21 March 2009

Trip to Italy

If you don't know, I haven't posted in a week because I've been gone to Vercelli in Italy to view one of the oldest books written in the English language. It contains my very favorite poem, The Dream of the Rood, which is the story of the crucifixion told from the perspective of the cross. I can't, unfortunately, post pictures of the manuscripts we saw. You can ask me to see them if you see me in person.

Traveling with "foreigners" to a foreign country was a truly bizarre experience. Speaking Italian was much more difficult this trip, perhaps because my brain already tries to translate American English into British English before I speak. More so, though, I was amused by the English reaction to Italy. English Italian food usually involves abominably overcooked pasta, so I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food my English group mates made and served for dinner each night. I went to the market with them one evening so they could buy ingredients for carbonara. They wanted to buy cream (which doesn't belong in carbonara unless you are English), but couldn't find any. They tried to ask the store attendant and she flipped out at them: "Cream! Cream! No! No! No!" before running around the store to give them the ingredients which were actually necessary.

The Italians themselves were characteristically wonderful. It's nice to be in a country with no apologies about its stereotypically loud and flamboyant culture. And the food! Our flat had a kitchen with the following essentials: a pasta pot, a stainer, a pasta spoon, a cheese grater, and two espresso makers.

That's all for now. I will say that Vercelli was absolutely beautiful! We also had the opportunity to travel to Pavia, where St. Augustine and Boethius are buried. I've posted pictures of Vercelli and Pavia here for your enjoyment.

Someday I plan to upload a nice, full edition and translation of The Dream of the Rood. For now, you can read my (uncorrected) translation of it here.

A Note from Your Host

As my time at Oxford comes to a close, I think I'll probably gradually phase out this blog. I restarted it so I would have to record some of the most spectacularly bizarre things about my life at Oxford, so I'll keep it up until June at least. But, most likely, the majority of my 'serious reflection' will migrate to ...and Enide.

A Momentous Occasion Unnoted

In my haste to finish the rest of my work, I forgot to note a most momentous occasion: the very last of my formal examinations, ever. (Unless I fail and have to resit, but let's not think about this.) I have to say that it was less climactic that expected.

Oxford examinees are required to wear sub-fusc, so I hope to appease you for my lack of posting a pictures of me in sub-fosc. Unfortunately, someone stole my hat before the photograph was taken. On the plus side, I was so stressed out during the exam that I wore my hat backwards.

You can read more about sub-fusc here and here.

14 March 2009

An American Encounter with the English Class System

I try not to write bad things about England. Sure, there are things I really miss about the U.S. but, all in all, I really do love this country. That's why, on the rare occasion I run across a real cultural difficulty, it makes me so uncomfortable.

Because I don't know some of the cultural norms of this country, I upset someone this afternoon by chaining my bike to a peg attached to the outside of a townhouse. In retrospect, I probably should have realized these weren't public--but England is so generous with right-of-ways and public property, I just took for granted that these were appropriate places to park my bike. When I left ballet rehearsal, her son's bike chained to mine in what looked like, but wasn't definitely, a trap so she could confront me. And confront me she did, angrily, and at great length in the most horrible English fashion--smiling all the while with contempt. Apologies weren't enough. She was inconsolably angry for a full five minutes, and seemed to be loving it.

And it wasn't really my person she was angry at. She was angry at what she thought I represented. She seemed to already expect that only a golden-spoon-fed Oxford student would dare chain her bike to her house: she was excited to ream me for feeling entitled to whatever I wanted in the city. The fact I'm obviously American only seemed to make her more irate. She was a member of England's 'less posh' (for lack of a better word) class, and she was fully prepared to defend her rights against someone 'like me' encroaching on them.

Nevermind the fact that I'm not necessarily the child of privilege she obviously deemed me to be--my parents have helped me a lot, but I've worked pretty hard on my own academically and financially to be where I am. The real problem is that her perception justified a really cruel action. There seems to be a real undercurrent of class resentment in the U.K. that encourages people to do horrible things they would never think of otherwise: a friend of mine can't walk down the certain streets a on Friday night in a suit for fear of catcalls and threats of violence.

I'm sure similar things happen from the other direction, but I'm not really in a position to see them. I guess we all behave like that sometimes--doing cruel things to a 'class' or 'race' of people we'd never dream of doing to an invidual. That's what stereotypes can be so dangerous, even when they're deserved. I'm truly sorry that I trespassed on the woman's property. I really wish she'd believed I was sincere, so she wouldn't go away thinking that, once again, someone from a higher class has taken advantage of her in an unfair way. I hate that, to her, I was everything she expected of someone 'like me.'

