Hong Kong is a society whose people, historically, have acquired money before anything else that typically goes with it. To help compensate, etiquette courses periodically open up; their attendees hope to quickly acquire in adulthood the social skills they didn’t have the opportunity to learn in childhood. Like any over-rapid graft on unsuitable or poorly prepared rootstock, the resultant exotic plant affords a mutant fascination to amblers in life’s great botanical garden but offers little lasting value to the world at large. Vast differences exist between inherent manners and simple table etiquette; knowing which knife pairs with what fork is the small change of one’s social comportment. Behaving with consideration to people in menial positions – domestic maids, waiters and sales staff – who are not in a position to properly answer back, underpins basic good behaviour. Kindness and courtesy, making others feel at ease and doing what is expected without undue complaint are the essence of manners, as any wellraised person instinctively knows. In Hong Kong, too many people swiftly fail these most simple of character litmus tests. And local Europeans are frequently the worst offenders. Generally accepted etiquette, however, does change significantly over time. Seventy years ago, a portentous belch offered up at the end of a Chinese banquet complimented the host’s hospitality; these days, post-prandial eructations would be viewed in a, shall we say, less accepting light. Likewise, clicking heels and kissing hands constituted proper behaviour in formal European situations a century ago; such actions would today be seen as ridiculous. Gross, rustic habits displayed by contemporary mainland visitors often have as their basis the legacy of the Mao Zedong era – which exulted the peasant and proletarian – rather than being inherently Chinese, as is sometimes alleged by the ignorant or racist. Under the worst communist madness, being seen to behave like a peasant or proletarian – even if you were neither – translated into personal safety. Appearing bourgeois immediately marked you out for class vendettas, struggle meetings, labour camps and worse. But if you dressed like a coolie, and pushed and shoved and hocked and scratched and swore your way along the street and through life, you flew below the totalitarian state’s radar and significantly enhanced the likelihood of your survival. Mao’s China, Stalin’s Russia and Pol Pot’s Cambodia all shared this chilling characteristic. In Russia, between 1917 and the late 1930s, the middle and upper classes were exiled or destroyed; when communism ended, in 1991, few of the older generation from those early days remained to instruct the young. Only the brutish peasantry were left. In Cambodia, Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge henchmen who, let’s never forget, were sponsored by China, simply killed the lot. But China, as ever, was different. Unlike in Russia, communism’s worst excesses only endured for a generation and human longevity and sheer weight of numbers saved the day. Furthermore, China had an enormously rich cultural tradition of refined courtesy and exquisite manners to draw on. Enough people who outlasted the political madness remembered what it was like not to deliberately behave like pigs and appreciated the benefits of a gentler mode of living. Unsurprisingly, these survivors swiftly returned to earlier and better ways when they could – who wouldn’t? – and impart these values to their grandchildren.