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Brushing up on manners....

Etiquette for College Students

College etiquette adviceStage of Life is pleased to feature etiquette expert, Jay Remer.  Below you will find tips, advice and articles from Jay on important college etiquette topics specifically tailored to students learning to live with a roommate, navigate a job interview, and more.  If you're a college student or the parent of a college student, read the etiquette questions and answers below for insights into questions about manners for this stage of life.

And don't forget to check out all 10 of our etiquette advice pages for the other stages of life.

Etiquette Tips and Advice for College Students

Son Irritated Mom Won't Include His New Girlfriend

Am I right to be wary of my 22 year old son wanting to invite his very new girlfriend to visit the family? 

Dear Jay,
My son is 22. He is basically a great kid. He is working and going to college, but still lives at home. He has had several girlfriends in his past- all pretty short term (nothing over 6months). Now he has a new one again, that he says he's been dating for 3 months. He's mad at me because I told him he couldn't bring her to a family party. I have only met this person 1 time myself, and don't even know her last name or much about her. He says I am being mean because he's met her family. I think this is an inappropriate time to have her jump right in. This may end up being a nice relationship for him, but both my husband and I think he should take more time getting to know her before introducing her to the family, especially since he doesn't have a longevity pattern with girls.

Jay's ANSWER...
A:  He may be receiving your message as one that basically says you don’t trust him. Your son is an adult now, and even though he lives with you, he has rights and privileges. Who he decides to have relationships of whatever shape or size is not your responsibility. Allow him to follow his path, as you I hope are following yours. I hope this helps.

Annoyed by Refrigerator Etiquette

Is it okay if I get annoyed when plates of food are left in the refrigerator? 

Dear Jay,
Is it inappropriate to become extremely annoyed when someone leaves plates of food in your refrigerator for several days?

Jay's ANSWER...
A:  Becoming "extremely annoyed" about this rather minor infraction is inappropriate. What’s the big deal? If the food is in your way, speak up and ask that it be put in a smaller container - or eaten. If it’s gone bad, throw it out. Surely you can establish some simple refrigerator rules that can help this situation. Save getting “extremely annoyed” for something important.

Wedding just 3 days after college graduation

What kind of gift should I give for my grandson and his fiancee who are both graduating from college and then getting married 3 days later? 

Dear Jay,
My grandson is graduating from college and so is his fiancé. Three days after they graduate, they are having a wedding in the Mormon church. What is the appropriate graduation and wedding gift from Grandma (me) for both graduation and the wedding? They are both graduating from college with their engineering degrees.

Jay's ANSWER...
A: How exciting! I think the best way to handle this one is to write them a check. Explain in a lovely note that the check is a combined gift. This is totally understandable and acceptable given the proximity of the two events. I hope this helps.


Graduation dinner dilemma

Who should pay for my son's family when we take him out for his graduation dinner? 

Dear Jay,
My husband and I would like to take my son and his family out to lunch after his graduation, my husband only feels we should pay for my son, but I think we should pay for our daughter-in-law and grandkids, too. Who's right?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: You are right. If your husband wants to only pay for your son, don’t invite his family. Your husband might do well to be grateful that he has the opportunity to share in the celebration of this important milestone. I hope this helps.

Graduation Gift Snub

Is there an age limit for grads to receive gifts? 

Dear Jay,
I received an invitation for a person who is 45 years old, and graduating from a technical college. Do I buy a gift? I have never heard of this for someone who is this old.

Jay's ANSWER...
A: Of course you buy a gift, or at least a nice card congratulating her or him. There is much to celebrate about this accomplishment. Check both your humility and gratitude levels. They may just need a top up. I hope this helps. 

Footing the Graduation Celebration Bill

Are we responsible for paying the bill for our daughter's graduation dinner? 

Dear Jay,
My daughter is having an immediate family dinner celebration for her college graduation.  Along with her parents and sisters, we will have her aunt, two cousins and one of the cousins husbands in attendance.  My daughter wants to have the dinner celebration at nice sit down restaurant where we live.  Should my husband and I pay for everyone's dinner in attendance or should they be responsible to cover their own?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: If you and your husband are hosting this dinner, you will be responsible for the bill. If you want this to be Dutch Treat in some fashion, you must clear this with the others before moving forward. In such case, you would not be the host, as it would be a jointly sponsored party. Whichever choice you make, have a wonderful celebration for a very special occasion! I hope this helps.

Racial Slurs in Greetings

Can I use a racial slur in a greeting to a friend of the same color? 

Dear Jay,
Is it acceptable to use racial slurs in a greeting if you are of the same color as the person whom you are greeting?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: No. This sort of ‘slang’ has been in the news of late. I don’t buy it. It is disrespect disguised as casual humor. It’s not funny. It’s disrespectful. Full stop. I hope this helps.


Hurt over son's bad manners

Should my son be responsible for introducing me to his college girlfriend and her parents? 

