ou’re thinking of southern balls, girls in pastel poofy dresses, boys dressed up to the nines in a scratchy suit learning how to dance and speak in just the proper manner.

No, this is not the etiquette we’re talking about. Throw all of the high-class properness away, this is politeness of a different kind. 

Etiquette nowadays doesn’t just extend to how you should speak and act with people in person, often etiquette is most applicable when it comes to our presence online or when we’re interacting with technology.

There are definitely some unwritten rules that we all try to abide by, but it’s comforting to see these rules written out to see. Here’s a list of seven etiquette tips you should master for everyday adult life, for both on and off the screen.

  • Turn off your phone at dinner
  • Keep your personal arguments off social media
  • Stop the text break-ups
  • Double-checking your headphones
  • Maintaining the personal space bubble
  • Keeping public transportation private
A closeup of a lunch table where two people are eating their meals and drinks.
Oh, the hallmark of modern adulting etiquette, that pesky phone of yours. 

Turn off the phone at dinner

You’ve heard this one so often now that it’s become a classic. Your mom or dad gives you that look across the family dinner table and asks you to put the phone away. You sigh and comply, but you have it on your lap again in the next five minutes.

Turning your phone off at dinner isn’t just a family matter anymore though, this is a problem we all have. With our phones on us all the time, always available, why would we think to put it away for dinner. 

If you’re eating alone, go ahead, but if you’re eating with someone whether it’s your partner or your parents or your kids just don’t have it out. You need some face to face social interaction, not with a screen and it really is rude.

Here are some tips for resisting the urge to check that buzzing phone, as ridiculous as it may seem, it is hard to put it away.

  • Don’t even have it in the room. This completely eliminates the temptation, out of sight out of mind, as they say, at least it will be after the first couple tries. 
  • Turn the phone off. This sounds simple, and really it should be because your phone has an off button for a reason, but don’t put it on silent or airplane mode. Only a full power-off will stop you from looking at it.
  • Get everyone to do it! If you’re the only one who turns your phone off, and the rest of the table is scrolling their merry way through Twitter then it's useless, get everyone involved. 
A man sits on the edge of a pier with his hands in his hair, frustrated.
Screaming at someone in public is already an etiquette rule, so don’t do it online. 

Keep your personal arguments off social media

We’ve all scrolled past that one person on Facebook or Instagram basically live streaming their emotional breakdown because their partner broke up with them, or their best friend lied to them, and so on. 

It’s not pretty. We look and laugh. We don’t leave a like. We scroll and shake our heads at such craziness and go on with our lives. Don’t be the breakdown person. 

One, as people say, the internet is forever. So it doesn’t matter that you’re going to delete this 12 tweet-long Twitter thread in a day once you recover from the sadness induced hangover, it exists and not only does the internet have receipts but someone who follows you definitely took screenshots.

It’s understandable, the internet has a certain allure with its almost anonymity, but it’s not. You’re convincing yourself it is. And think about this, if you’re applying for a job in the future do you want your employers to be scrolling through the argument you had with that ex-partner of yours?

Here are some suggestions to use instead to blow off some steam.

  • Go for a walk. It sounds trite but people say it for a reason, in the heat of the moment you do stupid things. Some brisk air will clear your mind and stop that post before it starts.
  • Call a friend. One, they probably have more helpful insight into the situation than Instagram does. Two, they’re going to keep you from posting something you regret.
  • Argue in person. Yeah, maybe you don’t want to be arguing in person. Dissect that then, if you can only do it online that means you shouldn’t do it. 
A closeup of a woman holding her phone, her nails are manicured.
In-person please, even if it’s awkward it’s more polite. 

Stop the text break-ups

As a society, we have progressed past this social quirk. It’s unfair, it’s rude, and it’s going to make things harder for you in the long run.

The only possible reason that you have to do this is if the relationship is so bad for you that you can’t be in it anymore at all. Abusive relationships are understandable, but if we’re talking about incompatibility or a loss of interest then do it in person.

