Story: Manners and social behaviour

Attitudes to manners and etiquette reveal much about national character. New Zealanders have traditionally seen themselves as friendly and informal, but have sometimes been accused of being rude, insular and authoritarian.

Story by Nancy Swarbrick
Main image: Health Department poster, 1940s

Story summary

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What are manners?

Manners are rules that govern polite social behaviour. People learn manners from those around them, often their parents, and they are reinforced by society. Different people may have different expectations of manners depending on, for example, their age or ethnic background.

Manners in the 1800s

In the 1800s settlers brought to New Zealand manners from their home countries, mainly the United Kingdom. England had very formal rules about manners, which were connected to their class system. New Zealand became a place that valued social equality, and so manners became less formal.

Characteristics of New Zealand manners

New Zealanders came to see themselves as informal, friendly and hospitable, especially in comparison with the more reserved English. Some criticised New Zealanders for a lack of respect and good manners. In the 1960s an American psychologist published a book that argued that New Zealanders were actually quite formal and authoritarian.

Changing manners

In the 1970s there was a move around the world and in New Zealand to challenge authority, including traditional manners. Manners also changed in response to the rise of feminism.

Cross-cultural manners

Māori were pressured to conform to Pākehā ways, and adopt Pākehā manners. In the 1970s there was a growing awareness of and respect for Māori culture, both by Māori and Pākehā. Some Pākehā came to learn Māori protocol, or manners, including how to behave on marae.

With immigration from a wider range of countries, there was a growing awareness and understanding of other cultures and their cultural practices.

Manners in the 2000s

People have always complained that manners have declined as they changed. However, manners are still relevant in the 2000s as a way of making social interactions smoother. New technologies such as the internet and cell phones have led to the development of new manners and etiquette.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Manners and social behaviour', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 September 2013