Pardon me...
May 18, 2006 8:38 PM   Subscribe

What are the best manners that I am not aware of?

This previous post regarding standing until guests are seated got me thinking that this is not something I do frequently enough (read as 'ever'). What other considerate gestures could I incorporate into my attitude towards others?
posted by iurodivii to Human Relations (128 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've always been taught to stand up when a woman and/or someone older than you enters the room (I am a fella).
posted by rossination at 8:45 PM on May 18, 2006


Remembering people's names and using them not too often.
posted by frogan at 8:49 PM on May 18, 2006


Don't talk through an open doorway. Come out, or invite your conversation partner in.
posted by majick at 8:52 PM on May 18, 2006


(Though I suppose it's possible I was taught this as etiquette as a child, but it was actually cat escape control)
posted by majick at 8:53 PM on May 18, 2006


If the phone rings while you're talking to a person, ignore the damn phone.

/sour grapes, nobody ever calls me/
posted by Quietgal at 8:54 PM on May 18, 2006 [2 favorites]


take your hat off indoors - especially if you're eating. learn how to use silverware - where it goes while you're eating and when you're done eating. and in the end.. it's only money, so quit the bitching if you don't get paid back or someone doesn't chip in for gas. if your girlfriend scratches your car, that $200 is money well spent quietly.
posted by kcm at 8:55 PM on May 18, 2006


actually, that last point kind of just goes in general: don't do things for other people with any kind of expectation whatsoever. so when you hold the door open for a woman, and she glares or makes a remark, just smile. if someone comments on your standing until they sit, just smile. it makes the difference between classy and crass. :)
posted by kcm at 8:58 PM on May 18, 2006


Get into a taxicab first, so your companion doesn't have to slide across the seat.
posted by nicwolff at 9:17 PM on May 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


If you have someone visit your home, always offer a beverage or refreshment. Water, soda, juice, alcohol, whatever you have on hand and what fits the occasion.

Hold the door open for people close behind you when you can safely do so. I'm a female and I do it quite often - regardless of the gender or age of those behind me.

Don't spit in public.

Don't burp fart or snort in public.

Wash your hands.

Address your elders/people of higher authority with a mrs/ms/mr. unless they instruct you otherwise, or introduce themselves more casually.

On the bus/public transport - if the vehicle is full and there is an injured person, an elderly/frail person, or a pregnant woman standing, give them your seat. Especially in the superheat of summer.

When a guest at someone's home for dinner, accept what they serve you and stomach as much as you can - if you don't like it.

Anyway, there are some random manners things I was taught. Basically, be kind and respectful of others; do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
posted by Radio7 at 9:19 PM on May 18, 2006


When you are offered a plate of food, always take the piece nearest to you. I admit that I judge other people's children by this one- if they reach across the plate for the biggest cookie or, god fobid, poke around or breathe on the food then I assume they are being raised in a barn by wolves.
posted by fshgrl at 9:28 PM on May 18, 2006


Q: What are the best manners that I am not aware of?

A: Don't spit in public.

It wouldn't be mannerly for me to say anything more. Draw your own conclusions.

Which direction do you move your spoon through your soup - toward or away from you? To the excruciatingly correct, one way is uncouth, the other correct.
posted by caddis at 9:34 PM on May 18, 2006


Normally a gentleman allows a lady first passage through doorways etc. However, when faced with an elevator the gentleman enters first, in case there is a mechanical defect which would cause the car to plummet upon being loaded.
posted by caddis at 9:38 PM on May 18, 2006


If someone gives you unsolicited advice, say "Thank you for your concern," and change the subject.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 9:40 PM on May 18, 2006


Oh, and, don't give unsolicited advice.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 9:43 PM on May 18, 2006


Actually, a man entering an elevator first allows the woman to exit first. Applies to boats too.
posted by KneeDeep at 9:43 PM on May 18, 2006


Anyone entering an elevator (bus, subway car, etc.) allows those wishing to exit, irregardless of gender, to do so first, and then enters.
posted by caddis at 9:57 PM on May 18, 2006


A man entering the elevator first enables him to hold the "Open Door" button for the lady.

When you've finished eating, line your knife and fork up parallel, points facing away from you and perpendicular to the edge of the table.

Don't chew with your mouth open, for fuck's sake.

Don't swear.

This one differs greatly by country, but a knife goes in the right hand, the fork in the left; cut food with the knife while holding it still with the fork, into smaller-than-bite-sized pieces. Use the fork (still in the left hand) to spear food, then place in mouth and chew as described above. I find it very strange that Americans cut their food with their forks, almost ignoring their knives -- or that they cut up their food, then transfer the fork to the right hand to eat. On the other hand, many Americans see my essentially Commonwealth eating habits as prissy and pretentious.

Leave the toilet lid up, but with the seat down (personally think this is stupid).

More than 3 taps is a wank.

Say "I beg your pardon", or "excuse me" if you didn't hear a person clearly -- not "what?"

When new boy at an orgy, don't jump the queue -- wait for sloppy seconds.

(okay, I made that last one up)
posted by 5MeoCMP at 10:02 PM on May 18, 2006


Always reply to RSVPs. Never bring a guest unless the invitation says "and guest" or names a guest.

Write a thank you note for every gift you ever receive. Ever.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:03 PM on May 18, 2006


My South African friend says that, in SA, the men enter and exit the elevator first, in case people are planning to attack the party.
posted by acoutu at 10:09 PM on May 18, 2006


When driving on the freeway, if someone makes a conscious effort to let you into their lane, wave a thank you. (Californians suck at this, I've found.)

Also, if a door is held open for you, say thank you.
posted by sellout at 10:09 PM on May 18, 2006


1) No matter how skanky your partner, use a fresh condom.
2) Writing a ransom note is no excuse for slipshod grammar or spelling.
3) When you phone someone, identify yourself first, then ask who's on the line.
posted by rob511 at 10:16 PM on May 18, 2006


On a plane, leave your seat in the upright position.
posted by Jimbob at 10:17 PM on May 18, 2006


Hold the door open for people close behind you when you can safely do so. I'm a female and I do it quite often - regardless of the gender or age of those behind me.

I know we're an egalitarian society these days, but please don't do this.
It causes fits for men like myself who were raised never to proceed through a door before a lady.
=)

That said, always stand between your lady and the road, never shake off your umbrella in the doorway, and (a more modern one) hang up the damn cell phone while conducting a transaction in person.
posted by madajb at 10:27 PM on May 18, 2006


Always wait for the woman to offer her hand for a handshake. As a child I was taught that it's rude/presumptuous of a man to offer his hand first.
posted by Devils Slide at 10:38 PM on May 18, 2006


Oh, and this is something a girl with whom I was hitchhiking told me: when accepting a ride from a stranger, always enter the car before your female travelling (hitchhiking?) companion so the driver doesn't just take off with the girl. I suppose that's more of a safety precaution than good manners.
posted by Devils Slide at 10:52 PM on May 18, 2006


When you introduce two people, if one of them merits greater respect, you say their name first. ("Grandma, I'd like you to meet my friend Susie.")

When people are drinking to you, you're not supposed to drink (unless they say "Plymouth rules").

It's tacky to argue when someone compliments you. Just say thank you.