Dear Jay,
My 17 year old son just starting dating a girlfriend which he hasn't brought home yet to meet me. When I met him at a college orientation she was with him and her parents sitting several rows behind them.  Who should introduce me to the girl and her parents? I was totally blindsided as my son told me he wanted to drive himself and meet me there. Being a single mom I felt so out of place as my son never introduced me to anyone. I left feeling hurt and alone. Please help.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: I can understand why you feel alone and hurt. When children leave the nest, this is how many folks feel. Allow him to follow his own path. He is an adult now, yet has some social skills yet to learn. Somehow growing up, he never was taught about making proper introductions. You could take the initiative and introduce yourself to his girlfriend, although he should know better and should do so himself. This is no time to play the role of the victim. It is time however to step up to the plate and lead by example as to how to do the right thing. I hope this helps.

No boyfriend, please

Are my husband and I wrong to not allow our college aged daughter to bring her boyfriend home with her while she is on break? 

Dear Jay,
Is it unreasonable of my husband and me to not allow our out of state college age daughter to bring her boyfriend home to stay with us on her break if we are uncomfortable with that?

We don't want to hurt her feelings, but we feel strongly about her not bringing him here.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Your home is your castle. You and your husband decide what the house rules are - no one else. If you feel so strongly about this, my question would be why she asked you in the first place? Did she not know your thoughts around this sensitive subject? You will need to explain why this house rule is in place. I am not suggesting you need to have a debate on this rule, but you should explain your beliefs other than just providing the stock answer - because I said so. As to being unreasonable, your rule is neither reasonable nor unreasonable - it simple is a matter of fact, because it is your house. I hope this helps. 

Footrest Test

What is the etiquette for putting my feet on a footrest? 

Dear Jay,
Is it bad manners to place your foot or feet on the footrest of a pub table chair made of a dark color wood while a guest in someone's home?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: If a chair has a footrest and you are sitting in the chair, then no, it is not bad manners at all. I hope this helps.


Left out 

Am I wrong to feel left out when my family doesn't include me in their adult games and activities even though I am 19? 

Dear Jay,
I love my family, it just feels like they treat me like a teenager still even though I'm nineteen. For example when family comes over and everyone is chitchatting and playing board games of four, I feel left out because they don't care to incorporate me in games or talk to me. I try my best to mingle, yet it feels lonely why they get to have fun.  If guests ever came to my house in the future I would want everyone to play together.  Why does this feeling like they don't want to hang with me happen?  They are older and have more in common so can see, but why do they make me feel left out every time?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: How sad this makes you feel. I can hear it in your words. My advice is that you sit down with the person to whom you feel safest and explain how this behavior makes you feel. They will not know this unless you explain it to them. People generally don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings. Perhaps they will make more of an effort to include you in future games, or at least give you a reason why you are not included. I hope this helps.


Games with boys

Should I be concerned that our game nights have invited more boys to come than girls? 

Dear Jay,
I live in a duplex with my two sisters. We kind of have an open house policy and every Sunday we play games with our friends from 9 until midnight. We want to have our guests feel comfortable and that they feel the freedom to stop by and visit. My main concern is that recently it has turned into there are more guys now than there are girls in our group that attend our Sunday game nights. I am concerned for me and my sisters' reputation about how this looks on the outside when it happens we have more guys over than girls even though our whole policy is to have clean fun with all of our friends no matter their gender. I've approached my sisters about this and one of them believes I am putting a negative outlook on our "hard earned" policy to make our friends feel welcome. How do I approach her and let her know that is not what I am trying to do, but I am just being cautious about having more guys over than girls? None of our friends are threatening, but I am concerned about how our open door policy has changed and what I should do about it.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: There is a famous quote that comes to mind. “Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business.” I would have to side with your sister. You are creating a problem that exists only in your own mind. You should just let that story in your head go, and enjoy your games. I hope this helps.


Roommate and Boyfriend Cause Annoying Noises

What can I tell my roommate to get her and her boyfriend to stop causing so much noise and disturbance? 

Dear Jay,

My roommate who stays in the next room started bringing her boyfriend and making noises. The wall between our room is thin, and I talked to her about this. After our conversation, they seemed to try not to make noises, but still I could here them and giggling chatting (his voice is low pitched so it vibrates) and they are still bugging me a huge amount.

I don't think I can say I want her to stop bringing her boyfriend here, but I am really stressed out by this. I can’t even not do my work properly these days at home, but I don't know what to do further on this matter.
We are both tenants of this house and college students (but she is taking a break this term). The landlord lives here as well in the master bedroom, but she's not home during weekdays because of her family business.
Please advise me how to improve this situation. I am not sure what I can demand of her.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Since your initial complaint met with some success, I would suggest you try that approach again. Perhaps there are certain hours you could agree to. For example, keep the noise down after 10pm, or something like that. Most people don’t want to disturb others, so you should find some relief here. I hope this helps.

 My best,


Concerned Houseguest

What can I do to keep my hosts from growing weary of me being their houseguest? 

Dear Jay,

I am a long-term house guest staying with some friends in Australia. My stay is three months, and I've been here for almost four weeks now. I have a feeling that my hosts are getting weary from me being here, and I want to do everything possible to be the best house guest I can be. I am eighteen and doing school online while I'm here.

