Should I kiss the archbishop? or Good Manners

Jerusalem is a multicultural city, and I have friends and contacts of different languages, religons, ethnicities and cultural traditions. People who live in more homogeneous settings sometimes find it confusing to move among cultures. I was discussing this with a friend recently. Being a person who writes (and talks) to figure out what she thinks, I was listening to what I was saying to see how I deal with the situation.

(Have I made sense yet?)

I heard myself saying that good manners just means putting the other person before yourself, or appearing to do so, and if you do that you’ll be pretty safe anywhere and with anyone. I think that’s about right.

Men in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community here avoid physical contact with women who are not related to them. When I am introduced to a man in that community, I don’t offer him my hand. I once met an archbishop from one of the Eastern Orthodox churches, and for some reason I was unsure if he shook hands with women or not. So when we were introduced, I hesitated for a moment and watched him for small signals of what he was expecting. He kept his hands clasped over his pectoral cross, so I took the hint.

On the other hand, I am not into kissing strangers. In fact, I really dislike it. However, in some of the French circles I am involved in, it is not at all unusual for new acquaintances to kiss you goodbye fifteen minutes after they meet you. Again, I watch the signals. So as not to make them uncomfortable, I go ahead and offer my cheek and kiss the air next to their ear. (Of course, if they were watching my signals, it wouldn’t happen at all…)

In some cultures it is rude to sit with your legs crossed. I am not aware of any culture in which it is rude not to cross your legs, so if I’m not sure, I just don’t do it. Some cultures have intricate rules about how men and women or superiors and inferiors or older and younger people interact. It is pretty much impossible for an outsider to know and follow all these unwritten codes, so how does a person who is interested in interacting with all kinds of people behave?

The way I do it is to try to be kind. For the last fifteen years or so (at a guess) kindness has been the personal quality that I have been working on cultivating and developing. I am not particularly good or holy or wise or brilliant or generous, and I’m not sure how to become those things. But kindness is behavioral; I can work on that.

As it turns out, being kind and having good manners are very similar in many ways. It’s just a question of thinking of the other person, of putting their comfort, needs and desires, before my own. “Just”. Okay, this is one of those simple things that aren’t easy, but it’s possible to work on it, to come closer and closer to this desired goal.

As the tshirt says, “Please be patient. I’m a work in progress.”


10 thoughts on “Should I kiss the archbishop? or Good Manners

  1. I admire you willingness to attempt to make people of other culture or different backgrounds feel at ease around you. I think it might be in your nature to do so and it’s (I’m guessing here) part of your job description to do so. You might not expect that to be much of an issue in North Texas, people here mainly fit themselves to the norm here without much fuss. However, we do it to ourselves in sometimes, I belong to a large organization that by it’s own rules don’t require much in the way of conformity of anykind. A blessing to most people. But there ate exceptions who attempt to force their way on others inspite
    of the clear cut lack of many, actually very few rules. One example is if a woman offiliates with certain members, is is expected to wear a dress period. I was involved with such people and had to tell them “I don’t even gave a dress and I don’t intend to get one.” I ended up going through the proceed we use to adress issues and my motion won, which is I get to wear pants, slacks to all functions. Some people were do upset by this that they are no longer my friends.
    I suppose the reason I bring this up is I dont want anyone telling me how to look, act, think or speak – allowances should be made to accommodate all people and their ways.
    However, when I think of someone, say US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she
    must conform in order to get anything done. Important business needs attending to, and in her case it would be a distraction and counter-productive not to conform.

    But someone in my station of life plays by different rules. I try to show kindness and respect to everyone while maintaing my
    own way of dressing, sitting and behaving. I don’t feel the need to do otherwise in any occasion that is likely to come up. It’s a global world now. I don’t expect or even want anyone change their ways for me and I hope I receive the same back from them.

    • Thank you for a very thoughtful comment, Judy.

      My job description doesn’t require me to make other people feel comfortable, but my life is much easier if I do, so I take the path of least resistance most of the time.

      I agree that every person has to put a limit to how much accommodation they are willing to make to other people’s norms. My limits have to do with my faith, my physical and emotional safety and integrity, my personal dignity as I define it.

      There may also be a difference between North Texas and Jerusalem in terms of the consequences of nonconformity, but I’m not sure about that, now that I come to think of it…

  2. I forgot to say … Lol .., that the typos in my email S and posts are almost entirely
    Yo blame on Apple auto correct. This is one Place in lN life where I have to conform. There’s no choice I this matter. Often, when
    I type my ame, Judy, it desides Om it’s own to correct it to ‘useless’ – a fact I do not like but have no recourse. Signed , Useless.

  3. Interesting piece. And even more interesting that you brought up the Jewish Orthodox’s concept of women/men “who are not related to them” because I was just thinking about this concept today and wondering how it would be expressed in English. Arabic uses the word “ajnabi” for it, and it’s the same word for foreigner.
    It IS difficult to accomodate everyone’s code of conduct; one is bound to make a mistake one day or the other if he/she gets to deal with many people from different cultures. This is why I believe that this kindness effort, and trying to be understanding, should be mutual.

    • Thank you, Cherine. I was fascinated to learn that “anjabi” refers to both people who are not one’s own family members and foreigners. Language is a real window into culture.

      Yes, I agree that the kindness effort should be mutual. Doesn’t always happen, and I’ve been spit on in the street one too many times to harbor any more illusions on that score. At the same time, I do my best not to let other people’s unkindness stop me from trying to be kind. I’ve got to admit, sometimes it’s really hard!

  4. Good morning from the Antipodes – it sounds to me as though you are living Philippians 2 vs3-4 – something which I to0 try to achieve in my interactions with others.

    • What a kind thing to say, Maxine. Thank you.

      For anyone interested, here are the verses Maxine referred to: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

      I’m afraid I don’t go so far as that! But I do try to show common kindness to the people who come into my life.

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