Etiquette still matters!

By Caitlin Kelly


From The New York Times (on Trump):

the most distinctive aspect of Trump’s presidency, which is his complete and consistent rejection of the conventional etiquette of the office — of public comportment that speaks to the best in us, not the worst.

The other presidents in my lifetime have at least done a pantomime of the qualities that we try to instill in children: humility, honesty, magnanimity, generosity. Even Richard Nixon took his stabs at these. Trump makes a proud and almost ceaseless mockery of them.

And while I worry plenty that he’ll achieve some of his most ill-conceived policy goals, I’m just as fearful that he has already succeeded in changing forever the expected demeanor of someone in public office.

We need etiquette more than ever before — from the French word for ticket — to grease the wheels of our discourse and behavior. When we use agreed-upon rules of polite interaction,we can just get on with life’s many other challenges.

E.G.: You don’t wear white to a (North American) wedding. You probably wear black to a Christian funeral. You shake hands when meeting someone and look them in the eye and say” “Pleased to meet you” or something similar.

In France, and some other countries, you greet someone with a kiss on the cheek, possibly multiple times, or shake hands with them. (I love how personal that is.)

I recently attended a funeral where one woman —  in her late 40s or beyond — arrived wearing workout clothing. My husband thinks I’m being a snob, (entirely possible), for thinking this was rude, but to my mind, a funeral is hardly a spontaneous event you just show up to in Spandex and sneakers.

It’s meant, I think, to be a time of sober reflection and support for the family, even if celebratory as well. Show some respect!

Another friend just lost her much beloved stepfather, and heard some incredibly rude and stupid things at his funeral. Like adding to someone’s grief is an intelligent or kind thing to do.


I was trained, and still do, to write thank-you notes, promptly, on paper and send them through the mail. However ancient this may seem to a generation accustomed to texts and emojis, a hand-written note on lovely stationery — whether a thank-you for a meal, a visit, a job interview, a wedding or birthday gift — remains a much-appreciated touch.

If you ever get an invitation with the letters RSVP, also French, they mean Repondez S’il Vous Plait, (answer, please!) Having to repeatedly email, text or call would-be guests to ask: “Are you coming?” really ruins the pleasure of entertaining.

Even as so many us wander about in comfy techno-isolation, wearing headphones, staring into our phones, we’re still sharing space on the street, in cramped airplanes and slow-moving subway cars, in open-plan offices with no privacy, in crowded, poorly-designed classrooms and stores.

That’s why we still need ways to smooth our passage through work, life and major events, to feel safe in knowing what to expect of one another and to be able to rely on that.


In public?

Keep your shoes on!

Don’t tweeze your chin hairs!

Don’t clip your nails!

Speak quietly (if you must speak at all) on your cellphone.

Offer your seat to a pregnant, elderly or visibly exhausted person, regardless or their age or gender.

Don’t shout at people working low or minimum-wage jobs like food service, hospitality or retail — their lives are already difficult enough.

Here’s a handy list of 12 things you should never do.

Have good manners helped smooth your life?

Do you see considerate behavior these days?

30 thoughts on “Etiquette still matters!

  1. Frances Sullivan

    Lovely piece. And I agree that our comportment and civility, our respect for others, addresses the best in us, yes. In times when we lose our way, those standards keep us mindful that we are not ever alone, that it can never be just “me” here. Thank you!

  2. You’re not being snobby. The woman who came to the funeral in workout clothes clearly missed the point of the funeral. It’s a time of passing. If someone came to my funeral dressed that way, I’d come back just to haunt them.

    I try to model polite behavior, even among close friends who know my goofy and wild side. Am I always successful? No! I have issues in social interactions, but I always ask people to point out if I did something wrong because otherwise I’m not going to learn for the future. And I try to do thank-you notes whenever I receive a present (though sometimes it slips my mind because I get busy).

    And as for people behaving in public, I see more people acting rude than acting polite. One time a woman sitting next to me at a computer station at the library randomly turned to me to ask for feedback for a letter to Facebook about shutting down her account because of an inappropriate picture she’d posted on her feed. I was like, “Yeah, no. I’m going now.”

    It’s especially worse at the movie theater. People talk, check their phones, bring babies. When I went to Kong: Skull Island with my sister, this one family in the back kept shouting out stuff in the middle of the theater. At one point, a man with a deep voice yelled out “C Rations!” when he saw them in the film. I nearly got up to get the manager!

    I thought when I went to the ballet on Saturday, I might not have this problem. Unfortunately, I did see a cell phone screen, and one woman in the front was bouncing a baby on her lap during the second intermission. Why do people even bring babies to these things! They’re going to get fussy at some point and you’re going to miss something trying to calm them down. It’s like a law of nature, and it happened at the ballet and in every movie I’ve been to where a baby was present. If you can’t afford a baby sitter, DON’T GO! It’s this thing called a parent sacrificing for their child, it includes the fun things in life (which you’ll live without). Honestly, if I owned a theater, I would make it a rule that no child who can’t be expected to be quiet for the entirety of a show would be allowed in.

    (You can tell this is a sore subject with me.)

    1. Indeed! 🙂

      I was out at a restaurant last year and was fed up with one family that was REALLY loud (and this was not an inexpensive place.) They ignored all the death stares from everyone and I wrote a long/polite letter to the manager — who called me, apologized and gave us a $75 gift certificate to return. Which we did.