When a heterosexual couple tells you they're engaged, you congratulate him, but you wish her joy. (It's because you don't want to sound like you're congratulating her on having finally bagged a man. That one is sexist and I don't advocate it. )
posted by ottereroticist at 11:00 PM on May 18, 2006


Oh, and don't start eating until your host/ess takes a bite.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:03 PM on May 18, 2006


Just be glad you don't live in Iran. The practice of tarof, a form of polite (and persistent) insincerity disguised as good manners, can drive you batty:

"A more basic hurdle to understanding the country is that Iran is a real insider society: a cultural quirk known as tarof obscures every social interaction. Tarof is a way of saying things you don't mean, whether offering a tenth helping of food, refusing to accept payment for a major service or responding to "see you later" with an idiom that translates to "I'll die for you." (De Bellaigue calls tarof "ceremonial insincerity," and remarks, "Iran is the only country I know where hypocrisy is prized as a social and commercial skill.") Tarof is art--not malice or trickery--and when skillfully employed it is one of the most charming customs in Iranian social life. But it is an elaborate, nonlinear form of communication that can tire even lifelong practitioners with its hall-of-mirrors obfuscation."

"Guests are constantly served with some edible item, tea or drinks and the host mainly the lady of the house (sometimes daughters too) has the task of serving and refuse to take no for an answer and insist that guests should have what they are offered. This is a very popular etiquette and is known as ‘tarof’. Guests are not obliged to eat everything they are offered and can politely insist on refusing. Tarof has other implications at other circumstances and can be very confusing. People may insist that they will do such and such for you and they might not mean it at all. This is also called tarof, or if you admire something in their house, they will offer it to you repeatedly and again this is just tarof and they do not mean it. There are no set rules but if one is not a very close friend or a close family member most of what Iranians say or offer is very likely tarof and one should politely thank the person and refuse the offer."
posted by Devils Slide at 11:24 PM on May 18, 2006 [2 favorites]


Always wait for the woman to offer her hand for a handshake.

I've been taught that this rule is a bit wider in scope - generally speaking, a woman decides what kind of greeting a man is to exchange with her. If she offers her hand, waves and says 'hi' or leans in for a peck of the cheek - the man needs to play along.
posted by jedrek at 12:09 AM on May 19, 2006


Exactly, jedrek. A gentleman leaves it up to her.
posted by Devils Slide at 12:19 AM on May 19, 2006


Don't chew with your mouth open, for fuck's sake.

Yes, yes, yes. This drives me up the wall, and I have started noticing it lots. Nobody wants to see the contents of your mouth being slowly chewed - plus the noise is horrible.

Right, rant over - some of my own advice:

- offer your seat on public transport (I am amazed how many people won't get up for a pensioner/pregnant woman)

- send thank you letters or cards if someone's had you round to their house for a drink or a meal. Better yet, make one yourself rather than buying it in a shop.

- remember birthdays of friends and family.

- don't leave your mobile phone ostentatiously on display in meeting, or when you're in the pub. Keep it in your pocket and always keep it on vibrate if you're in company.

- don't talk when you go to the cinema to see a film (I have fond memories of the great "don't talk at the cinema" AskMe thread. It is really anti-social).

Hmm. This thread has brought out the grumpy old man in me, I think I'd better stop...
posted by greycap at 12:53 AM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


When sending a letter or a small note with a present, include a second, blank sheet of paper if the letter or note would otherwise be only one page. My sister in-law just sent us a present and my wife explained why the blank page was in there. I can't say for sure that this is also a Western thing (as opposed to yet another Japanese etiquette detail) but I vaguely remember my mother opening letters from the UK and Ireland which included the occasional blank page. My wife says it's a way to say, "Sorry I didn't write much but it's not because you're a waste of paper".
posted by Jenga at 1:20 AM on May 19, 2006


Call waiting is just rude. It means you'll talk to someone until someone more important comes along. Emergencies are not an excuse - in an emergency, an operator can interrupt the call for you.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:42 AM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


A few things I didn't see mentioned (apologies if they have been).

The knife never, ever goes near the mouth. It's for cutting food and buttering bread. That is all.

You don't start eating until everyone in the party has their food.

The lady sits down first and it is polite to pull out her chair.

Basic dining etiquette is a priceless commodity. Not being intimidated by the amount/variety of plates, glasses and cutlery and knowing a little bit about wine-tasting goes a long way.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:37 AM on May 19, 2006


Oh, and don't start eating until your host/ess takes a bite.

I believe it's more polite the other way around: The host should wait for the guest to take a bite before digging in.

ottereroticist, if you and I ever dine together the food's going to just sit there and get cold.
posted by mono blanco at 2:40 AM on May 19, 2006


In general, try to be invisible (inaudible, unsmellable, etc.) to people who don't particularly want to see or hear or smell you, which is pretty much everyone in the world outside your immediate friends.

When at the movies or a non-loud live performance (classical music, for example), be quiet. Crackle no wrappers. It's not sufficient that you whisper; do not talk at all. People have paid to hear a performance, to immerse themselves in that performance, and your inability to sit still and quiet for a few minutes can spoil it for a few dozen people sitting around you. Turn off electronics. There is no such thing as a polite call in a movie.

When at a restaurant, make your level of activity appropriate to the table and the place -- a loud, busy place can support louder, busier guests, but a quiet place does not need to see and hear tales of your visit to the dentist as re-enacted by you with silverware and tampons. Regardless of the bad manners you and your friends might agree to inflict on one another, you should at least not let them carry over to other tables. And turn off electronics. There is no such thing as a polite call in a restaurant.

If you have to take a semi-trained child out with you, go places where it's OK and even expected that patrons, young and old, will scream and kick and drool and pick their nose and spit and shit their pants and run around knocking things over. I suggest McDonald's.

In all cases -- movies, restaurants, concerts, etc. -- if you cannot avoid being annoying, take it outside. If you believe that you are just too important to turn your phone off for a few minutes, set it to vibrate, look at the number of the caller, quietly go out in the lobby, and then call back. If you have to give your kids a talking to, immediately (not after 10 minutes of parent-child pleading and arguing) take them outside and don't bring them back unless you can get them to behave decently.
posted by pracowity at 2:59 AM on May 19, 2006


Do not complain about other people's bad manners. If you are with company, it makes it seem like you aren't enjoying yourself. Always make your company feel like you enjoy whatever you are doing, because you really should be.
posted by Loto at 3:07 AM on May 19, 2006


Use your turn signal, even - no, especially if it means you've got to put the damned phone down.

If the person pushing their shopping cart ahead of you is going slower than you'd like, adjust. If you actually bump them with your cart because you're in a hurry, your automobile will immediately be hit by a runaway cart. You won't know it until you leave the store (if then).

Don't leave your shopping cart in the middle of the aisle while you peruse the shelves. If the store has wide aisles, that's not a reason for you and your friend to park your carts side-by side while you converse. Leave room for other people to get by.

