Conversation rules stand the test of time

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Lorna Marquardt, Leader Columnist

The technology we use to communicate with one another has changed significantly in my lifetime. When I was a teenager, our (party line) telephone was on the wall. My parents allowed me to use the phone for brief local calls. The phone was in our living room and my folks usually heard my conversations. Today, most teens have cellphones. Many use their phones several times a day and conversations are generally private.

When I went to school, we passed paper notes to classmates; sometimes we got caught. Who remembers having pen pals? Handwritten letters and cards to friends and relatives were common. Today texting, e-mails and social media seem to be the popular means of written communication. Even electronic birthday cards are being sent. I still prefer receiving a letter or card in the mail as opposed to an electronic message. It just seems more personal to me.

How we communicate with others, whether it is through social media, on the phone or in person is important. I recently read “Conversation Rules for Gentlemen,” written in 1875. Although the rules are 140 years old, the “common sense” in them deserves review. A few of them are quite amusing.

• Never interrupt anyone who is speaking; it is quite rude to officiously supply name or date about which he hesitates, unless you are asked to do so. Another gross breach of etiquette is to anticipate the point of a story which another person is reciting, or to take it from his lips to finish in your own language. It is surely rude to give a man to understand that you do not consider him capable of finishing an anecdote that he has commenced. Note: I am guilty of finishing others sentences sometimes. Sorry.

• It is ill-bred to put on an air of weariness during a long speech from another person, and quite as rude to look at a watch, read a letter, flirt the leaves of a book, or in any other action show that you are tired of the speaker or his subject. Note: Don’t you love the “flirt” the leaves?

• In a general conversation, never speak when another person is speaking, and never try by raising your own voice to drown that of another. Never assume an air of haughtiness, or speak in a dictatorial manner; let your conversation be always amiable and frank.

• In a dispute, if you cannot reconcile the parties, withdraw from them. You will surely make one enemy, perhaps two, by taking either side, in an argument when the speakers have lost their temper. Note: I guess tempers flared in the late 1800s, too.

• Never listen to the conversation of two persons who have thus withdrawn from a group. If they are so near you that you cannot avoid hearing them, you may, with perfect propriety, change your seat.

• Avoid long speeches and tedious stories. If, however, another, particularly an old man, tells a long story, or one that is not new to you, listen respectfully until he has finished, before you speak again. Note: I guess old ladies didn’t tell long stories.

• Speak of yourself but little. Your friends will find out your virtues without forcing you to tell them, and you may feel confident that it is equally unnecessary to expose your faults.

• The wittiest man becomes tedious and ill-bred when he endeavors to engross entirely the attention of the company in which he should take a more modest part

• If you are a professional or scientific man, avoid the use of technical terms. They are in bad taste, because many will not understand them. If, however, you unconsciously use such a term or phrase, do not then commit the still greater error of explaining its meaning. No one will thank you for thus implying their ignorance. Note: interesting advice

• Be careful in society never to play the part of a buffoon, for you will soon become known as the “funny” man of the party, and no character is so perilous to your dignity as a gentleman.

• Avoid pedantry, it is a mark, not of intelligence, but stupidity. Note: I must admit, I had to look pedantry up in the dictionary. (I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining its meaning).

• Avoid boasting. To speak of your money, connections or the luxuries at your command is in very bad taste.

• To use phrases which admit of a double meaning, is ungentlemanly.

• Avoid gossip; in a woman it is detestable, but in a man, it is utterly despicable.

I hope you enjoyed these words of wisdom from the 1800s. Good manners never grow old!

Trivia: Can you name the seven barber shops located on Shawano’s Main Street in 1974? Answer below.

Clothesline Conversation trivia answer: Brunner’s Uptown Barber Shop, Shorty’s Barber Shop, Ernie’s Barber Shop, Comfort Barber Shop (Elmer Fink), Les & Pete’s Barber Shop, Model Barber Shop (Arnold Thomas) and Tic’s Barber Shop.

Lorna Marquardt is a former mayor of Shawano.