17 Etiquette Rules We Should Never Have Abandoned
Good manners evolve, but they never go out of style. If you’re skipping these social niceties, your manners may need a makeover.
RSVP’ing in a timely manner
Maybe it’s because people receive so many invitations or perhaps it’s because invites have become so casual, often sent via email or social media, but the fact is that RSVP’ing has become as rare as men removing their hats indoors. While the hat issue isn’t a big deal anymore, failing to respond to an invite is not just a breach of good etiquette but a breach of basic humanity, says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. “People need to buy food, plan entertainment, and other things that take significant cost and time,” she says. “Not RSVP’ing or waiting until the last minute makes the host’s job infinitely harder.” People often stress about sending a negative reply, which is one reason they may delay, but it’s a lot easier to do if you know the best way to say no to an invitation.
Taking off your sunglasses indoors
Go anywhere these days and you’re likely to see a variety of shaded eyes, even in places like movie theaters. Is everyone nursing a hangover, or is it just one more sign of our avoidance of others? “Unless you’re an A-list celebrity, don’t be shady: Remove your sunglasses when greeting someone,” says Lisa Grotts, etiquette expert, founder of Golden Rules Gal, and author of A Traveler’s Passport to Etiquette. “Without eye contact, you can’t communicate properly, and looking at someone when they’re speaking increases understanding and shows respect.” If you’re outdoors and have sensitive eyes, it’s fine to put your sunglasses back on after saying hello, but skip the shades when you’re indoors.
Returning phone calls
Etiquette changes with the times and technology has forced some interesting compromises in this area—but not all of them are good. Take, for instance, the common practice of returning a phone call with a text. “Many people don’t like to talk on the phone and feel it is an inconvenience, but if someone has made the effort to call you, it is polite to call them back—with an actual phone call,” Gottsman says. “It’s easier to hear context, and complicated or sensitive information can be shared better via voice.” Speaking of talking on the phone, you should brush up on these cell phone etiquette rules that you should be following—but probably aren’t.
Waiting in line
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Who isn’t in a hurry these days? Yet too many people feel like they’re entitled to special treatment and, as a result, skip basic kindergarten-level niceties like waiting in line and taking turns. Being late or impatient doesn’t mean you’re special and you get to cut to the front of the line, Grotts says. Ironically, people who jump the line are often the ones who get the most upset when others take a shortcut. The bottom line about lines: Remember the golden rule, and treat others the way you’d like to be treated.
Holding the elevator
Too many people have developed an unfortunate wariness of strangers or have an attitude of “not my problem” when they see someone else struggling in public. However, as long as safety isn’t an issue, you should still adhere to basic niceties, like holding the elevator door for someone running down the hall, Gottsman says. “Many of us don’t even realize someone needs help because we’re looking at our phones,” she explains. “You should try to be mindful of others around you.”
Being on time
Punctuality is a seriously underrated skill in today’s society. Even as things get more efficient and technology gets more accurate, it seems that we humans are finding more and more reasons to be late. This is very disrespectful, Grotts says. “When you are late, it says that your time is more important than everyone else’s,” she explains. Punctuality not your strong suit? Steal these 13 habits of people who are always on time.
Opening doors for men and women
Strange views of chivalry abound, but politeness is not gender-specific, Gottsman says. “Everyone appreciates not having a door slammed in their face, and it’s so easy to do,” she says. “Why wouldn’t you do that small kindness?” She adds that it’s equally important for the person for whom the door is being opened to acknowledge the kindness with a thank you or even just a nod. Note: You don’t have to hold open the door for the next 30 people. Being a pushover is one of the 15 signs you are actually too polite.
Remembering the little words
“Please.” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” “May I?” These simple words matter, Gotts says. “These basic social niceties can never be said too much and are the foundation of politeness,” she explains. “There is no excuse not to use them.” Of course, not all phrases have stood the test of time, like these 16 pleasantries people no longer say (and for good reason).
Asking permission first
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but we live in a society that seems to go by the motto “it’s better to apologize than ask permission.” People often assume consent and act accordingly—whether that’s hugging someone, posting a picture of them online, or snagging a taste of their food. “It’s polite to always ask permission before doing something to or for someone else,” says Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette. It doesn’t need to take a lot of time or involve a formal contract. Getting permission can be as simple as asking, “Are you OK with this?” This is just one of the social media etiquette rules that people break all the time.
Sending thank-you notes
Everyone loves to be thanked, but hardly anyone seems to remember to do it these days. “Any way of saying thank you is wonderful, including a text or email,” Gottsman says. “But the gold standard is still a handwritten thank-you card.” Seeing your handwriting is meaningful to your loved ones, as is knowing that you took the time to do this. Plus, many people like to save these cards, and that’s much harder to do with an electronic thank-you.