Chatting about etiquette seems a quaint, old-fashioned concept, like courtship, landline telephones and Myspace. It’s a stuffy old word that conjures up images of sour-faced aristocrats sneering down their bespectacled noses at people for holding fish knives incorrectly, or something equally arbitrary and ridiculous.
Unless you’re a researcher for a BBC period drama or a butler for the Queen – and we’re willing to hazard a guess that you’re neither – these kinds of fusty, Victorian-era rules have little place in today’s society. However, in a broader sense, etiquette is still remarkably relevant. Because, well, we should all aim not to be a douchebag on a daily basis.
Consider this comprehensive guide your virtual finishing school, helping to equip you with all the essential knowledge and modern manners required to go out into the big wide world without making a complete and utter prat of yourself.
The History Of Etiquette
The story goes that when King Louis XIV’s gardener at Versailles discovered noblemen were trampling his flowers to death by walking through the garden, he put up signs, or ‘etiquets’, to warn them to keep off the grass.
But it turns out 16th-century French noblemen aren’t the most obedient bunch and eventually the king himself had to insist that nobody was to go beyond the boundaries set by the gardener’s signs.
Over time, the meaning of the word evolved to include various other codes of conduct, until we eventually arrived what we define as etiquette today – the rules of engagement for everything from a business meeting to Netflix and chill.
What Does Etiquette Mean For The Modern Man?
When you consider how much social norms have evolved over recent years, it’s little wonder the traditional model of ‘gentlemanliness’ looks more than a little outdated. Dress codes have all-but dissolved. We communicate more online than in person. Sexual politics and gender equality are making some long-due progress. And each cultural paradigm shift has left our old approach to etiquette in drastic need of an overhaul.
Luckily, the foundations of good manners boil down to common sense and simply being a nice person. In short: engage your brain and take a moment to consider what consequences your words or actions might have.
For example: is that woman you’re about to congratulate/offer a seat to definitely pregnant? Make sure you know the answer to that question without a shadow of a doubt before you go trying to do anything ‘chivalrous’.
Etiquette For Different Settings & Situations
Unsurprisingly, the way you behave when wining and dining a potential love interest is going to be a bit different from how you conduct yourself when playing video games with your mates – we hope. In light of that, here are some key social settings and a handful of protocol pointers to help you be the best you in each one.
In this post-Weinstein age, most men have probably given their behaviour with the opposite sex a quick MOT. The #MeToo movement is brilliant and long overdue, but it’s a mistake to think that it’s changed dating etiquette. Because that shit was never okay. Still, if your next Tinder meet-up has you more nervous than usual, follow these simple rules to boost your chance of a second.
1. Offer to pay on the first date, but never insist. If she wants to go 50-50, the gentlemanly thing to do is to agree. Or the other way to play it is to forget gender politics completely and work on this rule: if you requested the pleasure of their company, then you should pay. Done.
2. Take the initiative in organising the first date. Few things are less sexy than asking: “So, what do you fancy doing?”
3. Even if you can see instantly that a blind date is a blind alley, stick around for a couple of drinks at least. It won’t kill you, and they might be feeling the same.
4. Message the day after a date, if not sooner. Even a disastrous one.
5. Use a recent, representative profile photo on dating apps. That snap from five years ago when you still had hair and hadn’t discovered Deliveroo yet doesn’t count.
6. Message first and say something specific pertaining to their profile. As long as it’s not “nice rack”.
7. Offer your date the seat with the best view. Or whichever seat she/he wants for that matter.
8. Put your phone away, FFS.
9. If you’re in a restaurant, treat service staff respectfully. Being rude to waiters and waitresses, even bad ones, is a dead giveaway that you are a wrong ‘un. Your date will notice, and so will everyone else.
10. Don’t leave more than a day between messages if you want the correspondence to continue.
At The Office
You may not like it, but the grim reality is that you probably spend more time with your co-workers than you do any other person in your life. With that in mind, it’s probably best to do everything in your power to ensure that they don’t want to dropkick you through a cubicle wall every time they see your face. These simple codes of conduct should help keep the passive-aggressive Post-It notes to a minimum.
1. Don’t follow up on unanswered emails and texts within 24 hours. If it’s especially urgent, call them.
2. Don’t passive-aggressively CC somebody superior into an email chain. It’s the ultimate arsehole move (aside from BCCing). Even if you achieve your desired result, they will remember, and they will continue to make your life difficult in whatever way they can.