Because we live in such an internet dominated world we’ve gotten used to the impersonal nature of operating online. There are a countless amount of people you’ve chatted up with on Bumble or Tinder and then left high and dry once the conversation took a harder turn.

It’s understandable why you’d feel the need to break-up over text, people do it all the time, but that doesn’t mean it's right. In a pinch, a phone call will do, if you really need to get this relationship off your chest.

But, the best case scenario ninety-nine percent of the time is to do it in person. Once you’ve got this down, you’ve got a crucial part of adult etiquette down. 

A man stands on a subway  platform with headphones on looking at his phone.
Yes, we can hear you blasting your music, no we don’t like your song choices. 

Double-checking your headphones 

So this one is more of a “be careful” kind of tip than a “don’t do.” We all forget sometimes, or our Bluetooth isn’t working correctly, or we stuck our phone in our pocket without turning the volume off.

If your headphones aren’t connected to your phone with a wire it can be hard to miss if everything is attached and playing audio-only for you. All we’re asking is that you make sure because sometimes we can hear whatever you’re listening to.

Also, if you’re a parent with children we ask that you manage their devices as well. We’ve all seen that one kid in public with their iPad’s volume bumped up to the max. Whatever games they’re playing are quite possibly the loudest in existence. 

And please, don’t ever commit the forbidden faux pas, playing audio openly from your phone or tablet. Blasting it without a care, that’s not just your forgetting to plug in your headphones correctly this breaks so many etiquette rules it’s ridiculous. 

No one wants to hear what you’re playing, absolutely no one. 

A woman in a pink hat walks on the sidewalk.
Personal space is your sacred space. Keep it that way. 

Maintaining the personal space bubble

We know that this isn’t a possibility especially if you’re in a crowded public space, but some people still don’t know how to stick to their own bubble.

When people get angry with you for being too close, it’s not an over-exaggeration. The need for personal space is quite literally loaded into our DNA.

According to Michael Graziano, a neuroscientist at Princeton University, personal space is an extension of a second barrier outside of your skin created by the brain. It exists because a long long time ago when we’re running around hunting and gathering and the like, we had to be aware of our surroundings.

When you’re hunting for a tasty antelope to eat for dinner you also have to watch your back for the lion that’s got you in its sights. Thus, the uncomfortable feeling you get when something or someone you’re not familiar with gets too close. 

Basically all you have to do to uphold this rule is stay in your own space. If you’re at college and you’re going to sit in a lecture hall, don’t sit in the seat right next to someone you don’t know if you don’t have to.

If you’re walking on the sidewalk, don’t tailgate somebody, slow down, step back and stretch your arms out in front of you. That’s the amount of space you need to yourself. Use it. 

A shot of a crowded subway car. People are packed in shoulder to shoulder.
Even if “public” is in the phrase, that doesn’t mean you should make everything that way. 

Keep public transportation a private experience

Somewhat of a branch off from the personal space etiquette rule, but has a crucial talking component. We’ve all had that one experience on the bus or subway where some stranger has sat right next to you and struck up a random conversation.

You try to be polite because that’s what you’ve been taught by you don’t want to be talking to this stranger and you don’t know why they’re talking to you.

For all those over sociable people who have that desire to strike up random conversations with people on public transportation. Don’t. 

Especially if the person you’re talking to has earbuds in, or is reading a book, or taking a nap. All of these are “leave me alone” signs, and they usually work. Except for those persistent people. Here’s your sign to take that sign to heart.

Two woman walk down an alleyway with a painted mural on it. They're laughing.
Most of these rules are simply common sense, but it’s good to get a refresher every once in a while.

Falling into a social etiquette pitfall isn’t just annoying for the person you’re doing it to, it can also be super embarrassing on your part.

You can’t possibly avoid every single “do not” as an adult, making mistakes is a part of the process. But you can follow common courtesy and reduce the casualties by being as kind as accommodating as you can.

By doing your best, staying out of other people’s business, and keeping your social media rants to a minimum you’ll have most of your bases covered.

Do you have any etiquette tips of your own? Be sure to comment and like and share!

Mar 12, 2021