The difficult art of bowing

Simple but rigid etiquette of salutations

It is said that the salutation is the touchstone of good breeding. The manner in which the bow or salutation is made indicates one’s training, nurture or culture, because a cultivated, well-bred person is careful in all the trivial civilities of life.

A well-bred person feels it incumbent on self-respect to be courteous to all sorts and conditions of people — not giving a cordial bow to a person who may be considered of importance, and then greeting one inferior in the social scale with a careless nod or a mere elevation of the eyebrows.

Be neither brusque nor effusive

In this age of careless haste, people are often too brusque in their manners. But while a brusque manner is rude, a very effusive manner and a low bow are worse. The correct salutation is between these two extremes.

Good manners are not a superficial veneer — a thin covering over a rough surface — but they are founded on kindness and common sense. They show the nature the heart the disposition. Bad manners are attributed to “a lack of fine perception which sees little things, a want of that delicate touch which handles them, and of that fine sympathy which a superior moral organization always bestows.”

Be pleasant

Someone has said that of the people we casually meet, we ask only that the salutation be pleasant. This seems to be at the root of the entire matter of greeting — to be pleasant. A bow is made instinctively and promptly as soon as one meets the eye of an acquaintance, whether on the street or in a room.

When bowing, the head is inclined slightly. Even when persons know each other very well, it is not correct to accompany a bow with a broad smile, but there may be a “smile in the eyes” — a beam of goodwill — which lightens the countenance and prevents an impression of coldness indifference or absentmindedness, the death blow to friendship. With such, one can be only lenient and charitable and slow to take offense, remembering that the acquaintance may not be aware of her conduct. She may be self-centered and selfish, but if she is valued as a friend, she may be asked why her manner is so variable, and this may bring her to a sense of her peculiarities. But if she is not really a friend, it would he impossible to make any inquiry about her manner.

Bow but once

When passing acquaintances several times, it is only necessary to bow at the first meeting, and it is not correct to mention the name of the person to whom one bows.

Respect for age

A bow to an older or a superior person should be respectful. If bowing to persons one knows slightly, the bow is slight; if bowing to those one knows well, the bow is more cordial.

An important rule is that a man must wait to be recognized by a lady before he bows, but between friends, the act of bowing is almost simultaneous.

In bowing, a man lifts his hat and replaces it quickly. He does not hold it off at arm’s length, but lifts it not too far from his head. He raises his hat when he is with a lady who bows to anyone, although such person may be a stranger to him; when he passes a man whom he knows who is with ladies; when he is with a man who bows to a lady; when he is with a lady and meets a man whom he knows.

A man’s bow

There are other small but important points about bowing which distinguish a well-bred man. He raises his hat when offering any civility to a lady who is a stranger, when he apologizes if by accident he has stepped a lady’s dress in passing, or has accidentally touched against her when he passes her on a stairway, or when he offers any small courtesy in a public conveyance.

When he takes leave of a lady after speaking to her, he lifts his hat. He removes his hat in a hotel elevator or in hotel corridors when ladies are present. He raises his hat when acknowledging any service done by a man to a lady whom he is escorting. If a man is smoking a cigar when meeting a lady who bows to him, he should remove his cigar when bowing; and if he wishes to speak to a lady, he must throw it away.


About this story

Source publication: The Ogden Standard (Ogden City, Utah)

Source publication date: September 11, 1909

Filed under: 1900s, For men, Newspapers

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