Etiquette in Europe
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Etiquette in Europe is not uniform. Even within the regions of Europe, etiquette may not be uniform: within a single country there may be differences in customs, especially where there are different linguistic groups, as in Switzerland where there are French, German and Italian speakers.
Despite this heterogeneity, many points of etiquette have spread through Europe and many features are shared. The ancient Roman Empire is an historical source, and the cosmopolitan royalty and also nobility were effective in spreading etiquette throughout Europe. For example in the Palace of Versailles, where French nobility was concentrated, a complicated etiquette was developed.
Language and forms of address
It is never acceptable to write an anonymous letter or one that purports to be signed by somebody other than the writer (but does not make that clear).
Many languages use different pronouns to denote formality or familiarity when addressing people (the T–V distinction). This also applies in common phrases such as "How are you?". The use of an inappropriately familiar form may be seen as derogatory, insulting or even aggressive. Conversely, forms that are inappropriately formal may be seen as impolitely snobbish or distant.
The way politeness is expressed varies greatly with language and region. For example, addressing a person with an honorific or title may be expected in some languages, but seen as intrusive or too formal in others.
In many parts of Europe, using someone's first name also denotes a certain level of friendship. In social interactions with strangers, the last name and/or more formal mode of address is used, usually until the people involved agree to move to an informal level. But this may not apply among young people, among members of particular groups (e.g. students) or in informal settings.
In some countries, certain flowers (such as chrysanthemums) are given only at funerals. In France, red roses are given when someone is in love. In Finland, the same applies except that school leavers are often given red roses on passing their matriculation examination (abitur). Yellow flowers are inappropriate at weddings in Ukraine and Russia as they are viewed as a sign that the bride or groom are unfaithful to one another. In Victorian Britain, an elaborate system of language of flowers developed.
Hats and coats
Among many segments of the European population, it is considered rude to wear hats or other head coverings indoors, especially in churches, schools, private homes and respected public institutions. In churches, however, ladies are often exempt from this rule or even obliged to cover their heads in some Catholic churches.
Wearing coats, boots or other outer garments inside someone’s home is often frowned upon as well. Sitting down to eat at table wearing a hat or coat etc. is even worse. Also one should remove one's hat when showing deference. Removing one's hat is also a form of respectful greeting: the origin of this is that knights were expected to remove their helmets when meeting their king; not to do so would be a sign of mistrust and hostility.
In some European countries you have to wear your shoes indoors, but in others, such as Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, Slovenia and Ukraine it is considered rude not to take your shoes off, unless you are told to keep them on. In the United Kingdom this is almost universally the case with young children with formal functions being an occasional exception. For an adult who is visiting another's home as a guest, shoes are generally kept on after entry, though this is subject to the desire of the home owner. Removal of shoes may been seen as a partial waive of formality that is not appropriate for all occasions. It is usual all over the world to remove shoes when entering someone's home if they are wet or dirty.
Talking or asking about one's personal wealth, possessions or success in business is widely viewed as vulgar. People will rarely say how much money they make or have in the bank nor will they request such information from someone else. It is impolite to ask colleagues about their salary and in some places of work it is forbidden. Even elsewhere, for example where government employees' salaries are publicly known, it is still considered extremely rude to ask individuals how much they earn.
When using escalators in the Netherlands, France, Spain, Russia and the United Kingdom people will keep to the right when standing still, so that those on the left can keep walking. Of course this does not apply to very narrow escalators. In countries where this rule isn't widely known signs are sometimes displayed, for example, in Germany: "rechts stehen, links gehen" – "stand on the right, walk on the left". All European countries except Britain, Ireland, Malta, and Cyprus drive on the right. In early times, medieval nobility kept their sword ready to draw with the right hand, so that pedestrians and equestrians would pass one another on the left. However, later, teamsters would drive large wagons with no driver's seats. While keeping the whip on the right hand and the reins on the left, they would sit on the left horse, and drive on the right side of the road, in order to see that the wheels on the left would not collide with oncoming traffic. Nowadays cars drive on the right (with driver's seat at left), and pedestrians walk on the left if there is no footpath. This is included in road safety guidelines as it is easier for pedestrians to see oncoming traffic than traffic approaching from behind. (See Right- and left-hand traffic.)
In the UK, Ireland, Finland and Sweden citizens queue in straight lines. It is rude to attempt to cut in line or to ask to go ahead of someone, and they may decline the request. If leaving the queue, one must be prepared to rejoin it from the back, and holding a space for a large group of friends is frowned upon as it pushes people further back in the queue.
In Europe, what qualifies as indecent exposure includes generally at least the exposure of genitalia or anus. In case of women, exposing nipples is not seen as proper conduct, but this is not always considered criminal, and depends on individual countries' nudity laws. For the issue of breastfeeding babies in public, see Breastfeeding in public. The intentional exposure of bare buttocks towards someone, mooning, is a deliberate insult. However, public nudity may be allowed in some circumstances, which vary by country. On nudist beaches and in the changing rooms of swimming pools in some countries, keeping one's clothes on is frowned upon. Here it is good manners to undress. In saunas, the rules about nudity vary according to the country. Because one uses the sauna naked, one brings at least one towel to sit on. In most saunas, one can also rent towels. Also, a kind of flip-flops are worn in saunas, not directly in the sweating rooms or in the steam rooms, but outside in the area for relaxing.
- Dutch customs and etiquette
- Etiquette in Africa
- Etiquette in Asia
- Etiquette in Australia and New Zealand
- Etiquette in Canada and the United States
- Etiquette in Japan
- Etiquette in Latin America
- Etiquette in the Middle East
- Leo Hickey, Miranda Stewart (2005). Politeness in Europe. ISBN 1-85359-737-6.
- Hervey Sandor, Ian Higgins, Sandor G J Hervey. (2002) Thinking French Translation, Routledge (UK). p. 46. ISBN 0-415-25522-8.
- Michel Walter Pharand. (2001) Bernard Shaw and the French, University Press of Florida. p. 113. ISBN 0-8130-1828-5.
- Cultural Tips
- [Mitschke & Tano (2011). Espaces:Rendez-vous avec le monde francophone. pg.308.]
- thisisFINLAND: With free,high-quality education for all
- Turunen, Ari, Partanen, Markus. Uusi ulkokultaisen käytöksen kirja. Atena, Jyväskylä, 2007. S. 34.
- De Belg laat niet graag in zijn loonzakje kijken