25 Etiquette Mistakes You Need to Stop Making by 30

Texting during a movie won't just make you look like a dumb teenager but it's a recipe for getting gum spit into your hair.

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Sharing embarrassing stories in a toast

It’s a toast, not a roast, so if you’ve been honored with the job of giving a toast at a wedding, birthday, or another honorary event then make sure what you’re saying is actually honoring the person, Grotts says. In other words? Save the hilarious story about their vomit-laden spring break for your friend group chat. “Keep the toast light and airy, avoid saying anything overly personal about the individual and keep it short, three minutes max,” she says. Check out the strangest etiquette rules from around the world.

Sneezing into your hands

Sneezes can be unpredictable, giving you just seconds notice to figure out where to aim the spray. The default for many of us is to sneeze into our hands or, even worse, just sneeze into the air. Not only is that super gross but it’s unnecessary, says Lisa Grotts, etiquette expert and author of A Traveler’s Passport to Etiquette. Sneeze into your elbow or at the very least turn your head away from other people, she says, adding that if you feel multiple sneezes coming on, excuse yourself to the restroom. Here are 50 other little etiquette rules you should always practice.


Using your napkin to blow your nose

You have boogers. You have a napkin, a thing which is used to mop up bodily fluids, at your fingertips. So you blow your nose in your napkin, right? Wrong, Grotts says. Even though it’s fine to use your napkin to wipe drool, tears, or food off your face, polite society says no snot. If you have to blow your nose, head to the bathroom and use a tissue, she says. 

Setting your phone on the table

Keeping your phone within eyesight may keep you on top of your notifications but it’s incredibly poor manners, Grotts says. It pulls your attention away from the people you are dining with and makes for an overall less pleasant eating experience for everyone, including yourself. “Don’t place any items on the table that are not part of the meal such as your mobile phone, keys, or sunglasses,” she explains. This may be news to younger generations which is why it’s one of 17 good manners parents should be teaching their kids.

Starting ‘fun’ conversations about politics

Starting controversial conversations might have been fun in college but saying shocking things only makes you look immature as you get older. “It seems that nothing is off limits with conversation these days,” Grotts says. But just because we live in a culture of oversharing and brutal honesty doesn’t mean it’s appropriate. “Steer away from religion, politics, off-color jokes, or the cost of things,” she explains. “Instead, focus on safe subjects such as mutual friends or family, hobbies, movies, restaurants, sports, etc.”

Using emojis in your work emails

“Too many individuals treat emails to work colleagues as text messages in business settings,” says Brian Lipstein, a corporate image consultant and president of Henry A. Davidsen Image Consultants. Don’t be casual in any of your work communications he says. Modern manners say that business emails should still have a formal introduction, an appropriate subject line, a greeting, full sentences, and a formal closing, he explains. Here are 17 etiquette rules we should never have abandoned.

Sending error-filled texts or emails from your phone

Being on your mobile is no excuse for bad grammar and spelling, especially if you’re texting your boss or colleagues, Lipstein says. “Grammar and spelling should be properly presented and proofreading is a must,” he says. “Remember, it may be ‘just a text’ but this is still representing you, your values, the quality of your work, and overall leaves an impression on the reader of who you are and the sophistication you possess.” Plus, with grammar and spelling tools built into almost any system these days, there is no excuse for tons of errors, he adds.

Using a handshake as a show of dominance

Handshaking is an art and one that’s being lost in our modern, casual society. “Too many men and women don’t know how to give or receive a proper handshake,” Lipstein says. Mistakes include a weak “limp fish” shake, a crushing “dominant” shake, holding too long, or grasping with the opposite hand. “A proper handshake should be nice and firm without overpowering the other person,” he says. “Shake from the elbow with three pumps of the arm while making eye contact and giving someone your first and last name.” Did you know which “polite” habits restaurant workers actually dislike?

phone photo foodBogdan Sonjachnyj/Shutterstock

Posting everything you do on social media

Teens may post their breakfast, their bedtime routine and everything in between but by the time you’re an adult you should be filtering your feeds. From identity theft to privacy to workplace concerns, there are dozens of excellent reasons to be circumspect about what you post online. Think of your social media like your “cyber DNA,” Grotts says. “Anything you post, even if you delete it later, is online for life.” Even if you aren’t posting your drunk pictures or gripes about your boss to the public, there’s still a possibility someone could screenshot it and tell others, she adds.