I have offered to help with meals, but my host always refuses and told me that she likes to do it herself. I have worked it out so I am paying $200 a month to go toward groceries and whatever else. I hope that covers most of everything. I'm not really sure. I unload the dishwasher and clean the kitchen regularly. My hosts tend to be on the lazier side and aren't clean freaks, so I don't think that any of my habits ever go beyond what they are used to, plus I do try to stay tidy and clean up after myself. I do notice that I eat more often than they do, but I'm hoping that my grocery contribution will help prevent any negative feelings towards that. I would offer to go shopping for them, but I don't have transportation here.

What else can I be doing to help out or to make my stay less of a burden? They are extremely generous and hospitable and I want to reciprocate it- I just don't know how.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: You sound like an ideal houseguest to me. Perhaps you might consider purchasing some of the snacks you eat or drink over and above the $200 contribution. You may want to mention your gratitude from time to time. People always appreciate hearing such things. Otherwise, enjoy your stay. You are no burden from the sounds of things. One day you will have a chance to be a good host, too.  I hope this helps.

 My best,


Etiquette's Purpose

Do we really need etiquette in our modern world? 

Dear Jay,

I am very curious to know, as you answer so many of these questions, do you believe that social etiquette is necessary? I personally do not. I believe it is a part of a stupid never ending game in which people lie, cheat, and loot. As an example I have seen that many people do not appreciate directness, preferring what, I don't know. I believe that if you wish to communicate it should be directly, without paying attention to how the person may feel.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: I do believe that social etiquette is necessary. What I hear in your question is a great deal of anger. I do believe in being direct, but not rude. Learning to communicate in a respectful way has helped me to form deeper and more meaningful relationships with my friends, family, and business associates. Developing such skills can require professional help. I hope you can find a way to release your anger. Perhaps then you may begin to shift your perspective.

 My best,


Loud, Mooching Relatives

What do I do when my relatives don't get that they are invading my privacy? 

Dear Jay,

I am in my late 30's single and living alone in a one room apartment.
Right now, I live in South Korea and I am doing my Master Study, working at the same time.
My concern is my brother in law. Every weekend, my sister and brother in law come to Seoul. They don't have a place to stay here except my place. I am a very private person. My sister's husband is an American and as far as I know western culture is totally different than Asian culture. I've been in this stressful situation for 3 years. I just couldn't tell them because I'm afraid that I might hurt their feelings. But today, I was really irritated. I haven't had a good night sleep since they came in this weekend. 

We were sleeping together in my room with another sister of mine, who moved in 5 months ago. It seems like hell for me, because they're invading my privacy. My sister's husband snores a lot. I told my my sister many times to go out and find place for her husband because I can't accommodate him. I have told them to rent an apartment when they visit, but they said that they are saving. I'm really upset!  So today, I couldn't hold my temper. When her husband said that he would likely to come early next weekend like Thursday. I said, "You better find a place for you to stay because I am exhausted!" He asked, "Am I not welcome in my own sister's house?" Please. Tell me what to do. Thanks!

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Some people need to have things explained to them over and over again before they understand it. It sounds like your sister and her husband fit into that category. The good news is that the husband figured out the answer. Now, all you need to do is to agree with him by saying yes to his question. The real crux of the matter is that they are not showing any respect for your privacy despite you telling them repeatedly. By your relenting in the past, you have enabled them into thinking this endless mooching is acceptable. My advice is to explain to them that you regret that you were not clear enough about expressing your feelings in the past, but overnight visits are no long OK. They must learn respect. Otherwise they are just being bullies, which is unacceptable at any time! Stick to your guns this time! I hope this helps.

 My best,


Confirming Plans

Who should confirm the plans - the host or the person invited? 

Dear Jay,

When planning an informal dinner party with close friends or family, who confirms the plans? Let's say the invitation is made by the hosts two weeks out, and then you don't hear from them? I really don't want to call and ask if we're still invited, and definitely won't just show up…

Jay's ANSWER...

A: It is the job of the host to confirm plans. Not everyone knows that, however. Therefore, I would suggest you phone and ask to confirm the time of the dinner party. "I'm just calling to make sure I wrote down the right time for dinner. I have 6:30 written down. Is that right?" I hope this helps.

 My best,


So Rude

Do I need to accept the apology of an extremely rude party guest?    

Q: How should I respond to a house guest's phone call of apology if he offended all the women at our party the other night?  He just gets too familiar to unsuspecting friends either at our house party or out at a restaurant.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Your house guest is to be commended for taking responsibility for his poor behavior. Accept his apology and consider editing him from your guest list. It's tough to change the spots on a leopard. Subjecting guests to his rudeness in future is a risky choice. I hope this helps.

My best,

Greeting Protocol

Who speaks a greeting first - the host or the guest?

Dear Stage of Life,

My husband gets annoyed when my teenage daughters' guests come into the house without saying hello.  He thinks it is their responsibility to speak first.  I think just the opposite.  If they are coming into our house they are the guests and we are responsible for speaking first.  

Which is it,  can you clear this up?


Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Debra,

You are correct.  Regardless of the age of the guest, the host should be the first to speak by actually welcoming the guest into his house.  The host should also be the first to rise and extend his hand.

I hope this is of some help.

Kindest regards,


Rude younger sister or inconsiderate older brother?

Protocol for entering a room - it's your responsibility to announce your arrival...


