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How to Behave

A modern(ish) guide to etiquette for every situation

Woman helping older woman with coat

Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images

In business, author Nancy Mitchell says, "courtesy is gender-neutral.... Anyone in the vicinity helps a person who is struggling with a coat or wrap.”

The book Etiquette Rules! A Field Guide to Modern Manners offers advice on how to behave in pretty much any situation you might encounter — and more.

Author Nancy Mitchell, 71, wrote this exhaustive handbook, she says, because she believes that “rudeness is rampant.” She insists that having everyone following the same rules, especially those that are about kindness and respect, can make all of our lives better. “I think you can change the world by one encounter at a time,” says Mitchell, who teaches etiquette at George Washington University School of Business in Washington, D.C.

Many of her rules are old-fashioned: Don’t slouch. Don’t curse. The bread plate goes on the left.

Some go beyond manners to hygiene, grammar and fashion advice — including “Sweaty palms? Antiperspirant on hands might help” (Who knew?). “Subjective pronouns take the place of a noun.” Men's pants "should not fit tightly around the leg, nor billow."  

And others are new rules for the modern world. A sampling:

Online invitations: “Think twice about using them for wedding or other formal occasions.”

Facebook: "It's OK to unfriend.... If you don't want to unfriend someone but can't stomach another cat video or Candy Crush update, hide them from your feed."

Airbnb hosting: “Provide information on local activities, restaurants and public transportation.”

Workplace chivalry: “In business, courtesy is gender-neutral.... Anyone in the vicinity helps a person who is struggling with a coat or wrap.”

Email: “Beware of 'Reply to All.' ” And “Proofread!”

Wedding responsibilities: “It is the shared responsibility of the wedding couple to write thank-you notes.” 

Twitter: "Don't follow someone with the goal of encouraging them to follow you as a method to increase your numbers, and then immediately unfollow them."

Job seeking: "Don't attempt to connect with interviewers on social media. It's not appropriate at this stage." 

Cellphones: Talking on your phone on public transportation is "RUDE and TMI. We don't want to hear about your foot fungus, 12-hour labor or make-up sex."

What to text: "A text is not an appropriate way to communicate serious concerns, condolences or thanks."

How often to text: "Don't send multiple texts to elicit a response" — it "can feel like stalking."

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