Maybe the real difference between England and the U.S. is that, in the U.S., I'm not really a member of a group large numbers of people resent. Or at least I don't come across as though I am. But sometimes being the 'other,' the educated, upper-middle-class, Oxford student feels claustrophobic and dangerous. And I feel alarmed, hurt, or afraid here in a way it would never occur to me to do in the U.S.

09 March 2009

They're Gone

My sisters are gone, so hopefully I'll be back to regular (albeit lonelier) posting by this afternoon. Pictures from their trip should go up over the next couple of days.

05 March 2009

My Sisters Are in Town

No posts for now... but soon... with pictures!

28 February 2009

Declamation Competition

It isn't common "now-a-days" to declaim poetry. We're lucky to ever read it. Hearing it read is a surprise. And hearing it recited well, from memory, is a rare treat. That's why, when I heard about a declamation competition in Oxford, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to try something new.

To be entirely honest, poetry is one of my weakest points as an English scholar--and as an Anglophile at all, for that matter. The students at "my school" (i.e. Brookewood) are required to memorize and then recite poetry, for which I really envy then. They stand are bravely, perfectly recite a poem from memory. I stand against the wall, gaping in admiration and jealousy.

Because I'm so inexperienced, signing up for the competition was particularly nerve-racking. My fiance and I looked at many poems and settled on a nice, simple--but wonderfully satirical--poem by Hillare Belloc called "Jim (Who Ran Away from His Nurse and Was Eaten by a Lion)." Declamation isn't simple reading, but a careful performance. Adam likened it to singing a piece of music, so I sat down and wrote in dynamics, breath marks, and pauses. It was a wonderful way to get to know a poem intimately, not just in form, but also in content.

In the end, I didn't make the qualifying round of the competition. "Jim" just didn't pass muster for the discerning palate of the judge. But, he was surprisingly supportive of my reading. He praised me for my reading of the poem and encouraged me to keep practicing. He even said I'd encouraged him to read more of Belloc's poetry. Maybe I can try again with a more nuanced piece.

So, I suppose I might be let down by my failure. Still, it was a success in many ways. I made it through an "audition" of sorts without panicking or crying, both of which I am embarrassingly likely to do based on historical precedent. And I had a crash course in a really basic, beautiful artistic skill. I hope I'll get to use it again.

25 February 2009


Where I come from, spring is less of a season than a two-week catastrophe. Flowers burst into bloom overnight, covering everything in sight with a thick coat of pollen. Trees open their blossoms, but they reek of something dead. Everyone is sneezing. Drivers can't see for the allergens in the air. And then, two weeks later the temperature increases thirty degrees--it's summer.

As beautiful as dogwood trees are, I have to admit that I never really appreciated spring in Atlanta. Even living in DC, where gorgeous cherry trees grace the city for a few weeks a year, I was too far removed from nature to really appreciate what was going on. But here, in England, I finally understand.

Spring is a season--a season of gradual opening and rebirth. Daffodils have been sprouting as soon as the snow melted three weeks ago. They didn't just bloom. In fact, they haven't bloomed yet. But each and every one, all over the city, holds the beautiful promise of a bright, yellow blossom.

The animals know it's coming, too. Birds have started to wake me up in the morning. Ducks chase potential mates through the river. In a few months, their babies will liter the towpath.

Here, you feel spring coming. This far north, each day is almost four full minutes longer. The sun comes up earlier each day, only strengthening the impression that life is growing.

The seasons in England are dynamic, unfolding slowly. God's creation really in a miracle.

You can see more photographs of Oxford in the spring here.

23 February 2009

Out with the Old?

Eddie Izzard jokes that he is from Europe, "Where the history comes from." To an American, it sounds funny. But, as an American abroad, I have to admit that he has a point.

My friend, Ruth, and I took a walk on Sunday. She walked through a thousand-year-old city center to the fifteenth-century bishop's palace where I live to meet me. We walked down the Thames (in Oxford, the Isis) and through the oldest undeveloped flood meadow in the country. Our destination? The ruins of twelfth-century abbey torn down during the reign of Henry VIII.

That is history. And, to a certain degree, I think having history is the primary cultural difference between the English and Americans. Americans feel an urgent need for change. The English don't. And I think it's because the English see history, know and accept that things usually last. I don't think either is right, but it makes an interesting contrast trying to run student organizations with English and American members. Food for thought?

