5 Types of Undesired Etiquette

Etiquette, it can be argued, is the cornerstone of culture. The existence of rules, however arbitrary they may be at times, that govern how individuals in a larger culture interact with one another is the purest form of social lubricant.

Of course, for this concept to remain relevant, the rules need to evolve over time. New guidelines must replace old ones that have fallen out of favor (for example, people no longer react with monocle-dropping shock when somebody uses the big spoon for their soup). We all understand this on some level, if only subconsciously, and yet certain rules of politeness simply refuse to die when their time is up – no matter how badly we all want them to deep inside.


Come quickly! A salad fork has been desecrated!

The problem is, as individuals we don’t really have the luxury of choosing what institutional etiquette we follow in mixed company. That’s why the first step has to be awareness. And in my laughably passive bid to score a writing job at Cracked, I have collected five examples of “polite” behavior we’re all expected to perform, but nobody really cares for.

Holding doors for people

Nostalgic chivalry aside (I won’t open that can of worms), there’s an expectation that in public, if you go through any non-automatic door, and someone else is following semi-close behind, you must hold open the door and wait for them to enter. On the surface this seems perfectly reasonable and logical. However, problems arise when people can’t tell how far to take this rule, so to avoid the risk of being rude, they take it all the way.

You come to realize this quickly in office environments, due to the abundance of both doors and strangers. Consider two men entering a building, one trailing the other by roughly 20 feet. If the first man holds the door, the other man instantly feels pressure to hurry his pace so as not to delay the other. What I find interesting in this scenario is that neither man wants to be put in this position, and yet we still insist on playing along.

Forgive the gender bias, and I do presume that two women would feel the same, but find me one man who gets offended when somebody else several paces ahead fails to hold a door for them. Personally, I don’t even care if the other person is within arm’s reach and they don’t hold the door. Not only does it present just a touch of the notion that you are physically a weakling who can’t negotiate a standard door, but I find it very uncomfortable to cause delays to strangers.

Suddenly these make so much sense.

Suddenly these make so much sense.

Naturally the rules are totally different if the door is being held for somebody carrying a stack of boxes, or pushing a hand truck, or on crutches – basically any condition that takes at least one limb out of the equation. And I still think there’s a place for this in chivalry as previously mentioned. But those circumstances aside – no need to hold the door. I’ve opened quite a few of them in my lifetime with almost no help at all.

Letting another driver go first (when it’s your turn)

I’m not even sure I need to say anything on this one. If you have a driver’s license, you’ve encountered this situation. You come to some type of intersection at roughly the same time as another driver, and somebody has to take the pole position. Remembering the extensive Rules of the Road training you received from skimming through a booklet you got from the DMV one time at age 15, you acknowledge that the other driver has the right-of-way and yield to them.

But they don’t move. Oh no, they do anything but move. What should have been a simple 3 second social transaction between strangers becomes an automotive Mexican standoff. You’re both trying like mad to wave each other through, as though you’ve just entered in a long distance back patting duel. The end result is, at best, a net two additional irritated drivers. At worst, you wind up in the world’s most boring game of chicken – jerk forward a few inches, brake, repeat in unison until somebody floors it out of aggravation.

I've been told you need to use pictures to keep readers' eyes moving if you have a lot of wordy paragraphs.

I’ve been told you need to use pictures to keep readers’ eyes moving if you have a lot of wordy paragraphs.

I have a rather counter-intuitive solution to this problem. It is counter-intuitive because the more people adopt it, the less it will succeed. Luckily no one reads my blog. What you do is, if you are rolling up to a four way stop and you see somebody doing the same from a perpendicular direction, immediately feather the brake, long before you reach the stop sign. Nobody seems to know all the rules of a four way stop, but most people at least understand the concept of “first come, first served”. So trick the other driver into thinking they’ve gotten there before you. On the other hand, if you can’t avoid arriving at the intersection at the exact same time as another – just go for it, man. Take the dominant position. 99% of drivers in this situation will wait for some sort of cue from their opposite number, so don’t pussy-foot around. At worst your brazen audacity to take the lead will slightly annoy the other driver. What WON’T happen is 90 wasted seconds of the “You? Me? You? Me?” game.

Stopping for pedestrians (when it’s not necessary)

The close cousin of the previous entry – this brings up the one OTHER rule people remember from their learner’s permit booklet: Pedestrians ALWAYS have the right-of-way.

Admittedly, not committing vehicular manslaughter is a rule I endorse. In almost every situation, cars should yield to pedestrians. But I believe we can work a little slack into this rule when it comes to parking lots. If you’ve ever tried to drive past the front door of a Target (or Wal-Mart for my dignity-impaired readers), you quickly realize that American innovation could send a man to the moon in the 1960’s but still hasn’t given us a way to transport people from the parking lot to the store without creating a traffic jam.

