Politeness is a quality we should all aspire to, but for many of us, despite our best efforts, we continually fall short of the mark. While most of us have mastered “please” and “thank you” by the time we hit our 40s, there are countless etiquette mistakes most of us are making on a daily basis.
“We’re living in a fast-paced society, everyone feels rushed, and, as a result, we tend to brush over some of basic etiquette,” says etiquette expert Karen Thomas, founder of Karen Thomas Etiquette. “I don’t think people are doing it to be rude, but many people just don’t know the rules. Everyone needs to be aware of their surroundings and say please, thank you, excuse me, and I’m sorry. Those are the golden rules that need to be followed every day.”
So, what else can a theoretically-polite person to do? Cleaning up these 20 social etiquette mistakes you should stop making by age 40 is the first step toward a more civilized life. And when you’re ready to be a more polite and professional person, start by adopting these 40 Life-Changing Habits to Follow After 40!
We all know the feeling: you’re trying to get your point across to a friend or colleague when, out of nowhere, they cut you off to start making a point of their own. While gender does seem to come into play in who’s on the receiving end of the interrupting—one study reveals that, out of 48 interruptions in a conversation between male and female participants, 46 were a man interrupting a woman—there’s no denying it’s a serious etiquette faux pas, no matter the perpetrator.
“People listen to respond, they don’t listen to hear. People are just excited and they want to get their point across, and they don’t realize that it’s rude, but it is,” says Thomas. “They should really stop and listen when the other person is speaking, take a moment to digest what they’ve said, and wait to respond instead of interrupting.” And when you want to clean up your act, cut out the 40 Things No Man Over 40 Should Ever Say.
Passing Just the Salt
As strange as it may seem, if you’re asked to pass the salt and you don’t pass the pepper as well, you’re actually committing an etiquette error. “In etiquette terms, the salt and pepper are married,” explains Thomas. “People just don’t know that they’re supposed to be passed together, but it is something people should be aware of.”
However, if you’re on the receiving end of said spices, make sure you’ve tasted your food before using them or you’ll be committing yet another etiquette blunder along the way. And for more ways to improve your etiquette, make sure to ditch The 50 Worst Pet Peeves That Grind on Relationships.
Leaving Your Hat On Inside
Whether you skipped your morning shower or are feeling a little self-conscious about your thinning hair, there are plenty of reasons you might want to keep your hat on. However, if you’re not taking it off indoors, you’re being ruder than you might expect.
“For the gentleman, wearing a hat indoors is not acceptable, but I believe that we’ve become so casual in society that wearing the hat just becomes the norm,” says Thomas. “Gentlemen should remove the hat, even in a casual restaurant. The only time a baseball hat should not come off for a gentleman is at the baseball park.” However, the rules can be amended slightly for women: “Ladies can get away with wearing their fashionable hat indoors, like at a wedding or a church,” says Thomas. And when you’re ready to improve your wardrobe, start by getting rid of the 40 Things No Woman Should Ever Wear to Work.
Not Following Up After Interviews
So, you’ve landed an interview for your dream job, you feel like you nailed it, and yet, you never hear back. What could have gone wrong? According to Thomas, one of the biggest social etiquette mistakes people make in a job setting is neglecting what she dubs the “Three Thank You Rule.”
“Thank them in the interview, thank them after the interview via email, and then again in writing,” says Thomas. “I think technology has made it easier to be gracious, and therefore, the Three Thank You Rule should be in place: in person, via email, and via a handwritten note.” And for more behavior to avoid, check out these 15 Answers That Will Tank Any Job Interview. And for more behavior to avoid, check out these 15 Answers That Will Tank Any Job Interview.
Leaving on Read Receipts
Avoiding one surprising social etiquette faux pas is simple as checking the settings on your phone. While it may seem minor, leaving on read receipts—particularly when you don’t respond to people right away—can be perceived as seriously rude.
“Reading a message without responding for more than a day, even in a personal setting, is really unacceptable,” says Thomas. “I know that a lot of people don’t really feel that a text is acceptable in business, but again, if you read their text, you need to get back to them. The rule is within a day in personal settings and in business, it’s two to three days.” And when you need to unplug, discover the 30 Best Reasons to Take a Digital Detox.
Using the Wrong Utensils
If looking at the array of knives and forks in front of you at a dinner party has you breaking out in a cold sweat, you’re not alone. While using the wrong knives and forks is an undeniable faux pas, the rule here is simple: work your way from the outside in. Your salad fork should be to the left of your dinner fork, and the knife to be used for earlier courses should be to the right of your dinner knife, which should be directly to the right of your plate. And when you want to want to improve your dinner game, check out these 15 Genius Tricks for Amazing Dinner Parties.
Not Saying “Excuse Me” When Trying to Get Past Someone
While being shoved against strangers on a crowded sidewalk or train is never a pleasant experience, that doesn’t mean your manners should fall by the wayside. “[Not saying ‘excuse me’] is absolutely one of the rudest things somebody can do. We’re all in a hurry. What that says is that I’m more important than you and I don’t need to be kind,” says Thomas. And when you want to be more polite on a daily basis, discover these 23 Old-Fashioned Etiquette Rules That Still Apply.
Being On Your Phone While Ordering
Just because you got bored on the line at Starbucks doesn’t mean it’s ever okay to have a phone call at the counter while simultaneously trying to order.
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” says Thomas. “Your undivided attention should be given to the barista, server, or clerk. The phone call should never interfere with the transaction.” And for more reasons to put down the phone, discover these 20 Ways Your Cell Phone Harms Your Health.