3. Don’t call people unless it’s really, genuinely urgent. Phoning someone is like walking into their office unannounced, putting your feet up on their desk and saying: “So, I just wanted to talk to you about…” Whatever they’re in the middle of, you just interrupted it.
4. Return phone calls. If you don’t want to speak to them, email. Or ring back when you know they can’t answer.
5. Don’t call people “mate”. I’m not your mate, pal.
6. Stand up when being introduced or when introducing yourself.
7. Shake hands firmly, but don’t overdo it. You’re not impressing anyone with your bone-crushing, kung-fu death grip, you’re just making yourself look insecure.
8. Don’t bitch about other co-workers. You’re not an overly manicured receptionist from a 1970s American soap opera. If you’ve got a problem, ask for a meeting or coffee and raise it with them.
9. Never throw someone under the bus in a meeting. If you need to give someone a suggestion relating to the way they conduct their work, do it one-to-one, in private.
10. You might love the smell of those steamed kippers you brought in for lunch. The rest of the office, not so much.
Out & About
If you’re no stranger to hearing phrases like “I can’t take you anywhere”, or are responsible for almost all of your friendship group’s collective eye rolls, you might want to hang around this section for a minute. These are the need-to-know tips for making it through a night out, or even just a trip to the shops, without showing yourself (or anyone else) up.
1. If you’re sitting in the priority seat anywhere (trains, cinemas, waiting rooms) and don’t need to be, then get your arse off it, pronto. Staring at a newspaper or your phone is not an excuse for staying put.
2. Hold the door open for women, men, children, dogs and anybody else just behind you who would be inconvenienced and possibly injured otherwise. But don’t hold it for them so far ahead that they feel pressured to do a funny little jog out of politeness. That’s not helpful, it’s awkward.
3. Don’t look at your phone in the cinema, dimly lit exhibition or the like. Even if you’re bored. You may as well light a distress flare.
4. Don’t broadcast videos or music in public. When did this become acceptable? Answer: it never did.
5. Use common sense when deciding whether or not to give your seat up for someone. Most will appreciate the offer, but some may think you’re insinuating that he or she is out of shape or old. If in doubt, don’t take up a seat in the first place.
6. Need to get out of your window seat to use the aeroplane toilet? Gently tap the person next to you on the shoulder to let them know you want out. Don’t try to clamber over them while they sleep. If you hit turbulence and end up in their lap, it won’t go down well.
7. Give the person in front of you some space at the cash point.
8. Don’t bellow down your phone in public places. Nobody cares about your conversation apart from you and maybe the person on the other end of the line. Maybe.
9. Don’t outstay your welcome in the coffee shop. The purchase of one flat white at 9:30am does not entitle you to a rent-free workspace for the remainder of the day/week/month.
10. Control your temper. Flying off the handle in public makes you look like a toddler having a tantrum. Probably not the best vibe to replicate as a fully-grown, adult man.
Manners With Mates
‘Manners’ and ‘mates’ aren’t two words that always go together. But while it may be cool to laugh at each other and tell mum jokes in each other’s company, there are still a few things you should bear in mind when it comes to how you treat even your nearest and dearest pals.
1. Pay your way. Skipping rounds or over-ordering when you know you’re splitting the bill is textbook douchebag behaviour. And while nobody said anything, everybody noticed, and they all hate you for it.
2. If someone tells you some good news – a new job, the birth of their child – don’t steal their thunder by publicly congratulating them on social media before they’ve posted it themselves. They might not want to announce it yet or in that way. And whatever you do, don’t post the picture of their baby that they sent you. At least not without asking.
3. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5-0 down after 89 minutes and your opponent is showboating like it’s a Barcelona training session, or 1-0 down after five minutes and they’re just passing it around the back. Never, ever quit a game of Fifa. This is an absolutely inviolable rule.
4. Got a pal who’s moving house? If you live nearby and are free that weekend, you’re duty bound to help them out. Just as they are duty-bound to get the pizza and cans in once you’re finished.
5. A mate’s ex is always off limits. Now, in a year, in five years. Even if they’ve said they don’t mind, they do.
6. Don’t borrow money unless you have to. And when you do, always make sure it is paid back on time and in full.
7. Never under any circumstances poke fun at a friend to make yourself look good. If you do, then you’re not much of a friend, are you?