On the entering the taxi first bit - I believe this is wrong. You open the door and let her in, then close the door and go around to the other side and get in. But not when hitchhiking.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:08 AM on May 19, 2006


A gentleman is someone who knows how to play the accordion, but chooses not to.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:44 AM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


When placing a phone call, identify yourself first; ask for the person to whom you'd like to speak second.
posted by klarck at 4:05 AM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Something I saw in action last night:

If you spill someone's beer, apologise and immediately offer him another one.
posted by ruelle at 4:06 AM on May 19, 2006


I cannot stress how important the proper positioning of flatware is. Knife right hand, fork left hand, etc. It can make you seem really uneducated and offensive in many places (I've noticed the the great majority of Americans, even very wealthy and educated) do not hold flatware properly.
posted by BigBrownBear at 4:30 AM on May 19, 2006


I'm going to move this back into the realm of holding doors open. Regardless of your gender or age, always thank the person who has held a door for you. If you are a man who is physically able to gently take hold of the door to allow the lady (or gentleman if that person has held the door for [I'd say] threee or more people he obviously doesn't know) to pass through ahead of you, please do so, after you have thanked her/him. Than allow the people behind you through. Do not ever expect to be thanked, assisted in your door holding capacity.
posted by bilabial at 4:35 AM on May 19, 2006


I cannot stress how important the proper positioning of flatware is. Knife right hand, fork left hand, etc. It can make you seem really uneducated and offensive in many places (I've noticed the the great majority of Americans, even very wealthy and educated) do not hold flatware properly.

I'm one of those Americans who holds the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left hand, and I recognize that I'm in the minority. It's a cultural thing in the US, and just one of those quirks. The etiquette piece that does need to be remembered is that you can't switch during the course of the meal (i.e., start out knife/right fork/left and switch half way through to knife/left fork/right for the rest of the meal). So long as you pick one and stay with it through the meal, you're good to go.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:50 AM on May 19, 2006


My favorite but obscure bit of etiquette.

Men follow women going up stairs...but
Men go first going down stairs

In case she (or he) falls.

And yes, the cellphone has caused a huge erosion of manners.
posted by filmgeek at 4:51 AM on May 19, 2006


Yeah, I eat with my knife in my left hand and fork in the right (am not American though). I don't swap them back and forth, however. And I know some lefties that do the same.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:55 AM on May 19, 2006


It is referred to above, but I would like to restate it slightly:

- Don't hold doors open for women (thats sexist)

- Do hold doors open for everyone (thats polite and helpful)
posted by pettins at 5:13 AM on May 19, 2006


When a man and a woman walk into a public place, the man actually goes first in. No "I insist, after you" there.

Men follow women going up stairs


I'm not sure it's polite to walk behind a woman on a staircase. I notice it tends to make women uncomfortable to have their behinds on eye level with a strange man. They go first down the stairs, though.
posted by NekulturnY at 5:29 AM on May 19, 2006


You don't start eating until everyone in the party has their food.

That is in fact exactly the opposite of what I was taught in a class on etiquette in college. Specifically, when hot food is being served it is not necessary to wait until all are served before eating. Whether or not this is true I don't know, but I am fairly sure that if the person without food encourages everyone to eat it is not polite to insist on continuing to wait.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:03 AM on May 19, 2006


Chewing with your mouth open: yes its gross to watch so don't do it around other people, but food actually tastes better if you aerate it while chewing, much like wine tasters slurp air through their wine.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:03 AM on May 19, 2006


take your hat off indoors

You live in a place where enough people wear hats that this is a problem? Can I move there?

Knife right hand, fork left hand, etc. It can make you seem really uneducated and offensive in many places (I've noticed the the great majority of Americans, even very wealthy and educated) do not hold flatware properly.

That's ignorant and insulting. The rules of polite dining are different in different places. In case it had escaped your attention, the rules of politeness are largely (except for things like not farting in public) arbitrary. So, another example of best manners that some people are not aware of: don't take your own preconceptions as universal rules and insult anyone who does things differently.
posted by languagehat at 6:11 AM on May 19, 2006


Always arrive a few minutes early, but don't expect the other person to be there/ready.

Don't talk about things you have bought for yourself.

Always return a borrowed item in the state you received it or better.

Don't bogart that joint.

Don't piss on the toilet seat.

And if you are in India, it is impolite not to talk about your bowel movements, colour, consistency and regularity.
posted by asok at 6:12 AM on May 19, 2006


Say 'Thanks' or 'Thank You' after someone ask you how you are doing.

Apologize or say excuse me if you accidentally break someone's stride in a super-market, bookstore, etc.

Answer the phone with a 'Good Afternoon, this is Jason' as opposed to just 'Hello' or 'Go!'.

If you have a sh*tload of groceries and the person behind you has a few items, let them go first.

Have awareness of people around you. There is nothing more inconsiderate than when people are out in public and are hogging the sidewalk, aisle, shelf, etc. Adjust your position to let people by or to make it easier for them to do what they have to do. If your reading a magazine at the rack, move the hell out of the way when I look interested in something your standing right in front of.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:15 AM on May 19, 2006


When a man and woman are ushered to a table in a restaurant that consists of one seat on a banquet against the wall and a chair on the outside, the woman gets the banquet.

The knife and fork thing is, I believe, a US vs UK thing. As long as you aren't waving them around or putting food in your mouth with your knife, I think it's all good. Though if you're a Yank and get invited to dinner at Buckingham Palace, read up on the correct British way to eat.

My manners dilemmas are these:
when opening a door on a long straight corridor and there is someone behind you but not directly behind you, is it more polite to go through and let it close, or to hold the door open for them (which makes them have to trot faster so you aren't standing there forever.)
The other problem I have is I never know how to greet people. Some people expect a hug and some a kiss on the cheek and I *invariably* get it wrong, ending up sloppily kissing their neck while they are hugging me or getting too physical when they just wanted a peck. Are there are clues I'm missing?
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:22 AM on May 19, 2006


When riding an escalator, keep to the right side so that people can pass you on the left.

That's ignorant and insulting. The rules of polite dining are different in different places. In case it had escaped your attention, the rules of politeness are largely (except for things like not farting in public) arbitrary. So, another example of best manners that some people are not aware of: don't take your own preconceptions as universal rules and insult anyone who does things differently.

Bah humbug! Just because being impolite has become accepted, it doesn't mean it's polite. Cutting up your food and eating it with a fork in your dominant hand is something no able bodied person over the age of 13 should be doing. I agree with your general idea, but this is a very poor example.
posted by jedrek at 6:26 AM on May 19, 2006


- Say yes/no sir and ma'am to persons of authority and elders. I'll conceded that this may be old fashioned but it's still fairly common in the south.
- Saying "Yes, please" and "Thank you" while maintaing eye contact goes a long way.
- Be helpful & courteous when it's obvious that someone is struggling with something like carrying bags.
- When in engaged in conversation with people you don't know and are not familiar with, for the love of all that is good and holy, do not be the first to curse. Only curse when it's obvious that cursing is okay.
posted by SoulOnIce at 6:28 AM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


It's almost impossible to say "thank you" too much.

Genuinely smiling when you greet people often makes them feel good.

Bringing small gifts for the host/hostess or their children, especially if you are visiting for more than just a dinner party.

Handwritten attractive mailed thank you notes for parties, hospitality, help during a tough time.