You can see Eddie Izzard talking about Europe here--see 1:00 on. Also, watch out for profanity.

21 February 2009

Yeomen of the Guard: A Review and Reflection

Two of my very best Oxford friends went with me tonight to see the Oxford University Gilbert and Sullivan Society's Presentation of The Yeomen of the Guard. G&S musicals are on my list of "things I ought to know more about to consider myself cultured," so I'm always delighted to see one of them performed. The musicals are tightly wound social satires of Victorian personalities and mores, but, at the same time, brilliant commentaries on human nature. Usually they straddle that line I spoke of earlier, of the dark comedy which the British do so well. But Yeomen is an exception: it isn't really funny.

The Yeomen of the Guard takes place in the Tower of London in the sixteenth century. A brave, young solider has been condemned to die for practicing alchemy. A man whose life he once saved and his smitten daughter conspire to save him by changing his place with their own son/brother. In the meantime, he decides to take a wife in order to keep his fortune from passing into the hands of his envious cousin. A typical G&S comedy of errors ensues, but the players and consequences are more than common.

Perhaps most unlike Gilbert and Sullivan's other musicals, there are no happy weddings at the end of Yeomen. The young woman who loves the solider is forced into an engagement to the hunch-backed jailer to protect the soldier's escape from being found out--the audience is encouraged to feel sympathy toward the bumbling figure, but the young woman never learns to love him. Simliarly, her father agrees to marry a unattractive, violent old maid to keep his assistance for the soldier safe. The only happily married couple are the solider and the woman whom he married to protect his fortune. Even they were first married in secret, identities protected, before discovering they've fallen in love with each other. And they leave behind a doful jester, the bride's jilted betrothed, who is the key tragic figure of the play. In him the audience sees the human cost of a "the-show-must-go-on" attitude, and of one character's self-centered choices.

Of course, the musical does have its comic moments. As a linguist, I was particularly delighted by the intentionally over-done Shakespearean English of the dialog ("An hundred crowns?" "An hundred crowns!). The song sung between jailer and jester is a particularly nice touch: the jester tries to nuance the clueless jailer's lies by added literary flourish that the poor man simply can't understand.

The OUG&S production also had particular assets of its own, most especially in the cast. The female leads were all well sung, particularly the solider's bride's lilting and subdued soprano. Robert Hazel, who played the bumbling assistant jailer, did an absolutely spectular job of making the character come to life in a way that was both physically repellant and intensely sympathetic. The musical, however, was essentially made by the truly enthralling performance of David Jones as the jester. He conveys all of the jesters desparate need to be funny, but also his bitter resentment against a life which has put little that's good or delightful before him. He beautifully pulled off an imaginably difficult role--the tragic jester--in a mesmirizing way.

Still, all in all, The Yeomen of the Guard is as much food for thought than entertainment--as much "sentence" than "solas," to use the Chaucerian distinction. The young solider is again and again praised, admired, and loved because of his bravery. But it is really those who risk their lives to save him who are brave. And it is they who suffer in this deeply thought-provoking musical.

English Humor

I had planned to avoid posting random links on my blog this time, but I have to suggest that you view the following:

I babysat last night for a wonderful young family. They introduced me to Flanders and Swann, with whom, I must say, I am inordinately pleased. This song, probably their most famous, is truly original, absolutely ridiculous, and positively delightful.

Although I won't claim this as a supreme example, I must say that I am struck by English humor--not just it's quality, but its substance. The English do serious humor, humor that means something, in a way Americans just don't seem to be able to manage. Americans can muster great satire, but the ability to laugh in the face of something dark and tragic is a bit outside of our league.

What other country, besides England, could manage a film that stands on its own as both a zombie film and a comedy?

19 February 2009

My Sisters Are Coming to Visit

Nothing new to report about the English. But, in other news, my sisters are coming to visit me!

Enjoy this photograph of our previous trans-Atlantic exploits.

17 February 2009

Doctor Who Again

Just to follow up on my Doctor Who rampage...

My friend Ruth and I watched a two-parter tonight, starting with "The Empty Child." It's a very poignant episode, set in the darkest days of the blitzkrieg during World War II. Yet, in the end, every single person lives. The poor Doctor can't remember the last time he saved the world and no one had to sacrifice him or herself, no one had to die in some brutal manner before he could solve the problem. But, in this episode, everyone is saved. And the Doctor is ecstatic.

