Culture isn’t just what you know, but also how you act. The way we act says a lot about who we are. Believe it or not, people are watching us more often than we think. So I’ve decided to list a few ways in which our etiquette can be improved.
Now, in this post, I’m not going to tell you how to leave your utensils on your plate or which way you’re supposed to pass the salt. First, I’m going to start with broad strokes to gives us all a reminder of how to act. Being aware and practicing the big things will turn them into habits and then our minds can be more attentive to the little things later on.
P’s & Q’s
Always, always, always say “please” and “thank you.” I don’t care if the person you’re talking to is older or younger than you, if they’re your boss or your subordinate, or if they’re your closest friend or your server in a restaurant. If you’re making a request of someone, say “please.” If they give you something, say “thank you.”
Recently I was a counselor at a middle/high school camp and each cabin took turns serving each meal. A kitchen staff would put the main dish on your plate, and then they would pass it to the student next to them, who would ask if you wanted whatever they were serving. This continued until you received your plate after being passed by all the food options. Every time my plate was passed and a high schooler asked if I wanted salad/bread/whatever, I would say, “yes, please” or “no, thank you.” It’s just common courtesy.
When I was on the other side of the counter doing the serving with my cabin of students, you can bet I appreciated the students who said “yes, please” or “no, thank you.” It just makes the whole exchange more pleasant. Pleases and thank yous are not about you. They’re about the person with whom you’re interacting.
On the note of thank you’s, when you receive a gift – send a thank you note! I remember as a kid, sitting for hours (or at least it seemed like hours) at the kitchen table writing out thank you notes after my birthday or Christmas. As an adult, shamefully, I’ve fallen out of that practice. I usually opt for a text to thank the person, but a handwritten note through snail mail goes a long way.
Be on Time
If you’re 5 minutes early, you’re 5 minutes late – that’s my motto. I’m compulsively early wherever I go. I value my time, and as a result, I value others’ time. There’s nothing more disrespectful than making other people wait on you. Obviously, life happens and sometimes we will be unavoidably detained. If we’re meeting others, it’s important to count on arriving 5 minutes early, then add travel time from the parking lot to the meeting (crossing the parking lot, elevator ride, etc), then add travel time from your house to the meeting (think of the day of the week and the time of day to account for traffic). I always, always overestimate my calculations, because I’d much rather be accidentally 20 minutes early than suffer the embarrassment of being 5 minutes late.
Just like minding your P’s and Q’s, this is not about us. This is about the people we’re meeting and respecting their time.
If you’re with someone and you see an old friend, by all means, say hello! But don’t let either one of them feel awkward by not introducing them to each other. I recently visited family and went to their church with them. After church, they milled around and talked to other members of the congregation, and I stood there, occasionally chiming into the conversation without an official introduction being made. I’m not gonna lie – it was a little awkward. Finally, I just said, “by the way, I’m Emily” and shook their hand. If I’m not going to be introduced, I will introduce myself, and it’s going to make the mutual friend look rude.
The next time, you can bet as soon as a conversation with someone new started, I was introduced.
Silence Your Cellphone
There are very few instances in which you need to be attached to your phone in a social situation. Sure, if you’re waiting on Aunt Rita she is prone to get lost, keep an eye on your phone in case she calls and asks for directions. Other than that, when you’re in a social situation, turn your phone down and stick it in your pocket/purse. There are no texts that need immediate responses. If it’s important enough, they will call. (Sidebar: if someone calls you, it’s perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself to answer it. I’ve inadvertently missed emergency phone calls before in favor of “being present” and it wasn’t worth it. If the person is calling just to chat, it takes no time at all to tell them you’ll call them back later. Plus, excusing yourself from the table and stepping away to answer a call is much classier than answering it then and there. The people at the table don’t need to hear your conversation.)
By all means, take a group photo to commemorate the night, but there’s little need to photograph the appetizers, the entree, and your dessert. Your Instagram followers don’t care that much. Be present where you are and with the people there. You’re likely to miss out on a lot when you’re stuck on your phone. Not to mention, again, this is about other people and their feelings. They’re taking time out of their day to spend with you – make it worth their while.
So, which of these habits do you find yourself lacking in? What steps will you take to improve?