Etiquette. A word that simultaneously represents a bygone era while still remaining in common usage vocabulary. The first etiquette book was written during the Fifth Dynasty of the Egyptian Empire between 3580 BC and 3536 BC by Ptah-Hotep, a philosopher and a scribe, long before anyone was using the word etiquette. His book concerned its self primarily with wisdom that a father should pass on to his son. The word etiquette for this purpose did not come into usage until a movement in the French Court in the 16th and 17th centuries. King Louis the XIV first codified the requirements for acceptable behavior on to a placard, the literal translation for the word etiquette that he posted for all of the Court to see. It spelled out specific behaviors and requirements for anyone wishing to be part of life at the castle. The practice quickly spread to many other upper class societies and royal families. In the United States the first book on etiquette is thought to be George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. In 1922 Emily Post published her famous book, Etiquette - In Society, In Business, In Politics and At Home. It became an instant best seller and her great granddaughter continues her work today. Amy Vanderbilt followed after Emily Post and in recent years the most prolific etiquette writer has been Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners.
Etiquette is culturally, class and peer group specific. What is acceptable in one interaction might not be acceptable in other circumstances. In most Islamic countries it is considered very rude to offer your hand to a woman. In Japan it is rude to wear your shoes inside and if you use the toilet you will be provided with a separate pair of slippers only for use in the bathroom. None of these these traditons are right or wrong, they are simply how things are done in one part of the world.
Most often, these rules are not written down. They are simply something that everyone is taught and that everyone knows. However, basic etiquette is being recorded in certain situations. While most people know that it is generally considered in poor taste to tell racist or other derogatory jokes at the work place, not everyone abides by this unwritten rule. As a result many companies have begun to require that workers take cultural sensitivity classes and read employee manuals that spell out the topics that are off limits at the work place.
Etiquette changes within a culture based on the changes in the social make up. In the United States it was traditional that a man opens the door for a woman. As women have taken on a more equal role to men, this has changed. Now whoever reaches the door first is the one to open it and hold it for others. Etiquette is an ever changing body of rules that reflects the idea of social norms to a group of people. Their ultimate purpose is to make social interaction easier and more comfortable for everyone while making sure that the individuals needs are not forgotten.