Modern politeness rules

Modern politeness rules

Back in the day, we had Miss Manners and etiquette books. Now, things are more complicated with constantly changing moral and political landscape (we can discuss why things are now ‘more complicated’ than they were, but that’s another blog entry)

I don’t agree with some of these (and some of them are just … yeah, no), but it is interesting watching people trying to make sense of social conundrums (which are really moral conundrums) we have created.

There’s some clear contradictions in her list: such as accommodating the most COVID-careful, while putting some clear limits on food allergy issues.

Update 2023: Turns out others have taken a swing at these situations too, like Conde Nast’s guide to splitting a bill.

Still, some of the decent ones:

  • You don’t have to read everyone’s book. But if you do and you like it, send them a nice note.
  • You may callously cancel almost any plans up until 2 p.m. That gives the friend time to find another activity.
  • Do not get into an argument with your significant other in a group of friends in order to prove your significant other wrong or gather support to prove you are right.
  • If you’ve met someone and they clearly don’t remember your name, say, “Hi, we’ve met, I’m X.”
  • The proper response to being told something you already know isn’t “I know.” It’s “You’re right.”
  • If you’re real friends, you accommodate the most COVID-careful among you.
  • Don’t tell someone with an accent that it is “cute.” It’s condescending.
  • If you bring up astrology (or faked moon landing, fad diet, Trump theory, magic crystals, auras, or any other non mainstream scientific theory) and it isn’t met enthusiastically, change the topic. Not everyone believes in your made-up bullshit.
  • Never ask anyone what their job is. It’s classist and boring. Try to find three other topics to talk about first.
  • Being a racial ally doesn’t mean debasing yourself. Apologizing or saying something about your privledge is condescending and really just a move that’s saying “Oh, look, I’m the center of attention again!”
    • My own note: It’s amazing how many well meaning, self described ‘allies’ (who are often those that talk about their privledge) seem to be experts on how other minorities feel, think, or should act. They constantly seem to be telling everyone how minorities feel. I find these ‘allies’ can actually be worse than those they claim to be against. Maybe go talk to actual minorities and ask if they think their culture is be appropriated, they find something insulting, feel mistreated in a situation, etc. Maybe just shut up and let them speak instead of you?
  • Listening is not the time for you to silently rehearse what you want to say next. Everyone can see your eyes glazing over while you do it.
  • If your burger is becoming a salad, your restaurant-order modifications have gone too far and YOU are the problem.
  • Waiting to decide your order at the counter when there is a line. Figure out what you want BEFORE you get to the counter. When you get to the front, you should already know what you want and say it.
  • Don’t foist your food allergies onto a dinner party. At a dinner party, it’s about what the host wants to do. Just pick at what you can, then eat when you get home or before you go.
  • The correct number of slices of pizza to order for a group of X people is 2X + X/3.
  • After high school, you’re not allowed to be a birthday diva. Don’t use it to make demands on people – you’re a grown up, so act like it.
  • Always be the first one out if something seems bad. Be the first to bounce when things go wrong for any reason. Feeling menaced? Smell smoke? Time to head out.
  •  If you like them, text people within three hours of hanging out with them.
  • Whoever put the most work into planning the trip gets first dibs on the rooms. And yes, that’s whether they’re single or a couple.
  • If your host is doing the dishes, it means you’re supposed to leave.
  • If you’re somebody’s houseguest, always strip the bed, even if they tell you not to worry about it.
  • If you lose or break something you borrowed, offer to replace it.
  • Don’t buy a gift off-registry – but money is the perfect gift if nothing else.
  • While not always feasible, it is morally superior to call in takeout and delivery orders rather than using the apps.
    • My own note: I find it’s usually cheaper to call. App prices are usually about 20% higher via apps like Grubhub, Doordash, etc. Don’t believe me? Look up the prices on their website you can make call-in vs what is shown in the app.
  • And if you’re dialing into a meeting and your internet connection is choppy, don’t struggle through. Put your thoughts in the chat, or message someone to say them for you.
  • If you’re a boss and you see your employees in the wild, greet them warmly but briskly and move out quickly.
  • Don’t comment on other people’s food or what they are putting on their plate.
  • Disclose your recent positive COVID test to those possibly affected promptly but without shame.
    • My own note: you have a moral obligation to take a covid test if you are sick, or to tell others you’re going to stay home if you feel ill. Covid can kill some people and many people interact with people in their households that are immune compromised/fragile/aged/etc even if they will be fine.
  • If you hear rumblings of layoffs and are wondering if a friend or acquaintance was affected, the gentlest way to inquire is “Sounds like a tough day at <their company/team name> Thinking of you”
  • Gossip as if the person were just 12 feet from you. Because if they aren’t, someone that knows them probably is, and whatever you say will get back to them.
  • Your kid doing algebra in second grade? Reading at 3½? That’s great but selectively share, don’t go crazy.
  • Sharing parenting advice is a no-win game. Every kid is different and needs different approaches.


