Etiquette: it’s hard, often awkward and rarely intuitive. And yet it’s the fabric of our society. New York magazine’s The Cut recently asked what specific kinds of interactions make us most uncertain – and from this they made an exhaustive, decisive guide to hosting, ghosting, texting, tipping and generally existing in polite society today.
The ways we socialize, live and work are nearly unrecognizable from what they were three years ago. We’ve enjoyed a global pandemic, and social upheavals both great and small. The old conventions are out (we don’t whisper the word cancer or let women off the elevator first anymore, for starters). The venues in which we can make fools of ourselves (group chats for one) are multiplying, and each has its own rules of conduct. And everyone’s just kind of rusty. Our social graces have atrophied.
Can you ask how much they paid for their property? Should you tell them you already saw it online? Does “no gifts” secretly mean “yes gifts”? Can you text a co-worker at midnight? Do you have to heart their heart emoji?
If you insist on texting while you walk, pick a side and stay on it. Don’t comment on people’s weight loss. Don’t ask when someone is planning to have kids – maybe they aren’t. If you borrow something, return it in better condition. Never use your phone on speaker in public – calls, Facetimes, tiktok …. Stop. Don’t ask people how their divorce is affecting their kids. Resist the temptation to be annoyed when you’re in the aisle seat and somebody needs to go to the bathroom. When you’re invited to someone’s house, never show up empty-handed. Text before calling.
You do not have to say ‘hi’ to someone everytime you walk past their desk.
If you’re first in the elevator you’re the captain of the elevator. Hold the door, and ask what floor. Nobody needs to hear about your diet. If you tell someone,”Let me know if you need anything,” expect that they will. Always speak up when others have something on their teeth. When you’re pouring water for yourself at dinner, pour some for your dining companion. You are never too busy to return your shopping trolley to the corral. Don’t make people chase you for money. Pay it.
Always RSVP “no” if you’re the slightest bit unsure, and if you say “yes” you have to go. Be on time – people with expensive watches are always late. Always introduce people if they are in the conversation or you think they might have something in common. Never ask guests to take off their shoes.
The New Yorker magazine started with the problems — not the obvious stuff, like whether it’s alright to wear a backpack on the train or talk loudly on speakerphone in a restaurant (you know the answers there). Some old social standards really don’t work anymore. (“It’s been great to chat” doesn’t quite land when used as a way to exit a boring conversation at a holiday party). Here’s a guide that we hope will stand the test of at least a bit of time for our socially confusing era — until the next great exciting social upheaval.
1. You don’t have to read everyone’s book.
Life is finite. We can’t be expected to spend all our time metabolizing content by friends or friends of friends. Still, if you encounter someone who has recently produced something creative and you don’t feel like telling them you haven’t gotten around to engaging with it, say something about how impressive it is that they’ve created something in the first place. “What a feat!” (with a cheerful hand gesture) is always effective. (“What a feat!” also works well if you saw your friend’s show and hated it.) Just don’t overplay your hand and try to get into specifics. But if you do consume their artistic product, send them a nice note. They’ll remember forever.
2. You may cancel almost any plans up until 2 p.m.
At 2 p.m., there’s still ample time for your friend — if they so choose — to text around and find another dinner companion. By three, they almost certainly will be alone for the night. (This doesn’t apply if you want to cancel on someone who is cooking for you — in that situation, you have to tell them the night before.)
3. Don’t use friends as adjudicators
If, as a couple, you start an argument in the middle of a group of friends, that group of friends may start looking a lot like potential allies. Resist that urge. Do not attempt to shore up support. Do not ask if you are “clearly in the right.” Continue debating with your significant other if you must, but leave the others out of it. Your addiction to argument isn’t everyone else’s thing.
4. While on a catch-up, if you find you’re talking a lot, ask yourself, When was the last time I asked a question?
There’s no need to keep a tally or trade queries back and forth like it’s a tennis match, but do at least be aware of how long you’re holding the floor and take care to share it.
5. It’s acceptable to tell any kind of lie in order to leave a drinks date or party.
If the conversation is so painful you’re considering making up a story about a sick animal, your date will probably feel relieved.
6. If someone starts telling you a story you’ve heard before, you have two seconds to tell them.
Interject with “Oh my goodness, that was hilarious,” or “truly horrific,” or “unbelievable — you’ve told me.” But if you don’t say it within the allotted time, you just have to listen to them tell the story again. And if you’re in a larger group, you just have to listen.
7. Straight people can use the word partner only when they’re trying to get something out of it.
It’s annoyingly vague (and also smug). Some examples of when it’s acceptable: when trying to procure an apartment or a seat next to your, ahem, “partner” on an airplane and in negotiations with bosses about relocations. (This rule doesn’t apply to people who are actively resisting the patriarchy by refusing to get married. You have no other word, we realize.)
On a date, all individuals present should gently and politely compete to pay the entire bill.