Being mindful of those around you, as jasondigitized says. When you are in public, be aware that you are sharing space with other people and try to make yourself as un-in-their-way as you can. I assume that everyone around me at the supermarket is having a slightly bad day and try to stay out of their way accordingly.

Keeping track of birthdays and names and names of family members of people you know socially. "Hi Mary, is Chip graduating this year? Great."

Never talking about manners in the context of people who have forgotten theirs.
posted by jessamyn at 6:31 AM on May 19, 2006


5MeoCMP: The difference between American and European utensil-handling is actually the result of history: the fork was a recent invention at the time that America was colonized, and habits surrounding it were not settled (people often ate with two knives, using one to cut and the other to spear and convey the food), so habits developed along divergent tracks.

Google Answers gives a good explanation. I read about it in The Evolution of Useful Things, which has lots to say about tableware.
posted by adamrice at 6:37 AM on May 19, 2006


And keep you damn elbows off the dinner table!
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:41 AM on May 19, 2006


I am fairly sure that if the person without food encourages everyone to eat it is not polite to insist on continuing to wait.
posted by ch1x0r 22 minutes ago

Heh, funnily enough I deleted a sentence from my post where I said I always politely waive this piece of etiquette ('Please, don't wait on my account...'). But most of the time, the simple gesture of politeness is what counts.

Which is why I have issues about arguing manners. The whole 'no, I insist' debate gets old really quickly and is skirting on the edges of being cocky instead of polite. Politicians do this all the time. There's an intricate dance that heads of states go through when they meet; everything is loaded with meaning. Who goes through the doorway first, who initiates a hand shake etc. It becomes not a question of politeness, but who's in charge and who wields the higher status in this social circumstance.

This is why if anyone says 'that's ok' or whatever, I don't push to get my way. To restate what I said earlier: the simple gesture of politeness is enough if it is meant honestly. There's no need to force it down someone's throat. And it's supposed to be an unconsious response, not a deliberate attempt to impress. For this I thank my mother for beating some sense into me as a child...
posted by slimepuppy at 6:41 AM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Don't go so far out of your way to walk in front of, behind, on the left, or on the right of a woman that you're constantly zooming around her. Christ. It's the spirit of the law, not the letter, that matters most.

Don't talk so loudly while walking down the street that you can be heard for blocks.

Jedrek, c'mon, it's not impolite to hold a fork in your dominant hand.

CunningLinguist, the MOST polite thing would be to adjust your gait slightly so that holding the door doesn't require them to hurry up.
posted by desuetude at 6:44 AM on May 19, 2006


Also, if you ever end up in Finland, I would be careful about the eye-contact thing. It might get you stabbed, or worse, married. We don't do extended direct eye contact too well.

Same goes for using people's names in conversation. Jessamyn's example would make people in Finland think you've been watching too much American soap opera.

Again, cultural differences can be quite immense in places. Take everything here with a grain of salt.
posted by slimepuppy at 6:52 AM on May 19, 2006


When a situation arises in which you must apologize, please remember that sincere apologies are short and direct, and that those who say "I'm sorry if you were offended" succumb invariably to horrible, gruesome, Cronenbergian deaths.

Also, on the fork thing: the amusing (and no doubt apocryphal) story I've heard about the difference is that, during the Revolutionary War, the Continentals adopted the "switch" as a shibboleth to distinguish themselves from the Loyalists.

That story is, no doubt, a bald-faced lie, but it's an amusing one nonetheless.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:53 AM on May 19, 2006


Pubiquette: one should endeavour to offer to buy the first round. Or generally just offer to buy a beverage if you're on your way to the bar. Easiest way to communicate this is simply 'Drink?' Anything else is excessive. Not high culture, but etiquette nonetheless.

Languagehat, when you've seen enough chavs/Americans sitting indoors wearing baseball caps and chowing on their food, you'll appreciate that 'wearing hats' doesn't quite have the charm that it used to.
posted by slimepuppy at 6:58 AM on May 19, 2006


Oh, also, looking over the fork stuff and the bits about Finland: try always to follow the manners of the culture you're in at the moment, whether as a citizen or as a visitor.

I knew someone, an American, who lived in the Gambia for two years. She came back with the local custom of never saying "thank you" to friends or family - the idea being that you should never do things for friends and family that you wouldn't ordinarily do, therefore no thanks necessary.

All well and good for when you're in the Gambia, a country of aged and noble cultures whose manners are to be respected, but back in New York that garners a cockpunch.

Jus' sayin'. Manners are relative, so respect your relations.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:59 AM on May 19, 2006


the simple gesture of politeness is enough if it is meant honestly. There's no need to force it down someone's throat

Emily Post was once asked about the purpose of etiquette, and she endorsed your point, desuetude. In her view, etiquette should be used not to establish status or to exclude the supposed inferior, but to make as many people as possible feel comfortable. In other words, to be gracious. This means pointedly not noticing the bad manners of others even when your own are splendid. The goal is a smooth and pleasant social interaction for all. When that is forgotten amid cutlery diagrams and elaborate points of protocol, the graciousness disappears.

Other courtly behaviors:

My father always unlocks and opens the car door for my mother so she can get into the passenger side before he gets into the driver's side. I love seeing this, but I've never had it happen to me.

When walking down a hallway or aisle in a formal situation (wedding, benefit dinner) and in formal dress, the man should offer his arm to the woman.
posted by Miko at 7:01 AM on May 19, 2006


Specifically, when hot food is being served it is not necessary to wait until all are served before eating.

Modern-day America more or less has two standards: proper etiquette and etiquette of convenience. This is the latter. The rule at dinner is to wait until all have been served, but at family or informal meals, so many times have people been told "oh go ahead and eat, your food will get cold" that the practice has evolved into so-called etiquette. If you want to be proper about it, wait the extra minute.

This reminds me of wedding gifts and the "I have up to a year from the wedding date to send a gift" concept. "I have a year" is essentially doublespeak for "I forgot to take care of this in a timely manner." Some people call it etiquette....
posted by werty at 7:19 AM on May 19, 2006


If you pee on a public toilet seat, wipe it up before exiting the stall.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:23 AM on May 19, 2006


Never, EVER use the word "orientate" because it's not a word. People that recognize that will think that you're a buffoon.
The correct work is orient.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:58 AM on May 19, 2006


The American custom is to perform the little dance with the fork between left and right hands (left while using the knife, right while stuffing one's jowls) but many people follow the European custom of leaving the fork in the left hand. Either way seems to be acceptable these days, even among the most excruciatingly correct people. What really looks bad is holding the knife and fork like a three year old, in the palm with the fingers wrapped tightly around it, like a baseball bat grip. I digress. This rule does not really answer the question as rather than being arcane it should be known to those with even the most casual of graces.

When walking with a lady, the gentleman always positions himself between her and the traffic on the street.
posted by caddis at 8:04 AM on May 19, 2006


A typical day in my life: I leave my apartment and take the elevator down to the lobby. The person in the elevator with me is making a smacking sound. Please, buddy. I don't want to start the day hearing or seeing your gum. When did people morph into cows? Now I'm on the street, walking to the subway. HONK! HONK! HONK! I nearly jump out of my skin. Is the fact that you're waiting for your friend an EMERGENCY, because that's what a car horn is for: E-mer-gen-cies. If you want your friend to know you're there, don't be a lazy fuck. Get out of your car and buzz him.

