When setting a table, on which side of the plate should one place the spoon? Which types of clothing are okay to wear to work, and which aren’t? Is it appropriate to have visible piercings or tattoos in a professional setting? These questions are all related to etiquette and professionalism, qualities that employers and society in general value greatly. Professionalism is valued so much, in fact, that Concordia just hosted an etiquette dinner in order to teach students how to eat and behave properly in a formal setting. Society looks down on those who appear disheveled, unkempt or otherwise “unprofessional,” regardless of the professional qualities of the individual. It’s time to move past the antiquated ideas of professionalism and etiquette and embrace individualism and comfortability. Americans need to readdress their views on dress codes and dinner etiquette, while also remembering that the U.S. view of professionalism does not fit every culture.
Nearly every business has some kind of dress code. Oftentimes, dress codes detail exactly what types of clothing are appropriate, whether tattoos and piercings can be visible and whether certain types of jewelry are allowed. Dress codes are supposed to increase productivity and promote a more professional tone in business environments due to the popular belief that dressing up makes one more focused and efficient. However, Jennifer Baumgartner, psychologist and author of “You Are What You Wear,” says, “There is no absolute scientific study to prove that attire impacts productivity.” If there is no concrete evidence that one’s clothing affects his or her work, then why not let people be comfortable? Dress clothes are very expensive and they’re not always the easiest clothes to wear. Being able to wear something casual and comfortable at work could go far in making work more enjoyable. Having visible tattoos or piercings shouldn’t be taboo, either. The only reason why anybody views tattoos and piercings as unprofessional is because they have always been against the rules. In order for the common view of tattoos and piercings to change, dress codes everywhere need to change first. The individuality and diversity in style that would result from a lack of dress code would be a beautiful expression of freedom. Right now, society cares less about how people feel than how they appear. Once the meaning of professionalism is updated to be more focused on comfortability than uniformity, work will be a much nicer place to be.
There are only a few things one must do to survive, and humans learn what those things are and how to do them as babies. People are born knowing how to eat. At no point does a person, whether a baby or an adult, have trouble understanding the concept of eating. Why, then, is it okay for anybody to say somebody is eating incorrectly? If Billy uses the wrong fork to eat salad, is he now a bad person? Of course not. It simply means that Billy wasn’t raised using multiple forks for one meal. At some point, the strict formality of dining etiquette simply touts a privileged upbringing. Concordia hosted an etiquette dinner on Oct. 13, in which interested students had the opportunity to learn how to eat properly. Frankly, it’s ridiculous to suggest that any way of eating is improper or impolite. Eating is natural and human, and it should stay that way.
Professionalism and etiquette are not universal concepts. The idea of professionalism in the U.S. is just that — a U.S. idea based in U.S. values. Each culture has its own idea of professionalism and behavior, and to expect all people to uphold one culture’s ideals is borderline xenophobic. Slurping from a drink or soup is seen as rude in the U.S., but in Japan, slurping indicates satisfaction and is actually viewed as giving praise to the cook. While Americans worry about which fork to use, some people in countries like India eat using only their hands. To one of those Indians, etiquette has a completely different definition than the one accepted by many people in the U.S. The American notion of professional dress — a suit and tie or conservative dress — is a Western idea, one that does not reflect different cultures and their ideas of formality. How, then, is it possible to dictate what people can and cannot wear or look like? To assert Western ideas of politeness on all people is not only unfair, it is discriminatory.
People are held to high standards of behavior and dress in most professional settings, but it doesn’t need to be that way. If society shifts its focus from all people being the same to embracing the differences that each person has, universal acceptance could soon follow. If people could be comfortable and express their individuality while also promoting universal acceptance, etiquette and professionalism would eventually be concepts of the past.