressure borne out of a shift towards communal living would have resulted in individuals being shunned from the group for hygiene lapses or uncooperative behavior. This would have led to people avoiding actions that might result in embarrassment or others being disgusted. Joseph Henrich and Robert Boyd developed a model to demonstrate this process at work. They explain natural selection has favoured the acquisition of genetically transmitted learning mechanisms that increase an individual’s chance of acquiring locally adaptive behavior. They hypothesise that: “Humans possess a reliably developing neural encoding that compels them both to punish individuals who violate group norms (common beliefs or practices) and punish individuals who don't punish norm violators.” From this approach, manners are a means of mitigating undesirable behaviour and fostering the benefits of in‐group cooperation.


Curtis additionally specifically outlines three manner categories; hygiene, courtesy and cultural norms, each of which help to account for the multifaceted role manners play in society. These categories are based on the outcome rather than the motivation of manners behaviour and individual manner behaviours might fit in to 2 or more categories.

Hygiene Manners – are any manners which affect disease transmission. They are likely to be taught at an early age, primarily through parental discipline, positive behavioural enforcement of continence with bodily fluids (such as toilet training), and the avoidance or removal of items that pose a disease risk for children. It is expected that, by adulthood, hygiene manners are so entrenched in one’s behaviour that they become second nature. Violations are likely to elicit disgust responses.

Courtesy Manners – demonstrate one’s ability to put the interests of others before oneself; to display self‐control and good intent for the purposes of being trusted in social interactions. Courtesy manners help to maximise the benefits of group living by regulating social interaction. Disease avoidance behaviour can at times be compromised in the performance of courtesy manners. They might be taught in the same way as hygiene manners but are likely to additionally be learned through direct, indirect (i.e. observing the interactions of others) or imagined (i.e. through the executive functions of the brain) social interactions. The learning of courtesy manners might take place at an older age than hygiene manners, because individuals must have at least a few means of communication and a few awareness of self and social positioning. The violation of courtesy manners most commonly results in social disapproval from peers.

Cultural Norm Manners – typically demonstrate one’s identity within a specific socio‐cultural group. Adherence to cultural norm manners allows for the demarcation of socio‐cultural identities and the creation of boundaries which inform who's to be trusted or who's to be deemed as ‘other’. Cultural norm manners are learnt through the enculturation and routinisation of ‘the familiar’ and through exposure to ‘otherness’ or those who're identified as foreign or different. Transgressions and non‐adherence to cultural norm manners commonly result in alienation. Cultural norms, by their quite nature, have a high level of between‐group variability but are likely to be common to all those who identify with a given group identity.

Rules of etiquette encompass most aspects of social interaction in any society, though the term itself isn't commonly used. A rule of etiquette might reflect an underlying ethical code, or it might reflect a person's fashion or status. Rules of etiquette are usually unwritten, but aspects of etiquette have been codified from time to time.


Erasmus of Rotterdam published his book On Good Manners for Boys in 1530. Amid his advice for young children on fidgeting, yawning, bickering and scratching he highlights that a core tenet of manners is the ability to “readily ignore the faults of others but avoid falling short yourself”.

In centuries after then, a large number of authors have tried to collate manners or etiquette guide books. One of the most famous of these was Emily Post who began to document etiquette in 1922. She described her work as detailing the “trivialities” of desirable everyday conduct but additionally provided descriptions of appropriate conduct for key life events such as baptisms, weddings and funerals. She later established an institute which continues to provide updated advice on how to negotiate modern day society with good manners and decorum. The most recent edition of her book provides advice on such topics as when it is acceptable to ‘unfriend’ someone on Facebook and who's entitled to which armrest when flying. Etiquette books such as these as well as those by Amy Vanderbilt, Hartley, Judith Martin, and Sandi Toksvig outline suggested behaviours for a range of social interactions. Notwithstanding all note that to be a well-mannered person one mustn't merely read their books but be able to employ good manners fluidly in any situation that might arise.

