A few months ago, my dude and I were spending some time with his father and new wife. The wife was beginning a new career in which she planned on teaching etiquette classes to children, which seemed preposterous to me. What kind of lazy asshole parent is going to send their child to etiquette school to learn manners? I thought teaching please and thank you appeared quite early on in the Things You Should Teach Your Kid manual, along with not to pick your nose in public (or at least not eat it) and the difference between "I" (a subject) and "me" (an object).
This occupational information did, however, get me thinking about etiquette, and what I have determined is this: there are two kinds of etiquette, the Golden Rule kind and the designed-to-maintain-a-social-hierarchy kind.
The first kind is logical to me. If you would like something from someone, you should say please rather than just demand it. If someone gives you something, you should thank them, whether it be a birthday present or your change at the grocery store. (No one owes you anything in this world, so try not to behave like an entitled jerk.)
The Golden Rule kind of etiquette covers pretty much everything of any importance when one is behaving as a member of society. Would you like someone to let you in when you're trying to turn onto a busy street or merging into one lane? Do you enjoy being interrupted in the middle of a story or seeing other people's masticated food? Do you get a kick out of sending messages, emails, or phone calls and not getting responses in a timely manner? Do you delight in sitting around waiting for people to show up at the agreed-upon time? In these instances, and others like them, etiquette dictates do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
As an aside, I am not always the epitome of polite. Sometimes I'm late for things that do not have a strict start time (especially if they are first thing in the morning - well, afternoon - I do enjoy my sleep), and sometimes I get really excited about contributing to a conversation and forget to swallow first, and sometimes I'm in a hurry to get somewhere and just don't feel like letting you in. For these moments of human weakness, and others like them, I apologize.
It's the second kind of etiquette that I scorn. This category includes things like opening the car door for a woman, not putting your elbows on the table, and serving from the left and removing from the right (or is it the other way around?). This kind of etiquette is designed exclusively to allow one social group to feel superior to another because they know the "rules" while others do not. And, also, I suspect, to sustain the materialism and sexism inherent in our society.
Let's examine the expectation of a hostess gift, for example. There is the obvious sexism inherent in this form of etiquette (ie) the woman of the house will appreciate some small material object to show your appreciation for her hospitality, because she does all the cooking and likes shopping. In extending the invitation to spend time at my home, I did not also intend to force you to go to the mall. (I also did not intend for you to do household chores like washing dishes. Seriously, I can do it later on my own. You don't know where anything goes anyway.) If you would like to bring a bottle of wine to share over dinner, by all means, please do, but if you bring nothing, I certainly won't hold it against you. (I think hostess gifts are how candle makers and HomeSense stay in business.)
My dude's mother once informed me that the proper way to eat soup was to scoop stuff onto the spoon while moving the spoon away from you toward the far end of the bowl. This sort of etiquette rule must surely have been created by rich white landowners during a break between counting their money and whipping their slaves (ie) they had nothing better to do.
Taking your hat off is another odd rule. As an article of clothing, it serves a purpose (usually to hide one's bald spot or the fact that your hair is unwashed). If you are more comfortable wearing a hat inside, I'm cool with it. (Unless it's a giant sombrero or something that makes getting around awkward.) I'm too lazy to google it, but I'm sure there must have been some sort of lame sexist reason for removing one's hat. Or possibly a hygienic one. Feel free to enlighten me, etiquette trivia buffs.
As another aside, if you are a guest in someone's home, you should obviously politely acquiesce to their requests, however inane they may seem to you. It's their space and you should be respectful of that. For example, I'd prefer if you took your shoes off in my house, because I hate sweeping and also don't want to damage the floors. Guests in my home go to the bathroom to check their cell phones, which I find hilarious. I'm only trying to help you recognize your addiction, guys. You'll be okay without it for a couple of hours, I promise. There are no acceptable reasons why anyone who has made previous plans to hang out with me at my house must have their cell phone readily available, except if maybe the babysitter had to take the kid to the hospital or someone has died (and if someone is dead, they'll still be dead when you get the message a few hours later). But I digress.
I can't think of an example of etiquette that does not fall into the first category that we follow for any reason other than that is what we were taught was the way things were done. Is there a logical reason for behaving as I'm told? If there is, I'll do it. But if it's just because it's the "right" way to do things, according to some archaic and/or arbitrary "rule," well, frankly, fuck that. Life's too short to spend worrying about what fork to use (work from the outside in).