Sitting when being introduced to someone

Generally, both parties should be standing when being introduced for the first time, Lipstein says. So if you’re sitting at your desk or a table when meeting a new person, take a moment to rise and then shake their hand, he says. This small gesture shows that the meeting is important to you. It’s just one of the basic good manners everyone should be doing.

Kissing a woman’s hand as a greeting

Although many see obviously gendered displays as cringe-worthy, there are some holdouts that still think that acts previously considered good manners—like kissing a woman’s hand or pulling a handshake in for a hug—are simply them “acting like a gentleman.” Stop it, Lipstein says. “There should be no difference in how one greets different genders in a professional setting,” he explains. Also, steer clear of doing things that may be perceived as too intimate for a first introduction, like grasping their hands with your second hand, touching their arm or shoulder, or hugging them, he says.

Taking your neighbor’s wine glass at the table

Cutlery, napkins, bread plates, and glasses are not up for grabs at the dining table in a restaurant, Lipstein says. “Knowing how a dining table is set and what belongs to you vs. your neighbor goes a long way in making a good impression,” he says. If you do find you’ve accidentally taken someone’s item, flag down a waiter and ask for a replacement. Find out why it is rude to put your elbows on the table.

Drinking to your own toast

If you’re being toasted, then you’re the one being honored or celebrated—so let people celebrate you, Lipstein says. It’s a very common mistake to raise your own glass and then drink out of it with the others but resist the urge. “If you are being toasted at a dinner, you do not drink to your own toast,” he explains.

Failing to RSVP

If there is a manners sin that gets experts worked up the most, this one may be it: People who either RSVP late or not at all. Late or missing RSVPs cause unnecessary logistical and emotional stress for hosts, says Emilie Dulles, an event protocol and etiquette expert. “Send in your reply as early as possible—the reply by date is not a challenge for you to eke out at the eleventh hour,” she says. “If you do miss the reply by date, RSVP anyway and also follow up via phone or email with a brief apology for your oversight and express gratitude for their kind invitation.” RSVP via the method you received the invitation, so if you got a reply card with an invitation, use that. If it’s an e-vite, it’s fine to respond electronically. Make sure you’re not making etiquette mistakes on social media either.

Showing up with an uninvited guest

Some parties are informal gatherings and anyone is welcome or you’re given a “plus one” with your invitation, but unless either of those is explicitly stated then assume that the party is only for people who are invited, Dulles says. “If your invitation does not include a guest or date, don’t try to add one last minute. Be an adult and go to the celebration on your own,” she says. “If there is a change in your relationship status, you can reach out to the hosts and see if your fiancé or spouse might be included. Respect their answer either way. You can always opt not to attend if they say no, but you can’t force them to say yes.”

Forgetting to write a thank-you note

Too many people forget the most important rule of receiving a gift: Thanking the giver. For big gifts, like for birthdays or weddings, it’s not enough to simply say “thank you,” you need to send a nice card, Dulles says. Here are the occasions that absolutely call for a thank you note.

fork knife silverwareMatt Gibson/Shutterstock

Putting your fork down on the table between bites

“Once an item of silverware is lifted off the table to be used, it should never touch the table again,” Lipstein says. It’s common practice to put a dirty fork back on the table between bites but not only is that unsanitary it’s bad manners. Instead, rest any cutlery you’re still using on the plate; it will be taken away with the plate when that course is finished, he adds.

