I have heard a hue and cry about the decline of civility in America. A poll by the Pew Charitable Trusts revealed that 78% of my fellow citizens believe a "lack of respect and courtesy is a serious problem for our society." A friend of mine (Kish) suggested I write a Hub about Social Etiquette. While there will not be space here today to address Etiquette Questions concerning business, dining, weddings, ceremonies, communication, children, or relationships; we will investigate Etiquette and Manners regarding everyday activities.
Etiquette and Manners
Courtesy is contagious. Knowing proper manners gives one more confidence in various settings, helps establish a good reputation, pleases others, and improves relationships with people with whom you interact. Outward expressions of decency and goodwill holds society together. All that is required is a generous spirit.
You can learn a lot about any person by observing the way they treat others. A good person has a sense of personal character and honor; and does not demean others for their opinions and ideas. A courteous person treats those who serve him—restaurant wait staff, store clerks, receptionists—with respect. Be thoughtful: think about how you can raise the spirits of someone you encounter. Be kind: act to brighten the day of other people.
One of my favorite words is grace. It has a number of definitions. Besides meaning to be charming, refined, and generous; in its finest sense grace means to bless or favor someone who doesn't deserve it. A gracious person does not seek revenge; is not pleased at the misfortunes of those who may have mistreated her; goes out of her way to spare other people from embarrassment; forgives others without mentioning the offense. Grace is love in action.
Rules of Etiquette
Common courtesies include: truly listening to people when they speak; standing when an older person enters the room; seating the leader of your family or company at the head of the table. Address authority figures by their title and last name, e.g., Bishop Robinson; Senator Baker; Professor Vecchio; Captain Fuller; Director Raymond; Coach Misch; Judge Nemo. This demonstrates that you value the achievements of other people.
The Rules of Etiquette require that we acknowledge someone else's presence. Greet the people who serve you in any setting. Stand to meet someone new, or a person due special respect. If you are on a bus, train or subway, offer your seat to the elderly, the infirm, the frail, pregnant women, mothers with children, people carrying a heavy load. Do not put your things on a vacant seat when on public transportation. Be quiet and never use foul language. If you must use your cell phone, text messaging is much preferred to carrying on a conversation that your fellow citizens will be forced to hear.
If you are having a conversation with a friend and another friend comes over to say hello to you, introduce them to each other immediately, if they don't know one another. When making the introduction, look at the senior or more prominent person—the person to whom you are introducing the other friend—and say, "Judge Nemo, I'd like you to meet Coach Misch." Introduce an employee to the boss; a younger person to the older person; a man to a woman; anybody to a famous or high-ranking person. In a casual setting or with two friends the same age, you may use their first and last names, skipping the titles. Then it is important to start a conversation between them about something you know they have in common.
If you are introduced to someone, don't just say "Wazzup"; instead say "It's my pleasure to meet you, Director Raymond." Use their name straightaway. It's the easiest way to remember it. If someone forgets to introduce you, introduce yourself—not by asking someone their name—by saying, "Hello. My name is James."
Social Etiquette requires that you open and hold a door for everybody. Never let a door close on another person after you go through. When in an elevator, move to the back. If you intend to stand on a moving walkway or escalator, always stand to the right so that those who want to walk past you may do so on the left.
If you want to introduce your dog to another dog or to a child, always ask the other dog owner or parent first. Don't throw your trash into the street—even cigarette butts. Find a trash receptacle. If you see someone else throw a cup on the sidewalk, pick it up and put it in the trash. Never spit in public.
When driving on a divided highway, stay out of the left hand lane unless you have no other vehicles behind you traveling at a faster speed. Use your turn signals when turning a corner or changing lanes. Do not use your car horn to express displeasure. Do not let anger affect your judgment.
If you see someone trying to enter the road in a line of traffic, at least wave one car to go in front of you. If you encounter a funeral cortege, pull over until it passes. Do not block pedestrian crosswalks at a stop light. Do not stop in a right hand turning lane if you are going straight when it is legal to turn right on red, thereby holding up progress for those behind you.