As I'm waiting for the train, I'm treated to the sight of at least three guys -- never women -- spitting onto the rails. I think I'm going to get into the spittoon business. I'll make millions. No I won't. If I put down a hundred spittoons, these geniuses will just spit on the floor next to them.

As I try to get on a train, the person ahead of me pauses in the door. Okay, these doors stay open for a FINITE amount of time. And no one is going to jump you. You don't need to check out the environment before venturing in. GET IN. There are PEOPLE behind you. Finally, the joker gets in, finds a space and stands there. He's found the space HE wants, so he's happy. He COULD move further in, making room for the rest of us, but that would take extra effort. So everyone entering after him has to squeeze past him. This is hard, because he's positioned himself in the middle of the aisle. I say, "Excuse me please," trying to get by. He doesn't acknowledge me. I clear my throat and try again: "EXCUSE ME, PLEASE." Very grudgingly, he moves about an eighth of an inch. Listen Mac, it's not about making some sort of gesture. It's about MOVING aside so that I can actually get by!

I finally squeeze by, having to get much more intimate with his body than I'd like (is brushing-your-teeth and useing deoderant a lost art?), because he's determined to move the bare minimum. What is this? Some sort of macho thing? If you give in too much, you're less of a man than I am? Fine, you're the big man. You have a bigger dick than I do. Happy? Now get OUT OF THE WAY!

The train is really full, mostly because of all the guys who sit with their legs spread as so wide it's like they're trying to do the splits. Thanks for the crotch-view! That's exactly what I wanted to see. Wish I had some hot coffee to spill. Since there's no place to sit (there would be if the lady in front of me would move her bag onto her lap -- I'd ask her, but I don't feel like hearing that big sigh, like I'm putting her out), I stand and try to grab a pole so that I don't fall. But some guy is leaning against it. So the pole is your personal throne, King Arthur? I try to reach really high and grab the pole above his head. The train lurches before I can do so, and I stumble.

Which causes me to step on a woman's foot. "I'm so sorry," I say. "Are you okay?" She just glares at me. Okay, I WAS sorry. Now I wish I had stepped on BOTH your feet -- and your head.

I finally manage to grab the pole. As the train is pulling into the next station, a guy gets up and starts getting antsy that I'm in his way and he can't get to the door as fast as he'd like. "I'm getting off at the next stop," he says. I say, "Sorry. I don't want to fall. As soon as we stop, I'll let go so and move so you can get by." "Whatever," he says, and give me a look like, "So the witty baby is afwaid he might fall if he lets go two seconds before the big bad twain comes to a compwete stop?" Yes, Mergatroid, that's EXACTLY what the wittle baby is afraid of, so hold your fucking horses.

The good news is that once the guy leaves, I get his seat. I assume my normal beta-dog pose, trying to make myself as small as possible so as not to disturb my seat-mates. This includes getting out a book and reading it quietly. The woman next to me is also reading, but her elbows are splayed out, like chicken wings. Every time she turns a page, they poke into my ribs. I wonder how big a scissors I'd need to cut through bone. The woman on my other side is doing her version of not-bothering-anybody, which for some reason involves humming quietly to herself. But I can STILL HEAR YOU. Quiet noise is still noise. No free pass for quiet humming. Here are the things you can do: think, read, listen to an iPod, play a video game WITH THE SOUND OFF. Not humming.

I have to admit, though, she's not as bad as the guy two seats down who has stuck his iPod headphones in my ears. Okay, they're actually in HIS hears, but they might as well be in my ears. Turn it up, space cadet. They can't hear it in Sydney. Then there's the heavy-metal dude across from me who insists on drumming on his backpack. When I'm dictator of the world, there will be NO public percussion. And it won't be three-strikes-and-you're-out. It will be one strike and you're flung into a prison camp.

As if it's not loud enough in here, a kid comes on and starts screaming an announcement, trying to sell us candy. Then an evangelist starts telling us we're all going to hell. Is there anything ruder than playing to a captive audience? I think there's a special place in hell for this evangelist, where he'll be strapped to a chair and forced to listen to the candy kid shouting in his ear for all eternity. And he'll never get to actually eat any candy.

I finally get off the fun train, and as I'm exiting the station, a fast-moving guy bumps into me -- hard. And then just keeps going. Oh, great. A hit-and-run walker. Hey, bozo, it doesn't matter if you're late for work. It doesn't matter that we're all city people and we're all in a hurry. You need a do-over in which you stop, apologize, and make sure I'm okay.

I have to use an escalator to leave the station. All I want -- with all my body and soul -- is to be out of there. My plan is to walk up the escalator, but I can't, because 10% of the people don't know -- or choose not to follow -- the simple rule of standing on the right. But you guys are special, right? Rules weren't meant for advanced humans like you.

As I finally get out into the air, a guy pushes a flyer right into my face. TAKE TWO STEPS BACK AND GET THAT PAPER OUT OF MY FACE! I wouldn't go to your pizza joint if you paid me. I might have considered it if you'd chosen to use a less invasive form of advertising. Then, on my way to work, I have to step into the street (and get honked at) to maneuver around the gaggle of young women who have decided to make a busy sidewalk their meeting place. Where can I buy a giant bowling ball?

Someone taps me on the shoulder and says, "How do you get to 33rd Street?" I'm sorry. Could you try that again? This time, do the version where you acknowledge that you're intruding on my time by saying, 'Excuse me, could you give me some directions?' "It's that way," I say.

I stop in a deli to buy my coffee. There's a big line in front of me. Soon, there's a big line behind me, too. Every so often, someone bypasses the line, crosses right to the front, grabs some candy or a newspaper and thrusts a couple of bucks at the cashier. Good for you, Muchacho. It's nice to know normal rules don't apply to you. Then some lady spends ten minutes digging through her bad to find her purse, so that she can give the cashier change. You couldn't have gotten your purse out while you were waiting in line, Einstein? The big-headed , portly executive behind me is booming into his cellphone, "TELL JACKSON TO DROP THE VERIZON ACCOUNT AND FOCUS ON CITICORP. THEN CALL BILL AND ASK HIM TO SEE ME AT 11." I wonder how far I could throw a cell phone?

Finally, I get to work. I'm in a SPLENDID mood. I can't wait until the work day is over and I can start the commute all over again.
posted by grumblebee at 8:04 AM on May 19, 2006 [10 favorites]


Don't eat while talking on the phone.
posted by JanetLand at 8:06 AM on May 19, 2006


Don't stare.

Tip well.

When getting the attention of a stranger, say "Excuse me". It irks me when I see someone just start talking to someone who isn't paying attention to them.

Acknowledge the politeness of others, with a smile or "thank you".

Let people come in before you go out.
posted by mkultra at 8:13 AM on May 19, 2006


Hold the door open for people close behind you when you can safely do so. I'm a female and I do it quite often - regardless of the gender or age of those behind me.

I know we're an egalitarian society these days, but please don't do this.
It causes fits for men like myself who were raised never to proceed through a door before a lady.


Huh. I took that to mean that you held the door open behind you after going through yourself. I do this very often and often have it done for me.