8. It’s never too late to send a condolence note.
Your friend who is bereaved or suffering lives in time differently than you do. You learned about the death or the diagnosis at a particular moment and felt a pang of sympathy, tinged — if you’re honest — with relief that you evaded loss this time, as well as a teensy bit of actuarial superiority: You don’t smoke (that much), don’t drink (that much), don’t check your phone while driving (very often). But you feel for your friend, so you put a “condolence note” on a list along with other to-dos — the health-insurance thing, the birthday gift, the financial-aid application — and there it sits, continually shuffled to the bottom of the agenda, reprimanding you as the days become weeks.
Your friend, meanwhile, is in the midst of an alternative timeline that began with the death or diagnosis and unfolds in a way that refutes clocks or calendars. Spending long periods in a hospital is like being on the moon. Caring for a sick loved one is like fasting: an ungrounding exercise of devotion and deprivation. Recovering from serious illness is like landing in a foreign country at night in the fog: a terrifying muddle with no clear horizon.
But just because your friend is unmoored by grief, don’t make the mistake of believing she isn’t keeping track. Perhaps as a way to rebalance the scales of cosmic unfairness, some crude, Old Testament part of your friend’s mind has assumed the role of condolence accountant, tabulating the incoming gestures and cards. She will remember — possibly as long as she lives — who offered to walk the dog, who made the Bolognese, and who sent the hummus platter. She will remember certain condolence notes as surprisingly meaningful and others as dashed off, obligatory, like a gift purchased from an airport store. She may especially disdain those notes containing the phrase “I can’t imagine.” Your friend doesn’t care about your guilt, your excuses, your schedule; to her, your condolence note, even a late one, could be a gift from a parallel universe where love and friendship can be reliably counted in days off, date nights, and coffee klatches. She doesn’t need a store-bought card or a postage stamp. A text will do.
9. Never send an edible arrangement.
Things that are appropriate in any situation: Brodo, flowers, cake, money (if there are unexpected costs to deal with). A smoked turkey or chicken is especially nice for a grieving family — it can feed a lot of people, is delicious cold or warm, and can be eaten on its own, in a sandwich or salad, or hot open-faced.
10. It’s okay to ghost after one date.
You met up for a drink after work; discussed work, school, and siblings for 90 minutes; and ended the evening with a noncommittal “Let’s do this again sometime.” Now it’s been three days and you’re wondering what you owe this person you don’t particularly want to see again. You could send a text letting them down gently, but it’s also fine to say nothing. At this point, neither of you has put so much energy into the interaction that it warrants a formal ending. (And besides, nobody likes getting rejected by someone they didn’t care that much about in the first place).
11. If you ghost someone, stay gone forever.
We can understand the appeal of ghosting – it’s an easy way to cut someone off for whatever reason, or for none at all. What we cannot understand is ghosting someone and then coming back several years later to request a favour, asking for a letter of recommendation, or help promoting your new book, as if nothing had ever happened. That would have been a considerable ask even if we had remained friendly.
After ghosting someone, it seems obvious that you cannot ask for any kind of professional support or emotional labour without following these simple steps: (1) Acknowledge that you ghosted, (2) explain why you ghosted, and (3) apologize for ghosting. Then, and only then, when we agree that you ghosted me (for the made-up reason of your choice) but now need something specific to my skill set, talents, or network, may you begin to lean on me for favours.
12. Don’t wait for the right time to break up with someone.
There are fewer breakup blackout dates than you think. Think it’s compassionate to wait until January 2 to dump them? No, it just shows you were planning to do it all through the holidays!
Don’t describe TikToks. It’s more boring than describing dreams.
13. Gift randomly.
This is partly because we can never remember anyone’s birthday, but we like giving people gifts as soon as we find something that may amuse them or that I want them to read or hear rather than waiting for some societally designated occasion. It feels less contractual this way. And the things I like giving — fruitcake, potted herbs, good olive oil — rarely rise to the gravitas of a birthday or holiday.
It’s just nice to offer someone a physical manifestation of “I was thinking about you.” Or to figure out how you might distill someone’s personality into an eBay search string. Obviously, this doesn’t work with children. But most other people in your life will appreciate the small unexpected interruption to business as usual. This dovetails with another personal rule: Always send mail; everyone loves getting surprises in the mail.
STRANGERS & OTHERS
14. If you’ve met someone and they clearly don’t remember your name, say, “Hi, we’ve met, I’m X.”
It’s the perfect middle ground: assertive (We’ve met, I know it, and so do you) but generous (you’re telling them your name so they don’t have to grope around blindly).
15. Never answer a compliment with a compliment.
A couple of years ago, we met English actress, Emma Thompson in New York. We were wearing a plaid coat – the kind that gets a lot of attention. “I love your coat,” Thompson said. “I love yours,” we responded in a panic. Horrible. False sounding. And how could it not be? A compliment that follows a compliment, even if meant sincerely, will always sound forced. What we should have said: “Thank you” (owning the compliment) and “my daughter will be so happy to hear you like it, she gave it to me.” (Gracious).
