Monday, March 12, 2012

Six common etiquette mistakes you probably don't know you're making

"Say, isn't that the new MAC Viva Glam shade?"

Those of us who believe in preserving etiquette are faced with a Catch-22 of sorts. Rude behaviour is all around us providing ample opportunity to educate people by showing them the error of their ways.  And yet, pointing out someone's ignorance is itself considered poor etiquette so we stand by mutely and let people carry on with their faux pas.  Enter the etiquette blog - a way to helpfully share the rules of etiquette without the risk of embarrassing the offenders.  That is of course, presuming that they are capable of embarrassment, a phenomenon I wrote about in a recent post on the disappearance of shame in modern society.  So, in the spirit of gentle reminders, here are six etiquette mistakes you probably didn't even know you were making:

1. Not excusing yourself to take a phone call - Despite what you may believe, there really is no public circumstance in which it's okay for you to interrupt an in-person conversation in order to talk on your cell phone.  This is especially true in situations where you're not only ignoring your companion, but also annoying strangers (e.g. inside an elevator or in a restaurant).  While it's better to turn off your ringer when you are in company, if you are expecting a call of an urgent nature that absolutely cannot be ignored, let your companion know at the start of your discussion and when the call comes, find a quiet place to take it.  The rule of thumb is that you should be at least 10 feet from other humans when you're conducting a cell phone call.  If you're an exceptionally loud person, make it 20.

2. Assuming you have a year to send a wedding gift - I believed this for many years but it's actually a myth and rightfully so.  According to Peggy Post at, if you wait a year, you're actually sending someone an anniversary gift, not a wedding gift.  While it can be cumbersome to tote a gift to a ceremony, and you may want to see someone's taste in home decor before choosing something, three months is considered the maximum time you can wait. 

3. Wearing your name tag on the wrong side - Many people believe that name tags should be worn on the left side because "that's where the heart is".  It's a lovely sentiment but unfortunately, it's wrong.  While it's easier for right-handed people to slap a name tag on their left side, it belongs on the right side.  Since we shake hands with our right hand, we have better eye contact with the other person's right side and therefore, don't have to strain to see their name and where they work. 

4. Having a sip when someone toasts you - At least once in your life, you will find yourself in a situation where someone makes a toast in your honour.  If you're a fabulous socialite, a major philanthropist or a politician who people actually like, this might happen often.  For most of us, it happens at weddings and the odd business dinner which we have organized.  While it seems only natural to raise our own glass when someone is complimenting us, etiquette experts remind us that "one never drinks a toast to oneself".

5. Leaving your napkin on the table when you visit the restroom - So you've had a couple of glasses of wine and you need to visit the ladies' room in the middle of dinner.  Perhaps you're leaving to take a phone call (see #1).  What do you do with your napkin?  Leave it on your chair, not beside your plate.  This spares your dining companions from having to stare at your lipstick marks or grease spots while you're gone.  When you no longer need it, it can go on the table as a signal to your waiter that you're finished. 

6. Sharing someone's email address without permission - Even if it's for a good reason (e.g. to refer some business to them), it is not appropriate to share anyone's email address without asking their permission or at least giving them a heads-up.  If you want to introduce two people via e-mail, let them know separately ahead of time before putting them together electronically.  And never, under any circumstances, share someone's email address with a person who is trying to sell something.

7. Neglecting to send thank-you cards after a funeral - A friend who recently lost her father suggested to me that people who sent flowers to the funeral home would understand that she was too sad to formally acknowledge their gesture.  I replied that, while another task is the last thing most people need during a bereavement period, thank-you cards are still required, and then I offered to help her write them out.  While everyone will completely understand if you take months to thank them, if someone has taken the time to purchase and send a flower arrangement, they deserve, and need, to be acknowledged.  But don't be afraid to ask for help with this.  You will certainly receive it. 

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