Development Credit: Faith
Etiquette is, fundamentally, the art and skill of behaving in a way which is expected for the social situation you are in. In each situation, it is vital that the character skilled in etiquette is aware of two things, their role in that situation and the rules for someone in their role in light of this. Of course, these roles and rules are inevitably shaped by the society one is in.
It is important that characters with this skill recognise that etiquette is about the expectations of behaviour placed on people in specific roles - so someone who is very aware of how to be a noble at a party in Ne'haer might behave with perfect etiquette for that situation, but may not fare so well aboard a ship about to set sail from Scalvoris, for example.
It is important to note that the skill of etiquette means that the PC knows how they should behave in a given situation. It does not mean that people ignore rude behaviour, or that the character has a "free pass" to behave how they like. The etiquette skill means they know what is expected of them, whether they behave in that way or not will be down to the individual situation and the way the characters interact.
Roles, Situations & Rules
The first thing to understand in terms of etiquette is one's role. A slave, for example, is expected to behave in a very different way than a wealthy merchant or a noble, even though they might be in the same party or social situation.
Most roles have permanent expectations on them, basics of behaviour which are expected for that role, no matter the situation.
Norms: Folkways, Mores & Taboos
Norms are, according to sociology, the expectations placed on someone in a society or culture. Norms are what is considered "usual" and is typical behaviour for a person of that role, in that situation. Understanding the norms of a society, culture or situation are vital for correct etiquette to be attempted. Although there are, theoretically, many more, there are four "main" types of social norm. The more of these the character knows upon entering a situation, the better equipped they will be to attempt to behave correctly.
1. Mores: The customs and manners expected from a society or situation. This includes codes of dress, expectations of how to address nobles, clergy members and unwritten rules of parenting as examples. Mores usually have at least a slight moral aspect to them.
2. Folkways: These are the unwritten rules of casual conversation and public meeting. From forming an orderly queue to how to behave in a restaurant, these folkways govern trial-by-trial life. Things such as awareness of personal space, not interrupting conversation and remaining civil are all examples of folkways.
3. Taboos: A vital knowledge for the student of etiquette is not just what to say and / or do, but also what not to. Those topics which are considered taboo in polite conversation may vary wildly from one society or culture to the next. As do acceptable table manners, expected behaviour, dress and so on. Understanding the taboo subjects and behaviours of a situation allows the character to avoid the serious faux pas.
Detection: Being able to "read" the situation and spot the small cues to behaviour and expectation is a very useful skill for the character with etiquette.
Sociology: An understanding of social rules, the ways in which society functions and so on are a real bonus when attempting correct etiquette.
Psychology: In the way sociology considers the society, so psychology examines the individual. Being able to "read" people will really help the student of etiquette.
Research: Etiquette does not just happen. In order to behave appropriately, the character must know what is expected of them and that knowledge often requires extensive and thorough research.
At novice, the character will be really learning the basics of etiquette and considering the expectations and limits of their role, or a specific situation. Especially at the beginning of this level, the character might well learn a number of "rules" but they will tend towards being rigid and inflexible and the character will not easily be able to apply them to the subtleties and nuances of an actual social situation. In order to be able to act in a manner which is appropriate in a situation, the character will need to spend time researching or learning the rules.
When reaching this level, the character is able to behave according to expectations in most social situations, so long as nothing unusual or extreme occurs. When faced with a new situation, or an unusual occurrence within a known situation, they are more likely to not know what would be the 'correct' course of action. It is at this level that the character also begins to understand what is expected of others around them and they begin to pick up the nuances of etiquette.
An expert in etiquette is able to function in almost all social situations, even the more unusual or unexpected. They have gathered enough information that they are able to predict what would be expected of them, even if a situation is completely unknown, about 50% of the time. Furthermore, they have developed a good understanding of the expectations of those in different roles to them, and the subtleties of etiquette are theirs to use, if of course they choose to.
Upon reaching this level, the character knows how people should be behaving in almost every situation imaginable. They have an extensive knowledge of the societal expectations and norms for most cultures. If they choose to use this knowledge, they can smoothly fit in with most situations and behave in a manner deemed acceptable by kings and paupers, gang members and priests.