Almost two years ago my husband and I were visiting with his younger brother and his wife at their home.  We had been visiting almost a half-hour when their younger sister comes in, walks right past my husband (oldest brother) and begins speaking with her other brother and his wife about some computer/internet problems she is having. 

We sat there another 10 minutes and she still did not acknowledge her oldest brother.  We finally said our goodbyes and left.

When we went to visit again, we now found out we have become the outcasts for not speaking to her.  This scenario has continued and we didn't even say anything to the rest of the family about her lack of consideration for her older brother.  It is not our aim to make her look bad, we just felt it was totally bad manners to treat her brother that way.

My question is were we lacking in manners or was it his sister lack of manners?

-The Outcasts

Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Outcast,

Technically speaking, the younger sister is at fault for not announcing her entrance in some way, such as saying hello to everyone assembled.  She has no social graces, nor does the rest of the family for not recognizing this sister's inappropriate behavior and suggesting she apologize.  If it isn't your aim to make her look bad, I suggest you have an honest, private, non-confrontational chat.  This is hardly a skirmish worth risking family relationships over.

Kind regards, Jay

Parents Rules Rule

Children Return Home and Take Over

Dear Jay,

Is it proper for adult children when they come to visit us in our home, to turn the radio on and listen to music of there choosing with out asking if it were okay ? I don't think it is but my wife has no problem with it and we get into argument's over whether it is okay or not.

Please advise,


Dear Lon,

I agree with you in this case. People who are guests in your house, and I consider visiting adult children to be in that category, should respect your space and ask to turn on your radio, TV, etc. Old habits are tough to break, but somewhere along the line no one taught your children otherwise. They must learn to be discerning as well as respectful. 

I hope this helps. Jay

Compassion in Three Great Men


Our Etiquette Man, Jay, had the chance to hear three wonderful men speak about "Crash, Learn, and Conquer". Former Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador Danny Williams; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and the one and only Donald Trump each spoke at a conference two weeks ago. Here he shares some observations with you...

I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Spark NB event last week where Donald Trump headlined an all star line up of speakers including former New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani and the former Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams. The theme of the day was Crash, Learn and Conquer and was delivered to an audience of seasoned business people, young entrepreneurs and students. I attended because I wanted to hear how these men incorporate civility and compassion into their working lives. Strangely enough I was not surprised that those two words were not uttered a single time throughout the presentation. I found this fascinating, however, because to me without civility and compassion, business cannot truly succeed.

Mr. Williams was the first to speak and he explained how he pulled his province up by the bootstraps and with his tenacity and scrappiness persuaded the federal government to treat his constituency fairly. He has been a hugely successful businessman and attorney as well. Despite the reputation he garnered over his years at bat for the province, he showed a side of compassion and understanding of the really basic needs of his fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans and a genuine caring for people. 

Mr. Giuliani spoke of his time as mayor of New York City during the events surrounding the tragic day of September 11, 2001. In addition to his words of wisdom for entrepreneurs of having a goal, being optimistic, being a problem solver, having courage tempered with fear, the importance of practice, anticipation, and teamwork, his most important pearl, in my opinion, was to love people. He emphasized how friends are our best safety net and that we need to help people whenever we can. Without his enormous compassion and sense of civility towards all people, he would not have had what it took to manage one of worst moments in human history, as we know it.

Mr. Trump spoke of his colossal ups and downs both in business and in his personal life. I lived in New York for many years, so “The Donald’s” track record was old news to me. I remember when he was struggling with what seemed like an insurmountable amount of debt, when his real estate empire was collapsing around him, and when almost any other person would have given up. And I remember watching him climb back building strength upon strength to regain his prominence as a great entrepreneur. He deservedly has the reputation of being a bully in the boardroom and he espoused the position of getting even, having ironclad agreements, and never giving up. His philosophy of loving what you do, staying focused, and making your own luck is one which has been enormously helpful to his career. Although he has great bravado and an arrogance that a scant few would dare to get away with, I came away feeling that here is a man who flourished because of the team of people he maintains around him. My guess is that behind closed doors was a man who demanded respect and who equally showed respect to everyone in his life. He would not have been able to form a good team without compassion for himself and for others and certainly not without sincere civility.

One only need look at his children to see what a great father he has been and continues to be. That is where the evidence really lies. Despite never mentioning the importance of compassion and civility in his life, it is tucked away inside, hiding sometimes behind a tough protective exterior.

I hope the audience appreciated the kindness and common sense values that these men have. We all love to hear the incredible stories of crashing and recovering. Many of us can clearly relate as we have such stories in our own lives. We love to hear about the renegade side of people who go against the tide and handle pressures we hope to never be faced with. Some of us can handle life on a roller coaster and can face serious challenges with great strength and a sense of purpose. Others of us need a more secure, even sedate, life where intense pressures are avoided.

In the end, whichever path we choose or find ourselves on unexpectedly, we can be happier and move more gracefully through the day if we practice compassion and show civility to everyone whom we meet. It is the lubrication that oils the wheels of life and which gives is the strength to put the feelings of other people ahead of our own. In business and in our private lives, we may at times be scrappy, be focused on emergencies, or even be in a position of being arrogant. If tempered with compassion and respect for those around us, those who truly love us will surround us.