Not Holding the Door
Holding the door can be a tricky thing: while it’s polite to hold it for the person behind you, stand there for too long and you’ll become the de facto doorman. So, how should you avoid an embarrassing etiquette error in this situation? “Whomever arrives at the door first holds it for the people behind them, regardless of who it is,” suggests Thomas.
Luckily, these days, it’s expected that both men and women to abide by this rule. “It’s not a gender thing. It’s a nicety and not something that should fall to the wayside in society,” says Thomas. Luckily, making mistakes, like occasionally forgetting to hold the door, is only natural: just check out these 20 Embarrassing Things Literally Everyone Does.
Answering the Phone With Something Other Than “Hello”
While your personal phone greeting may seem hilarious to you, it’s in your best interest to take a page from Adele’s playbook and get used to saying hello. Starting a conversation with a proper greeting conveys respect and will help you ensure that you’re not accidentally giving a rude response to an important caller. “Proper phone etiquette states that there should be a greeting, whether that’s hello or good afternoon,” says Thomas. And if you can’t seem to put down the phone, make sure to check out these 20 Signs You’re Addicted to Your Smartphone!
Eating With Your Elbows On the Table
If you want to seem more polite in an instant, make sure your elbows aren’t resting on the table when you’re eating. However, in between courses, go ahead and rest them to your heart’s content. “Did you know that the etiquette rule is this: elbows and forearms are acceptable on the table between courses?” asks Thomas. “If the salad comes and we’re eating, no elbows on the table. If the wait staff takes it away, and we can rest our elbows on the table until the next course comes.”
So, why is this considered a mistake in the first place? Thomas says that, because meals were once considered formal events, the slouched posture that goes along with resting your elbows on the table was looked at as overly casual, and, as such, rude.
We’ve all listened to someone we wish would stop talking, but actually shushing them? A serious etiquette error, according to Thomas. “Shushing is a huge faux pas,” she says. “Nobody should be stopped when they’re talking, with the exception of a teacher quieting a student.” If you want to speak, or disagree with what someone is saying, simply wait your turn and get your point across when they’re done.
Leaving Your Sound On
There are few things more annoying than having to listen to someone else’s phone blast “Ride of the Valkyries” or “Bodak Yellow” over and over. In fact, it’s a major etiquette error to have your sound on when you’re in public.
“If you can, you’re to do one of two things: answer it immediately or turn it down,” says Thomas. “As far as business goes, when you’re in the office, you should have it off. You should also have an appropriate ringtone, not some screaming rock jam.”
Using the Last of Something Without Replacing It
Unless you want to incur the ire of the people you live with, make sure that when you used the last of something, you replace it in an expeditious manner. Using the last of a product and not replacing it is “unacceptable” in terms of etiquette, according to Thomas. “Whatever you use the last of, whether it’s toilet paper or ketchup, you should replace it,” she explains. “It goes against the very nature of etiquette to not do so.”
Reaching Across the Table
No matter how famished you are, reaching across a table to grab something during a meal is always a serious etiquette blunder. “If it’s far enough away that you have to stand to reach it, you shouldn’t do so and you should ask instead,” says Thomas. And, she explains, if you’re the one passing food, you should pass it to your right.
So, why is reaching across a table such an etiquette error? “Because your personal space is being invaded by the reacher,” she explains. “It’s also a germ situation: my hand and my arm are now invading the space in which you’re consuming food.”
Grooming in Public
Whether you’re trying to look good for a date or just have something from dinner stuck in your teeth, there’s never an appropriate time to groom yourself in public, and it’s a habit you should break as soon as possible.
“Any personal grooming should be done in the bathroom. There are these things in there called mirrors, and they should be used,” says Thomas. “That goes for putting on lipstick, flossing, brushing hair, or using a toothpick.”
Talking in Movie Theaters
By the time you hit 40, odds are you know that movie theaters aren’t an appropriate place to carry on long conversations, but that doesn’t stop countless people from committing this etiquette error anyway.
“Talking before the movie? Absolutely. Once the lights are dim, even it’s the previews? All talking should cease,” says Thomas. “If you need to say something to someone after that point, it should be in a very light whisper and not loud enough for the rest of the theater to hear.”
Not Walking Single-File On a Crowded Sidewalk
That bliss you’re enjoying with a new significant other may make you want to hold hands wherever you go. However, doing so on a busy sidewalk is always impolite.
Thomas says that, while it’s okay to walk hand-in-hand when there’s enough room on the street, the second someone else is coming, or other people are trying to get by, you should switch to single-file. The exceptions? People who need assistance walking, individuals walking with caretakers, and parents holding children’s hands.
Not Putting Your Napkin On Your Lap
What’s the first thing you should do when you sit down at a meal? Put your napkin on your lap, according to Thomas. In fact, not doing so immediately is a serious etiquette mistake.
“The napkin should be placed in your lap immediately upon sitting, even before other people get there, with the folded side pointing up toward your waist,” says Thomas. The only exception to the rule? In fast food restaurants, while you should still use a napkin, it’s not essential that you put it on your lap first.
Putting Your Bag or Feet On Seats
There are few things more annoying than getting on a crowded train and finding that the seat you were hoping to find is being occupied by a purse, or, worse yet, someone’s feet.
“When other people enter and the space needs to be occupied, you should move it immediately,” says Thomas, who ranks this behavior at an eight out of ten on the rudeness scale. “This is simply not being self-aware.,” she says of this particular transgression. “You should be aware of what’s going on around you and move the bag.” And when you want to get your act together, start by nixing the 30 Worst Habits for People Over 30!
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