29 Apr 2022

Debrett's guide to appropriate behaviour

‘Appropriate’ is a term that is frequently bandied about when talking about behaviour. Clearly, there is a time and a place for (nearly) everything and if we are going to be civilised members of society the supposition is that we will recognise this.

From earliest childhood, we are taught what is ‘appropriate’: we must not talk or laugh during school assembly or church services, although it is fine to do so in the playground; we must not run around in restaurants, disturbing the other diners, although it is quite acceptable to do so at an open-air picnic. We learn the simple fact is that our demeanour must be adjusted according to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We also learn at a very young age that how we behave at home, or with our immediate family, is different from the ways in which we conduct ourselves in the world – for example at school, or when visiting our friends’ families. Recognising that behaviour must be adapted and moderated according to the situation we are in is a vital part of growing up.

As adults, it would seem, therefore, that we should be well schooled in recognising places that demand discretion and restraint. This would certainly be the case in locations where important business is being conducted – courtrooms, chambers of government, places of worship – and by modifying our behaviour we demonstrate that we respect the work that is being done in these spaces.

We must also assess whether our behaviour is likely to impact negatively on other people. If we are acting inappropriately in a public space, the people around us might see our behaviour as offensive or disrespectful. Recognising this means acknowledging that whenever we are out in the world we are observed by other people. We do not exist in a hermetic bubble where we can behave as we choose; being seen in society means making continual minute adjustments to our public persona and ensuring that we are never transgressing against the people who surround us.

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