The Value of Etiquette

EtiquetteRecently, I wrote an article about little things that immigrants to America might be surprised to know about money, consumerism, and human relations in the United States. It kicked up some interesting controversy in the comments, in which some immigrants basically stated that I shouldn’t be offering advice to them because I don’t understand their experience.

Anyway, one comment on the post struck a chord with me that has resonated for a while; here’s what Diamond had to say:

Of course this isn’t the end all be all, and doesn’t cover everything that would be impossible for one person to write. You hear from travelers that go to other countries all the time, one of their biggest pieces of advice is to try to “blend” in with the culture. Try to be more conservative. It does help to get used to things, and will make life easier while youĂ•re still learning and integrating in.

Diamond hit upon something important here – the value of etiquette. Before you get concerned that I’m going to start quoting Amy Vanderbilt (although I am secure enough in my manhood to admit that I’ve read her Complete Book of Etiquette), I’m not referring to etiquette in the remember-which-of-these-seven-forks-is-the-salad-fork variety. I merely mean paying attention to and respecting the culture you’re choosing to participate in.

Why is this valuable? It’s valuable because basic etiquette shows respect and consideration for others who may hold opportunities of incalculable imagination for you. Much as I discussed earlier on the value of personal appearance, the impression that others have of you is an investment, and if you put very little into it, you’ll get very little out of it. Even more than personal appearance, proper etiquette is vital; you can be as poor as a pauper and still demonstrate a high level of etiquette and create a positive impression on others.

What should I do? Here are my ten basic points of etiquette. Don’t worry, these aren’t the “best of Emily Post” – they’re merely some guidelines to ensure that you show courtesy and respect towards others, who will then retain a positive impression of you.

Be on time
Don’t be habitually late. Make an extra effort to be on time – in fact, I usually seek to be everywhere I need to be five minutes early.

Don’t be crude
Avoid the following behaviors: swearing, shouting unnecessarily, getting angry, staring, pointing your finger, picking at your body (your teeth, nose, ears, etc.), scratching your skin, chewing gum in mixed company, and smoking in mixed company.

Don’t check your watch
This is my worst habit, one I’m trying to break. You should avoid checking your watch or the wall clock, as it creates an impression that you’d rather not be there (whether it’s true or not). If you do it, you’re giving a clear cue that you are not enjoying present company and it reduces the impression others have of you.

Avoid unpleasant conversation topics
While I don’t hesitate to discuss religion or politics with people close to me, it’s generally not a polite topic for mixed company. Also, you should avoid discussing personal finances and work except in the quirky and anecdotal sense – avoid specifics.

Greet people appropriately
This should almost always involve standing and a handshake or at least a nod of the head.

Always shake hands when you meet someone
When you meet someone new, take a moment to shake their hand. Stop, look them in the eye, and offer your right hand (always your right, even if you’re left handed). Give a firm grip and shake no more than twice, then let go. Don’t go for the double-handed “Bill Clinton” shake unless you’re in an intimate situation.

Always introduce people who do not know each other
If you are in the presence of two people who do not know each other, make an effort to introduce the two of them, even if you’re not the host of the event. By doing this, you are not only reducing the discomfort in the room, you’re effectively strengthening your own social network by creating two more secondary connections.

Refer to people by title
Use sir or ma’am until you know a person’s last name, then refer to them as Mr. Smith or Mrs. Wilson or Dr. Friedman until they give you permission to use their first name (many people will do this as a matter of course as soon as you use their title, but will hold you in higher esteem).

Use the “big four” phrases at every appropriate opportunity
The “big four” (as my grandfather taught me) are “thank you,” excuse me,” “you’re welcome,” and “please.” Make an effort to make these words and phrases a regular part of your vocabulary, as it paints a respectful and mature picture of you.

Don’t engage in an ethnic greeting unless you’re highly familiar with the nuances
For example, if you’re not Asian, don’t bow to an Asian guest unless you are familiar with bowing customs.

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