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5 Etiquette rules movies made you think were really important

Hey, we try to mind our manners, too. But if we’re to believe everything about etiquette we saw in movies, we’d be 98 percent certain that we were bringing shame upon our entire family for our uncouth behavior and inability to master the crucial elements of proper etiquette.

Don’t worry — you won’t be banned from dinner parties for life, despite what movies may have convinced you about etiquette. Here are a few examples.

1. You must possess a thorough knowledge of place settings

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If we learned anything from Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman, it’s that if you don’t know which fork to use, everyone will know you don’t belong to society’s upper echelon. And God forbid you don’t know how to use those special tongs for grasping the “slippery little suckers” that are escargot. But don’t stress too much if two forks are placed before you and your mind goes blank — no one really cares what fork you use. So long as you are using one, you’ll be fine. Unless you’re using it to comb your hair, like Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Then etiquette classes may actually be in order for you.

2. You must always be seated elegantly, with ankles crossed

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That’s right — no leg-crossing for you, young lady! If the Queen of Genovia says you must cross your ankles and sit in a delicate and sophisticated manner, it must be so, right? Meh. We say yes and no. It’s certainly not advisable for women wearing skirts to sit with their legs not together in some way, lest you risk exposing parts that ought not be exposed. Britney Spears is famous for such slips and, ironically, even Anne Hathaway — who played the Princess of Genovia, natch — accidentally flashed the world while getting out of her car at the Les Misérables premiere. But don’t go falling off any chairs to perfect your side-sitting technique just yet. These days, a crossed leg or even uncrossed-leg-together style is perfectly acceptable.

3. You must perfect your posture by balancing a book on your head

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How many movies have we seen this in? Too many to count, but we can most certainly recall the softball-loving stars in A League of Their Own practicing this “timeless” etiquette technique in a quest to become true ladies. Before you go running off to the library to check out a stack of suitable tomes to tote around on your head, though, consider this: There are other ways to improve your posture. Our favorite? Yoga! Repeat after us: Books are for reading, not for balancing.

4. You must be well-versed in gourmet fare

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Caviar? Check. Lobster? Check. Pâtés and petit fours? Check and check. If you’re going to master being a civilized member of society, you need to know how to carry yourself at a party, and that includes how to handle yourself around the exquisite catered food. Big‘s Josh Baskin (played by Tom Hanks) hilariously shows his lack of etiquette by eating ears of baby corn kernel by kernel and spitting out a mouthful of “disgusting” beluga caviar — all while standing by the buffet table, no less. Was his behavior a bit sophomoric? Yes. Yes it was. We’re certainly not suggesting you go out, buy yourself a bedazzled white suit and adopt his party habits. What we are saying is that if you’ve never had caviar and don’t like it, it’s OK to discreetly excuse yourself. And if you just aren’t sure how to eat something, it’s OK to simply come out and say so.

5. You must learn to glide gracefully into and out of a room

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Any pedestrian can walk. After all, men just clomp around from place to place. As Michael Caine’s character in Miss Congeniality laments, “I haven’t seen a walk like that since Jurassic Park.” A true lady, well… a true lady glides. To do so, your chin must always be parallel to the floor — no looking down, ladies. Only, sometimes, you need to look down. Especially when you live in a big city, where there are sewer grates. Or if you live in the country, where there are snakes. So, sure, by all means you should glide gracefully when you can. But when you can’t, Michael Caine won’t pop out of a street vendor’s cart and chide you on your T-rex-like gait. Although, admittedly, that would be pretty cool.

More on etiquette for the modern age

Manners for the digital age
How to be a great dinner guest
How to teach better manners

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