17. It’s okay to ask how to say someone’s name.
Just do it as early as possible, and casually.
18. If someone mispronounces a word but you knew what they meant, move along.
There’s no better way to bring a conversation to a grinding halt.
The proper response to being told something you already know isn’t “I know.” – It’s “You’re right.”
19. When casually asked how you are, say “Well!”
It’s neutral and doesn’t force someone to endure a trauma dump or a spiel on how “the world is up in flames.”
20. Never ask someone about their nationality if you want to know their ethnicity.
These are not the same. Try “What’s your heritage?” instead. It’s not great, but at least it’s honest.
21. Accents aren’t “cute.”
It’s condescending to describe them thusly.
22. If you bring up astrology and it isn’t met enthusiastically, change the topic.
Not everyone believes in your made-up star stuff.
23. Actually, it’s great to talk about the weather.
It was 60 degrees in January. There’s lots to say.
24. Don’t address two or more women as “ladies.”
It’s oddly creepy when it comes from a man, and in other contexts, it reads as an unnecessary attempt to feign some kind of unity or connection between women.
25. Never ask anyone what their job is.
It’s classist and boring. Try three other topics first. And, don’t ask people where they live within two minutes of meeting them.
26. Don’t feel bad about standing up in the aisle immediately upon the plane landing.
Flying is bad enough already. Do what you can to make things better for yourself. Just don’t knock down elderly people on the way.
27. Don’t tell people they look like other people.
In the vast majority of circumstances, it is unacceptable to issue a verdict on the totality of someone else’s appearance. You cannot walk up to a stranger at a party and declare, “Wow, great waist-to-hip ratio, but you sure do have a noticeably large forehead!” Yet that is exactly what “You know who you look like?” is, except in code. “I have assessed you,” you are saying, “and here is my inscrutable decision.” So now the target of your observation gets to figure out if it was a compliment or an insult, and because beauty is subjective, there’s no way for them to know what you meant and no way for you to know how they received it — you simply cannot guess how the other feels about “young Barbra Streisand.”
The risk, in other words, is too high. It is potentially insulting, maybe ambiently racist, and frequently weird.
It is a mercy that we never know exactly how we are perceived by others.
We are perceived, of course, but I have learned that the only way to function is to bumble on in willful ignorance. And then someone tells you who you look like and your bliss is immediately shattered and there are only two possible reactions: One is “Are you delusional?” And the other is “Her?” If you want to give someone a compliment, there are better possibilities. “I like your sweater” is, a timeless classic. It is kinder, it is safer, and it will save us all so many hours on the internet, Google-image-searching other people’s chins.
28. Do not touch the small of someone’s back to move around them at a party.
It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and unnecessary. A nice little “Excuse me” would suffice. Is the music too loud? Give me a tap on the shoulder.
29. Never show that you’re impressed by someone.
You might assume we’re saying you should hold yourself in such high regard that no one else would ever impress you. That is not what we mean. We’re suggesting you never to be impressed based on our conviction that being impressed by people you meet is an implicit endorsement of the status competition that dogs so much of people’s social lives. We’re impressed by degrees and professional accomplishments and physical beauty and fame, none of which is the basis of lasting human connection. Developing affection for someone makes you more human; being impressed by someone makes you less.
The problem with being impressed by people is that it subordinates you and dehumanizes them. If you’ve ever seen someone who isn’t famous interact with a celebrity, it’s excruciatingly awkward. The regular person tends to be obsequious and anxious, while the celebrity seems distracted and uncomfortable. We don’t blame either side of this equation given the power of fame in our culture, but when someone approaches a celebrity and asks to take a selfie, even tentatively, it’s not really a human interaction at all. The kind of intimate exchange that marks real social engagement is impossible if one party is deeply impressed with another, as that person will inevitably seek the other’s approval and behave in a way that’s untrue to themselves. Meanwhile, the impressive person, even if they’re paying equal attention, isn’t really there; what the other person is reacting to is the feeling of being impressed, of being overwhelmed by someone else’s esteem. No room left for them. Despite the person’s proximity to power, and the weight of other people being impressed choking the room – try to keep both sides of a social exchange human and then maybe with time you’ll develop a genuine, warm regard for each other.
Don’t be aloof. Don’t be cold. Good God, don’t be self-impressed.
Just meet someone, note who they are, and get busy with the work of getting to know them and, hopefully, of becoming their friend. Before too long, you’ll forget why you were ever impressed by anyone in the first place.
