It’s all going a bit downhill in that department, isn’t it? Or am I just getting old? Well, a definite yes to that but still, there is a distinct lack of human courtesy around these days. Blame the internet or whatever but while the year is still young, let’s take a moment to reflect on ‘good manners’ and how they are much more than just decorum but can actually change things for the better.

Time to introduce you to Adolph Freiherr Knigge – in case you don’t know him yet –whom I was reminded of recently when reading an interview with a representative of ‘Deutscher Knigge-Rat’ (German Knigge Council) on what constitutes proper 21st century chat and email etiquette. Knigge was an 18th century aristocrat from Northern Germany whose name has become a term in German for what constitutes good manners because he authored a manual for etiquette. Or at least, this is what it is usually described as – a book that tells you how to behave in certain social situations. However, it’s not just that. What our Freiherr actually propagated went deeper and is indicated in the title of his book, Über den Umgang mit Menschen, or in its official English translation, “On Human Relations”.

For Knigge, it was not about the superficial politeness of saying ‘thank you’ or ‘please’. He cared about the inner attitude, about what lies beneath the surface and a look on the website of the aforementioned Knigge Council, which keeps his legacy alive, makes this very clear. Talking about Adolph Freiherr Knigge’s mission, they stress that he was not concerned with what is right or wrong etiquette from a ‘technical’ perspective but that his message was all about people treating each other with respect. They use some wonderful German wordings in this context when they say that Knigge wanted people to approach one another with a ‘zugewandte Herzenshaltung’ which, unfortunately, is pretty much non-translatable or how does ‘open/interested/attentive attitude of the heart’ sound to you?

Basically, Knigge’s idea – or at least, this is my interpretation now – was that with hearts that are open for others, we can overcome different backgrounds, social environments and points of view. He regarded mutual appreciation and respectful behaviour as the basis for successful human interaction in any sphere of life, be it society, politics, families or anything else – and what could be more relevant in the 21st century than this simple idea Knigge laid out in in the 18th century, given our propensity for literally and figuratively banging our heads in, instead of turning our hearts to each other. So, just a thought for this still infant-age year of 2024; let’s try and be a bit more Knigge. It certainly won’t do any harm.

Barbara Geier is a London-based freelance writer, translator and communications consultant. She is also the face behind, a German travel and tourism guide and blog that was set up together with UK travel writer Andrew Eames in 2010.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Germany, Switzerland & Austria.

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