I repeat my claim that the show is an amazing celebration of human life.

15 February 2009

Doctor Who

English television is one of the great delights of being in the U.K. Where else can you see a news show broadcast a late-breaking story about the leader of the opposition party in Parliament running yellow lights on his bicycle on the way to work? Generally, though, I have found that English television is often much more substantive than it's American equivalent.

As someone who doesn't watch T.V. often, I suppose I don't really have a breadth of experience to make such a sweeping claim. My primary basis of comparison are the science fiction shows that air in primetime, which nerds like me really enjoy. I'm as big a fan of Star Trek as the next American nerd, but the British cultural equivalent is in a league of its own--Doctor Who.

Doctor Who is a legend. The show has been airing since 1963. Its main character, the unnamed "Doctor" has been through ten incarnations. The principle villain, the Daleks, are a permanent feature of the off-the-radar English imagination. Given its popularity, I find the values it promotes absolutely extraordinary.

Doctor Who means something. More than any other television show I've ever watched. The show continually takes up the most pressing issues of the day and presents them in a new light, set to an electronic soundtrack. In an episode from the first season of the new series, the Doctor and his traveling companion encounter a giant satellite given over the storage and spread of every piece of information known the the human race. Humans themselves act as processors for the massive computer, but without ever letting the information enter their brains. In the end, the Doctor must destroy an evil creature who has been able to secretly control all of humanity simply by controlling their information.

Like any good literary venture, the show also covers themes of timeless concern. I cried for days over the finale of the fourth season of the new series. All of her life, his traveling companion thought she was insignificant, unremarkable. In the episode's climax, she discovers how special she truly is, and saves the universe. But as a consequence, her memory is erased. She has to go back to an ordinary life, never remembering her life with the doctor or her universal importance. What a reflection on our own hopes and fears about our vocations!

But perhaps most astounding is the Doctor's overarching respect for humanoid life. He really cares about each and every life he touches. He is continually emphasizing to his traveling companions how important they are--"you're an ordinary person" he might say, "the most important thing in the world." Even against the Daleks, the greatest enemy known to man, Doctor Who refuses to comit when given the chance. And the Doctor's respect for life always spreads to others. So many episodes end with a humanoid man or woman grasping the significance of all other lives in the universe, sacrificing him or herself in an ultimate gesture of love for human life.

In shows like Doctor Who--if there are actually any shows like it--I am reminded of what television can be. Not a mindless medium, but yet another literary expression of the hopes, fears, and possibilities for our culture and our species. Doctor Who is extraordinary for reminding us of our humanity, and giving us a subtle reminder to act as though we remember it if the opportunity for great heroism ever arises.

If you want to find out more about Doctor Who, I would strongly suggest checking out the episode Midnight from the fourth season of the new series. This is probably the most suspenseful, and also lowest budget, episode of sci-fi television ever made. Incidentally, it is--as of this posting--the episode more likely not to have been deleted from YouTube.

14 February 2009

Ceilidh Last Night

Several friends from my course and I attended the termly CathSoc ceilidh last night. I can't emphasize how much I love ceilidhs, though I'm afraid I showed up late last night and missed a few of my very favorite dances.

Tonight was, however, the first time I've done a dance with a "basket" and enjoyed it. For anyone who doesn't know, a basket is a move at a ceilidh when two men put their arms around two women's waists. The women put their arms over the men's shoulders. In the Irish version they spin around, which is fun. In the German version (read "preffered by macho Englishmen"), the men spin so quickly that the women's feet are lifted off the ground. This is only fun when (a.) the women know what is going to happen and (b.) when the men are strong enough to lift the women without making the women feel like the cause of an immediate hernia. So, bully to the men I was dancing with--I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I'm sorry that I haven't perfected the art of taking photos yet. Rest assured I am practicing. We can cross our fingers that CathSoc posts their photos on Facebook. Until then, you can always satisfy yourself with my more-detailed description of a ceilidh here.

11 February 2009

Not-So-Innocents Abroad

When I told my American friends and family last year that I was moving to England, one of their first responses was to warn me about how poorly treated I would be in Europe. Sixteen months later, I have to confess that that ill treatment has hardly ever reared its ugly head. Sure, things have been said that I didn't like about our Former President, and the English have been eager to volunteer their opinions about our political system. The English carry with them many, many misunderstandings or oversimplifications of American culture, but they are generally kind and generous to individuals of all national origins--at least in Oxford.

