8 Rules of Etiquette We Wish Were Still Around Today

In our age of casual living, is etiquette dead? Have mobile communication, 24/7 schedules, and fast food dining killed the very last vestiges of graciousness and good manners? Maybe so. Here are eight rules of etiquette that are quickly fading into history.

1. Bringing a Host or Hostess Gift

When invited to a dinner party, it's polite to bring a token of appreciation for the host or hostess. But the rare few who still follow this fading rule of good etiquette get hung up on how much to spend. Don't worry about price; the real value is in the gesture. A modest bouquet of flowers, a pound of great coffee, a small box of high-quality chocolate, or a bottle of wine are perfectly acceptable options.

2. Digging in Before the Host

Good form dictates that no one should begin to eat until every guest has been seated, served, and the host (or cook) has taken the first bite. The latter part of this rule may only be bent if the host expressly gives permission. Since most of us now eat in front of the TV, mealtime is often a free-for-all. Still, keep this little nugget of basic dining etiquette handy for business or formal occasions.

3. Using Salt and Pepper Properly

There are two simple rules about these most common of condiments. First, it's impolite to add salt or pepper to your food before you've tasted it (the offensive suggestion here is that you expect the food to be bland). Second, when a fellow diner asks you to pass the salt or the pepper, good etiquette requires that both be passed together.

4. Signaling When You've Finished a Meal

At a restaurant or catered event, diners used to communicate to wait staff using their utensils. Though the rules are quickly becoming lost to a more genteel time, well-trained servers still know them. Placing the knife and fork together and parallel at the eleven o'clock position (fork tines up) signals you've finished your meal. Laying the knife on the right side the plate and the fork on the left (tines up) indicates you're just taking a break.

5. Greeting a New Couple

Here's something to remember the next time you're invited to a wedding: It's proper to say "congratulations" to the new groom, but not the bride. Congratulating her implies she's won something (the groom). Instead, "best wishes" is the proper sentiment for a new bride. Not sure if you can keep the rules straight? Choose the safer, universal option and simply offer best wishes to the new couple.

6. Writing Thank-You Notes

It might be difficult to imagine in our hyper-informal world, but writing a thank-you note after receiving a gift used to be a reflex. Birthday gifts and holiday gifts each required a short but sincere hand-written thank you and both young men and young women had reams of stationery at the ready for just such occasions. For parents who want to their kids to stand out for all the right reasons, reviving the tradition of the hand-written thank-you note is a sure-fire way to do it. (See also: 10 Rules of Etiquette Everyone Should Know).

7. Giving Up Your Bus or Subway Seat

Granted this chivalrous move can still be spotted in the wild from time to time, but giving up your bus or subway seat for a pregnant, elderly, or similarly vulnerable person was once the standard. Sadly, seeing someone follow this basic rule of etiquette today is just rare enough to get noticed.

8. Walking in Front of Someone

When I was a student in fifth grade, the rules of etiquette were drilled into my head by an old-school and overzealous teacher. Back then, we were taught that when passing in front someone's line of vision (say, a fellow shopper who's browsing a particular shelf in a grocery store) it's good manners to say "excuse me" or "pardon me." Rather than a request for the person to move, it's simply an acknowledgement that you've temporarily obscured the shopper's view.

Trust me, you can stick a fork in this one — it's done. Just the other day I offered my polite "excuse me" in a local department store purely out of habit and was met with a quick and scornful "you're excused!" from a twenty-something shopper. Ahh, the times they are a-changin'.

What fading of rules of etiquette do you still follow? Which ones do you miss the most?

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Guest's picture

I stopped taking hostess gifts to dinner parties where I am likely to issue a reciprocal invitation long ago (except for special occasions) when a bottle of decent wint hit twenty bucks. We are all on budgets. I do not expect my guests to pay for their meal. But complimenting the cook, now, that's not negotiable.

So it's ok to imply the groom has won the bride, but not the other way around? Ah, old sexist customs...that one maybe deserves to die.

Guest's picture

I STILL do every single one of these.

FIE upon those who don't; talk about deal-breakers!

Guest's picture

I use all of the rules. Being well mannered will never go out of style.

Guest's picture

What has happened to saying thank you to someone who just held a door open for you? F

Guest's picture

I practice most of these, but especially #1 and #8. They are pretty obvious!!!

Guest's picture

I didn't even know about passing both salt and pepper when only one is asked for, interesting. And I ALWAYS say excuse me if walking in front of someone at the store, it just makes sense. Anyone who takes offense to it is just a jerk lol I'm glad I was raised to have manners...sadly, not many are anymore.