This reminds me of wedding gifts and the "I have up to a year from the wedding date to send a gift" concept.

My sister-in-law was telling us about a ten-years married(!) woman she knows who goes on about how she "still hasn't sent her thank you notes for wedding gifts" as though she'll be doing them any day now. Don't go on about how bad you feel for not doing something you were supposed to do. You're advertising your own rudeness and everyone's going to think you're a tool. Either make amends or keep quiet about it.
posted by orange swan at 8:14 AM on May 19, 2006


Let people come in before you go out.

No, the smaller area empties first. Thus, people on eleators and buses should be allowed off before anyone gets on.
posted by orange swan at 8:16 AM on May 19, 2006


Elevators too.
posted by orange swan at 8:17 AM on May 19, 2006


When riding an escalator in a London tube (Underground) station, if you decide not to walk and simply ride it to the top or the bottom, then stand on the right so that others can pass on the left.

In a public place, adjust the volume of your iPod or PMP so that no one else can hear a tinny vibration through your headphones.

In Southern African custom, always pass something to someone using your right hand.

At the altar, a man stands to the right of his prospective bride just in case he has to draw his sword to protect the wedding party.

Try to avoid afternoon breath by chewing some gum or having a mint after lunch.

OK, that last one is just for me.
posted by rootz at 8:22 AM on May 19, 2006


Reminds me of a rime I once heard:

"If you sprinkle
when you tinkle,
be a sweetie
wipe the seatie."

And for the love of God, flush the toilet. I simply do not understand how a person can walk out of a public bathroom without flushing the toilet.

Also, when waving to people in traffic, use your whole hand, not just one finger.
posted by Jonasio at 8:28 AM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Bah humbug! Just because being impolite has become accepted, it doesn't mean it's polite. Cutting up your food and eating it with a fork in your dominant hand is something no able bodied person over the age of 13 should be doing.

Ah, I see, I hadn't realized you were the arbiter of politeness the world over. From now on I'll contact you before doing anything, just to be on the safe side.

Languagehat, when you've seen enough chavs/Americans sitting indoors wearing baseball caps and chowing on their food, you'll appreciate that 'wearing hats' doesn't quite have the charm that it used to.

Sorry, I wasn't even thinking about baseball caps. Yes, that is annoying. (To me a hat is a hat and a cap is a cap, but I realize that's being picky.)

Manners are relative

Quote of the day! Here, let me say it again: Manners are relative.

Never, EVER use the word "orientate" because it's not a word.


That has nothing to do with politeness, but since you bring it up, you're completely wrong. It's in every dictionary, the OED has citations going back to 1848, and the Merriam-Webster Concise Dictionary of English Usage says: "The criticism boils down to this: orientate is three letters and one syllable longer than orient. That would seem to be a rather trivial concern, but the word seems to draw criticism for no better reason than that." Who looks like a buffoon now?
posted by languagehat at 8:39 AM on May 19, 2006


slimepuppy : My understanding was that the DOMINANT hand holds the knife, so if you're a lefty, you would hold your knife in your left.
posted by eurasian at 8:43 AM on May 19, 2006


Eurasian, that's just it, I'm not a lefty. I just always felt more natural eating this way around. If I were to try to change now I would end up stabbing myself in the face and that's not polite in any company.
posted by slimepuppy at 8:56 AM on May 19, 2006


My father always unlocks and opens the car door for my mother so she can get into the passenger side before he gets into the driver's side. I love seeing this, but I've never had it happen to me.

I do this, but then I like it when she reaches over and unlocks my door, too.
posted by jon_kill at 9:41 AM on May 19, 2006


The polite man refrains from calling buffoons "buffoons."
posted by grumblebee at 9:43 AM on May 19, 2006


Of course this is all culture-specific, but I wish we could learn from each other. For example, it would be such a better world if Americans would adapt the Japanese horror at blowing one's nose in public. On the other hand, can we get the Asians to stop slurping their soup?

I'd also implore y'all to knock it off with the noisy food in the cinema, especially the popcorn, but I realize that battle's hopeless. Also, everywhere, the gum-cracking (shudder). Why do they do that?

Jenga, what an odd custom. And thanks for the Iranian details, Devils Slide -- very enlightening.
posted by Rash at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2006


I find the mini-debate about the fork/knife in the left/right hand being a cultural difference interesting because I grew up using chopsticks at just about EVERY meal as a child and have no memory of how I learned to use a fork and knife "properly". That being the case, I'm a rightie who holds her fork in her left hand and cuts with her right, and in these hands the utensils stay. Does this have anything to do with me growing up in Canada and therefore under the "British" influence?

Grumblebee, your rant was fantastic! Thanks! :)
posted by phoenixc at 10:04 AM on May 19, 2006


I'm glad to see no one had an issue with the comment upthread about call waiting. I can deal with drivers who don't use turn signals (even the cops here forget to use them, too) I don't care which hand you use to hold your fork (as long as you don't take your fork and stab something on my plate) but people who put me on hold to take another call that beeped in need to be shot at—not necessarily shot and hit, but shot at. Somehow made uncomfortable and possibly unsafe by the presences of gunfire.

I think the general rule everyone should follow is that if you're not prepared to take a call and talk to whomever is on the other end, do not take the call. This goes for calls that come in when you're already on the phone with someone else, when you're in the bathroom, when you're on the way out the door, when you just sat down to dinner, etc. If the very next thing you're going to say after you answer the call is, "Can I call you back?" you've wasted everyone's time.
posted by emelenjr at 10:28 AM on May 19, 2006


Which direction do you move your spoon through your soup - toward or away from you?

To be excruciatingly correct, you spoon your soup away from you. Just in case anyone was wondering. I know absolutely no person who actually does this.
posted by mckenney at 10:50 AM on May 19, 2006


I'm pretty sure "commentate" is not a word either.

I don't care what hand you choose to use to cut your food or deliver it to your mouth. What does bug me is placing it in your mouth with an upside-down fork.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 10:53 AM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


I was going to post a long boring critique of phone habits I wish I could wipe off the face of the earth, but go find any receptionist or secretary they will agree with me that when people are on the phone, they are disgusting, rude pigs. Most people assume I am exaggerating my phone horror stories.

Oh, that I could be...

Long story short: there should be a mandatory class on how to be civilized on the phone for the general public.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 11:07 AM on May 19, 2006


To be excruciatingly correct, you spoon your soup away from you. Just in case anyone was wondering. I know absolutely no person who actually does this.

Now you do.
(I know, I've been programmed.)
posted by caddis at 11:11 AM on May 19, 2006


I've read recently in a children's book on manners that when someone asks for salt at a dining table, it's good manners to pass the sale & pepper together (which I didn't know). Also, when you're leaving your seat at the table, put your napkin on the chair, not the table...
posted by Lillitatiana at 11:32 AM on May 19, 2006


salt, I mean.
posted by Lillitatiana at 11:32 AM on May 19, 2006


It is proper to eat asparagus with the fingers and not the fork.
posted by spakto at 12:13 PM on May 19, 2006


To be excruciatingly correct, you spoon your soup away from you.

