Between our increasingly hectic, stressful lifestyles and our attachment to technology, it's easy to totally lose track of the important manners and etiquette rules that may have been second nature for previous generations. It's not that we're purposely trying to be inconsiderate — it's just that most of us are rushing from one place to another and are often distracted, and we may just feel so perpetually overwhelmed by modern life that we've forgotten all about etiquette rules. Which makes sense — when we're way behind on our to-do lists, we sometimes put off simple tasks like thank you notes and RSVPs. And our attachment to devices has lead us to be somewhat disengaged during actual social gatherings. But while these issues are present all year long, the holidays can definitely compound them.
At the same time, a little bit of etiquette can go a long when it comes to helping other people feel comfortable and welcome; as legendary etiquette expert Emily Post once said: “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” (That's a relief, because those complicated utensils rules can be a little much.)
Full disclosure: I certainly don't consider myself to be an etiquette expert, and I've been known to frantically Google specific rules before attending a formal event. But I think the following etiquette rules are super easy to make part of our everyday lives, especially during the hectic holiday season — we're not too busy or too important to implement them, and they'll make the people around us feel good. Plus, following these five basic etiquette rules will make you look classy as all get out.
1. Say "Please" And "Thank You"
This is an especially important one to remember right now. With the holidays upon us, many of us will soon be stressed out and running around from store to store, where there will inevitably long lines and harried customer service workers — and, yes, it's stressful.
But despite all that stress, try to remember to say "please" and "thank you" to the person waiting on you — dealing with the public all day is not a picnic, and people who work in stores, restaurants and other service industry positions who deal with holiday crowds often have to work undesirable shifts (including on holidays themselves) for low compensation. When I worked at a bookstore throughout college, I was shocked by how many people seemingly blamed my colleagues and me for the long lines during the holiday season.
But on the flip side, the customers who were kind and respectful really made our day. And as manners expert Lisa Gache pointed out to NPR, there is something special conveyed by words like "please" and "thank you" that doesn't always come across in other language: "The responses 'have a good one,' 'I'm good' or 'you bet,' do not carry the same sentiment or convey the same conviction as when we are sincerely expressing our gratitude or thanks."
Taking a second to say "please" and "thank you" to the sales associate ringing you up — or the waitstaff at the restaurant where you're eating, the stranger holding a door for you, or your own family — can really make a difference.
2. Be Punctual
We're all busy, overworked, and frequently dealing with traffic and public transportation nightmares — so being late once in a while is inevitable. But frequently running late to social engagements can send the message that you don't respect your friend or family member's time, or think that they don't have better things to do than awkwardly sit or stand alone at a public place fiddling with their cell phones until you arrive. I bet you don't think that — but being the friend who is perpetually 15 minutes late to dinner or who comes in to the movie right as the previews are ending can make it seem like that is your intention.
This goes doubly during the holiday season, when many friends and relatives from out of town may be traveling and making time to see you in very tight schedules. So if you anticipate that you'll be late for something, give your friend a heads-up as soon as possible — and then make a big effort to be punctual the next time you're meeting up.
3. Don't Interrupt A Conversation By Using Your Phone
We all know that it's rude to cut people off mid-sentence or openly be distracted while a friend is telling you a story — it can make the person you're speaking with feel like you're not really interested in their conversation. But we might not realize that staring at your phone and responding to a text while you only half-listen to the person in front of you can make your conversational partner feel the same way.
As the website of the Emily Post Institute says, "Just as you shouldn’t answer your phone during a conversation, you shouldn’t text when you’re engaged with someone else. [And i]f you are with someone who won’t stop texting during your conversation, feel free to excuse yourself until they have concluded their messaging."
4. Give People The Closure Of A Breakup
As someone who hates conflict and dreads initiating a breakup, I totally understand the temptation to ghost. But the bottom line is that, as nice as it might feel to not have to deal with any potential sadness or drama, ghosting is unfair to the other person — and it probably won't leave you feeling great, either.
Even if you've only gone on one date with someone and you felt zero chemistry, respond to them if they ask you out again — in that case, it can be a brief text that you think they're great but you two are incompatible. If you've been out with someone multiple times and they're clearly more into it than you, give them the courtesy of an in-person breakup rather than a text message — especially if you're engaging in the time-honored holiday break up tradition known as the "turkey drop." Again, the Emily Post Institute makes it clear: "Calling may be necessary when time and distance are a problem, but don’t leave a brush-off message or voice mail, or worse, send a text or email. If ending the relationship is your choice, face up to it."
Of course, the huge exception to this is if your date did something that made you feel unsafe, endangered, or disrespected. But if they're a decent person, they deserve some definitive closure so that they can move on — otherwise, they may be left desperately hoping that you simply lost your phone and will reach out the moment you get it back.
5. RSVP To All Events You're Invited To
Whether you've received a paper or digital invitation, always respond with a "yes" or "no" as quickly as possible. A lot of people fail to respond to wedding invites — which is shocking because weddings involve so much planning and require an exact headcount — but failing to respond to invites for smaller parties and other gatherings can also lead to confusion and hurt feelings on the part of your host.
If someone is hosting a small party or gathering at their home or elsewhere, always be sure to respond — they're probably spending a good deal of time and money on the occasion, and it's respectful to give them an answer for their planning purposes. (This doesn't apply to those random-seeming Facebook invites with countless people on them, because those are pretty impersonal and easy to miss.)
I think if we start using these etiquette rules more religiously, we'll all feel a little bit better about ourselves and each other, all year round.