I think a lot about social gracefulness, and how to be pleasant to hang
out with. To that end I think etiquette is very important, in a broad
sense of taking the perspective of the person you're talking to, and
trying to not do things that they would find annoying or tiresome
(unless you have a good reason). So I maintain a list of tips for
casually interacting with people, mostly as a reminder for myself. I
don't like that almost all of these are negative, what not to do, but it
doesn't take a lot of effort to avoid them, and you can get a long way
just by doing that. Very many of the tips boil down to not saying to
someone the dumb thing that people who meet them say all the time, and
that they are completely sick of. Like jokes about their name.
It's a work in progress - as are my manners - and these are only my
theories. Also, I definitely break these rules, sometimes for legitimate
exceptions and sometimes not.
Several of these come from my friend Jim Davies, and others, such as the
disabilities and divorced people ones, are adapted from internet sources
(as I say, I compiled this for myself originally, so I didn't keep the
When you hear someone's major, especially if it's in the humanities,
don't ask "what are you going to do with that?" Most people's jobs have
nothing to do with their major. Also, it's okay if people don't know
what they want to do with their lives when they're still in college, so
knock it off.
Don't tell people they look tired. If they feel tired, they know it, and
don't want to be reminded. If they don't, it will make them feel tired.
The same goes for "sick", "worried", "stressed", "upset".
Don't ask a graduate student what their thesis is about or when they're
planning on finishing by.
Don't ask people who just got married when they're planning to have
kids. Don't ask an engaged couple if they've set a date.
Don't ask veterans whether they killed anybody.
Don't make a joke based on someone's job that they just told you.
(Not everyone agrees with this one:) Never make a big deal over
someone's name. Don't make a joke about it, don't call it unusual, don't
compliment it, take care to get the pronunciation right without making a
fuss. The one exception: if they chose it for themselves, recently.
Try not to say things that imply the person you're talking to is an
idiot. Don't imply that the other person's actions or thoughts are part
of a bigger trend, or are because of a group they belong too, or have
been manipulated. Don't imply that the person doesn't know their own
mind. Especially: never attribute a woman's emotions on her menstrual
cycle or menopause. You may express only mild agreement with her if she
Don't second guess people's decisions that have already been irrevocably
made. (e.g. major purchases, career choices, creative choices for
published things, tattoos)
Don't interrogate people about their ethnic makeup. Especially not
people who appear to be of mixed race, since strangers literally come up
to them on the street and ask them, "what are you?" (I'm shocked that
this is the case - it's so incredibly rude)
If you have just met someone from a minority or country or alternative
sexuality or gender presentation that intrigues you, do not try to get
them to educate you about it as though they're the representative for
that group or country. Or at least take it easy on that until you've
gotten to know them in other ways.
There's almost never a need to tell someone that they already told you a
joke, fact or story before.
Don't ask kids what they learned today in school. I find it hard to
remember what I was doing at work the same day, and kids live even more
in the present, so talk to them about things that are closer at hand.
Never feed someone's pet people food without asking the owners first.
Same goes for kids.
Don't tell people that they look like someone else (whether celebrities
or real people). I know this one is hard.
Rarely leave voicemails. Send an email instead. Never leave second
voicemails with no new information.
Don't criticise your significant other, students or employees in front
of other people. Don't talk about a problem you're having with an
employee or student of yours to another employee or student.
Do not tell parents you hate kids; do not tell pet owners you hate pets.
Things that you can easily overestimate how interesting they will be to
other people: dreams, baby stuff, pet stuff, your travels, youtube
videos you saw.
Don't ask people questions that are traps.
Don't talk about getting older with people who aren't within about 5
years of the same age: both younger and older people find it irritating,
for different reasons.
Don't compliment people on losing weight, or otherwise get enthusiastic
over their appearance relative to their previous appearance.
Don't comment on makeup.
Don't ask a working mom, how do you juggle it all. (implies she's
screwing it up)
Don't question people's subjective impressions: how can you be cold?
Don't refer to people or groups as "exotic".
If someone is forced to wear a nametag for their job, don't use their
name off it (dick status move, where you are in effect pointing out
their lowliness relative to you)
Don't apologize except when you understand you've done something bad to
someone, and plan to change your ways. Or are forced to by some other
rule of social conduct.
1. Do not congratulate them.
2. Do not tell them how you always knew they weren't going to make it.
3. Do not give them theories about the demise of the marriage.
4. Do not give them a timeline for when they "should" start to date/stop
5. Do not tell them to feel better because your aunt/friend/mom had a
Blind people or people with low vision:
- Try not to act embarassed or apologetic - this can be a way of
pointing out that you're making an extra effort for them.
- Say "may I shake your hand".
- When saying hello, especially for the first time, say who you are.
- Tell the person you're there, and tell them if you're leaving.
- Don't say "guess who this is"
- Don't worry about using sighted language, like, "See you later"
- Describe your gestures
- Speak at a normal volume and pace.
- Don't bring up the idea of heightened senses to compensate.
- Don't interrogate them about their exact level of vision impairment,
e.g. can you tell how many fingers I'm holding up?
Hard of hearing
- Face directly and enunciate a bit more, while not talking down to them.
- Don't ask interpreter to do physical assistance.
- Don't give something for each hand and then ask a question.
People with disabilities
- If someone uses a wheelchair, sit down to talk to them so they don't
have to crane their neck.
- Ask before you help, especially taking hold of someone's wheelchair.
But never ask someone in a wheelchair if they need help getting into
- Don't call people brave, or your inspiration. Don't say I wouldn't be
able to handle that.
- Talk to the person, not to the attendant.
- Don't touch, move, or lean on mobility aids.
- Don't ask people when they got disabled, or probe the exact extent of
- Don't say, "you don't look sick". Keep in mind that many people have
disabilities that are invisible (e.g. arthritis of the hip in a young
person, torn ACL)
- Don't assume that they spend a lot of their time wishing they didn't
have their disability. (e.g. don't ask if they think about it, or what
they would do if healed)
- Don't say, at least it's not X.
- Don't question the wisdom of having kids.