‘Rules of Civility’ from George to the coffee shop

By Gerre Joiner | Published Wednesday, July 3, 2013

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I was recently happy to discover (on the “internets”) that George Washington, sometime before the age of 16, transcribed “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation.” I thought they needed a little interpreting for today’s reader.

Among the rules were:

  • When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usually Discovered. (Interpretation: There are certain places you don’t scratch until you’re alone.)
  • Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest. (Interpretation: Don’t undress in front of people. Make sure you’re zipped up and buttoned up when you come out of the potty.)
  • Shake not the head, Feet, or Legs roll not the Eyes lift not one eyebrow higher than the other wry not the mouth, and bedew no mans face with your Spittle, by approaching too near him when you Speak. (Interpretation: Try not to make ugly faces when you’re talking to someone. Stay far enough away that if you should spit a little, the listener’s safe from the “bedew.”)
  • Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice, ticks in the Sight of Others, if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexteriously upon it if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off. (Interpretion: Don’t kill parasites on your friends, but if you see a little spit on him, get rid of it discreetly. He’ll thank you and return the favor.)
  • In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the Physicion if you be not Knowing therein. (Interpretation: Having watched every episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” does not qualify you to make medical diagnoses or to suggest treatments.)
  • Do not express Joy before one sick or in pain for that contrary Passion will aggravate his Misery. (Interpretation: Try not to laugh in front of someone who’s really sick. He’s hurting. He will hurt you.)
  • Mock not nor Jest at any thing of Importance break no Jest that are Sharp Biting and if you Deliver any thing witty and Pleasent abstain from Laughing there at yourself. (Interpretation: Don’t laugh at your own jokes.)
  • Use no Reproachful Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile. (Interpretation: Don’t cuss.)
  • In your Apparel be Modest and endeavour to accomodate Nature, rather than to procure Admiration keep to the Fashion of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places. (Interpretation: Pull up your britches. If you weigh 300 pounds, Spandex is not for you.)
  • Eat not in the Streets, nor in the House, out of Season. (Interpretation: Only eat oysters in months that end in “r.”)
  • Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad Company. (Interpretation: Birds of a feather flock together. Choose your birds carefully.)
  • Speak not of doleful Things in a Time of Mirth or at the Table; Speak not of Melancholy Things as Death and Wounds, and if others Mention them Change if you can the Discourse tell not your Dreams, but to your intimate Friend. (Interpretation: Don’t discuss your gall bladder surgery at a funeral or at the supper table.)
  • Go not thither, where you know not, whether you Shall be Welcome or not. Give not Advice without being Ask’d and when desired do it briefly. (Interpretation: Mind your own business.)
  • Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of Others and ask not how they came. What you may Speak in Secret to your Friend deliver not before others. (Interpretation: Try not to stare at someone’s facial mole. Wait until you and a friend can visit about the ugly thing in private.)
  • Think before you Speak pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your Words too hastily but orderly and distinctly. (Interpretation: Engage your brain before opening your mouth.)
  • Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private. (Interpretation: Mind your own business … again!)
  • If you Soak bread in the Sauce let it be no more than what you put in your Mouth at a time and blow not your broth at Table but Stay till Cools of it Self. (Interpretation: No saucering. No blowing. ‘Nuff said.)
  • Put not another bit into your Mouth til the former be Swallowed let not your Morsels be too big for the Gowls. (Interpretation: Don’t eat like a pig. A hint for the pig idea is his use of the word “gowls.” I think he’s talking about “jowls.”)
  • Rince not your Mouth in the Presence of Others. (Interpretation: Don’t gargle until you’re alone.)
  • Let your Recreations be Manfull not Sinfull. (Interpretation: It’s not manly to be too drunk to fish.)

I’ve compiled a few suggestions for my coffee shop group. Using young George’s list for a model, I’ve decided to call them “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In the Coffee Shop.” They need no interpretation. They’re just good old common sense.

  • There should be no cursing except in extreme situations.
  • Name-calling should be held to a minimum except in extreme situations.
  • References to a person’s ethnicity, sexual orientation, will be held to a minimum, except in extreme situations.
  • Comments regarding the tattoos of a fellow customer will be made only after the person with the tattoo has left the building. (We have come very close to having problems when one of our coffee drinkers disregarded the hearing capabilities of the person with the “tat.”)
  • Only in extreme cases will we call the law to intervene during a discussion. (We generally try to let the management at the coffee shop decide if the situation is worthy of involving our bravest and best.)
  • When a need is brought to the attention of the group, we will not form a committee or do a study. We have been known to hear of the financial need of a worthy person, pass the hat around the tables and relay the money within a few hours of the discovery. Works for us.

The wisdom of our first president and the common sense of the coffee shop!

Gerre Joiner is a semi-retired church musician and has lived in Decatur since 1999.

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