May We Go Over Some (New) Etiquette Rules for 2023?

We’ve been thinking how different the generations view certain ways of doing things and even some of our peers do as well. We’ve also come to see how life-altering events such as the pandemic have changed what we might do now versus just three years ago. 

We came up with our top 10 examples that reflect our practices and how we might tweak what we do to be more proper and kinder. Some of the etiquette of days gone by have become passe.  See if you agree—or not. 

Giving occasion gifts. The gift-giving rule of thumb for weddings and other events where a meal was served was to send a present worth the dollar equivalent of the cost of the meal. (Assuming you can figure out the cost or at least come close.) Some still adhere to this, basing the price on what they think the venue charges. 

We think a better guideline is to buy according to what you can afford. It’s the couple’s or their parents’ choice of where to have the event, and if you’re older and on a fixed income, there’s no need to feel pressured to splurge and spend maybe $300 or $500. Or if you’re temporarily out of work, you may also need to cut back. Furthermore, if you don’t go, you can send a much more modest gift or a card with best wishes rather than any gift at all. Maybe, later, when you land that great job, you can send a gift; perhaps, to toast their one-year anniversary. And you can always donate in the couple’s names to a favorite charity. 

Acknowledging gifts. Some think it’s perfectly fine to text a thank you rather than write a note that you pop in the mail. We view a text better than no acknowledgement of a gift, but we prefer the written form. 

Second best--an email with salutation and several sentences noting what we gave rather than the generic, “Thank you for the gift; I love it.” 

Third option--a phone call can also be delightful, so we hear the enthusiasm in your voice for the present. Fake it if you hate it. And be forewarned, if you’re like our mothers, you might risk not giving a gift in the future if there’s no acknowledgment from the recipient. 

Sharing plans and time frames. We know we may plan more than the younger generation and some in our age group, too. We even may write down (some keep it on their iPhone calendar or on their computer) who’s coming when, whom we’re eating lunch or dinner with and what time we might sit down for a meal. We don’t carve such information in stone, but we like to keep our plans straight and be able to go out for a walk or whatever. 

Yet, we also know some of our offspring and friends prefer to keep all loosey-goosey and just inform us they’ll be at our home or meet at a restaurant “some time” and leave “some time,” too. But here’s a news flash: We’re busy and not just sitting at home, watching TV, knitting (like Michelle Obama) or twiddling our thumbs. We won’t hold you to an exact time, but might you give us an idea or window, perhaps, say some time after 4 p.m. you’ll arrive, and you’ll leave before lunch? If your plans change that’s fine, too. Just keep us in the loop. 

Putting away cell phones and tablets. We’re guilty of this too, often picking up phones with every ping when we’ve forgotten to turn them off. But could we all put them away at meals or even at certain times when we’re trying to have a phone-free, in-person pleasant conversation. If you work in the CIA or are an emergency responder, we understand but constant looking at the screen annoys us. Sorry, to be so brutally clear. 

Keeping stuff confidential. When we say please don’t share this piece of information, we mean it, but it does get wearisome saying, “Could you keep this in confidence, please?” But if you feel we should say that, so something remains between us, let us know. Not everyone is good at keeping confidences, so it might be better sharing that wish in advance. 

Replying to emails and phone calls. Some think every email and call should be returned within 24 hours, particularly when it relates to business. That may be true when a company has a staff to answer and respond. We think it’s best to get back to people promptly, but we believe a bit more time might be better. How about 48 hours unless you have an away message up on your computer or in a voice mail that you’re gone off to climb some distant mountain or paddle down the Amazon River. 

Softening opinions. We love brutally honest conversations…most of the time. But, yes, we do get a bit defensive in our enthusiasm for certain topics when we blurt out how much we loved this TV show or movie or a new restaurant or destination, or even what we thought of all the info Prince Harry recently shared in his book. However, some people can’t resist sharing that they hated or didn’t love what we just shared, and it frankly makes us feel deflated. Yes, it’s our problem and we should be able to tactfully listen and have someone disagree, but we’re not sure how yet to always do so. We’re also still working on how we might voice our own thoughts with fewer highs and lows and removing as a start our strong opinions. 

Freely talking to strangers anywhere and anytime. You don’t talk to strangers used to be the rule of etiquette or didn’t speak until you’re spoken to. However, it’s de rigueur for most of us to talk to anyone or anything. 

Today, in New York City where people are reportedly unfriendly, we’ve found that not to be true. We talk freely to someone at the bus stop, in the subway station, grocery line or waiting to check out at the pharmacy. We ask strangers for directions. And we’ve found it’s A-Okay to pass someone on the street or in the elevator and say “hello” or admire something they’re wearing, their precious dog or baby without hesitation. It often brightens someone’s day to do so. And who doesn’t feel good after if we’ve paid the person a compliment. Both of us have even been told we probably could talk to a tree. We may just try that out.   

Having some subjects still taboo. Pregnancy. Cancer. Affairs. Death. Dirty Laundry (or family problems), Money. These were among the topics not discussed in polite conversations of the past. Today, there are almost no taboo topics, however. Sex. ED. Vaginal issues. Colonoscopies. Hemorrhoids. Stomach issues. It’s all on the table for discussion but please, not at the table. To be tasteful, choose the right time and place to discuss. No one wants to hear graphic descriptions of these conditions over soup and a sandwich. And everybody it seems knows someone with a skeleton in the family closet that makes their own family dysfunction seem minor. (Listening, Harry?)

Learning the new pronouns, please. Forget good grammar that we were taught in school. Pronouns have been scratched for gender neutral. There is no longer him or her. It’s PC now to say “they” when referring to a person. It’s impolite not to do so, and if you revert to saying, “She is the one in the red sweater,” it’s not okay. It’s “They is the one in the red sweater.” It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but practice can make almost perfect. 

Nothing in our culture stays the same. Etiquette is unpredictable and changeable. That’s just a fact. But if we revert to our old ways periodically, please bear with us. We’re old, just not dead yet. And we still like to maintain some civility and decorum. 

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