  • Don’t ever message someone “k.” It’s basically the same as “f* you” to most people.
  • If they hand you their phone to show you a photo, keep your thumb still. Do NOT scroll through their photos.
  • Don’t use Instagram Stories/Facebook/etc to surveil what your friends choose to do instead of hanging out with you. The story you’ll tell yourself will always be worse than the real one.
  • Hot gossip goes only in the voice memo, never in text. As your attorney, I must advise you: Send that gossip in a voice memo.
    • My own note: don’t put ANYTHING sensitive in a text, voice mail, etc. In fact, why are you saying it? Gossip is often character assassination. A good Christian doesn’t respond or share gossip – but takes the opportunity to say a silent prayer for the person instead.
  • Sit down and respond to an email, even if it’s a year late. Just say why honestly.
  • Don’t harass your friends (or, worse, co-workers) to promote you online — and don’t forget lots of people just don’t live like this online.
  • Find your signature sign-off and stick with it. From “all best” to “lotsa love,” be yourself.
  • Read receipts (i.e. has someone read this email) are to be turned on only in cases of medical emergency.
  • You have to get consent to post a quoted conversation with a friend on social media.
    • My own note: Do not share any one-on-one personal or private conversations via social media. If you do want to talk about an interesting discussion, don’t mention names or like Dragnet ‘change the names, situation, and details to protect the innocent’
  • Don’t pelt your friends with text messages. If someone is texting you too much, just tell them your cadence, “I don’t text when I’m busy during the day at work”

Completely disagree:

  • Claim: “It’s okay to email, text, or DM anyone at any hour.” This directly contradicts her point #6 about never waking a significant other for any purpose. Nobody is watching or making big choices from midnight until 6am no matter what you text. If something is that important, it’s your job to get up early to text or call them at a human hour of 7am or later. Anything from midnight to 6am better be an emergency or part of a party that you’re a part of and trying to find your friends.
  • Claim: “You can eat anything at your desk in an open-plan office. There are break rooms for a reason.”
    • Wrong. Just wrong. Your stinky food is likely offending more than one person and it’s not their responsibility to leave and not be able to do their work because you want to eat durian or lutefisk at your desk. Not everyone needs to smell everything you’re eating. This whole discussion is just one more example why open office spaces are provably worse than cubes.
  • Claim: “Saw someone shoplifting? No, you didn’t. Ignore it.”
    • Ignoring injustice is cowardly. Theft against anyone is injustice. I have absolutely called out people shoplifting. A person of character can call out bad behavior and not have to call the cops. I saw some late 20 year olds very ham-fistedly stealing random snacks. They realized I saw them shoving handfuls of stuff in their pockets. I put on my best elementary school teacher face/voice and said, “Really?” They put the stuff back. Calling out bad behavior is perfectly acceptable – and something I have no problem doing. You’re adults, act like it. Antisocial behavior begets more antisocial behavior. Best to nip that in the bud earlier than later.
  • Claim: “Post like the wind. Conventional wisdom is that you should post on your main Instagram feed no more than once a day. Posting 15 individual photos to your main grid in one day is what freedom feels like.”
  • She states a number of Tipping rules
    • Most of the comments at the bottom of that article disagree with her statements entirely – as do I. New York, San Francisco, and other large tourist cities have guaranteed service work pay now and tips are actually LESS needed than before. Rising minimum wage laws in many of these cities also negates this need. But don’t take my word for it – many restaurants and bars tried removing tipping and went with fixed surcharges/living wage raises. They almost universally failed. Not because people wouldn’t pay, but because the workers quit. When Zuni in San Francisco went to a no-tip model, the workers revolted and many left because they made far more from the untaxed tips. This tells you how much money these servers were making. Much of it completely untaxed if unreported.

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