Waiting a year to acknowledge wedding gifts

The old etiquette rule was that a newlywed couple had up to a year to formally thank people for their wedding gifts but no more, thanks to modern communication technology, Dulles says. The new rule is all gifts need to be acknowledged, whether on paper or electronically, no more than three months after your wedding, she says. “Otherwise, guests may worry that their gift was not received or, even worse, not appreciated,” she explains. Here are more wedding etiquette rules you can’t break—no excuses.

Greeting your boss with “Hey”

Most companies are moving towards a more casual atmosphere which often means less formal manners but that doesn’t mean you should abandon all the old rules, says Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, an expert in workplace civility and business etiquette and author of Don’t Burp in the Boardroom. “There is real power in a formal greeting, especially when interacting with other cultures or countries, a person from an older generation, or someone with a higher title or position,” she explains. You don’t have to don a top hat or curtsey but instead of a casual “hi” or “hey, what’s up” she suggests “Good morning, Ms. Rubio” or “Hello, how are you today?”

Spilling your guts to anyone who will listen

Reality TV can make it seem like nothing is off-limits and the best policy is to share everything going on in your life, preferably to a camera. But the truth is you are not a one-man show that the rest of the world is watching; real relationships need a balanced give and take, Randall says. “Regularly sharing your ever-changing moods while expecting others to always listen gets old real soon,” she says. You should be listening at least as much as you talk and choose carefully what you choose to share and where. For example, oversharing at work makes you look like someone who can’t control their life and is unpredictable—traits not likely to land you that promotion, she says.

Leaving your earphones in when talking to someone

Earbuds are a staple in our technology-laden world and for good reason. But you can take tech too far. Too many people these days will leave one earbud in or, in the case of wireless Air Pods, leave both in, during conversations and this is a huge etiquette breach, says Amy Alkon, a science-based manners expert and author of Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck. This can make the other person feel like you don’t care what they’re saying and you aren’t really listening (which may be true). Always take out your earbuds or remove your headphones when speaking with someone in real life, even if the sound is already turned off.

Using speakerphone in public places

No one needs to hear your conversation with your spouse, the details of your work report, or your the results of your physical exam yet people will inadvertently share these and other highly personal information with many strangers when they leave their phone on speakerphone in a public space. It’s rude, annoying, and could open you up to problems so don’t do it, If you really need to take a call, just answer it the normal way and do your best to remove yourself from the group. Also, no one loves your music playlists as much as you do so stop blasting your tunes.

Texting during a movie

Nothing will incur the wrath of your fellow citizens like using your phone to text, play games, or heaven forbid, talk, during a movie showing in a theater. “Turn off your phone before you enter a theater, place of worship, dinner party or any other place that involves other people who don’t want to hear your buzzing,” says Adeodata Czink, an etiquette expert and author of Business of Manners. “If your calls, texts, or emails are more important than the people you are with or the activity you are doing, you might want to reconsider coming.” Here are some other etiquette rules you should follow in a movie theater.

Answering “thank you” with “no problem”

When someone thanks you, a common response these days is the casual “no problem” or “no worries” but that’s an etiquette “don’t,” Czink says. “All the other person hears is ‘problem’ making them think that their request was an inconvenience,” she explains. “Say instead ‘my pleasure’ or ‘you are welcome.'” 

Failing to show gratitude for others’ little acts of service

A common complaint these days is that kindness and compassion are in short supply these days. You can change this for the better by looking for little ways to help others and making sure to thank them when they do the same for you, Czink says. “If someone holds the door for you, ‘thank you’ is needed, even if it’s just a smile or a nod of your head,” she explains. “People aren’t there to be your servants, they’re doing you a kindness so show gratitude.” Need some inspiration? Start with these 50 random acts of kindness that don’t cost a cent.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a health, lifestyle and fitness expert and teacher. She covers all things wellness for Reader’s Digest and The Healthy. With dual masters degrees in information technology and education, she has been a journalist for 17 years and is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment. She lives in Denver with her husband, five kids and three pets.