That seems like the fast track to spilling the soup all of the table... guess I'm destined to be a barbarian.
posted by dagnyscott at 12:17 PM on May 19, 2006


werty, people DO have a year to get a wedding gift for someone, at least, according to Miss Manners... "Any time from the announcement of the engagement until the end of the first year of marriage is considered appropriate for sending a wedding present." Wedding gifts are properly mailed to the happy couple (either the bride's family home or the couple's residence), rather than brought to the wedding reception, and in past times, may have been coming from far away. It is quite an old rule.

But this rule is often confused by the bride and groom to mean that they have a year to send the thank you note, which they don't. Thank you notes should be written and mailed ASAP, as the couple can (should) barely contain their delight at such a wonderful gift.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 12:39 PM on May 19, 2006


I do this, but then I like it when she reaches over and unlocks my door, too.

I saw a movie once where there was a comment about how if you go on a date with a woman and she reaches over and unlocks the door for you then she likes you. Ever since I saw that movie I've always unlocked the driver-side door when I'm riding in the front seat and people generally appreciate the gesture (unless, of course, they have power locks). However, I can't for the life of me remember the movie that had a significant enough effect on me to cause a change in my behaviour. Does anyone have any ideas?
posted by kechi at 12:42 PM on May 19, 2006


I'm pretty sure "commentate" is not a word either.

Bzzt, you lose. It's attested even earlier than orientate, from 1794. (From Todd's 1818 dictionary: Commentate, to annotate, to write notes upon.) Where do people get the idea that because they don't happen to like a word, it doesn't exist?
posted by languagehat at 12:44 PM on May 19, 2006


Another good one: Take steps to keep your toddlers, children, and pets off of your guests. Don't make your guest (even a family member) ask you to remove toddler or puppy from his/her leg. If the guest wants to let said muppet stay hanging off his or her neck, the guest can say so.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 1:00 PM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it has already been mentioned but, wait for people to get off the elevator before you try to board.

90% of people seem to understand this.
posted by 517 at 1:19 PM on May 19, 2006


kechi, the movie was probably A Bronx Tale. The whole business of unlocking the door was a minor plot device.

No, the smaller area empties first.
In a public restroom larger than one stall, incoming traffic always has the right of way (for obvious, urgent, obviously urgent, or urgently obvious reasons).
posted by forrest at 1:29 PM on May 19, 2006


Thank you notes should not start out: "Thank you for the..." They should be like chatty letters, and include the sorts of things that belong in letters: news the recipient would be interested in, hopes to see the person in the future, etc.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 1:43 PM on May 19, 2006


people DO have a year to get a wedding gift for someone, at least, according to Miss Manners...

I'll see your Miss Manners and raise you one Emily Post: "Preferably, send the gift to the bride before the wedding or to the couple soon thereafter. In some regions gifts are brought to the reception and placed on a special table. Contrary to a current rumor that you have a year to send a gift, it really should be sent right away or within three months of the wedding. " Emily Post gives the newlyweds three months max to send thank-you notes, too.

I'll also politely repeat (although that's probably an oxymoron) my impression of American etiquette: there's what's proper, and there's what's convenient. Miss Manners opts for the relaxed American version.
posted by werty at 1:51 PM on May 19, 2006


Jedrek, I am left handed and have always thought my eating with knife in right hand, fork in left, was "polite" When I receive compliments on my eating (less now as an adult, much more when I was a child), it is usually to ask if I am European, not to ask if I might be left handed. Are you now suggesting that I hold my knife in left hand and fork in right? Because I've never heard this business about non dominant hand belonging with the fork.
posted by bilabial at 2:10 PM on May 19, 2006


I'll see your Miss Manners and raise you one Emily Post: "Preferably, send the gift to the bride before the wedding or to the couple soon thereafter. In some regions gifts are brought to the reception and placed on a special table. Contrary to a current rumor that you have a year to send a gift, it really should be sent right away or within three months of the wedding. " Emily Post gives the newlyweds three months max to send thank-you notes, too.

Well, as I have shown, there's no reason to dismiss it as a "rumor."

I'll also politely repeat (although that's probably an oxymoron) my impression of American etiquette: there's what's proper, and there's what's convenient. Miss Manners opts for the relaxed American version.

Miss Manners is less "relaxed" than Emily Post on thank you notes. She gives the couple a grace period for their honeymoon, but that's it.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 2:35 PM on May 19, 2006


I don't know much about the Emily Post Institute, except that Emily Post is dead, and her great-granddaughter-in-law Peggy runs it and is the spokesperson for it, as well as revising Emily Post's book, and writing her own articles and books about manners. I am curious enough about what Emily Post said about this issue to go to my library tomorrow and look it up. I'll report back my findings.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 3:09 PM on May 19, 2006


It is polite to pretend you care, one way or the other, when people get into silly arguments about etiquette.

If you must laugh at them do it behind your hand.
posted by Megafly at 3:21 PM on May 19, 2006


I'm in agreement about manners being less about legalisms and more about sincere interest in others' comfort. To that end:

When you are a host, make sure to spend extra time with your guest who knows the fewest number of people. Do whatever seems best for that person's comfort -- if they are genuinely shy, don't draw lots of attention to them, but have a natural conversation; or, if extroverted, introduce him or her widely. When you are a guest, look for ways to help the host do this by mingling with as many people as possible, not just those you know.

Whenever possible, take the opportunity to deliver a sincere compliment. It might be the only kind thing that person hears that day.

Kids don't just learn to be polite from their parents. When you greet someone who is with a child, greet the child too. When children are among your guests, do the things you'd do for an adult -- see if they need something to drink and eat, find interesting things for them to do, talk to them, and not in a cloying or clownish way, but respectfully, and chances are they will return that respect.

When someone does something helpful for you, say a simple thanks, whether it's that person's job or not to do it. This is especially true of people doing more traditionally thankless jobs, like emptying your trash or waiting on your table. True manners are applied universally. Few things more repellant than the person who is impeccably mannered with superiors and disdainful to everyone else.
posted by melissa may at 3:22 PM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Ahem. Few things are (more repellant than someone who doesn't take the time to edit her writing for clarity).
posted by melissa may at 3:25 PM on May 19, 2006


Thanks to Project Gutenberg, I downloaded the 2004 revised by Peggy Post version of Emily Post's Etiquette.

Delayed Presents

If because of illness or absence, a present is not sent until after the wedding, a short note should accompany it, giving the reason for the delay.


Wow. Duelling etiquette mavens? I still want to find an older version of Emily Post's Etiquette.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 3:27 PM on May 19, 2006


Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Especially important to everyone riding public transit with you.

The Continental and American style of utensil skillz are documented here. As pointed out upthread, neither one is more correct, they are just different.

To be excruciatingly correct, you spoon your soup away from you.

That seems like the fast track to spilling the soup all of the table... guess I'm destined to be a barbarian.


dagnyscott, the maneuver is designed to prevent one from slopping soup into one's lap. However it seems very unintuitive, and definitely more awkward to do so.

I don't care what hand you choose to use to cut your food or deliver it to your mouth. What does bug me is placing it in your mouth with an upside-down fork.

mbd1mbd1: if you use the Continental style of cutlery-weilding, your fork will invariably wind up upside-down in your mouth. The alternative would require holding your fork like a pen while you slice your Salisbury Steak. It looks pretty dorky.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:36 PM on May 19, 2006


In many countries, one always takes off one's shoes when entering another person's house.

