Rules of etiquette we can probably ditch

Still addressing people as sir or madam? As society evolves, so do the rules around social etiquette. Here are some customs you can probably let go.

It’s quickly become known as #swedengate, the hashtag trending after it was revealed online that Swedes don’t feed their guests. 

The comments started first, the memes soon followed and now many of us are standing around wondering “If we’re no longer feeding people in our own homes, what other etiquette rules can we kick to the curb?”

Julie Lamberg-Burnet, founder and CEO of the Sydney School of Protocol, says that while social etiquette, manners and protocols have not changed for centuries, the current landscape certainly has. 

“Perception is the deal-breaker in most situations,” Julie says. 

“How you create a good impression in social and professional situations is what distinguishes you.”

That said, we can probably have a rethink on some of the following classic rules of social etiquette.

Old rule: Shaking hands when meeting people 

Back in the 1990s, Seinfeld’s “I don’t shake” episode caused quite a stir, that famous line entering the vernacular soon after. 

Since the pandemic, it’s just as well, and even Amanda King, founder of Australian Finishing School, says we can greet someone without physical contact. 

“We advise people to use other methods of greeting, such as eye contact, smiling, saying good morning or hello,” Amanda says. 

“It’s important to communicate clearly and politely in a way that is respectful.”

Old rule: Sending a thank you card

It wasn’t all that long ago that an invitation, and certainly, a sentiment expressing gratitude, was sent in hard copy format to someone’s house. 

While a written note never goes out of style, Julie concedes it’s more of an exception today. 

“There is still an opportunity to create a positive impression depending on the situation,” she says. Sending an email, text or calling is considered okay, what’s more important is the sentiment behind your communication. 

Old rule: the man must pay for the meal

Remember the days of men opening car doors or standing to greet a lady? 

Pity the man who tries to kiss the hand of a woman he’s just met. 

Obviously, these are all out, and so too is the antiquated idea that men are obligated to pay for meals on dates. 

According to the Emily Post Institute, the rule is that whoever does the inviting pays for the meal. 

It is also acceptable to go halves. 

Old rule: Addressing people as Sir or Madam

As little as five years ago, a cover letter wasn’t a cover letter unless it kicked off with ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, but it is no longer appropriate to assume gender when writing to someone, says Julie. 

“If you cannot find a name, either use the title of their position (such as manager customer service) or “To Whom It May Concern.”

Old rule: Dressing up at the office

After two years of being housebound in trackies, many of us have bid farewell to heels and elaborate dresses. 

As we continue our staggered return to the office, there’s no need to pick up – sartorially – where we left off in 2019, with many executive business coaches reporting acceptance of a more casual approach to dressing. 

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you should start attending meetings in a hoodie. 

“If a dress code has not been made clear, it’s best to find out what others will be wearing if this is possible,” Amanda says. 

“I personally would rather feel overdressed than underdressed.”

Written by Dilvin Yasa.