That is why I am so annoyed--angered--by Americans who "act the part" abroad. So much of the American perception of their reputation overseas is self-projected; we're the ones who assume we are brash, uncultured, and backwards. It is a real shame when an American becomes a parody of that self-perception, putting him or herself forward to the world as an ambassador of a culture of insensitive boors. Particularly in Oxford, Americans abroad ought to know better.

Tonight, I am ashamed to say, was the second time I've heard the same an antiquated and racist expression involving an extremely impolite racial slur in Oxford. Both times it was used by (North--one was Canadian) Americans. Both times it was in a professional, academic research seminar. And both times it was used in a context where it is completely unnecessary. Perhaps the two men felt that, outside of the United States, where racial tension is a different kind of problem, the expression wouldn't be poorly received. But the English students in the room were almost as offended as I was!

The two incidences have left me to wonder just how often Americans really do present themselves as poor cultural ambassadors to the rest of the world. How can I expect my English friends to believe that America is not the backwards, racist place they are sometimes told it is by the BBC if some of our most clever ex-patriots behave this way?

10 February 2009


The English Faculty have decided to give me £400 for a trip to Vercelli, Italy! I'll be able to look at a number of amazing medieval manuscripts.

The best of these is one of only four major manuscripts containing Anglo-Saxon poetry, the Vercelli Manuscript. It some of my very favorite religious poems. The very best of these is called The Dream of the Rood. It is a short poem about the crucifixion told from the perspective of the cross. I still contend that it is one of the greatest poems ever written in English. You can read my translation of it here.

I'm very grateful to the English Faculty for funding my trip and I look forward to writing more about it later.

08 February 2009

Oxford in the Snow: A Brief Photo Essay

Oxford, and all of England, had unusually heavy snowfall last week. Although I was amused at the way the entire country shut down, it did create some amazingly beautiful scenes:

This is supposed to be the site of C. S. Lewis' inspiration for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The story goes that he left the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin (right) one Sunday, disgruntled by a sub-par sermon. He walked out into the evening and saw these fauns, beautifully illuminated by a single lamppost. On the door there is a lion.

This is a street sign outside the walls of Exeter College. The metal cross on the wall behind the sign was once used by delinquent undergraduates to climb back into college after curfew.

This is one of the snow-covered heads outside of the Sheldonian Theatre. The building was built after a design by Sir Christopher Wren and is currently used for graduations and concerts.

This is a view from Holywell Cemetery. The English treat cemeteries differently than Americans do. When a cemetery is full, the gravestones will often be removed. The lawn will be mowed and it will be treated as a park.

You can see more of my photos of Oxford in the snow here.

07 February 2009

Universal University

Oxford University occasionally holds “open days” for potential undergraduate students. These days give English secondary school (“college” or “sixth form”) students the chance to see what a day in the life of an Oxford University student is like. The most celebrated of these open days are “access days,” days to encourage students from underrepresented schools to apply to the university. So today, volunteering for a group of teenagers from East London, I was surprised to hear a young woman with the honesty to admit, “I’m not really sure I’m going to uni.”

As it turns out, this young woman has no real idea what she wants to do with her life. She enjoys English and history in schools, but isn’t really sure that she wants to spend the rest of her life on either of these subjects. Instead, she’s thinking of spending at least a year working, travelling to her family home in South America, and taking the time to put serious thought into her vocation. Although it’s an unpopular sentiment for a teenager capable of earning a college degree to express, her uncertainty about university makes perfect sense.

It is easy to forget that the modern university system is exactly that—modern. Traditionally, only those who wanted to go into a field requiring an advanced degree did so: lawyers, doctors, clergy. Even fewer pursued “purely academic” subjects like English or history—those who wanted to teach or research. Everyone else left school and learned a trade. Accountants learned accountancy in a firm, not in a classroom. Clerks started at the bottom and worked their way up, gaining experience as they went.

That system had its perks. It reworded hard work with promotions and bonuses. It promoted company loyalty which, in the long term, encouraged employers to treat their employees with greater respect, as a valuable part of their organization. And it provided people with the means to continue learning on the job. No one really believes that a recent graduate with a degree in finance knows more about business than the man who now works under him who has had the job for twenty years.

So who is to tell the fifteen-year-old girl that she has to go to university? I applaud her responsible, self-knowledgeable decision to take time to find out what it is she really wants to do. I only wish that Western society hadn’t made life without a university degree so difficult for anyone with her level of common sense.

