Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The End of Formality?

In a number of ways, Britain has developed quite an informal culture. I understand in America it is usual to address one's boss as Mr- or Mrs-. Here in Britain, however, I have addressed every boss I have worked for by their first names. I would find it really weird to have to address a boss as Mr- or Mrs-.

I used to lament for informality of modern Britain. I used to wear a suit to church every Sunday. Then on a warm sunny Lord's Day, I decided this was just silly and wore cropped trousers and sandals.

When I started my first office job, I wore a tie to work every day. These days, I wear baggy combat trousers and flip flops.

I think it is significant that in Europe removing shoes is very strong as a custom in the Nordic countries, where culture is in a number of ways even more informal than in Britain (not necessarily in every way of course). When I visited Helsinki, Finland, I visited Stockmanns, the Finnish equivalent of Harrods department store. I noticed the staff wore a uniform of yellow t-shirts and a number of them were wearing flip flops.

In Japan there is no tension between formality and removing shoes. While I was in Japan, I attended a formal party in a public building. Most of those who attended dressed rather smartly. Yet we all had to sit on the floor in our stocking feet.

Here in the West, however, the demand for formality is one of the key enemies of the practice of shoes-off in homes. Going shoeless at a party is seen by many as inappropriate. Some of the main opponents of shoes-off are the self-appointed guardians of manners and etiquette. Recognising this has lead me to question the need for excessive formality.

It is good to be comfortable. It is good to chill out and be natural. People should be able to go shoeless in homes whether there own or those of others (wearing shoes in a house with a soft carpet is just silly and unnecessary).

Likewise, people should be able to ask their guests to remove their shoes without feeling that they are breaking some silly made-up rule.

2 comments:

Bob said...

Matthew...In the financial sector where I worked, addressing co-workers,either above or below you in the pecking order, on a first name basis was quite common. As I have mentioned before, I ran an office of some 30+ and everyone was on a first name basis. My immediate superiors were in Europe and again we were on a first name basis. I did object to informal attire at work because I noticed a definate downturn in efficeny on days this was allowed.
As far a church attendance goes, Catholics are much more apt to attend services in informal attire than their Prostant counterparts.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

"I did object to informal attire at work because I noticed a definate downturn in efficeny on days this was allowed."

I am currently working in the social care sector where dressing down is the norm. In most other kinds of offices, I would need to dress smarter.

"As far a church attendance goes, Catholics are much more apt to attend services in informal attire than their Prostant counterparts."

That might be true over here. I have only attended a few Catholic services, most of them baptisms.

Protestant churches seem to vary. Anglicans, Baptists, Plymouth Brethren and Methodists tend to dress smart, but some of the Charismatic groups dress very informally. Dressing down is the norm in my conservative Evangelical church.

God Bless

Matthew