30. Here’s a good way to handle yourself when being introduced to a famous person
YOUR FRIEND: “This is my boyfriend, Pete.” (It’s Pete Davidson.) YOU: “Oh, of course! So great to meet you.” It’s weird to pretend you don’t know who they are, and unless you’re a true fan, saying you love their work just feels disingenuous. You and Nic Kidman may go way back, but to everyone else, she’s Nicole. Same goes for Annie Hathaway and Jen Lawrence. Nickname-dropping is worse than regular name-dropping.
31. Listening is not the time for you to silently rehearse what you want to say next.
We can see your eyes glazing over.
GOING OUT & STAYING IN
33. If your burger is becoming a salad, your restaurant-order modifications have gone too far.
You’re allowed to ask for things based on allergies and preferences. But when your dish transforms into another dish, you’re a problem.
34. No deciding your order at the counter. When you roll up, speak up.
If you’re waiting in line behind more than one person, that’s your time to figure this out — it’s not for texting, getting deranged health tips from TikTok, or reading work Slack. Cut right to the chase — just a string of nouns: “Poppy-seed bagel, cream cheese, not toasted.” Done. Next!
35. Don’t foist your allergies onto a dinner party.
A while ago, we hosted a design dinner with a fantastic caterer. Then a well-known designer showed up with a blender filled with the ingredients for her own meal. She was on a very restricted diet. If we were on a very restricted diet or if we were gluten free, or vegan, or anything, we would not say a word to our host. At a dinner party, it’s about what the host wants to do. Just pick at what you can, then eat when you get home (or before).
36. To gracefully exit a boring conversation, merge with another chatting duo, then sneak away unnoticed in the hubbub.
They’ll see straight through “I’m going to the bathroom” or “I’m going to get another drink.” And “I’m going go make the rounds” is a bit cruel.
37. Don’t browbeat anyone into joining a game at a party.
But if you’re the only person who doesn’t want to play the game, offer to be scorekeeper.
38. For group dinners with friends, always split the bill evenly.
The worst part of any restaurant meal is the arrival of the check. Paranoia infects the table: Who got what? And how many drinks? And you’re a vegetarian? And whose card gets points where? This is the police interrogation room of the modern diner, bright and relentless.
There is an easy solution: Split the bill evenly. This is the cleanest, easiest, most moral method for restaurant dining, and you will not encounter half, or even a quarter, of the amount of problems as you do when everyone looks at what they specifically paid and forgets to add a tip. It’s the most adult thing to do.
39. But if you’re drinking and I’m not, offer to pay the tip.
Just offer! Admit that you ordered a whole-ass brook trout more than me on the check! It’s the acknowledgment. Plus, the entire tip is easy arithmetic. Nobody needs you to pull out the calculator function on your phone. And, don’t make people chase you for money. Pay it.
When planning a hangout, it’s absolutely fine to say “No partners.”
40. The grace period for one-on-one social lateness without penalty remains unchanged at ten minutes sharp.
No credit is awarded for arriving early, and demanding any is impolite. The pandemic changed everything but this.
41. The correct number of slices of pizza to order for a group of people is 3.
any fewer is for misers; any more risks catonia. N.B.: This rule holds for “classic’ large pizzas.
42. Venmo’s “remind” button is too aggressive.
Text them instead. Whoever owes you money may have a reason they’re waiting to pay you back – give them a chance to explain before you robo-remind them. That being said, try to pay people in a timely matter.
43. After school, you’re not allowed to be a birthday diva.
You can’t use the day to make unreasonable demands on people. You’re growing up, so grow up.
44. If you plan a birthday trip, aggressively message that people shouldn’t feel obligated to come.
Not everyone can or wants to pay for a round-trip ticket to Sedona plus lodging to celebrate your 31st, and no one wants to have to say that.
45. Don’t have an ironic birthday party.
It’s rude to the people genuinely enjoying that cheesy supper club or Medieval Times.
46. Don’t scan the room for someone cooler to talk to. At any party, offer to bring down a bag of garbage on your way out.
And if you bring food or drink, you can’t take it home with you.
How to not be a problem when dining out.
People don’t know how to behave, but wait staff report there’s been a shift. Restaurant etiquette has lapsed; people, at this point, treat everything like their living room. Part of that has to do with the commodification of bourgeois luxury: Now everyone has a car service at their fingertips, (Uber) everyone has on-demand concierge delivery of literally anything they need.
There’s a complete lack of shame that is linked specifically to smartphones. Some people will come to a restaurant and just be like, “What do you mean you don’t have Apple Pay? I don’t have a card.” Cash has disappeared to the extent that if someone’s like, “Sorry, you can only tip cash,” people are like, “I literally can’t.” But you should carry a card with you in case the place doesn’t have Apple Pay and have a little bit of cash for when the card reader is down.
Also everyone in the world now has a flashlight in their pocket (their phone). If you are in a really dark bar or restaurant, sure, use your light to look at the menu. But there’s a way to do it discreetly, where you’re not shining it directly into a mirror or into someone’s eyes. Avoid shining your flashlights like crazy for TikTok and filming a video during dinner.
