Expert Etiquette Advice

Smooth (and expert-approved) ways to handle today's tricky etiquette situations

Annoyed Woman Watches Man take Phone Call

This fast-paced, technology-loving, make-then-break-the-rules society of ours offers plenty of opportunities for accidental impoliteness. Hey, most of us can't be bothered to read our cell phone manuals, let alone figure out when it's proper to take a call. And though we don't bat an eye at certain social scenarios that would've shocked Grandma in her day -- texting at the table? -- we're still not sure how to navigate some of them.

Fortunately, even in this complex "new" world, the old basics of decorum apply. Here, mannerly advice on managing four thoroughly modern conundrums.

Tricky situation #1

As a friend is telling you a personal, sensitive story, your cell phone goes off, and the ringtone is your son's. Can you answer it?

No one can fault you for being an attentive mom -- but you know that your son might just be calling to complain that his sister is poking him. Still, yes, you can answer your cell, as long as you hang up once you're sure everything's okay. Simply say, "I'm so sorry -- it's my son and I just have to make sure it's not an emergency," says Jodi R. R. Smith, author of From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Woman. Then, when you've completed the call, turn your full attention back to your friend. Paraphrase the last few lines of her story back to her, as in, "So, you were saying that your husband had just said that he was feeling restless...." That way, she knows you were tuned in to the conversation, and still are.

Tricky situation #2

You're a single mom, and you've noticed a single dad at your kid's school who seems nice -- but his son is in your child's class. Is dating this guy off-limits?

"The number of single parents is on the rise, so it's almost impossible not to meet a potential date in the school setting," says Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies. And making school a no-dating zone could really limit your options. There's no need to hide your relationship, but be discreet. While it's fine to see the school play together and cheer on each other's kids, don't get touchy-feely in the auditorium seats.

Inevitably, other parents will pry for details -- which you're not obliged to provide. You needn't reveal, for instance, whether you're planning to move in together. Just politely respond with, "We've been seeing each other, and it's been really nice. Thanks for asking," says Lizzie Post, Emily Post's great-great-granddaughter and author of How Do You Work This Life Thing?

Tricky situation #3

A friend is bugging you to post comments on her blog, but you don't have the time -- or desire -- to do it. Should you post anyway, to be polite and supportive?

If she's a good friend and you're even the tiniest bit interested in the topic, you should probably post at least once. But know that bloggers are on a mission -- they want to be heard -- and don't always realize that their constant requests for comments can be a little over the top. So remind your friend of your busy schedule by saying something like, "Sure, I'd be happy to help when I have a moment. I can usually squeeze in some Internet time on Sunday nights, after I put the kids to bed."

But what if her blog is a play-by-play of her personal life and she expects you to air your dirty laundry in a post? Or what if you're the subject of her latest online musings? Politely but firmly put your foot down. Try telling her, "I'm so happy for you that you have your blog, but it's not my thing. You know me -- I'm a private person and don't feel comfortable having either of us write about my life," says Smith. That way, you've shown your support and protected your boundaries.

Tricky situation #4

Is it okay to whip out your mini bottle of hand sanitizer and slather it on at the table when you're lunching with a friend?

Everyone's germ conscious these days, but you want to be sure your pal doesn't get served up a whiff of rubbing alcohol along with her club sandwich.

If slipping into the loo isn't an option, just use a few squirts under the table and keep the bottle out of sight. Your healthy habit isn't likely to bug your friend, especially if you offer her the bottle before stowing it in your purse. After all, everyone knows it's polite to share.

more on modern manners

Reprinted with Permission of Hearst Communications, Inc. Originally Published: Modern Manners 101

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Comments on "Modern Manners 101: Expert etiquette advice for today's tricky situations"

Livia May 18, 2012 | 1:08 PM

I have a friend who has absolutely no manners whatsoever. We were at a very very important meeting and her phone rang. She answered it and chomped away on her gum, completely embarrassing me. I however was taught manners, and i go to a rather proper school where they don't tolerate such bad manners.I try to teach her but all she says is "Who needs manners?" Help!

Sick and Tired September 20, 2010 | 10:27 PM

I have a friend whom and we talk often, or we try to talk to each other as often as we can. However, she has a 7 year old and is allowed to interrupte each and every time I'm speaking and most of the time she interrupts right in mid-word... . The mother immediately turns her attention to the child and addresses the question and then turns her attention back to me. In one conversation there are generally no less than 6 interruptions from this child. The other day I had it; I got up and told the mother when we can have a conversation without being interrupted then give me a call otherwise, don't call me because I can never finish or complete a sentence without "MOMMY, MY PENCIL NEEDS SHARPENING" or "MOMMY HOW DO YOU SPELL THIS WORD" or "MOMMY WHEN WILL YOU FIND ME A PLAYDATE" or "MOMMY, I'M HUNGRY" or "MOMMY WHERE'S MY PENCIL"... . It never stops and the mother allows Each and Every time. I'm sick of it! What do you think?

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