Certainly, there is much to be said for a university education. Knowledge of the liberal arts remains our path to cultural fluency, a part of our political existence as human beings. Many of the obstacles for women, minorities, and people from lower-class economic backgrounds can be surmounted by a university education in a way they once could not—provided those groups have access to a university education. But there is a limit to what one can learn in a classroom. We ought to seriously consider whether so many are best served by spending another three to five years in formal education, or whether they might not be better off finding themselves outside of academia. I sincerely wish the young woman luck as she bravely bucks the system and finds her own path in life.

06 February 2009

What's the Matter with Manners in the Twenty-First Century

A group of adult friends recently asked me to write a short monthly column about etiquette for their school newsletter. I obligingly sat down and turned out a four-line poem about responsible cell phone use. But, in the midst of trying to find a rhyme for "texting" (which I eventually decided against) I had to stop and ask myself: is defining and spreading a code of social conduct really a worthwhile use of my time?

No one really denies that the age of Emily Post is over. Gone are the days when we show each other respect by following the same social code. We are all told to celebrate our differences. We all have our own values and beliefs. No one ought to impose his or her social beliefs on me. "Treat others as you would want to be treated" is the golden rule of moral behavior—although "I can do anything I want, so long as it doesn't harm anyone else" might be a more common variation. It would seem that, in this brave new world, manners are simply obsolete.

Of course, we all realize that the ideas of rude and polite haven't died. A Google search, for all its statistical merit, yields almost one million hits for "so rude." A male coworker who accuses a dieting woman of having an eating disorder. A cellphone goes off during an important meeting. And we find huge, generalized groups who are simply rude by definition: young people, bartenders, Italian tourists, conference attendees, people from Boston, and pregnant women.

Clearly, we all know what rude is. We all know we ought to treat other people as we want to be treated. But we don't. Why? Could it possibly have anything to do with the collapse of manners as a social code?

Aristotle had a brilliant concept of how behavior works. All human action is based on goo d and bad choices. The problem is that we can't, as modern morality seems to expect us to, simply resolve to make all good choices. I can make up my mind in advance not to harm another person, but the real choice comes when, tired and hungry from a long day's works, I have to choose whether to give my seat to the elderly man in the aisle.

Enter Aristotle. Men, he noted, are creatures of good and bad habits. Good habits help us practice making good choices; bad habits help us practice making bad choices. Every time I choose to hold the door, I'm teaching myself patience and empathy. Every time I leave the last cookie for my housemate, I'm teaching myself selflessness and generosity. It really is a brilliant insight—I can't always do the right thing by other people, but I can slowly learn the habit of treating them better with time and practice.

I contend that, historically, manners have served as a system for habituating virtue, getting used to doing the right thing. Sometimes the rules seemed (and often were) arbitrary or silly. Still, if I choose to show consideration in small things, I am developing the habit of showing consideration in great ones. The use of "please" and "thank you" helped me develop a habit of gratitude. When I used the shrimp fork for my shellfish, I was practicing showing respect to my hostess. Even the most obscure points of etiquette force of to think about the ways we behave towards others which, ultimately, forces us to see a little more of their humanity.

Unfortunately, some of the oldest and most revered laws in our code of manners, like the use of the shrimp fork, seem so obsolete we've forgotten what they were for. No one pays any attention to the "no elbows on the table" rule anymore. Few blink when I forget to break my bread into little bits before chomping down. When manners are perceived as obsolete or arbitrary, they no longer serve any purpose at all.

So, we have two choices. We could remind ourselves why manners are important, go back to using them to help ourselves develop habits of consideration and kindness. Or, we could reject them altogether and take up something new.

Of course, if we are going to reject codes of etiquette, we have to accept that we need to think harder about our moral choices. I can't count on being in the habit of saying, "I'm sorry" or "No, thank you"—I have to look the homeless man squarely in the eye and consider whether I owe him an apology for not being able to share with him. Without the habit of respectfully listening to others, I will have to work very hard not to roll my eyes at the upset coworker crying about her third break-up this month. Codes of etiquette really do help us practice being a little more human. Without them, we have to make those hard choices on our own. That is the real challenge of twenty-first century etiquette.

Manners really do matter, or at least moral choices do. I for one plan to stand by etiquette of the old-fashioned kind, building good habits by following an older social code. I need all the practice I can get to truly treat others as I wish to be treated. I just hope that all this practice will make those difficult moral choices a little easier to make and helps me see other people as human beings even at the most trying of times.