47. Disperse — don’t clump — the superstars at the table.
And never make a superstar, whether they are famous or just extremely charismatic, face a wall; they always face the room. They must be allowed to sparkle.
48. Don’t go into a phone vortex at dinner.
If you need to use your phone, say you have to respond to something, then get in and get out (no perusing).
49. Always be the first one out.
No matter if you’re on the subway, in the office, or at a party, you should be the first one to bounce when things go wrong for any reason. Feeling menaced? Smell smoke? Time to head out. Not bringing anything to the situation? Run for the door. Making it a choice to always be the first one to leave in any kind of bad situation can help end a boring party for those who don’t feel as bold.
50. If you put out bowls of cigarettes at a party, you have to let people smoke inside.
They’re not décor.
51. If you like them, text people within three hours of hanging out with them.
If you didn’t receive a text from guests within three hours after hanging out, it would signal that they did not have a good time and they am simply not interested. Not all people follow this rule, but they should. It is rude not to confirm that a good time was had. It doesn’t matter if you’ve known each other for 15 years; give verification of a successful time. Most people don’t do this, so you can be the one to follow up. That said, a response to a confirmation of a solid hang is absolutely necessary. If you text “That was so nice,” you want to hear “I love you so much” in return within the hour. Our best-mannered friends do this.
If a first meeting was nice — not even great! — the person who did not ask for the hang should be the first to text that they had a good time. How else are you supposed to know you like each other? It takes two to tango, but the older you get, the more you can see how capable you are of dancing with another person’s limp body. If nobody texts within three hours post the initial meetup, not only should you not expect a friendship but you should come to terms with the fact that neither of you respects the other.
52. When hanging out with a famous person, you should not expect a follow-up text.
Those people are very busy with inboxes filled with acquaintances begging for validation. You can, however, expect an Instagram follow after two or three hang outs. If you do not get a follow, they do not respect you.
In a romantic meetup, there is no hope of a reciprocal future relationship if the person who asked the other one out does not text within the hour of the date’s end to confirm that a good time was had. A meme does not count as confirmation.
53. Your house? Your rules.
Windows open in winter? Hosting no-ventilation winter ragers where people smoke inside? Absolutely fine. In your home, you set the rules.
Good hosts communicate expectations, whatever they are. Letting people know what to expect is the best way to put guests at ease.
And if you’re hosting a gathering, you should explain the size of the invite list in real numbers. One person’s “small party” is another person’s “quite large party.”
54. Whoever put the most work into planning the trip gets first dibs on the rooms. And yes, that’s whether they’re single or a couple.
Choosing bedrooms in an Airbnb tends to unfold in one of two ways: (1) A couple gets the biggest bedroom, leaving everyone else to fight over the rest, or (2) it’s first-come, first-served (i.e., anarchy). Both can be recipes for secret resentment. Instead, agree beforehand that the person who project-managed the trip into existence gets first pick. After all, putting together a group holiday can be a massive and complex logistical lift, from figuring out the dates, to researching lodgings and restaurants, to making reservations, to chasing down unresponsive members of the group text. And if you played a more passive role, it’s a good and basically cost-free way to show your appreciation. (The one caveat is that if you’re traveling with people who brought their kids, it’s probably not nice to put them in a super-tiny room.)
55. If your host is doing the dishes, it means you’re supposed to leave.
If you’re somebody’s houseguest, always strip the bed, even if they tell you not to worry about it.
56. If you lose or break something you borrowed, offer to replace it.
If you can’t afford to, say that and see if there’s some other way to make it right.
57. Don’t buy a gift off-registry.
But money is always the perfect gift. Does this feel tacky to you? Reconsider.
58. It’s fine to use COVID as an excuse to get out of almost anything.
We deserve something out of this.
59. Go on, take the last bite.
Nobody wants to be the person who swipes that lone, lingering croquette or slurps down the final oyster from a communal seafood tower. Are you selfish? A glutton? All of the above? No. You are sparing everyone — your guests, yourself, your server — from the limbo of leaving one last bite on a shared plate. Letting something sit on the table uneaten while the bussers wonder whether they should clear the dish: That’s not polite. It’s annoying. Eat the food! That’s why it’s there.
60. If there is no dress code, tell your guests what you are wearing — and then actually wear it.
Don’t say you’re wearing jeans and then wear a gown or vice versa.
Don’t make complicated dress codes (like Tuscan-sunset sorbet tones) or send an elaborate mood board with outfit ideas. Don’t make complicated dress codes (like Tuscan-sunset sorbet tones).
60. If you’re Slacking together in a meeting, don’t giggle.
The reality is we’re all having side conversations. If something is funny, just don’t laugh out loud. A smirk is fine.
61. And yes, it’s fine to text.
Unless the vibe of the meeting is dire.
