When you think of having good manners, you might imagine proper Victorian-era people setting elaborate tables with many pieces of silverware or leaving calling cards when they visit a friend. But old-fashioned etiquette rules aren't all about using extraneous forks at dinner or following outdated traditions by reenforcing gender roles. Some of these rules have actual purpose, and could benefit you in today's world, according to experts.
At the heart of the rules that are worth keeping and using today is the simple act of caring for other people. "It doesn’t matter how busy our lifestyles are or how casually we communicate," Bonnie Tsai, an etiquette expert and founder and director of Beyond Etiquette, tells Bustle, "it never takes too much effort to show kindness or respect to others by saying ‘please’ and ’thank you.'" Something as simple as holding the door open for someone else — regardless of their gender — can put a smile on their face. Offering up your seat on the train to someone holding a baby or using crutches can make them much more comfortable. Even sending your friend a postcard when you travel somewhere new could brighten their day.
Here are some old-fashioned etiquette rules that are worth reviving, according to experts.
1. Send Letters
These days, it's super easy and quick to send a text or an email to someone if you want to fill them in on your life. But there's really something to be said for taking the time to hand-write a letter. "There’s nothing like the touch and feel of a handwritten note," Lisa Grotts, an etiquette expert and manners blogger, tells Bustle. This is a great way to let someone know you've been thinking about them, but you can also send a shorter card if you want to say thank you for a gift or stand out after a job interview.
2. Make Eye Contact
"Since the rise of technology in every aspect of our lives, we tend to focus less on the person in front of us and more on our phones or computers," Adina Mahalli, MSW, a certified relationship expert and mental health consultant, tells Bustle. But according to old-fashioned etiquette, this can be rude and cold. "People used to actually look into the eyes of the person they were speaking with." Of course, this doesn't mean that you should stare creepily into someone's eyes without a second of looking away, but opt for something intentional yet natural. "Maintaining eye contact for 60% of a conversation creates a stronger emotional connection," Mahalli says.
3. RSVP On Time
Whether someone's invited you to a casual dinner party at their house or a more elaborate celebration, traditional etiquette says to let the host know whether or not you can attend as soon as possible. This isn't just an arbitrary rule though. If someone's planning an event, they probably have to arrange for food, drinks, and potentially a space for people to gather. Telling them whether you'll be there or not gives them time to plan, and also gives you the perfect opportunity to offer to bring something. "There are so many events going on and people just wait till last minute to RSVP if they respond at all before just showing up," Mahalli says. Confirming whether you'll attend is the right thing to do.
4. Be Punctual
It seems like these days everyone is scrambling to make a train, get out of a work happy hour, or get to a fitness class in time. Even though you're super busy, being punctual is so important. "Arriving late for an appointment, date, or meeting can be perceived as rude since it's disrespecting the other person’s time," Tsai says. You may have heard your parents or grandparents say that if you aren't early, you're late. "Aim to arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment," she says, "to give yourself some flexibility if you run into traffic or any other unexpected issues."
5. Always Stand When Being Introduced
In the past, only men were required to stand when being introduced to someone new, according to traditional etiquette rules, Tsai says. But regardless of your gender identity, it's a kind gesture to stand up and shake the hand of the person you're meeting. "When you stand to greet someone it not only shows that you are eager to meet and welcome them," she says. "but also shows them that you’re standing up out of respect for who they are, regardless of gender." This might sound awkward, but when you actually do it, it isn't at all. Such a simple rule can make someone feel really welcome when you say hello.
6. Don't Casually Touch Strangers
"Polite people generally don’t touch others unless agreed upon or they were touched first themselves," Tsai says. And this old-fashioned etiquitte rule is definitely one to bring back in today's world. Now, it's all too common to casually hug someone you've just met or pat someone unfamiliar on the back, but keeping a respectful physical distance can be really important when you don't know someone. "It may be uncomfortable for people to be touched by a complete stranger," Tsai says. "If you can’t avoid physical touching, be sure to ask the other party first before you proceed." Simply checking in first can avoid upsetting someone who has an issue with physical touch.
7. Never Point At Someone
You might think that it's no big deal at all to casually point your finger at someone else when you're trying to gesture to them. But this is an old-fashioned etiquette no-no. "Pointing your finger at someone can come off as accusatory or transferring blame to the other person even though it’s almost like second nature to us when we’re indicating someone or something," Tsai says. But that doesn't mean that you can no longer point at someone's cool pair of shoes or their creative hairstyle. "We can gesture with an open palm instead; it’s much more welcoming and neutral," she says.
While following these old-fashioned etiquette rules can seem like a lot to remember, don't stress out about them too much. Just incorporating one into your life at a time can make them second nature before you know it.