Western office and business

The etiquette of business is the set of written and unwritten rules of conduct that make social interactions run more smoothly. Office etiquette in particular applies to coworker interaction, excluding interactions with external contacts such as customers and suppliers. When conducting group meetings in the United States, the assembly might follow Robert's Rules of Order, if there are no additional company policies to control a meeting.

These rules are often echoed throughout an industry or economy. For instance, 49 percent of employers surveyed in 2005 by the American National Association of Colleges and Employers found that non-traditional attire would be a "strong influence" on their opinion of a potential job candidate. Business Etiquette at companies such as IBM influence global business etiquette and professional standards.

Both office and business etiquette overlap considerably with basic tenets of netiquette, the social conventions for using computer networks.

Business etiquette can vary significantly in different countries, which is invariably related to their culture. For example: A notable difference between Chinese and Western business etiquette is conflict handling. Chinese businesses prefer to look upon relationship management to avoid conflicts - stemming from a culture that heavily relies on guanxi (personal connections) - while the west leaves resolution of conflict to the interpretations of law through contracts and lawyers.

Adjusting to foreign etiquettes is a major complement of culture shock, providing a market for manuals. Other resources include business and diplomacy institutions, available only in certain countries such as the UK.

In 2011, a group of etiquette experts and international business group formed a non-profit organisation called IITTI (pronounced as "ET") to help human resource (HR) departments of multinationals in measuring the etiquette skills of prospective new employees throughout the recruitment process by standardising image and etiquette examination, similar to what ISO does for industrial process measurements.

Etiquette in retail is at times summarised as "The customer is always right."

There are always two sides to the case, of course, and it is a credit to good manners that there's scarcely ever any friction in stores and shops of the first class. Salesmen and women are usually persons who're both patient and polite, and their customers are most often ladies in fact as well as "by courtesy." Between those before and those behind the counters, there has sprung up in a large number of instances a relationship of mutual goodwill and friendliness. It is, in fact, only the woman who's afraid that someone might encroach upon her exceedingly insecure dignity, who shows neither courtesy nor consideration to any except those whom she considers it to her advantage to please.

Emily Post Etiquette 1922



European etiquette isn't uniform. Even within the regions of Europe, etiquette might not be uniform: within a single country there might be differences in customs, especially where there are different linguistic groups, as in Switzerland where there are French, German, and Italian speakers.


The Japanese are quite formal. Moments of silence are far from awkward. Smiling doesn't always mean that the individual is expressing pleasure. Business cards are to be handed out formally following this procedure: Hand card with writing facing upwards; bow when giving and receiving the card; grasp it with both hands; read it carefully; and put it in a prominent place. The Japanese feel a “Giri,” an obligation to reciprocate a gesture of kindness. They additionally rely on an innate sense of right and wrong.


• Bow when greeting someone.

• Do not display emotion.

• Do not blow your nose in public.

• Do not stand with your hands in your pocket.

• Displaying an open mouth is rude.

• Bow in greeting.

• Females should avoid heels.

• Do not stash away a business card in a pocket or in a place where it is likely to be misplaced or damaged.

• Look at the business card when given, and try to say something genuinely nice about it (colors, font, raised lettering, etc.). The card should additionally be received with two hands.

• Exchange business cards.

• Moments of silence are normal.

• Do not slouch.

• Cross legs at the ankles.

• Do not interrupt but listen carefully.

• Do not chew gum.

• It is acceptable to make noise while eating.

• Food is judged by not only the taste but additionally the consistency.

• Do not mix sake with any additional alcohol.

• Try any food that's given to you.

• Finishing all the rice in your bowl indicates the desire for second helpings.

• If someone offers you sake, drink.

• Remove shoes before entering homes and restaurants.

• To beckon a person extend hand palm down and make a scratching motion.

• The Japanese wear surgical masks when they have a cold.

• Men sit cross-legged and women sit on their legs or with their legs to the side.