62. It’s okay to email, text, or DM anyone at any hour.
There’s nothing worse than being woken up at 2:30 a.m. with a silly text or a Slack notification. So why did you do that to yourself? Phones and computers have great tools now to manage your time away, including setting working hours and muting types of notifications. We’re responsible for which flashing lights and noises we let into our lives. Because of that, anyone should feel free to text a friend or message a co-worker at any hour. We can’t successfully move into the future unless we recognize that the onus is on the receiver, not the sender.
63. It’s polite to have your camera on for everyone in a Zoom or Teams meeting.
Sorry, Gen Z! And for those times when you have to be camera-off, just tell the host or group at the beginning. No need to give a reason; that’s your business.
64. But don’t Zoom in from the Palace of Versailles.
If your video-call background contains an infinity pool, a grand marble staircase, or a view from your yacht, the least tacky thing is to find a white wall instead. And if you’re dialing into a meeting and your internet connection is choppy, don’t power through. Put your thoughts in the chat, or message someone to say them for you. It’s far kinder than forcing your colleagues to play the game of “Can you decode what I’m saying based on every fifth word?”
65. There are three things never to gossip about at work:
1. Someone crying. 2. Someone getting yelled at. 3. A private phone call you overheard.
66. Ignore your colleagues on the train.
Think of your commute as “me time.” Objectively speaking, this is untrue, that the train during rush hour is jammed with people. Nevertheless, under certain ideal circumstances, the bustling subway is a place where you can step outside your life, a no-man’s-land between home and office, where, on the way to work, you can read a book in the quiet lull before battle and where, on the way back, you can reflect on the day that has passed. The commute, in the right light, is a sacred space not to be infringed upon.
67. If you’re a boss and you see your employees in the wild, greet them warmly but briskly.
Cordially say hello, make a few minutes of engaged conversation (to show them you’re not trying to escape), then say you’re running late and get out of there.
68. Don’t comment on other people’s food.
You don’t know their trauma. People can get very amped up in workplaces, and sometimes that takes the form of overly aggressive conviviality — like discussing what people are putting on their plates in the cafeteria or eating at their desks. Simply minding your own business is the best manners of all.
69. You can eat anything at your desk in an open-plan office.
Others can simply leave if they don’t like it.
If you hear rumblings of layoffs and are wondering if a friend or acquaintance was affected, the gentlest way to inquire is “Sounds like a tough day at [insert company or team name]. Sending good vibes.” That way, they don’t have to share if they’re not ready.
70. If you’re in the office, you’re wearing shoes.
Socks aren’t the worst thing you can see in an office. But toes are.
71. If you are a fast walker and the person in front of you on the pavement is walking slowly, do not walk directly behind them for blocks on end.
Just sidestep into the street and go around them.
72. Treat trains and buses like church pews — sit or stand as far in as possible so no one has to climb over you.
Don’t cluster by the door. Don’t sit in an aisle seat and leave an empty window seat next to you. Everyone will get in and out faster.
73. Don’t try to help a stranger parallel park.
Nothing strips you down to your bare humanity like having to parallel park. A successful parallel-parking job requires the motor skills and depth perception of a professional athlete along with the kind of intuition that guides a migratory bird back home in the spring. It feels like a test — by everyone else in the line of cars impatiently waiting behind you.
If you are walking down the street and see that a stranger is parallel parking, avert your eyes. “What if they need my help?” you ask. You are allowed to help only if you are directly and explicitly asked to by the driver. Otherwise, keep walking — it’s what’s best for everyone.
74. You can discipline your friends’ kids, but not a stranger’s.
Almost a decade ago, I was at my local park chatting with a friend while our young kids played in the little-kid area. We were in that wonderful liminal space of caregiving awareness where we were facing our kids’ general direction but weren’t paying them any mind. Just then a dad we didn’t know strode into our field of vision with his voice raised to an unnecessary pitch. He was — wait, what? He was yelling at our kids.
The rule of the park is that the children of your friends are your children, and the children you don’t know are simply not. (If you see a child in physical danger, it is your job as an adult to step in immediately, no matter who they are. But most of the conflicts that go on between children do not constitute danger, and if you think they do, you probably haven’t been around many kids and you will learn this lesson in due time.)
Let me be clear: This rule isn’t concerned with children’s special snowflake feelings. Kids of your acquaintance are absolutely fair game for your disciplinary tactics, as far as I’m concerned. If you know my kid by name, and you see him doing something uncool, I am grateful for your swift attention to the matter. Shout his name across the park so the sound hits him like the impact of a BB. Take him to task if you must! But strangers’ discipline doesn’t teach kids anything but fear and resentment. It doesn’t make the park safer. All it really does is kill the vibe.
75. But is your kid doing algebra in second grade? Reading at 3½? Selectively share.
How clever they are is a great topic to discuss at length with partners, grandparents, and their teachers. Friends (especially ones with kids) and even siblings, not so much.