8. You know that mate who always pays up front for the five-a-side pitch rental or the stag do accommodation? Reimburse them promptly and next time, pip him to it.
9. In a group of mates, don’t let one person do all the organisational work. If you’re going on a group holiday, help to plan. Don’t just sit back. They’re probably getting sick of organising your life for you.
10. Granted, you have a little more leeway with your mates when it comes to rocking up late than you would on a date, but don’t waste their time. Because they don’t have any more of it than you do.
On Matters Of Style
Tom Ford once famously said that “dressing well is a form of good manners”. And while that may sound like a load of codswallop, there are some links to be made between good etiquette and good dressing. So, before you rock up to your next black tie optional soiree in a hoodie and a pair of joggers, take some time to reacquaint yourself with the rules.
1. In a modern world of caps that are as well-cut (and often from the same material) as your best overcoat, taking your hat off indoors is somewhat outdated. Just use the head it’s sitting on to decide when and where it’s acceptable. A wedding: no. In a burger bar: yes.
2. ‘Black tie optional’ doesn’t give you carte blanche to rock up to an event in swimming trunks, a football shirt and a cowboy hat. It just means you have the option to wear either a dinner suit or a dark suit.
3. Giving unsolicited style advice is the same as saying: “I don’t like what you’re wearing.”
4. Like your friend’s new jacket? Great, tell them. A compliment can make someone’s day. However, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. Ask before ripping them off and buying the same one.
5. Take off your sunglasses indoors and at night. No exceptions.
6. If you’re going somewhere nice for drinks, don’t be the guy who gets the whole group turned away because he decided his right to wear running shoes was more important than everyone else’s night out.
7. When it comes to tailoring, know your measurements like you know your PIN number. The fit is everything. “That’ll do,” should not even be in your vocabulary.
8. If you’re unsure of how formal an event is, always dress up rather than down. You’d rather be the only guy in a shirt and tie than the only guy in a T-shirt and shorts.
9. It’s common knowledge that female guests should never wear white to a wedding so as not to steal attention away from the bride. As a man, you should do the same. We’re not saying don’t wear a white dress (that much should be obvious), but do avoid stepping on the groom’s toes style-wise.
10. If your partner asks whether or not something looks good on them, it always does.
The Gym Code
For a newcomer, the gym can be a confusing place. What does this medieval-looking contraption do? Is it socially acceptable to take my boxers off in the changing room? Why is that giant man with the spider web tattoo on his chin grunting like that? The answers to the majority of these sorts of questions can be found right here. Stick to these gym etiquette tips, and you’ll blend right in. Well, maybe not with the spider tattoo guy.
1. Don’t play on your phone while hogging a machine or bench. If the gym is busy, let someone else sit in between sets rather than taking up space fiddling on Facebook.
2. Always wipe down any equipment after you’ve finished using it. Nobody wants to find a sweaty arse-print planted on the seat of whatever machine they are trying to use.
3. Put things away once you’re finished with them. Barbells are the perfect shape for someone to trip over and hurt themselves. Don’t let it be your fault.
4. Don’t roar and loudly drop your weights at the end of a set. You aren’t the Incredible Hulk, even if you do smell a bit like him.
5. See those big floor-to-ceiling mirrors? They’re for studying your form. And by that we don’t mean the horseshoe shape of your triceps, big guy.
6. Remember those video game levels where you’d have to make it past a series of swinging obstacles or be knocked to your death? That’s the environment you’re replicating for everyone when you do your kettlebell workout next to the treadmills. Find your own space and leave others to theirs.
7. Be clean and wear clean clothes. Nobody wants or deserves a waft of your #gains every time you lift your arms up to do a rep. Your gym kit bag should be emptied every time you use it.
8. Stay out of a lifter’s ‘bubble’. Unless you’re spotting them, you need to give anyone using the squat rack, bench, or lifting platform a buffer zone of a few feet.
9. Don’t stare.
10. Never give out unsolicited training advice, or if someone gives some to you, simply smile, thank them and continue your workout exactly how you were doing it before they stuck their nose in.
It’s easy to forget that interactions on social media are probably the most visible and public interactions we have. Maybe you’re attempting to slide into someone’s DMs. Perhaps you just want to join the #conversation. Whatever. Brush up your online etiquette using the advice below and avoid making a twit of yourself on Twitter, or a dick anywhere else.