Civility Begins at Home


Life for many of us is not always a bed of roses. In this column, "Civility Begins at Home", Jay takes a glimpse at this unpleasant subject and what we might do to change things...

We are, after all, human beings. It is our very nature, especially in western society, to get ahead either at school, in our jobs, or in our efforts to get reelected as government officials. 

None of us are immune to overstepping our bounds from time to time in this desire to achieve our goals. Unfortunately, in striving for our goals, too often these efforts turn into acts of bullying. Sometimes we purposefully act in ways which can be very hurtful and cruel to those around us. Other times we behave this way quite unaware and are clueless as to how our actions affect those people with whom we interact. 

What better time than the present is there to stop and assess our actions, our motives, and our goals? I have observed, as have many others, that civility at school, in the work place, in social and activity clubs and in the legislature has fallen to a very low point. If we want to build any kind of a sustainable and healthy future for our children and grandchildren, now is the time to begin anew to lead by example so that those who hold us in high regard have good reason to do so.

Where we need to begin this sort of renovation is at home. Bullying begins at home. This is learned because one or both parents, caregivers, and siblings teach this behavior initially.  There is no point to laying blame elsewhere. If there are constant tears at home from a child; if there is a constant or even occasional outburst which instills fear in a household; if there is confusion and lethargy surrounding a household, it is time to take a look at what is going on. We need to become more aware of and take responsibility for our actions. We must make a bigger effort to think about how we affect other people's feelings and self-esteem. 

Bullying  comes in many forms – physical, emotional, verbal, and mental. Unfortunately, the effects of this abuse can last a lifetime. We all deserve respect. Whether the newborn freshly home from the hospital, the elder statesman who is the patriarch of the family, or the grandmother whose firm guidance has solved many a family argument, we all deserve to be treated with kindness, compassion and respect. This is best accomplished if practiced everyday. I think it is so important that I suggest scheduling some family time if necessary, where all family members can get together to discuss what is going on in their lives. How else will we find out if someone is being bullied and is afraid. None of us are skilled enough psychics to guess how our loved ones are feeling, what their troubles may be, and how we may help them to feel better about themselves.

Bullying is akin to negative reinforcement. The only thing worse is abandonment. Coming home to an empty house, for example, is a very unhealthy way for any of us to end our day of work or schooling. Even something as simple as a short note indicating that there is food in the fridge or what time dinner will be gives some assurance that a much needed connection will be made soon. We cannot thrive or even exist in isolation. We mustn't do this to our loved ones.

Bullying is the behavior of weak individuals. This weakness needs to be addressed. It is the responsibility of parents to see to it that their children are raised to know the difference between behavior which is acceptable and that which is not. This is a simple process really because everything that our parents do, we as children assume is alright. It does not take a lot of experience to recognize actions which are wrong. Abuse of any kind is uncalled for. Physical abuse is in fact against the law, a fact of which many people are unaware. Physical abuse must be reported to authorities at once and can be done anonymously if needs be.

When we return to our schools and offices this autumn, let's try to make it our own personal policy to behave civilly with one another. This kind of natural behavior cannot be successfully legislated, nor should it be. A healthy society should be able to nurture this behavior very comfortably. Discussing this at home brings it to the forefront of our minds and helps make it easier to happen. If the home is a secure place to live physically, mentally and emotionally, our schools and places of work will be too.


Coming Back to the Nest

Guidelines to Visiting Parents

Dear Jay,

What is a polite way to limit the number of days an adult child visits home?

Respectfully yours, Karen



Dear Karen,

Adult children returning to the nest is one thing. Those simply coming for a visit is another. You must remember that your home is your castle and you alone set the guidelines and make the rules. If there is an issue about this in your mind, you must state clearly exactly what the guidelines are. Being honest with your message does not require being disrespectful or rude. Keeping facts and feelings separate is a challenge we all face from time to time. Speak in a kindly tone and take full responsibility for your position. It is, after all, your position. Don't lay blame on your child. He or she learned their behavior from you most likely. So, if you've enabled this turn of events, it's now time to explain that now things must change and these are the new rules. I advise not letting this become a big issue. Nipping it in the bud before he or she arrives will help.

Kind regards,  Jay

Lack of Awareness 

Look Around You and Be Polite

This may sound like an exercise akin to patting your head and rubbing your tummy, but I am quite serious about this seemingly simple concept. A reader recently sent me this note illustrating the lack of awareness and kindness towards others. Perhaps we can all learn from this reader’s questions.

“I really enjoy your column. Thanks for the great suggestions for the New Year, which I intend to use. One thing that maybe you could consider writing about is the following: It really bothers me that many people today seem to just live in their own world and have little consideration for others who are around them. Often I have walked into a building right after someone who does not appear to know that I am there and drops the door on me. 

“Another beef that I have is people shopping in grocery store aisles, often with a number of family members, who run into someone that they know and proceed to block the aisle as they carry on a conversation. 

“I think the one that bothers me the most is when you get behind someone at the local drugstore or convenience store who insists on making their purchase, get their air mile points, pay all their utilities, and both check all their lotto tickets and buy new ones while others are waiting behind them! There just seems to be a general inconsideration for others demonstrated here. I used to buy my gas at a convenience store in the Fredericton area where the owner had a policy that customers could not do prolonged lotto ticket transactions if others were waiting. More than once I have just put my purchases down and walked out! 

