In a civilized society, people live by certain social mores and standards. Proper etiquette helps define the social conventions that keep people and circumstances polite and proper. Most standards of etiquette are both reasonable and useful and exist for good reasons.
But there are five widely accepted rules of etiquette that have become my “etiquette pet peeves”. These etiquette rules seem to exist for no other reason than to, well, exist. They are self fulfilling rules of etiquette that are such because they are, not because there is a meaningful underlying reason for them to be.
Here are my five etiquette pet peeves.
Etiquette Pet Peeve Number One: Under all circumstances, women must exit the elevator first
I live in New York City and as such spend a good portion of my life on elevators. When I am alone on an elevator with a woman and we reach the ground floor, I instinctively bow my head slightly and tip my hand toward the exit. I really do not even think about it. “Ladies first” is a rule that I believe almost always applies, with one significant exception.
Very often I will be on a nearly full elevator and there will be a woman, or a number of women, somewhere in the middle or near the back of the elevator. They are there due to the fact that they were among the first passengers, joining the voage on some upper floor.
And far too often, the men near the front of the elevator will, despite best intentions, suspend common sense. When the elevator opens on the first floor, rather than simply taking a quick step out and walking away, thereby allowing everybody, men and women included, to get out as quickly and conveniently as possible, they will move over, lean against other men and wait for the woman, or women, to fight their way through a sea of humanity to get out first.
Nobody benefits from this.
The women certainly don’t get out any sooner than they would have had everybody just filed out. And to get out, they have to elbow and push and say, “excuse me” over and over again as the men stand there, afraid to get off the elevator and out of the way.
Enough of this! It is not at all disrespectful to women, and it is not at all uncivilized, to just get out in the most logical order, thereby allowing everybody to get out of the elevator car as soon as possible and then on with their lives.
Etiquette Pet Peeve Number Two: Having to open a door for women from the inside by stretching awkwardly to the outside
Without fail, I hold doors for women. When my son is old enough, I will expect that he will do the same. There is a basic reason for this. Men, generally, have more strength than women. It takes less effort for us to open a door than it does for a woman. It is one of the few things, actually, that we are better at than women (the list of things that women are better at then men is inexhaustible). But it is common sense and common decency to hold a door for a woman, whether she is your wife, co-worker, or stranger in public.
But, there is a nuance to holding a door for a woman that needs to be changed. For doors that open to the other side, it is expected that men will push it open with their arms and stretch and lean to keep it open, gesturing for the woman to walk through with their free arm.
It seems awkward and rude, for no other reason that people think it seems awkward and rude, for a man to open the door, walk through, and hold the door open wide for the woman to pass through. Somehow, for some reason, it is only deemed polite, courteous and gentlemanly if the man not only opens the door, but goes to great distance to stretch his arm and inconvenience himself to the fullest extent possible.
The irony is that most often the woman would benefit from the man on the other side as the door is held open to a much greater degree than it is when the man is pretending to be ‘stretch man’.
As with the elevator pet peeve, this is a silly rule of etiquette. A man means no disrespect and does not do the woman any less of a courtesy by taking the half a second it takes to walk through and hold the door wide open. Yes, the man went through the door first. But he was much more comfortable, the door was held open more effectively, and ultimately, the woman will get over it.
Etiquette Pet Peeve Number Three: Having to say “Bless You” after a sneeze
Admittedly, there is no real downside to this one, exactly. But why the pressure to say, “bless you” to somebody when they sneeze? What is the point, exactly? It’s phony. I mean, I say it out of reflex, but I’m almost in a panicked state to say it quickly and loudly so as to not forget or not be heard.
Why? I’m not truly concerned about somebody when they sneeze. Unless they’ve had an incredibly violent, nth degree of standard deviation sneeze resulting in a rib coming off its hinge, they don’t need a blessing. Nor do they get one anyway by my rote and hollow ‘bless you’.
If somebody near me has a coughing fit, I will ask if they are okay. I truly have some concern. I will ask if they’d like some water, a cough drop, whatever. They could be terribly uncomfortable or maybe even in some danger. That’s genuine concern and genuine etiquette. But a sneeze? I’m really not worried about them. Heck, I like the feeling of a good sneeze. I don’t need to be blessed afterwards. And I’m tired of always having to say, “bless you” when I don’t mean it.
Etiquette Pet Peeve Number Two: Not taking the last piece of food
When eating with a group of people and there is one piece of food left, be it pizza, be it a cookie, be it an appetizer, there is always one piece left that nobody wants to take. I understand the impulse; but shouldn’t it matter more that everybody had basically the same amount? What difference does it make that somebody eats the last piece?
Effectively, you see, the person that ate the next to last piece had the last piece, given that in polite society nobody will eat the actual last piece. So does that make the person eating what seems to be the next to last piece rude?
I do understand when everybody has already eaten an equal amount and nobody wants to eat more than his or her share. But that usually is not what is at play in these circumstances.
No, most often people stroll over to the plate at a party and notice that there is only ONE ‘pig in a blanket’ left, hesitate and then look for something else that has at least two pieces left. Silly.
Etiquette Pet Peeve Number One: Banning Cell Phone Discussions in Public
This etiquette pet peeve will probably have the most people disagreeing with me.
I really do not understand why people object to others talking on their cell phones in public. Obviously, there should be limits as to where and when a cell phone conversation should take place. But to me, the rule of thumb for cell phone use should be no different than the rule of thumb for public conversation.
If I am sitting at a counter at a diner and eating breakfast, for example, and next to me are two people having a conversation with one another in reasonable tones, I do not consider it to be at all rude. If I am sitting on a bus next to two people having a conversation, I have no problem with it at all.
So why should I care if I only hear half a conversation due to the fact that only one person is near me having a conversation through his or her cell phone to somebody elsewhere? How does this inconvenience me and how is it any more, or less, rude than a conversation where both are there? If anything, I prefer a cell phone conversation to a live one as I only have to listen to half of the overall conversation.
Perhaps those reading this and will reconsider their stances on cell phone etiquette rules and someday we’ll crack down on those having a full, and not half, conversation next to us.
So there you have it: my top five etiquette pet peeves.
Truth be told, even though I don’t understand them, I actually mostly follow these rules. It is, after all, the polite thing to do.