76. And sharing parenting advice is a no-win game.
All kids are different, and you pretty much always end up offending or stressing out another parent. So keep it to yourself and enjoy being quietly smug about your superior parenting choices.
77. Go easy when asking young people about life after school.
Asking a teenager “Where do you want to go to university?” can raise a host of sore subjects they’d rather avoid, including their own self-worth and family net worth. We asked a group of high-stress high-school students what to say instead. They included “What are you thinking about life after high school?” and “What are you most excited about when thinking about college?” and the more direct but all-inclusive “What are your plans after senior school?”
78. Be clear about the kind of birthday party you are hosting.
Are you feeding them? Y/N. Am I supposed to stay? Y/N. Are siblings welcome? Y/N. Is this a no-gift party? Y/N.
79. Even when a kids’ party says “no gifts,” you’re supposed to bring a gift.
We may never be able to identify the patient zero of “Please, no gifts.” But it’s easy to understand why, once we parents saw this phrase for the first time, we all then began to affix it to our own themed e-vites. No one wants to make people they barely know feel obligated to add an errand and a financial obligation to their overburdened lives, and also our kids are already swimming in an ocean of plastic stuff. The problem with “Please, no gifts”? It doesn’t work, and it makes people feel weird whether they obey the rule or — as it’s tacitly understood one can and maybe should — loudly ignore it.
Since people will bring gifts no matter what, it is now my belief that gentle and specific gift guidance is more realistic. You know, “Gifts aren’t necessary, but Hortense loves books about turtles,” for instance. Alternatively, we might opt to say nothing and let the chips fall where they may. Then we can all turn our attention to bigger problems, like the abolition of goody bags.
80. If someone’s baby is crying in public, you don’t need to stare at them.
They know their baby is crying.
POSTING & TEXTING
81. Don’t ever message someone “k.”
The combination of the single letter and period comes across as unfriendly (even if it doesn’t read that way to boomers). It basically means “get lost” to Gen Z.
82. If you’re someone who types “hahaha” to things that are actually funny, don’t just say “ha” when they’re clearly not.
The sudden demotion can feel disheartening to the other person. A mid-level “haha” or a quick “Lol” is kinder.
83. Don’t scroll through your friend or acquaintance’s photo roll.
If they hand you their phone to show you a photo, keep your thumb still. Sure, you’re friends, but they’d probably prefer you not see the close-up selfies of their moles, their screenshots of text gossip, or the 200 outtakes from the nude photo shoot they did the other night.
84. Don’t use Instagram Stories to surveil what your friends choose to do instead of hanging out with you.
Let’s say you invited someone to your “thing” (dinner, party, book talk, baby shower, séance, intention-setting gathering), and they said “no” or offered a noncommittal “maybe.” It might smart a little, but should you discover that they went to another social engagement instead, do not reach out and confront them or bad-talk them to your mutual friends. In fact, it’s probably best not to track them on Instagram in the first place — the story you’ll tell yourself will always be worse than the real one.
85. Don’t post in the manner of an influencer if you’re not one.
Social media has familiar formats because they accomplish goals. YouTubers flash a peace sign and sign off with “Don’t forget to like and subscribe!” because it works. But they’re businesspeople. You’re actual people. Sound, imagery, and text are your palette for self-expression. Why not use these platforms to find out how you communicate best instead of borrowing from everyone else?
86. You don’t have to heart-react to DMs or comments that don’t require a proper response.
We’re talking about the one-word responses to your photos or stories (“cute!” “haha!”) or even the heart emoji itself. It’s okay to heart-react if you want to, but you can set yourself free from the expectation. (This holds true for text-message reactions.)
87. Hot gossip goes only in the voice memo, never in text.
When you (Oh my God) have something wild to share (You won’t believe this!) and you just (Are you kidding?!) can’t wait (I’m dying) to share it in person (Holy shit), you know you can’t put it in writing. Texts are far too easy to screenshot and far too boring to type. Send that news, in a voice memo.
Unless the recipient is one of those people who saves all their voice memos — careful, they exist — this mode is ephemeral. It is fast, and it is fun. Nothing beats a face-to-face tête-à-tête or even a dishy phone call. But a series of increasingly (What?) unhinged (No!) recordings (Again?!) of your friend talking out of school in their actual (Gasp!) voice? It’s enough to singe your ear.
88. Sit down and respond to an email, even if it’s a year late.
Then be honest about the fact that you ignored it in the first place.
89. Text-message amnesty is granted after 72 hours.
After that point, you don’t have to acknowledge the old text when you get in contact again.
90. If you like something your friend is doing, promote it online.
It doesn’t matter if you have a big following. It’s a gesture, it takes 0.5 seconds, and it matters more than you probably realize.
But don’t harass your friends (or, worse, co-workers) to promote you online — and don’t forget lots of people just don’t live like this online.
