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), 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 some of these such as accommodating the most COVID-careful, while putting some clear limits on food allergy issues. 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 to gather support to prove to them 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 (of that the moon landing was faked, Trump theory, magic crystals, auras, or any other non mainstream 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 an 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!”
  • 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.
  • Deciding your order at the counter when there is a line. 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.
  • 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 one 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. Matt’s note: I also find it’s usually cheaper. App prices are usually about 10-20% higher.
  • 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.
  • 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 that’ll get back to them.
  • Your kid doing algebra in second grade? Reading at 3½? 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.
  • 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 conversation with a friend on social media.
  • 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:

  • 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 stag party.
  • You can eat anything at your desk in an open-plan office. There are break rooms for a reason. Not everyone needs to smell everything you’re eating. It’s just one more example why open office spaces are provably worse than even cubes.
  • Saw someone shoplifting? No, you didn’t – I have absolutely called out people shoplifting. I did it to them not the police. I saw some late 20 year olds very ham-fistedly stealing random snacks. They saw me see them shoving handfuls of stuff in their pockets. I put on my best elementary school teacher face/voice and said, “Really?” They put them 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.
  • 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. – No, it just shows you have nothing better going on in your life than social media and it is likely affecting your mental and emotional health. Get off social media.
  • Tipping rules – Most of the comments in that article agree. 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. 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 – so this tells you how much money these servers were making. Much of it completely untaxed if unreported.

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