“I know that I sound like the complainer here but it really does bother me! Happy New Year and looking forward to reading you in 2012.”

The scenarios outlined above are ones to which we can all relate. No one likes having a door surprisingly slammed in his or her face. But it does happen frequently! People just do not look behind them to see if someone is coming and politely hold the door open for that next person. What we need to practice is  being polite by taking just seconds to be aware of those around us. I find that when I experience these annoying situations, a bit of self-reflection often reveals a need to slow down and be more aware of what I am doing.

In grocery stores or any store with narrow aisles and shopping carts, it is helpful to look around and try not to inconvenience others. I am not suggesting that a good ‘gossip’ isn’t appropriate quietly in the store, but most customers are not there for social purposes. They need to get in and get out. The lesson here is to consider putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. The Golden Rule comes in handy frequently. This is another call to slow down and be aware of those around you, even putting them and their feelings before yours upon occasion.
The multi-tasker at the super market or at the bank or even at the ticket counter can really be annoying. We have become accustomed to one-stop shopping and find accomplishing a number of chores at one place very satisfying. However, if there is a line of people behind you watching you wind through your list of lottery tickets or other time-consuming tasks, I recommend coming back at a time when the lines may be shorter. This is akin to going through a busy grocery line with a full cart of purchases without helping to bag them. We all know how annoying it is when it happens to us. This is a two-way street. It is inconsiderate and disrespectful.

Let the New Year allow you to start off with a clean slate in one important way. Slow down and pay more attention to exactly what is going on around us. As we interact with other people, whether they are fellow shoppers, clerks, or friends and family, becoming more aware of how our actions affect other people will make for a more civil society. And don’t forget to smile often. We never know how our smile can brighten someone else’s day. It happens often!


Planet Etiquette

Recycling, Trash, and General Caring For Our Planet Etiquette

How is our etiquette concerning the planet on which we live?

I try to be mindful of taking care of our delicate planet on a daily basis. I am serious about recycling as is my partner.  All of the wine and beer bottles, cans, newspapers, cardboard, plastic bags and vegetable scrapings are all recycled.  We use to recycle over 2000 pounds of vegetable scrapings every year when operating the Windsor House. Our garden has good soil as a result, although a ton doesn’t really make as much difference as it sounds. However, every ton of waste not put into the landfill is to the good of the planet.

It amazes me how reckless people are today about the garbage they produce. Coffee cups are strewn along the highway. There are some people who I see regularly picking up discarded pop cans from the roadside as supplemental income, there are so many. The highways in the US and Canada capture so much litter that there are now laws in place to combat offenders. We should know better. 

And to those of us who smoke, it is hard to believe how cavalier we have become of making the streets our own personal ashtray. Nothing could be more disrespectful to our visitors and fellow citizens. The town of St. Andrews actually employs someone to pick up cigarette butts as a summer job. How pathetic is that?  This reflects so badly on our beautiful town and on the self esteem of our residents who feel it is their right to use the streets as a trash bin. And the sad fact is that no one can point a finger at any one group. I have witnessed this behavior from young and old and all socio-economic classes. It is arrogance at its very worst. 

Before I come across as too self righteous, I admit to contributing to this total disregard for the fragility of our planet. I waste water like there is no tomorrow. I don’t turn off lights as I might when not in use. I don’t follow through on certain excellent suggestions from the Department of Energy on ways to use less electricity and conserve natural resources. I drive too much, although I must admit to ‘using’ other gas guzzlers to pick up and drop off my mail.

So, what do we do?  What do I do?

Here we are living in one of the most ‘happening’ places on the planet as far as energy goes and we treat it with little respect. We take it for granted. We don’t want to see our streets littered with cigarette butts, yet we constantly flick them away. We’re not doing that consciously because we know someone needs employment to pick them up. We do it unconsciously. It’s like spitting or swearing or wearing clothes that don’t fit, or bullying or beating our children or spouses. It has become a way of life and it must stop. It soils our surroundings in such a negative way.

I can remember a time when there were no leash laws and there were no ‘pooper scooper’ laws. Walking down the streets of Paris or New York was a bit of a mine field. Suddenly people decided to end this horrible and lazy disrespectful behavior. Today, even in our small seaside tourist town, there are leash laws and special dispensers of plastic bags. For the most part, everyone with a dog is careful to follow these regulations. That is considered real progress. And fortunately no one is inconvenienced.

It’s time to take the next step.

We have made a major step forward by banning herbicides and pesticides in our small town. And a local company is testing organic fertilizer. The province provides home energy analyses for practically nothing, with incentives to improve energy efficiency. There are recycle centers which are constantly improving. There are many chances for us to all make a smaller footprint on the planet. What is keeping us from taking advantage of them? 

In my opinion, these values must be taught at home and reinforced in the school system. Given the high cost of ‘deposit’ fees, this should be pretty easy when it comes to bottles and cans. Newspapers are trickier because you actually have to stack them up and take them to the recycle bin, and you get no cash in return. What a pity! Do it anyway. I find that every trip I take to the recycle bins gives me a sense of doing the right thing and it feels good. But maybe that’s just me. So many people feel the same way.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all did?