91. Find your signature sign-off and stick with it.
From “all best” to “much love,” be yourself. Don’t give up on email sign-offs – they are the last vestige of written correspondence. One nice way to sign off on an email, is “as always.” It’s a workhorse that can be intimate without being weirdly romantic, respectful without being overly formal. A “cheers” is obnoxious. An adverb — “hastily,” “warmly,” “faithfully,” — has charm but requires some thought. “As always,” on the other hand, is the effortless adieu of someone dashing off emails in between fabulous outings.
92. Read receipts are to be turned on only in cases of a medical emergency.
While it is safe to assume that most people under the age of 50 are umbilically attached to their phone, to have demonstrable proof that they have seen and ignored your communiqué is psychologically inadvisable.
93. Text, email, and Paperless Post invitations are all okay.
The only thing that’s not okay is an invitation from an assistant sent to your friends.
Be on time — the people with the most expensive watches are always late.
93. You have to get consent to post a conversation with a friend.
No screenshots, and no copy and paste, without permission. And pictures? Get the consent in triplicate.
94. Don’t pelt your friends with text messages.
People text differently. It’s okay to communicate about it. Getting bombarded? Try saying “Hey, I don’t text that much” or “I don’t text as much when I’m busy during the day at work” if you have a different text cadence from a friend.
95. Post like the wind.
On Instagram, where best practices are unspoken but nearly universal, the conventional wisdom is that you should post on your main feed no more than once a day. Infrequent posting is perfectly in line with Instagram’s social mechanisms — it maximizes likes on each post, prioritizes the consumer, and lends itself to a tasteful, optimized feed where only the best-of-the-best pics make the cut. But if you’re going to participate in social media, the best way to have any fun with it is by consciously defying the incentives it dangles in front of you. Post indulgently. Maybe even take some shots with the in-app camera and post them as-is (it only seems unimaginable because you’re not thinking big enough).
96. Don’t post RIPs for celebrities.
Don’t post photos of famous people seconds after they die. It’s not a form of respect for the dead, but an attempt to sycophantically associate yourself with the famous. Unless the famous person was your actual uncle, or cousin, or whatever, refrain.
97. Don’t post Negative Comments
If you want to post something negative, keep in mind that what you say or share often says more about you.
98. Gift Giving and Thank You Notes
Wedding gifts are an absolute must. But, if you’re of the belief that a present should cover the cost of your plate, it’s time to change your outlook. The gift should be determined according to your financial ability, simply put. Nobody wants you going into debt.
Thank You Notes
If you haven’t heard a peep of thanks from your cousin months after you’ve ordered that espresso machine off his wedding registry, it’s fair game to check in. “You can ask: ‘How did you like that? Is it working out for you? I thought of getting one for myself”’. They will probably say: ‘I’m so sorry. I meant to get to you.’
While today’s messages of gratitude don’t necessarily have to arrive in an envelope, you should take the time to personally thank your guests within three months after you wed. A thank you text, email or a thank you while you’re on the phone with someone might be the couple considering they’ve done their job.
99. Navigating Family Dynamics
Asking your surly future brother-in-law to stand by your side as a groomsman may seem less than ideal, but it most likely outweighs uncomfortable Christmas lunches for the next, say, half-century. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do to maintain peace. This is just one day. What are the consequences for the rest of your marriage?
100. Financing the Wedding
Determining who will foot the bill for wedding celebrations reflects changing times. Today, the reality is whoever has the money will pay for the wedding. It’s not split in the middle. This may mean that either set of parents or engaged couples themselves are picking up the tab. The couple needs to be thankful for the parents’ generosity but still be able to tailor the event toward their liking.
The parents should remember this is not their wedding and treat their list as a wish list and not a ‘this is the way it is’ list.
R.S.V.P.s and Additional Guests
Itching to back out of a wedding and wondering when — if ever — doing so is acceptable? Taking care of yourself – and prioritising your wellbeing – isn’t rude, as long as you clearly communicate your change of plans. What would be rude is not letting the couple know that you are no longer going to be coming. Keep in mind that timing is of the essence when altering an R.S.V.P. Most catering companies want a final guest count somewhere in the 10 days to two weeks range, so change your R.S.V.P. before that time.
The only suitable reasons to cancel at the eleventh hour include a death or serious hospitalization, a sudden lack of child care or a flight cancellation.
On the other hand, perhaps you’re overjoyed about the prospect of watching a loved one tie the knot — so much so, that you’re inclined to ask whether your new beau can join the festivities. That’s an easy no. Making the guest list is probably the most fraught decision that couples have to make. If you’re close enough to the couple that they would know you now have a significant other, then they will extend an invitation if one is available.
The maxim that wearing white to a wedding is discourteous holds true today. Also, steer clear of outfits that are super revealing.
*This is a revised excerpt from nymag.com