11 Polite Habits Most People Secretly Dislike
These well-intentioned behaviors could actually be bothering and confusing the people in your life.
When it comes to etiquette, it can be easy to make mistakes—and, oftentimes, no one can blame you. For instance, these etiquette rules have changed in the past decade alone. And sometimes, the behaviors that you think are polite, and make an effort to do, could actually be backfiring. For many of these, the issue arises because you know the opposite behavior is impolite, and then end up over-correcting. It’s just a matter of finding the middle ground, and Lisa Grotts, etiquette expert and Golden Rules Gal, can help you do just that. If you’re “guilty” of any of these prickly politeness faux pas, you should also know the signs you’re actually too polite.
Showing up early
You know that being late to a get-together is disrespectful and inadvisable—so you might resolve to arrive early, just to be on the safe side. Especially if you decide to offer your help once you’re there, you might think this habit makes you the guest of honor. But this “polite” habit probably really bugs your host. They invited you to arrive at 6:00; they most likely aren’t ready for, and don’t want, guests before then. Unless the host has actually asked you to come early to help, don’t show up before the actual start time. And yes, that means being just a little “late” is fine. “It’s polite to be on time, but giving your host a few minutes is even more polite,” says Grotts. Here are some etiquette rules we never should have abandoned.
Compliments are a tricky business. On a surface level, they might seem like the epitome of politeness. But they can come across in all sorts of different ways. “Giving a compliment is the right thing to do, but how you do it speaks volumes,” Grotts says. For instance, compliments about people’s appearance, in particular, can make them feel uncomfortable or even objectified. “Your comments may be well-meaning, but sometimes being too direct is off-putting,” Grotts explains. Take a moment to think before you regale someone, especially about their physical appearance—and especially in front of lots of others when receiving a flattering compliment might feel especially awkward. And if you really are going to deliver a well-meaning compliment, make sure it truly comes across as sincere. “Without eye contact, you might as well pay the compliment on Facebook,” Grotts specifies. And be very careful of these “compliments” that are actually insulting.
Ah, two sides of the same coin. Partly because getting compliments can get a little uncomfortable, it can be tempting to downplay them. You also don’t want to seem like a braggart, responding to a compliment with “I know, right?! I am brilliant!” So it can be tempting to respond to “You look great today!” with “Really? I just rolled out of bed!” or “You’re so smart!” with “Yeah, right, that was a lucky guess!” But self-deprecating responses like this can affront the person who paid the compliment. You’re basically telling them that they’re totally wrong! If you know that person well and they’re well-acquainted with your self-deprecating humor, that’s one thing. But otherwise, if the person really did pay you a genuine compliment, stick to responding with “Thank you.” Find out the daily habits of naturally polite people.
In the era of Facebook invites, Zoom calls, and text chains, it may seem like the “formality” of RSVPing is a thing of the past. Far from it, says Grotts! Not only is RSVPing still absolutely the right thing to do, how you do it makes all the difference. You may think you’re being polite by just texting the host “I’ll be there!” or mentioning it in a phone call. But you should be respectful of how they asked you to RSVP. “If they give a phone number, use it; [don’t RSVP] in other ways,” Grotts says. If they give you a card to send back, like for a wedding, send it back. And even if it’s a Facebook invite, it’s courteous to respond “Going” on the event. That way, they won’t have to sort through several different channels to find the “yes” answers. In fact, making sure to RSVP is one of the obscure etiquette rules you might be breaking.
One thing you’ve probably learned is impolite, as early as childhood, is giving one-word answers. But sometimes, when someone asks you a question, you might end up over-correcting and being overly generous with details about yourself. Maybe you absolutely despise small talk and think it’s better to appear “genuine.” But the person you’re talking to might not agree, and oversharing can just be off-putting. You should be especially careful about responding this way in a professional setting, with someone you’re meeting for the first time, and when opinions are involved. “Less is more when it comes to personal opinions, especially in the company of acquaintances vs. good friends,” says Grotts. These are the polite habits retail workers secretly dislike.
Driving the speed limit
This is a tough one. You probably think of driving the speed limit less as “polite” and more as simply following the law. But it can be polite in that you’re trying to keep other drivers on the road safe. And yet, you’ve likely learned firsthand that this law-abiding habit can seriously annoy other drivers. Been honked at from behind while driving the speed limit? Had someone zip around you while you were, again, driving at the posted speed? Same here. For better or worse, many drivers, especially on highways, tend to go at a clip a few (or sometimes even more than a few!) miles per hour above the speed limit. The most important thing while driving is to stay safe, so don’t let other cars’ annoyance push you to do something unsafe. But also make sure that your own speed isn’t disrupting the flow of traffic.
Waiting at a four-way stop
It may seem polite to let other drivers go ahead of you, especially at a perplexing intersection like a four-way stop, when it can be challenging to know whose “turn” it is. “We’ve all been there: trying to make eye contact in every direction to see who goes first, but there’s always someone who doesn’t follow this non-verbal rule and sits at an intersection without moving,” Grotts says. Try your best to reach a quick consensus with eye contact with the other drivers. And when it’s your turn to go, or when another driver is clearly letting you go, waiting to go just slows everyone down. As long as it’s safe to do so, and you have the right of way and are not cutting anyone off, hit the gas! Here are more driving etiquette rules you forgot since driver’s ed.
Even as you’re doing it, you probably already know in your heart of hearts that correcting someone’s driving is unwelcome. You might think you’re helping, but the only thing you’re really accomplishing is telling the driver that you don’t trust them to get you there safely. Unless you see a serious potential for danger, keep your would-be driving instructor behaviors to yourself. Here are some etiquette rules that should be taught in school, but aren’t.
Stacking finished plates
Whether you’re eating at a restaurant or having a dinner party at home, this etiquette tidbit applies. It can seem like a nice thing to do, especially if you’re hosting—stacking or removing the dishes of people who are finished eating. And it usually is—unless someone else is not finished eating. Beginning the cleanup while someone is still eating is rude to that person and can make everyone, including that person, think you’re rushing them. And even when everyone is finished eating, stacking the plates can still give the impression that you’re trying to nudge them to get up from the table and/or leave. And if you’re at someone else’s get-together, ask if you can help rather than just starting to stack dishes; you don’t want the host thinking you think they’re shirking on cleanup duties. Finally, if you’re at a restaurant, you’re probably just making things more confusing for the server, who has a system for clearing the table efficiently. Here are some more “polite” things restaurant servers wish you’d stop doing.
Ordering for someone else
Another restaurant gaffe that you might think is polite or cute is placing someone else’s order. They can speak, and select their food, for themselves. An exception? Letting young kids order for themselves. It might seem adorable to you, but it can put the server or cashier in an awkward position if they can’t understand what the tot is saying. You should especially avoid this at fast-food or quick-service restaurants when you could be holding up a line behind you. Here are more “polite” habits that fast food employees secretly dislike.
Being vague while ordering
Here’s another restaurant behavior born from a desire to avoid the definitely-rude opposite behavior. You know you should avoid rambling on and on when you place an order and asking for three different substitutions. So you might just order the item, full stop. But what if you’re supposed to order a side? What if you’re at a fast-food place where size and combo specifications are necessary? Be clear about exactly what you want to order (within reason). And make sure you know exactly what you want to order before you reach the front of a fast-food line. Next, find out the questions polite people never ask.
- Lisa Grotts, etiquette expert and Golden Rules Gal