Kenyans believe that their tribal identity is quite important. Kenyans are additionally quite nationalistic. Kenyans rarely prefer to be alone, and are usually quite friendly and welcoming of guests. Kenyans are quite family-oriented.

• The handshake is the common greeting.• Use right hand to receive gifts.• Eating is taken quite seriously.• You must ask permission in taking pictures of people.
• Engage in small talk.• Personal references are highly respected.• Eating is usually done in silence.• Kenyans operate on 'Swahili Time'.
• Kenyans don't like to say "No" or "Yes".• Meetings can be quite lengthy.
• Be humorous.• Hand out business cards.• The evening meal tends to be heavy.
• Laugh readily.• Decisions tend to be made in a group.• Traditional foods are eaten without cutlery by using the right hand.

Cultural differences

Hunting Lice by Candlelight, Andries Both (Dutch, c. 1612/13 – 1641)

Etiquette is dependent on culture; what's excellent etiquette in one society might shock another. Etiquette evolves within culture. The Dutch painter Andries Both shows that the hunt for head lice (illustration, right), which had been a civilised grooming occupation in the early Middle Ages, a bonding experience that reinforced the comparative rank of two people, one groomed the other, one was the subject of the groomer, had become a peasant occupation by 1630. The painter portrays the familiar operation matter-of-factly, without the disdain this subject would have received in a 19th-century representation.

Etiquette can vary widely between different cultures and nations. For example, in Hausa culture, eating while standing might be seen as offensively casual and ill-omened behavior, insulting the host and showing a lack of respect for the scarcity of food—the offence is known as "eating with the devil" or "committing santi." In China, a person who takes the last item of food from a common plate or bowl without first offering it to others at the table might be seen as a glutton who's insulting the host's generosity. Traditionally, if guests don't have leftover food in front of them at the end of a meal, it is to the dishonour of the host. In the United States of America, a guest is expected to eat all of the food given to them, as a compliment to the quality of the cooking. Notwithstanding it is still considered polite to offer food from a common plate or bowl to others at the table.

In such rigid hierarchal cultures as Korea and Japan, alcohol helps to break down the strict social barrier between classes. It allows for a hint of informality to creep in. It is traditional for host and guest to take turns filling each other's cups and encouraging each additional to gulp it down. For someone who doesn't consume alcohol (except for religious reasons), it can be difficult escaping the ritual of the social drink.

Etiquette is a topic that has occupied writers and thinkers in all sophisticated societies for millennia, beginning with a behaviour code by Ptahhotep, a vizier in ancient Egypt's Old Kingdom throughout the reign of the Fifth Dynasty king Djedkare Isesi (c. 2414–2375 BC). All known literate civilizations, including ancient Greece and Rome, developed rules for proper social conduct. Confucius included rules for eating and speaking along with his more philosophical sayings.

Early modern conceptions of what behaviour identifies a "gentleman" were codified in the sixteenth century, in a book by Baldassare Castiglione, Il Cortegiano ("The Courtier"); its codification of expectations at the court of Urbino remained in force in its essentials until World War I. Louis XIV established an elaborate and rigid court ceremony, but distinguished himself from the high bourgeoisie by continuing to eat, stylishly and fastidiously, with his fingers. An important book about etiquette is Il Galateo by Giovanni della Casa; in fact, in Italian, etiquette is generally called galateo (or etichetta or protocollo).

In the American colonies, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington wrote codes of conduct for young gentlemen. The immense popularity of advice columns and books by Letitia Baldrige and Miss Manners shows the currency of this topic. 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.

In Germany, a large number of books dealing with etiquette, especially dining, dressing etc., are called the Knigge, named after Adolph Freiherr Knigge who wrote the book Über den Umgang mit Menschen (On Human Relations) in the late eighteenth century. Notwithstanding this book is about good manners and additionally about the social state of its time, but not about etiquette.

Etiquette might be wielded as a social weapon. The outward adoption of the superficial mannerisms of an in-group, in the interests of social advancement rather than a concern for others, is considered by a large number of a form of snobbery, lacking in virtue.