1. Learn your privacy settings inside out before getting trigger happy. Do you honestly want your boss (or potential employer) to see that photo of you drinking Carlsberg out of a shoe at university? In fact…
2. Think carefully before letting co-workers, bosses or relatives into your social media bubble. Sometimes what is seen cannot be unseen.
3. When it comes to online homewreckers, Instagram is up there with Ashley Madison. What are you gaining from leaving a double tap and a tongue emoji on a randomer’s post? Nothing. Cut it out.
4. Don’t hang your dirty laundry out to dry online. Your arguments are your business. Don’t make them everyone else’s; you’ll always come off worse.
5. Don’t tag people in photos they clearly wouldn’t want to be tagged in and don’t post a picture just because you look good if your mate or, worse, significant other doesn’t.
6. Keep your politics to yourself (or at least certain times of day on Twitter). There’s no better way to put people’s backs up than with incessant political rants.
7. Not everyone is as interested in your baby as you are.
8. Had a few drinks? Fine, as long as you don’t start posting. It’s the drunk dialling of the modern day and equally hideous.
9. Don’t fire out friend requests to people who don’t know you personally without a note explaining who you are. If you do send unsolicited friend requests to strangers, don’t be surprised when you don’t get anything back.
10. Don’t like or comment on old photos or posts. It’s weird and stalker-ish.
As A Guest
There are special rules for when you’re in somebody else’s home. So before you go barging in there with your half bottle of supermarket wine, traipsing mud and dirt onto the hallway carpet, take a minute to get familiar with the manners that maketh the guest, or expect never to return.
1. Don’t even think about arriving empty-handed, even if the host hasn’t asked you to bring anything. A decent bottle of wine is never unappreciated.
2. Offer to help with dinner (or anything for that matter). Nine times out of 10 your host won’t let you get your hands dirty, but it’s the thought that counts, eh?
3. If you’re staying over, don’t turn the guest room into a bomb site with used underwear and wet towels strewn about the floor.
4. Familiarise yourself with the house rules. Are shoes allowed? What dishes can and can’t go in the dishwasher? Should you leave the door unlocked? Get to know it all straight away to make your presence as stress-free as possible.
5. Don’t arrive too early. This is the perfect way to freak your host out.
6. Equally, be careful not to outstay your welcome.
7. If you have stayed anywhere for a prolonged period, offer to take your host out for dinner or at least cook as a way of saying thank you. If in a pinch, a bottle of their favourite spirit wouldn’t go amiss.
8. Pack a dressing gown. You don’t want to have to jog nervously from the bathroom to the bedroom every morning, bollocks to the breeze, covering your plums with both hands.
9. Don’t expect your hosts to cater to any ridiculous dietary requirements you may have. Allergies? Fine. But “Oh sorry, I can eat that. It’s got salt in it.” Get out.
10. At the end of your stay, make sure the room you stayed in is spotless, strip the bed and offer to load the linen into the washing machine.
As A Host
As a host, your primary aim is to make your guests feel at home and leave wishing they could stay longer. Here are a few hosting etiquette hints to help keep you on the right track and ensure that people go away talking about their visit for all the right reasons.
1. Always greet your guests at the door and make them feel welcome in your home immediately.
2. Take people’s coats and jackets for them and tell them where they are should they need them.
3. Circulate, participate in conversations and introduce your guests to one another, especially anyone who has come on their own and may not know anyone.
4. Make sure everyone’s drinks are topped up. Half-pissed guests are way easier to impress anyway.
5. If you’re having a large number of guests over, you can probably knock the ‘shoes off at the door’ policy on the head. There’s something a bit weird about a big party where nobody has their shoes on.
6. You shouldn’t be expected to cater to particularly unusual dietary habits, but it wouldn’t hurt to do a veggie option if you know that one or more of your guests aren’t meat lovers.
7. Don’t just play music you like, but don’t make it a free-for-all or you risk people cutting off songs halfway through to play their own. Assess the crowd and the mood and make a playlist accordingly.
8. If having guests to stay, make sure their room is tidy and that the bed linen is fresh.
9. Everyone loves a drink, but also ensure you’re stocked with alternatives for those who are driving and guests’ children. The last thing you want is a bunch of wasted kids running riot.
10. Always see your guests out and thank them for coming.