The reason it takes you 20 minutes to drive the 10 yards past the front door of your favorite department store is that society will brand you a monster if you dare to drive past a pedestrian waiting to cross. Again, safety is #1 and all that, but let’s consider the optimal (as in, least time-wasting) scenario.

I’ve already mentioned how I don’t like to inconvenience strangers. If I’m alone, about to cross from the parking lot to the store and there’s one car approaching and it stops to let me pass, my brain instantly does this math:

Time saved for me not having to wait for the car to pass: 1-2 seconds
Time wasted for the other driver waiting for me to cross the road: 5 – 10 seconds

Maybe narcissists would see it differently, but for me the math doesn’t support stopping in that particular scenario.

Damn. I just realized I have tempted fate to see to it my life is ended by being run over in a Target parking lot.

Pictured above: Fate.

Pictured above: Fate.

Saying “Bless you” when somebody sneezes

Perhaps this is more of an issue for atheists and not for anybody else, but I suspect ambivalence towards this behavior is more widespread that we let on. Why do we still say “bless you” when someone sneezes? It’s the one superstition I can think of that we’re ALL expected to adhere to without exception.

It’s particularly obnoxious when people insist on saying it after each individual sneeze (for most people they come in waves of two or three). Advanced pricks will even include an increasingly exasperated tone with each successive “bless you”, and then maybe a sprinkling of “Geez!” at the very end. Don’t you love being made to feel humiliated for your super common, involuntary bodily reaction?

Once again, offices are the worst in these situations. A somewhat formal environment with many people condensed together means a couple of sneezes generally results in a chorus of bless yous.

This is one I’m fully in favor of abandoning cold turkey, but here’s the problem – it’s so ingrained in our culture that if you sneeze and there’s ANYBODY around to hear it, it feels awkward for it not to be acknowledged in some way. And sadly, there’s no real alternative response. Some madmen have taken to saying “God bless you” or *shudder* “JESUS bless you”, but that’s even worse. “Gesundheit” will never, ever not sound ridiculous to non-Germans, and “Salud” makes you, as an American, look like a hipster prick. I wish that weren’t the case but it is.

How about "well done."?

How about “well done.”?


Ask any server, bartender, barista, or valet, and they will most certainly file tipping under “desired etiquette”. But take a step outside those few professions for which tipping is a life blood, and you can see that it’s become a monster. I’m not sure you can even call it etiquette anymore.

I’m not old enough to know when it happened, but at some point in the last 100 years tipping switched from being optional to mandatory, completely flying in the face of its purpose – which is, ostensibly, to reward outstanding service.

I’d love to find out what diabolical restauranteur invented the notion of paying servers peanuts and forcing them to rely on tips to generate a living wage. I would brand this person a domestic terrorist. Think about it – it’s essentially passing the responsibility for paying the better part of employees’ wages directly on to the customer, for absolutely no reason other than “they can get away with it”.

And why can they get away with it? Because we as a society have been trained to tip 100% of the time in various situations.

One might argue that the tipping system is a way to guarantee good service in industries where that is particularly important. I have two arguments against that:

  1. There are countless customer service-based industries in which tipping is unheard of or even forbidden, such as in retail, and somehow you can still interact with the employees while reasonably expecting not to be cursed at or punched in the face.
  2. Since tipping has become all but mandatory, it no longer motivates the way it is meant to. To leave no tip at all in a restaurant makes you look like such a pariah, a waitress would have to light your mother’s hair on fire and piss it out for you to get away with not tipping.

Of course, I’m not suggesting people simply stop tipping. That would only cripple precisely the wrong people. In fact, I don’t really see how this boat could ever change course short of a full scale societal revolution. I mainly just wanted to point out how insanely twisted it’s become.

For 20 years, Steve Buscemi has been unable to eat at a restaurant without somebody bringing up this film, I guarantee it.

For 20 years, Steve Buscemi has been unable to eat at a restaurant without somebody bringing up this film, I guarantee it.

Comments (2)

  1. KT

    Interesting! I don’t know if other people experience as much discomfort when they have to make people wait. That in itself seems like adhering to a form of etiquette – you don’t want to be rude by causing a delay.

    The tipping one is exclusive to America, I think. Elsewhere in the world, it’s still optional, the percentage expected for good service is lower, and they don’t pay servers next to nothing. It’d be interesting to see a follow up with 5 rules from American or western etiquette that should spread to the rest of the world, like standing in a line.

  2. As far as sneezing goes, I go in the exact opposite direction and respond with an emphatic, “DISGUSTING!”

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