There was the time that at my bridal shower that my mom’s friend wrongfully assumed my friend was pregnant.
Or the occasion that I innocently thought a friend was a decade older, declaring with conviction when only a moment later wanting to locate the nearest trench to crawl into.
We’ve all experienced a foot in mouth moment in our lives, a verbal gaffe leaving us red-faced but rightfully reminded of a set of etiquette rules we should embrace. And no time like the start of the year to start on the right foot.
Etiquette is a shared belief system of polite rules and behavior among members of a group. These groups can be cultural, regional, generational, and more.
Our own country has varying sets of rules based upon geography. The south is famously known for its chivalrous doctrine of hospitality and lessons begin at an early age, encouraging cotillion classes for young ladies and gents. New England even boasts an etiquette academy for those wanting to shed accents and avoid a faux pas at tea, dinner, and while job hunting.
Education before traveling the world, for business or pleasure, is critical in understanding and observing local etiquette rules. Expect a weak, extended handshake in Japan and China, while in Russia it can be frowned upon to even extend your hand to a female, and similarly, Iranian men are discouraged from shaking an unrelated lady’s hand.
While the world of multi-cultural weddings requires it’s own research, it’s generally a good idea to err on the conservative side always, unless it’s a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills/Orange County/Atlanta/etc. If attending a Jewish ceremony, ladies should dress modestly, taking care to cover shoulders and wear sleeves. At a traditional Indian wedding, women should come wearing saris and avoid incorporating black and white, as they are considered mourning colors. And similar to western rules, steer clear of the bride’s color-red.
Grandparents and the mature generation often come with a more respected set of rules. I’ll never forget my high school boyfriend meeting my grandfather for the first time and even before so much as a hello, he was on him for wearing a baseball cap in the house. The G.I. and Silent Generations, those born between 1901-1924 and 1925-1945, respectively, come from eras with high expectations. Ladies went grocery shopping wearing white gloves and pearls; flying was considered the epitome of donning high fashion; everyone dressed for dinner as if it were a formal holiday. My grandfather, now passed, never wore denim or jeans in his life.
While America has regionally retained some of its higher caliber sets of social graces, I tip my hat to the Brits for their unfailing sense of tradition in high society. Most recently with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, those of us paltry middle-classers were able to enjoy a taste of aristocracy and even fairy tale experience. I’m certain the guests were on their best behavior, minding a mental list of do’s and don’ts in the presence of royalty, stemming from many years of lords and ladies.
Thus, as January unfolds into the rest of 2013, we all have a clean slate. I suggest, at the very least, to never ask a woman if she is pregnant-let her tell you. An empire-waisted blouse is not always maternity wear. Never guess someone’s age, just don’t. Especially if it is a woman. Resist the urge at dinner parties, at least with new friends, to chat over the big three: religion, politics, and sex. They are volatile for a reason, and I’d imagine even the president likes a break now and then from discussing domestic and international affairs. And, I suppose you should remove your hat before entering the house. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.