Center your car in a parking space; drive slowly in parking lots. When stopping for gas, pull to a forward pump so others may pull in behind you. Do not leave your car there while you go in the store. Park the thing first. Turn off your music when pulling up to drive-through window. Be pleasant to the people working the window. Do not jump in front of other people who are trying to hail a taxi. Tip the taxi driver, if he has been courteous, and the cab is clean and comfortable.
Now let's go shopping. When you encounter a salesperson or clerk, look them in the eye and say "Hello." If they have a nametag, use it. If you take your children with you, have them under control. If you take them shopping when they are hungry or tired, you are asking for disruption. In a checkout line, have your money or plastic at the ready. Do not talk on your cell phone in line. Do not get into the "ten items or fewer" line with eleven items. If a new line opens, do not rush to beat somebody who was there first. If you want to return something, try to put it back where you got it. If you drop a jar and it breaks, don't skulk away; tell somebody so they can clean up the mess. Don't block an aisle with your shopping cart; stand behind it. If you have an appointment with any business, show up on time.
The clothes we wear reflect the importance we attach to the occasion. Casual attire does not mean sloppy. Tuck your shirt in. Wear matching socks. Don't wear stained or wrinkled clothing. Barefoot only works at the beach. Ditto going bare-chested. Don't dress your little girls up like hookers. No white socks with dress clothes. No low-riders with your butt crack or your fat belly showing. I wouldn't wear torn jeans or a jogging suit out to eat. No tennis shoes with a suit. Keep your jewelry clean. If you wear a baseball cap, the bill is designed to shelter your forehead; not the back of your neck or your ears.
Hat Etiquette requires that you take your cap or hat off when you enter someone's home or office; in a restaurant; at the movies, theatre or concert; when the national anthem is played. Cover your tattoos at work; nix the piercings except for the ears of a female. Remove sunglasses indoors.
OK. You receive an invitation. It includes a notation of the appropriate attire. What does it mean? BLACK TIE means a man wears a black tuxedo and a woman wears a formal evening dress. BLACK TIE OPTIONAL means a man wears a tux if he has one; a dark suit with white shirt and tie, if he doesn't. A woman may wear a cocktail dress. BUSINESS ATTIRE means a man wears a dark suit, tie and leather shoes. A woman should wear a dress or a classy skirt. DRESS OR BUSINESS CASUAL means a man should wear dress slacks, sport coat or blazer, with no tie; a woman may wear dressy pants. CASUAL means khakis or pressed jeans with a nice shirt—not Bermuda shorts and flip flops (unless it is an afternoon barbecue or a beach party).
If you take a new job, note right away how the most successful people in the company are dressed and emulate them. If invited somewhere and you are not sure what the proper attire is, call and ask. A man can never go wrong with a suit: it shows respect and makes a man look his best. For men or women, dress in fabrics that suit the season—no wool in summer or cotton suits in winter. Unless you have an unlimited budget, buy clothes that are classic in style (that never go out of style) instead of trendy fashions.
Men, keep those ties dry-cleaned. Do not wear gold necklaces or bracelets. A watch, ring and cufflinks should be the extent of your jewelry. Use a thin wallet that does not create a bulge in your pants and use a money clip for your bills. Do not wear boots or loafers with a suit. Shine those shoes. Do not wear a short sleeve shirt with a tie. You should not see your socks when you are standing; or your shins when you are sitting. Trim your nose and ear hair, please.
Women, dress in such a way as to make those around you comfortable. Do not show a lot of flesh, particularly if you are going to be offended by those who then look at it. It's alright to use makeup for a bold look in the evening but go for a natural look in the daytime. Touchup your makeup in private. Same goes for messing with your contact lenses.
Personal grooming is important to how you are perceived by others. I would not recommend biting your nails. Rather, keep them trimmed and clean. If a woman wears nail polish, keep it fresh. Floss every day, and brush your tongue.