Graduation Etiquette

Unsure How to Respond

Dear Jay,

How do I respond to a graduation announcement? I just found out there is a graduation party within a week and I am not invited.

It is a relative of my husband, and I just met them once recently. I have never met their son who is graduating. I wish to do the right thing, but I am not sure what to do?

Respectfully yours, Edith


Dear Edith,

Thanks for asking this good question. There is no need to respond to a graduation announcement at all. If you want to send a card of congratulations, I am sure that would be most appreciated. Nothing more is required. I hope this helps.

Regards, Jay

Reader Question: Holiday Etiquette

Travel Etiquette for the Holidays


This will be my first holiday season in my own apartment with my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years. As excited as I am to decorate, bake and enjoy the holidays as an adult, I am a little concerned about how to handle some of the holiday activites.

We are going to see our entire family (his & mine) on Thanksgiving. Is it wrong of us to want to spend Christmas Day in our own home this year instead of hiking from house 1, house 2, etc.? My family has a bit of an old mentality, and expects us to be there since we are 1) not married yet and 2) are not hosting the holidays ourselves.

Should we suck it up and travel all day during Christmas, or enjoy a couple's Christmas in the place we worked so hard to obtain?



Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Laurel,

Thanks for asking this really good question. I have found myself in this position both as a single person with a significant other and as a married person.

My experience tells me that parents usually do want their children to make the trek, sometimes even if they are burdened with kids, but I can totally identify with your position of wanting to spend Christmas in your home with your beloved.

My advice is to be as compassionate to yourselves and to your families as possible. This means being accommodating when possible, yet protecting your private time as well and without feelings of guilt. I think family traditions become traditions because most of the time they work well. If you step and back and look at the big picture, you in fact may be the most flexible; in which case you would be appropriately expected to bend more. 

This in no way diminishes your desire to spend a quiet private Christmas in your own home. The symbolism which surrounds that is very strong and important. It is also resilient. My advice is to follow your instincts and "suck it up".  Be grateful that you have two families to visit on such an important holiday.

I hope this helps, Jay

Reader Question - Wine Etiquette

How to Handle Poor Service

Hello Jay,

What is the protocol to be adopted by someone dining in a restaurant where the wait staff has had no training in basic wine service let alone in the art of the sommelier?  My wife and I recently entertained a mutual friend in a nice restaurant where the very pleasant young waitress knew absolutely nothing about wine service to the point of not even giving the host an opportunity to taste the wine, picking up the wine glass, filling the host's glass before the two guests etc. Is it poor form to gently assist the waiter in the correct service protocol or should one just accept the lack of training the wait staff has received and grin and bear it? To the credit of the young lady, she apologized for not knowing anything about wine service.

In my dining experiences, I tend to find the attitude of the, usually, young staff excellent but they have received only marginal training in the art of fine dining which reflects poorly upon the establishment. Most of these pleasant young people have not been brought up in a home where fine dining experiences are part of their formative years; hence it is incumbent on the owner/manager to give the proper training. It is difficult 
to change a poor attitude, but skills can be acquired at any stage in one's life.


Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Ian,

I hear this question often, unfortunately. And it is not restricted to fast food establishments. Fine dining restaurants frequently neglect to properly train their staff, both on the floor and in the kitchen. This has always puzzled me as it ultimately does the server and the establishment an injustice. The result often times is a reduced tip as well as dissatisfied clients who may not return. Management needs to carefully instruct the staff in all of the correct steps of service including wine service. 

As far as the proper protocol for your particular situation is concerned, you need to bring this to the attention of the restaurant manager. And it is important to do this without embarrassing the server. It is the manager who deserves any negative remarks you might have. Personally, I find proper protocol can be cumbersome at times and it is easier to help the server out of their bind by making a couple of helpful suggestions if you think they would be well received. I know when I managed our restaurant, if a new server was working and was still training to understand and execute steps of service, I would personally keep a close eye on the tables they were responsible for and gently assist when needed. 

I completely concur with you when you mention that in spite of the fact that a young person may not have been raised in a home where formal dining was a part of life, this young work force may well have an excellent attitude. Teaching the correct skills associated with proper food and beverage service will enhance the atmosphere and reputation of any establishment and give these youngsters valuable tools for their careers and in life in general.  I hope this helps.

Regards, Jay

Expanded Thoughts on Etiquette When Encounting Poor Service

Generally speaking, if you are unhappy with your meal, please speak with your server. They will deliver your complaint to either the manager or the chef. The manager will most likely speak with you directly to define the problems. He or she needs your feedback because they want your dining experience to be a positive one. That’s what building loyal clientele and a good reputation are all about. 

Hopefully the problem can be resolved to your satisfaction. And when tipping your server, you must remember that they did not prepare the food. Poor food quality should not be a factor in deciding on a tip.  I suggest a 15% gratuity in most restaurants and 20% in expensive restaurants. Wait staff earn most of their livelihood from tips, not from their hourly wages. This is a profession where people take great pride in delivering good service, especially if they have been properly trained and instilled with confidence. The experience of a delicious meal in fine surroundings and with pleasant servers can make for magic occasions. It is a time where mutual respect between client and wait staff can blossom.

