There are few things more unpleasant than dealing with someone known for being impolite. Unfortunately, for many of us, not knowing the rules of etiquette when we’re younger often means we keep committing the same social faux pas over and over as adults, as well.
So, what’s a person without a finishing school education to do? According to etiquette expert Karen Thomas, founder of Karen Thomas Etiquette, mastering some social graces, no matter what your age, will always serve you well. Better yet, proper etiquette isn’t as difficult to learn as you might think.
“The entire premise behind etiquette is respect for yourself and others: what you’re discussing, what you’re doing, and how you’re treating people. Whether you’re 40, 50, or 60, there’s no excuse to not be kind. Age should never be an excuse for poor manners,” says Thomas.
“If people are not aware of proper etiquette, it’s certainly something people should look into because it’s not only valuable for their character, it’s also a great skill to learn, and they will be contributing to a much more civil society.”
If you’re ready to become a more proper and polished person, start by nixing these social etiquette mistakes. And when you’re ready to make a better impression, pepper your vocabulary with these 30 Words That Will Make You Sound Smarter (But Not Pretentious).
Using Text Speak
While it may be convenient to abbreviate in your communications, using text speak, particularly in professional communications, is always an etiquette faux pas.
“You wouldn’t want to speak with text acronyms in certain settings because not everyone will know what they stand for,” says Anne Chertoff of Beaumont Etiquette. “When writing a formal email or letter it may not come off as professional if you use text language.” And when you want to make your communications more mature, start by ditching these 40 Things Only Millennials Say!
Yawning Without Covering Your Mouth
It may be hard to suppress that yawn—they are contagious, after all—but leaving your mouth uncovered is undeniably rude. “Yawning is a sign that you’re tired, so it is polite to cover your mouth and even apologize for yawning while talking to someone,” says Chertoff. And when you want to be more polite, adhere to these 23 Old-Fashioned Etiquette Rules That Still Apply!
Giving Unsolicited Advice
We all occasionally feel the urge to provide advice to others, even when it hasn’t been asked for. However, whenever possible, try to avoid scratching that itch. And if someone is providing you advice that you’ve neither asked for nor need, it’s perfectly fine to tell them politely to stop.
“It is okay to say to stop someone from giving unsolicited advice, but the process in doing so must be polite,” says Thomas. “Rather than cutting someone off or putting your hand in their face, the better way to go about it would be, ‘Thank you for your opinion, but I’m going to go in a different direction.’ It’s all in the delivery.” And when you’re ready to clean up your act, start with the 20 Ways to Be Less Mean.
Tagging People in Photos Without Their Permission
“While some people love to be tagged and see themselves on social media channels, others would prefer their privacy and either not be tagged or not have their image posted at all online,” says Chertoff. “If you are not sure if the person you are posting an image of wants to their image to be posted online, you should send them the image and ask their permission.” And for more social media rules to stick to, check out these 15 Facebook Habits You Need to Break.
Seasoning Your Food Before Tasting It
You may think you know exactly how much salt or pepper a dish needs before it’s even been set in front of you, but seasoning your food before tasting it is a surprising manners don’t.
“The chef, whether in a restaurant or home, will have seasoned the meal before plating and serving it, so he or she may find it insulting if you don’t taste the meal before adding salt, pepper or another seasoning to it,” says Chertoff. And remember: the salt and pepper come as a pair, and should always be passed together when someone asks for them. And the next time you’re dining out, make sure to follow the 25 Things You Should Always Do in a Fancy Restaurant!
Talking With Your Mouth Full
If you don’t want to earn yourself a spot on the “don’t invite” list, it’s imperative that you practice proper table manners. The quickest way to improve yours? Keep your mouth closed while chewing, and never, ever talk with your mouth full.
“One should always chew their food with their mouth closed and wait until they swallow before speaking,” says Chertoff, who recommends that diners take smaller bites to avoid being caught with a full mouth mid-conversation. “You also want to avoid accidentally spitting food on to the table if you’re talking with food still in your mouth, which is another reason you should not speak until you have swallowed the bite you’ve taken.” And for more kitchen gossip, discover the 20 Secrets Chefs Will Never Tell You!
Telling People They Look Tired
We’ve all been there: you head to the office looking a little less polished than usual and somebody immediately insists that, based on your apparently haggard appearance, you must be exhausted. If you’ve ever felt the need to do this, there’s no doubt you should refrain.
“What you’re really saying is, ‘You look awful,’” says Thomas. “People feel they’re doing someone a favor by telling them this, but they’re really not. It’s not helpful, it’s not constructive. It’s just really being rude.” And if you’re feeling a little sleepy yourself, check out the 40 Ways to Have More Energy After 40!
Not Using a Turn Signal
Road etiquette may feel like it’s quickly being forgotten by drivers, but that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from the safety rules when you’re behind the wheel. In particular, using your turn signal is of the utmost importance, whether you’re switching lanes or pulling into a parking lot. Chertoff points out that, in addition to being illegal, not using your turn signal is a serious danger to pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. And the next time you’re behind the wheel, make sure to check out these 40 Roads Everyone Should Drive By Age 40!
Licking Your Fingers
While it may be tempting to lick the barbecue sauce off your fingers after digging into a plate of ribs, don’t be surprised if your dining companions are appalled when they see you do so. Even if your hands are more sauce than human by the end of a meal, licking your fingers is never the solution.
