13 etiquette rules you may not know you’re breaking

You write thank you notes, keep your elbows off the table and would never think of eating until everyone at your table had been served. Your etiquette would make Miss Manners proud, right? Not so quick. As it turns out, there are several lesser-known etiquette rules you may be unknowingly breaking. We turned to etiquette experts to find out what’s holding us back from become masters of manners.

1. You’re Passing The Salt Wrong

When you’re at the dinner table and someone asks for salt, you should always pass the salt and the pepper together, explains Maryanne Parker, a social, business and youth etiquette consultant based in San Diego, California. In fact, Parker says, in some social circles, this may be a test to see your level of etiquette exposure.

Photo courtesy of André Robillard on Unsplash

2. You Pull From The Bread Basket Too Soon

“While taking a bread from a bread basket, always offer to the person on the right and to the person on the left, and then take a piece for yourself,” Parker says.

bread basket photo
Getty Images | Bennett Raglin

3. You Clink Glasses During A Toast

“Do not clink glasses, even if you see everyone in the movies doing so,” Parker says. Instead of clinking glasses with the people around you, simply raise your glass, she recommends.

cheers toast photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

4. You Take A Sip After A Toast Is Made In Your Honor

If someone honors you in a toast, it seems right to take a sip of your drink along with everyone else, right? Wrong! “Do not ever drink in your honor when there is a toast for you,” says Parker. Keep the glass (never empty) with you, but don’t drink, she says.

Photo by Photos by Lanty on Unsplash

5. You’re Too Nice At Stop Signs

“I know this sounds crazy, but at intersections with stop signs, drivers must follow the law and not be so gracious,” says etiquette expert Mary Frances McGraw. “Trust me, I spend time almost every day reminding someone, myself included, that gratitude and kindness make life better. But when it comes to things like traffic laws, safety must come first.” When someone lets one driver go ahead of them, it can cause a lot of confusion and lead to accidents, McGraw explains. A good rule of thumb, according to McGraw: Be kind always, but be safe first.

Photo courtesy of Michael Mroczek on Unsplash

6. You Disregard Rank In Introductions

When it comes to business etiquette, a common mistake comes about when we introduce others, according to Eric Herdman, a specialist in productivity and etiquette.

Here’s the proper way to make introductions:

Say the person’s first name (or Doctor, if such a designation is used) and introduce from highest (most senior rank) to lowest rank.

Example: President Smith, this is Vice-President Johnson.

Example: This is Dr. Jones, his associate Dr. Paul and their assistant John.

handshakes photo
Flickr | amtec_photos

7. You Stir Tea In The Wrong Direction

When drinking tea, avoid stirring your drink clockwise to dissolve sugar or honey, says etiquette expert Laura Akano. Rather, the motion should be “South and North,” or between 6 p.m. and 12 p.m.

Photo courtesy of rawpixel on Unsplash

8. You Make Eye Contact When Sipping Your Beverage

Rather than looking up while taking a sip of your beverage, it’s considered polite to look into your glass when you’re drinking, Akano says. This is partially for practical reasons. How embarrassed would you be if you spilled your drink down the front of your dress?

Photo courtesy of Robert Mathews on Unsplash

9. You Carry Your Purse On The Wrong Shoulder

“Bags should always be carried on your left arm or shoulder, leaving your right hand free for handshakes,” Akano explains.

purse photo
Getty Images | Chris Jackson

10. You Enter Your Seat From The Left Side

You should always enter your seat from the right side, says Gerald Glascock, director and co-founder of The Southern Institute of Etiquette and Protocol. While we’re on that topic: Never shake someone’s hand while seated, Glascock says.

Photo courtesy of chuttersnap on Unsplash

11. You Place Your Napkin In Your Lap In The Shape Of A Triangle

It should be in the form of a rectangle so it covers all of your lap, Glascock says. You should use the inside of the napkin to dab away anything from your lips, he says. “You do that so if it falls on the floor the inside of the napkin is still clean,” Glascock explains.

Photo courtesy of Hans Vivek on Unsplash

12. You’re Passing Food In The Wrong Direction

You should be passing food around the table in a counterclockwise direction, or to the right, according to The Emily Post Institute. This allows there to be a sense of order when food is being passed so that someone doesn’t have a dish coming from the right and another from the left. An exception: If someone only a few places away from you on your left asked for something to be passed, pass it to the left.

Photo by Gabriel Garcia Marengo on Unsplash

13. You Don’t Re-Set The Weights At The Gym

You already know you should keep a towel with you to wipe up your sweat. But did you know that it’s also good etiquette to re-set weight machines at lower settings when you’re finished using them? That way, the next person who uses the equipment won’t injure themselves trying to lift a weight that’s too heavy, according to the The Emily Post Institute.

gym weight machines photo
Flickr | Brett Jordan

Do these lesser-known etiquette rules have you feeling like you need to go back to cotillion for a refresh?

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About the Author
Brittany Anas
Hi, I'm Brittany Anas (pronounced like the spice, anise ... see, that wasn't too embarrassing to say, now was it?) My professional writing career started when I was in elementary school and my grandma paid me $1 for each story I wrote for her. I'm a former newspaper reporter, with more than a decade of experience Hula-hooping at planning meetings and covering just about every beat from higher-education to crime to science for the Boulder Daily Camera and The Denver Post. Now, I'm a freelance writer, specializing in travel, health, food and adventure.

I've contributed to publications including Men's Journal, Forbes, Women's Health, American Way, TripSavvy, Eat This, Not That!, Apartment Therapy, Denver Life Magazine, 5280, Livability, The Denver Post, Simplemost, USA Today Travel Tips, Make it Better, AAA publications, Reader's Digest, Discover Life and more.

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