      But it was the manager’s job in the first place to have dealt with it.

      1. My mother would not take me to a restaurant till I was not only out of diapers, but could read. That way, I’d be entertained (I was not up to big conversations yet), and I wouldn’t cause holy hell from my boredom.

        You know, I wonder if there are laws or lack of laws that would allow business owners whose establishments are in the business of entertainment to keep potentially noisy babies from entering? As far as I know, there aren’t any, but then again, I’m not a legal expert.

      2. Nope…the customer wins, even if the customer (and fussy baby or noisy children) is driving others mad.

        My Dad and I were trying to have a decent lunch (again, not a cheap place!) and 2 young boys (maybe 1o) at the next (too close) table wldn’t stop horsing around. When we finally lost our shit the mothers, of course, were rude to us…

      3. Damn. I may have to look into changing that.

        By the way, speaking of etiquette comma I’ve noticed that libraries seemed to have changed their Minds on noise. It used to be that you were in courage to be quiet. But I’ve many libraries I’ve been too, A lot of noise is to be expected. And may have to do with the people from that neighborhood, but it’s not something I grew up with.

      4. That is a huge change in libraries — here, as well. It’s a cultural shift (and not one I like), meant to make the library less intimidating and more welcoming to a wider, more diverse audience. I make sure to sit in the spaces in ours that are still (blessedly) silent.

      5. Yeah, that’s where I like to do my homework the most. But I get the cultural shift thing. In a lot of neighborhoods, the libraries are better funded then some of the schools. In fact, in neighborhoods with higher crime rates, the library seem to be the safest place to go. Add in after school programs like tutoring and healthy snacks, job training classes, and even video game stations comma it’s no wonder people are treating libraries like a community center. That’s basically what they are. And now my mind is blown.

  3. I’ve seen rude behaviour from parents who refuse to parent by letting their progeny run riot. I’ve also seen very polite behaviour. I think the majority of people try to be thoughtful. Cross-Country Checkup did a piece on April 30 about the airlines ( Now there’s the potential for rude. There were horror stories, yes, but stories about great kindnesses, too.

  4. i think that it is important to honor the social mores wherever you happen to find yourself. it makes things comfortable and offers a sense of respect to those you encounter. like you, i always send a handwritten note to offer my thank you’s and try to consider the occasion, the people and the place when making choices of behavior and dress.

  5. I have been mourning etiquette’s slow demise for years.. kids screaming in restaurants (at 10pm)-teens dropping the “F-bomb” like verbal confetti no matter the ages of those within ear-shot, aggressive driving, sloppy drinking, interrupting, cell phones..I could go on!
    No one colors within the lines anymore because they just don’t care about their behavior’s impact on the “greater picture” be it the ambiance of a restaurant, the sanctity of a chapel, respect for authority or the reputation of a nation.

    1. It’s also a byproduct, in the U.S., of a nation addicted to the fullfiment of individual and his or her (or their) specific needs at any given moment, as though others’ don’t exist or have equal or greater weight. That’s a major issue and one that’s made even uglier when people go ON and ON about their “rights” — and stand stupefied sometimes when you say. “Ok, cool. What are your responsibilities in return?”

      1. A few of us were discussing this very thing one point recognizing our own hand in this problem as technically (mathematically speaking) this is our kids’ generation..🤔I would say that (very generally speaking) while our parents were more into ignoring their children we swung over to semi-worshipping them..creating a strong self-centerdness that really comes into full bloom in adulthood. My friend’s son and his wife when announcing the recent birth of their daughter, requested that no gifts have the color pink in them..a small matter for sure, but to me an embarrassing and obvious symptom of this exact problem.

      2. The “special snowflake” problem.

        Much as some millennials now love to trash Boomers like me and my husband, we had ZERO expectation of special treatment from anyone — try being one of MILLIONS in a cohort. Not enough good jobs for all of us, surviving three recessions…Get serious. It toughened us up, and those who survived WWII and the Depression laughed at OUR fragility.

      3. It’s depressing..and like so many other issues, I don’t know how this gets solved- I used to think I could always conjure up ideas & I’m not so sure there are any for a people who are this tribal, fractured, self centered and disconnected from one another. ugh.., but hey, have a great day! HAHA!! 😀😏

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  7. Respect at funerals is so important. It is the last honour that we can do for our loved one. For bereaved people to experience disrespect at a loved ones funeral can have lasting consequences for their coming to terms with their new reality. I’m a funeral minister in the uk- I don’t take many these days, but respect, respect, respect!

  8. I remember reading articles about people taking selfies at funerals. At our public transit system, the buses and trains now have blue seats for elderly and those that need it. I still see people sitting there and not budging when those that need it come on board.

  9. I love your mention of writing thank you notes and sending them through the mail. While it is “ancient” practice, it makes me reflect on where we are now. Thank you’s can so readily be sent in a text and don’t require much thought or effort. The human connection has been watered down, reduced to obligations and aloof responses. Even the “pleased to meet you” and “how are you” have lost meaning. They don’t seem personal. Often we fail to see from the receiver’s eyes and hear from their ears. This may be an underlying issue in the erosion of etiquette.

    1. Decades from now, (perhaps) someone will re-read a thank-you note, or a postcard (!) or a birthday card….and enjoy a happy and physical memory. I wonder if people will cherish tweets and texts the same way.

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