17 "Polite" Behaviors That Are Actually Offensive

You might think you're practicing good manners with these rude behaviors, but think again.


There are many polite gestures that will simply never go out of style. Saying "please" and "thank you," for instance, is unlikely to offend even the staunchest Emily Post devotee. However, not every seemingly polite behavior is actually perceived as such. With the help of etiquette pros and other top experts, we've rounded up some rude behaviors you probably think are polite.

Standing up when a woman leaves the table

white man pulling out chair for female date
Shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi

Etiquette once dictated that a man should stand up when a woman leaves the table. However, this rule no longer applies—and if you're still abiding by it, you might be causing serious offense.

According to elegance expert Jennifer Lynn, founder of Elegant Living Everyday, this behavior can be construed as rude because it draws an undue amount of attention to the woman leaving her seat. "[She] doesn't need everyone to watch her as she excuses herself to the ladies' room," Lynn explains.

Asking too many questions on a first date

young asian man bored at dinner
Shutterstock/Rommel Canlas

Though it's good to take an interest in your date, you don't want to overdo it with questions. Not only will you come across as nosy if you do this, but your date may "feel pressured to reveal too much information and therefore feel uncomfortable," says Lynn. "It's great to be interested, but don't let them do all the talking."

Picking up someone early for a date

white man standing outside door with flowers

Though being early is usually a good thing, showing up to a date's house 20 minutes ahead of schedule puts unnecessary pressure on them. "People have busy schedules and perhaps need that extra time to get ready for the date," explains relationship expert and sex coach Carmel Jones with The Big Fling.

Insisting on paying for a date's meal

man handing credit card to waitress on date
Shutterstock/Kamil Macniak

From your perspective, saving someone money by paying for their dinner is undeniably polite. Your date, however, might have a significantly different opinion on the matter.

If you're unsure how your companion feels about this gesture, "don't insist—suggest instead," says etiquette expert Adeodata Czink, founder of etiquette training school Business of Manners. "If she is dead against it, go Dutch."

Ordering dinner for someone

man hitting on waitress, things you should never say to your spouse

Not everyone is going to be keen on what you see as a take-charge attitude, so when in doubt, assume your date can order for themselves. If you're adamant about at least trying to order for the table, Czink suggests asking your date what they want, then asking if you can order for them. "If she says no, then let her order first," she recommends.

Ordering wine to share

waiter showing man bottle of wine at restaurant
Shutterstock/VAKS-Stock Agency

Who wouldn't love a good bottle of wine? Recovering alcoholics, pregnant people, and teetotalers, to name a few.

"Some individuals don't drink and might feel pressured to imbibe" if you order a bottle of wine for the table, explains dating expert Kelly Keating, founder of Modern Man Dating Advice. If you order a bottle and someone declines to indulge, don't push them to provide a reason—not everyone feels comfortable having their personal life become dinner table conversation, after all.

Calling a stranger "ma'am" or "sir"

young black man and older white woman at work

Your parents probably taught you to refer to any adult as "sir" or "ma'am." The problem with doing so, however, is that you're guessing the gender identity of the person you're addressing, which may lead to offense.

"Instead of assuming that someone identifies with a male or female pronoun, it's always nice to ask," says Jones. She also notes that you should be careful using these terms as they may inadvertently make the addressee feel old.

Apologizing in public

couple holding hands in gratitude to say thank you

In movies, a public apology seems like the ultimate romantic gesture. In reality, though, these dramatic displays make the apology more about you than the person you're apologizing to—and make no mistake, they're definitely rude.

"Apologizing in public can cause a scene and make people feel uncomfortable," explains Jones. When it comes to saying sorry, she recommends waiting until you're in private to deliver a more heartfelt—and less theatrical—apology instead.

Holding the door for someone who's far behind you

man holding door open, long marriage tips

Being polite and forcing someone to do a 50-yard dash to catch up to you are, unfortunately, mutually exclusive. Don't hold the door open for someone unless they're right behind you, says Czink.

Bringing a gift when an invitation specifies otherwise

white hand giving child gift

If an invitation says "no gifts," don't take that as a mere suggestion. What's the problem with going above and beyond? "It embarrasses the other 
guests that did not bring a gift," explains etiquette expert Jacquelyn Youst, president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Protocol.

Correcting someone's grammar

serious senior male office manager points to a female employee while reprimanding her.

Though it might seem helpful to you to correct someone's grammar, it often comes across as downright rude. As Youst explains, all this does is "embarrass the person who made the error. Not every little faux pas needs to be pointed out."

Offering advice to a new parent

asian father and grandfather holding baby in white shirt

Being a new parent is hard enough without everyone putting their two cents in about how you're handling things. And while providing sage guidance when someone asks for it may be helpful, "unsolicited advice can be taken as an insult," explains Youst.

Giving too many compliments

Older man complimenting woman on date

Not everyone loves being the center of attention, and giving too many compliments is a surefire way to make a person feel like they're being singled out. On top of that, "overdoing it comes across as contrived and insincere," says Youst.

Ending a conversation with "let's get together soon" when you don't mean it

young white man hugging black female coworker

"Let's do this again soon" is such a common thing to say that it feels almost impossible not to tack it on when you're saying goodbye to someone. However, you should avoid saying this unless you actually mean it. When you offer up this phrase and don't follow through, Youst explains that "what seemed like a polite gesture turns into a lack of integrity."

Congratulating someone on a major milestone they haven't announced

pregnant woman sitting on bench

Unless you're intent upon making someone very uncomfortable, don't congratulate them on a milestone they haven't yet made public—be it a pregnancy, marriage, or promotion. In the best-case scenario, you might prompt someone to talk about something they weren't ready to reveal, and in the worst-case scenario, you might say something that outright insults them.

"Always make conversation when you aren't sure of specifics, then comment or compliment," says etiquette coach Toni Dupree, CEO of Etiquette & Style by Dupree. "This way makes the person feel that there is some interest in them," plus gives them an opportunity to reveal the news if they see fit.

Publicly grooming your spouse or children

woman wiping white baby girl's face
Shutterstock/Chystopoltseva Kateryna

Though a polished appearance is always a good thing, grooming anyone in public is always rude. As Dupree notes, you need to "be mindful of boundaries" and only attend to private tasks—like grooming—in private.

Covering your sneeze with your hand

young white woman sneezing into hand

Covering your sneeze is almost always polite—unless you're doing so with your hand. "With the myriad illnesses rampant today, one of the rudest things you can do is disregard the spread of germs by not using your elbow area to sneeze or coughing into," explains certified etiquette instructor Karen A. Thomas. Unless you want to get everyone around you sick, don't use your hand as a tissue!

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