In Korea, one should offer and receive objects (especially gifts) with both hands. Should it be hard to reach the other person, one should touch the arm of the reaching hand with the non-reaching hand.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 6:36 PM on May 19, 2006


Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Especially important to everyone riding public transit with you.

BUT NOT WITH YOUR HAND. I know they told you to, but think about it: you get germs on your hand and then touch stuff I have to touch. Ick. Use the crook of your elbow or your shoulder. Please.

Also, regarding call waiting: it can be more polite to tell someone you'll call them back. That way, they know you know.
posted by dame at 7:47 PM on May 19, 2006


Dame: If you must do that, then please DO call them back.

Busy Old Fool: Please do so at my (American) house as well... I was raised to always remove my shoes when I go in someone else's house - you don't want to get dirt on their carpeting!
posted by IndigoRain at 11:08 PM on May 19, 2006


Don't double dip.
posted by Devils Slide at 11:52 PM on May 19, 2006


dame: In a world with Call Waiting that's frequently tied to Caller ID (especially on a cell phone, if the interrupting caller's number is already in your phone's directory) and voice mail (definitely on a cell phone), I disagree. If you are unable to concentrate on a phone call because you're otherwise occupied eating a meal, taking a shower, watching a movie in a movie theater, talking to someone else on another phone call or whatever, it makes little sense to take that call if all you're going to do when you pick up the phone is basically say, "I can't talk to you right now." As the caller, I'd rather not be set up to think that the person I'm calling is ready to talk to me.
posted by emelenjr at 1:49 AM on May 20, 2006


It is polite to pretend you care, one way or the other, when people get into silly arguments about etiquette.

If you must laugh at them do it behind your hand.


The most effective way to cover your titters is to include a "coughing fit" or sneeze. And none of this using your hand or elbow or whatever to cover your nose/mouth, you should always have a kleenex or hankie on your person for just such an occasion.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 4:53 AM on May 20, 2006


I love it when poeple leave public spaces clean for those using that space after them.

For instance, clearing the table at places like Starbucks when leaving it. If you're a person who gets the entire counter wet when washing your hands in the bathroom, please get one more paper towel to wipe up the water before leaving.

Oh and please push the chair in under the table after leaving it so the asile is clear for the elderly, women with baby carriages, people with luggage, etc.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:06 AM on May 20, 2006


When someone is pouring wine for you, delicately touch the base of the glass with two fingers while they pour. When switching to a different bottle of wine, pour a small swish of the new wine to be used for cleaning the glass.

In China, while someone pours your tea, place your first two fingers with the second and first joints folded under near the cup. Supposedly this originated when some emperor or other took to mingling anonymously among his subjects, and sometimes was expected to pour the tea for his companion guards. This gesture was how they responded and is supposed to discretely imitate a kneeling posture.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:35 AM on May 20, 2006


Rhyme from my grandmother:

"As ships go out to sea
I spoon my soup away from me"
posted by elizat at 10:42 AM on May 20, 2006


Don't haul yourself in or out of that aeroplane seat by grabbing the one in front.

The definition of a gentleman is one who uses a butter-knife when dining alone.
posted by johnny7 at 1:11 AM on May 21, 2006


To piggy-back on the question here, I've always wondered about the etiquette that comes into play when one covers one's mouth while eating. I see people do this all the time, but am not quite certain as to the reason for it. I find myself doing it periodically now, despite not having any real understanding of why or when it is appropriate. So, what's the story? Does it serve as a sort of preemptive excuse for speaking with one's mouth full (or partially full), or is it simply to further cover up the act of chewing, or ... well, what?
posted by Sinner at 10:54 AM on May 22, 2006


Ha, I stand buffinated! A couple more:
  • Don't answer/use the phone while in/on the toilet or in the shower, and if you do, don't tell the person on the other end where you are or what you're doing.
  • Slower traffic keep right, if anyone EVER passes you on the right (except in the UK), you're in the wrong lane, move over.

  • posted by blue_beetle at 12:31 PM on May 22, 2006


    The story stickycarpet tells is actually more interesting--the King had masqueraded himself as a commoner in the marketplace outside the palace walls and someone ended up in a situation where he poured tea for his minister--an uncalled for reversal of Confucian hierarchy. The clever minister, not sure how to reciprocate, used his fingers to bow, but--like many characters in classical chinese short narratives--the restaurant staff was omnisciently sensitive to subtle gestures. The moment they saw the minister's gesture, the king's cover was blown. The gesture is common only to certain parts of China (for example--Hong Kong but not Fujian or Taiwan) and resembles asking for a hit in blackjack.

    Someone should put up a post about Percival--the grail knight who refrained from asking "Uncle, what ails thee?" when confronted with the vision of a suffering man. The moral is that etiquette shouldn't trump compassion. After waiting around in the waste land for like a decade, the suffering man reappears, Percival asks, and the world is restored!
    posted by kensanway at 4:01 PM on May 24, 2006


    My new favorite manner is to wipe up around the sink in the work bathroom after drying my hands. I saw someone else doing it and realized I'd been making a watery mess without noticing.
    posted by salvia at 12:50 PM on May 28, 2006


    Oh no! I'm late to the party. How mortifying!

    You don't start eating until everyone in the party has their food.

    That is in fact exactly the opposite of what I was taught in a class on etiquette in college. Specifically, when hot food is being served it is not necessary to wait until all are served before eating. Whether or not this is true I don't know, but I am fairly sure that if the person without food encourages everyone to eat it is not polite to insist on continuing to wait.


    As someone who has recently begun hosting Big Holiday Family Dinners, this drives me nuts. Ideally: The hostess will wait until everyone has food, and then the guests will follow her cute to begin eating; namely, lifting her utensils. Not everyone in my new family has gotten this memo, and it causes quite the traffic jam as dishes are being passsed and then stopped for Mr. Eager, plus it makes the rest of the guests uncomfortable by being disrespectful to them. Your food will not get cold in the two extra minutes it takes to make sure that everyone has what they need.

    Additionally:
    - Salt and pepper are married, and travel together.
    - If there is a roll or piece of bread, butter only one bite at a time.
    posted by mimi at 3:35 PM on May 28, 2006


    In honor of and out of respect for all of those who have served in defense of our nation, when our National Anthem is played in a ballpark, at a parade, in a memorial service, or the like,

    1) take off your hat and place it over your heart
    2) if you're not wearing a hat, place your right hand over your heart
    3) be quiet, or
    4) if you know the words, sing (preferrably on tune)
    posted by winnjr at 11:27 PM on May 29, 2006


    Don't call on the telephone after 9pm (8:45, really), unless you know that that is acceptable in advance.
    posted by mimi at 10:36 AM on May 31, 2006


    For the love of g_d keep your feet on the floor in movie theaters, not propped up on the row in front of you. I despise this practice and if I knew an English-speaking part of the world where it didn't happen, I would consider moving there immediately.

    Unless you need to refer to material on your laptop for presentation or demonstration, when attending a meeting with your co-workers take notes in longhand on paper.
    posted by macinchik at 1:03 PM on May 31, 2006


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