“Always use your napkin to clean your hands and fingers no matter how delicious the sauce or crumbs on your fingers are,” says Chertoff. “If a napkin won’t clean your hands, excuse yourself and wash your hands in the restroom.” And when you want to improve your dinnertime manners, avoid these 25 Things You Should Never Do at a Fancy Restaurant.
Opening an Umbrella Indoors
While doing so give you a few extra seconds saved from the rain pouring down outside, there’s no reason to open your umbrella if you’re still indoors.
“You shouldn’t open an umbrella indoors because you don’t want to accidentally hit someone in close quarters. If the umbrella is still wet, opening it indoors may get water on others in the room or on the furniture or walls,” says Chertoff.
Additionally, many cultures believe that opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck, so always err on the side of caution. And before you make a similar faux pas overseas, make sure you know the 30 Biggest Cultural Mistakes Americans Make Abroad.
Delivering News Via Email That Should Be Handled in Person
For many of us, digital communication is second nature at this point. However, for certain kinds of major news, like deaths or breakups, it’s always better to be polite and tell your loved ones in person.
“You need to weigh the importance of a subject before doing an email or text. Some subjects, like ‘I’m breaking up with you’ should never be done digitally,” says Thomas. “It’s just that we’re so used to sending a text or an email that we’re becoming rude in our communication.”
Not Cleaning Up After Your Pet
Nobody cherishes the time they spend cleaning up after their pets. That said, you should get used to doing it anyway, or risk committing a cardinal etiquette sin. “Cleaning up after your pet is about courtesy and respect for the people who may live or work in the building or walk down the street where you walk your pet. You wouldn’t want to step in it either, so it’s the polite thing to prevent others from stepping in it by cleaning up after your pet,” says Chertoff.
Using All Caps
Unless you’re very angrily trying to convey a point, using all caps is always aggressive and rarely appropriate. “Using all caps when texting or emailing gives the impression that you’re screaming at the recipient,” says Chertoff. “Tone is hard to read in an email and writing in all caps, or even using a lot of exclamation marks, can change the tone you intended for the message.” If you want to play it safe, ditch the caps lock and convey your excitement in the text of what you’re saying instead.
Not Putting the Toilet Seat Down
Leaving the toilet seat up, whether at home or in public, is undeniably rude—just ask virtually any woman out there. However, Thomas says that, instead of making it a major issue, there’s a simple solution.
“Women, if it bothers you, put the seat up when you’re done. Men, if it bothers you, then do the opposite. It’s a solution to the problem. Rather than keep complaining, make a solution.”
Cursing at Inappropriate Times
We’ve all had that moment of realization when we instantly regretted dropping an NSFW word in our conversation with our boss. The bad news? It’s a pretty major etiquette faux pas. The good news? It can be easily fixed.
“There’s a time and a place for cursing: preferably not in public, preferably not in business,” says Thomas.
So, what should you do if you’ve accidentally dropped an f-bomb in polite company? “The best way is to excuse yourself and say, ‘I apologize for the foul language.’ You can’t take it back, but by offering not an explanation, but an apology for this rude behavior, it softens the blow,” she explains.
Your excitement to eat your meal doesn’t excuse bad table manners. One of the worst etiquette offenses you can commit at the table? Audible chewing.
“It’s inexcusable and shouldn’t be done, especially with gum,” says Thomas. However, “I don’t think there’s any food that should be an excuse for chewing loudly. If you see someone doing it, it’s okay to correct them, but the delivery is essential, offering a solution rather than saying, ‘Look, you sound like a cow.’”
Standing People up
While running late is an etiquette error on its own, standing someone up is always inexcusably rude.
“Unforeseeable circumstances happen, but with all the technology we have now, there really is no excuse for it,” says Thomas. “You need to get in contact, whether it’s via email, text, phone call, or message.”
Talking About Money
It’s understandable to be interested in how much someone else makes, or to be proud of your own salary. That said, it’s always an etiquette no-no to ask people to disclose their financial situation to you, or to speak openly about your own, with few exceptions.
“Talking about money is very crass. Inquiring or bragging about those subjects is really a huge faux pas. It just is not done in proper circles,” says Thomas.
So, what should you do if someone poses a salary question to you? “I simply state to them, ‘I am not comfortable discussing my salary, I hope you understand,’” says Thomas. “It’s telling the person I am not comfortable sharing that information, but without being rude.”
Friending People You Don’t Know on Social Media
Social media may feel like the wild west to new adopters, but there are some etiquette rules that even novices should follow, namely not friending people you’ve never met. “If you want to connect with someone on social media you don’t know it’s better to find out if you have a mutual connection who can introduce you,” recommends Chertoff.
Knowing which network to connect on is essential, as well. Chertoff suggests connecting with professional connections on networks like LinkedIn, but keeping networks like Facebook friends-only spaces.
Not Putting Your Shopping Cart Back
While returning your cart to the store at the end of a shopping trip may feel like a hassle, it’s important that you do it anyway, unless you’re physically incapable of doing so.
“Shopping carts are communal items that are available to all customers at a store or supermarket. It’s polite to return them to the shopping cart area(s) after you use them so that other customers may use them,” says Chertoff. After all, you don’t want to be the person who ends up denting a stranger’s car through their careless actions. And when you want to save money on your next shopping trip, ditch these 15 Grocery Shopping Mistakes That Are Killing Your Wallet.
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