The food and beverage industry aspires to exceed their customers' expectations particularly in finer restaurants, inns and hotels. Don't be shy when it comes to giving feedback, both positive and negative. It actually shows that you have respect for the restaurant, its staff and its guests.

Don't Ignore an RSVP Request

RSVP Etiquette

I have noticed that the RSVP on invitations in certain instances is ignored. Most invitations ask that the recipient RSVP. This is a simple but very important request. The translation of RSVP, the French expression ‘Respondez s'il vous plais’, is simply ‘please respond’ or ‘please reply’.  The RSVP is the means for the host to gather essential information to complete the party or function arrangements. The RSVP clearly indicates how many people will or will not attend the event. It lets the host/hostess proceed with ordering food and beverages, creating a seating plan, hiring the correct number of wait staff and other obvious considerations in planning a successful occasion.

I have noticed that most people do in fact reply to private party invitations. Once you decide to accept an invitation, it really is important to show up, especially if a sit down meal is being prepared and served. Last minutes cancellations with a very legitimate excuse are acceptable. But ‘no-shows’ are inappropriate and extremely rude. Likewise, last minute replies are thoroughly disrespectful. If you are so late in replying that the host/hostess phones you to see if you are planning to attend a function, you ought to realize your gaff immediately, and apologize for your faux pas and any inconvenience which may have resulted. Apply the adage of walking in someone else's shoes and imagine yourself in the position of hosting a party without a clue to the number of people who will be attending. 

For public or institutional affairs it is equally important to reply to invitations. These events require a lot of planning and a head count is crucial. Many times, people think RSVP means ‘regrets only’. It does not. If I am invited to an opening at a museum and there is an RSVP, I call immediately to let them know one way or the other. And, I might add, that no one is exempt from replying. Many times public figures are invited to special events as a sign of respect and courtesy. They must reply to such invitations for exactly the same reasons everyone else must.

At these large public gatherings, if you have not replied to the invitation, do not just show up thinking your host will be thrilled to see you. I have been to many such events where there is a list of who has replied. If you’re not on that list, you may well not be admitted. You are less likely to be turned away at the door for a non-profit group. Because these organizations cannot afford to offend anyone, protocol is broken or stretched. But keep in mind that you are still a guest and ought to return the courtesy of the invitation and hospitality that has been extended to you. Be prepared for a solicitation for a donation or request for volunteer help with various projects. These are some of the ways non-profits remain in existence doing good for the community.

There are various schedules one follows when mailing invitations depending on the kind of event or party. However, one should reply within 48 hours of receiving any invitation if possible. Unless otherwise stated on the invitation, replies should be in writing. In today’s fast paced society, most invitations have telephone numbers or emails for quick reply. Some contain a reply card to indicate the number of people attending and perhaps a card for choosing an entrée. Whatever the method of reply, do it promptly. Always put yourself in the position of the host or hostess.

Invitations are very clearly addressed. If the invitation is addressed to Mr. John Doe and Guest, then he is invited to bring along a guest – any guest of his choice. I heard recently of a wedding invitation where a gentleman was invited to bring a guest. The bride found out who the guest was and announced that the guest in question wouldn't be welcome. The bride did not want to be upstaged by the extraordinary beauty of the lady who was to accompany the invited guest.  Once you have sent an invitation there is no taking it back-that just does not happen in polite society. Once a person RSVPs, the host/hostess accepts whatever decision the guest has made without further stipulation or regulation.  How ludicrous! What a peculiar and cruel way for a bride to behave. That was a first for me.

If the invitation is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. John Doe and Family, that refers to immediate family, i.e. children. If the invitation does not state “and family”, do not ask if you may bring the children or others. Your asking this of a host/hostess puts him/her in an awkward position and makes you look foolish. However, in the case of an informal party, such as a pool party, as it’s a family kind of affair, it is acceptable to call and explain that you have house guests and ask if they might be included. More often than not extra guests are welcome.

RSVPs are one of the most essential parts of an invitation. Please respect them and respond as quickly as possible. This is one way that you as the guest can contribute to the success of the party and help ensure less stress for the host or hostess. This small gesture is always a winner.

Meet Stage of Life's Etiquette Coach

Meet Jay Remer - etiquette expert on StageofLife.comOur Etiquette Expert

Why Jay?  It's simple...Jay knows etiquette. 

For years Jay has planned and managed royal, corporate, political and social events and parties, some of them for up to 500 people.  As a graduate of the Protocol School of Washington, he offers workshops on business, social and dining etiquette, as well as international protocol for a variety of audiences.  From teenage students to corporate clients, Jay teaches everything from the basics of a handshake to the subtleties of developing a business relationship during a networking dinner.  His course on self-esteem in youth, in particular, has been encouraged by Dr. Piet Forni, founder of the Civility institute at Johns Hopkins University.  Originally from Delaware, Jay now lives in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada  where he has written a weekly etiquette column in the National Post and is a current columnist in New Brunswick’s Telegraph Journal.  He is a Social Etiquette and Good Manners expert on and has answered over 1,000 questions from people around the world...and we post his content here on Stage of Life.  

You can read more about Jay on his website,

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