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Brushing up on manners...

Etiquette for Teens

Meet Jay Remer, resident etiquette expert on StageofLife.com

Etiquette advice for high school studentsStage of Life is pleased to introduce etiquette expert, Jay Remer, to its team.  Below you will find tips, advice and articles from Jay on important etiquette topics specifically tailored to the teen and high school audience.  But wait...

Ask Jay an etiquette question...ask us an etiquette question now!  If you're in high school or a parent of a high school student and you are interested in asking an etiquette question, contact us and we'll post your question and Jay's reply here on the Etiquette for Teens page.

Read below for real-life etiquette advice submissions from our teen users, and don't forget to check out all 10 of our etiquette advice pages for the other stages of life.

Etiquette Articles and Questions about Teenagers

Loving Someone Who Is Already Taken

How do I tell someone who is already has a girlfriend that I like them? 

Dear Jay,
How do you tell someone you like them, but they already have a girlfriend?

Jay's ANSWER...
A: You don’t. Being a good friend does not require any statement. Making any statement could be misconstrued. Hopefully you don’t want to get in the way. I hope this helps.

-Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Not Helping at Thanksgiving

Should guests be expected to help with the food and do the dishes? 

Dear Jay,
I was invited to my girlfriend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. I went and brought them a gift of 2 bottles of wine. I was asked more than once to help get the table ready and help in the kitchen. I helped bring out some food and went back to socializing. After the dinner, my girlfriend came over and told me her mom asked why I wasn't helping with the dishes. Is it rude not to help with dishes after I was invited over for dinner? I thought it was rude to invite someone over and expect them to help with dinner or dishes. In my house if someone is a guest they are supposed to enjoy themselves, not help out.

Jay's ANSWER...
A:  If you were expected to help with all the tasks involved with dinner, your girlfriend should have known and told you. Somewhere along the line, communications broke down. On the other hand, offering to help at every turn of the screw is a very kind thing to do, and would garner you many kindness points. So, the expectation was inappropriate; but not offering to help, despite the generous gift of wine, may have come across as somewhat ungrateful. Either way, lesson learned. I hope this helps.
-Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Twins Going to Homecoming

Is it okay if twins go to homecoming together if they don't have dates? 

Dear Jay,
Is it improper for twins to go to a Homecoming Dance together if they don't have a date?

Jay's ANSWER...
A:  No, it is not improper at all. It makes perfect sense to me. I hope this helps.
-Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Never Invited to Friend's House

Is it rude of me to suggest to my friend that she invite me to her house since she is always coming over to mine? 

Dear Jay,
I have a friend who I've been friends with a very long time. She is generally a nice person and caring. The problem I’m having is every time she wants to hang out, she always invites herself and her family to my house. I would love to go to her house sometimes, but she usually never invites us and always wants to come to my home instead. Should I say something to her or just forget it and have her come over?

Jay's ANSWER...
A:  Perhaps there is a reason why she does not invite you to her house. Depending on how close a relationship you have with her, you might consider asking her. It is not uncommon for reciprocation to be extended. But keep in mind that there may be a reason that is difficult for her to express. If this is the case, don’t pry unless asked. I hope this helps.
-Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Paying for Gas

How much should I give my parents for gas? 

Dear Jay,
Should I as a single rider in my parent's car expect to pay 1/2 of the gas or 1/3 since there are two of them?

Jay's ANSWER...
A:  The easy answer is 1/3. The longer answer is whatever deal they strike with you before the journey. It’s their car. But I would side with you on this one, 1/3 is more than reasonable. I hope this helps.
-Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Pizza Money

Should I send pizza money and a thank you when my son sleeps over at his friend's house? 

Dear Jay,
My son sleeps over at his friend’s house often. I was going to send a thank you note with 20.00 for pizza.  Is this strange and unnecessary?

Jay's ANSWER...

A:  A simple phone call would be best. It’s a very nice gesture; perhaps, one day you will reciprocate. Until such time, give your son some money before he heads over to his friends house to cover such expenses. Remember that guests do not have to pay their own way. Maybe he could offer to buy the whole pizza from time to time to level things out. This could be a very teachable moment. I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

High School Crushes

Are high school crushes and relationships pointless? 

Dear Jay,
As a teenager, life can often be difficult. During this age, I along with other teenagers begin to think of their future, get into relationships, and try to find themselves. So a problem most teenagers face is the whole everyone needs to have a relationship / crush period. Several of my friends are getting into relationships, while I, listening to the commandment of my parents, am just maintaining friendships rather than getting into relationships. While that is fun and all, still, as a teenager, I have feelings and sometimes being friends with someone isn't satisfying enough. 

There is a person who I have been obsessing over for months and am constantly thinking about being with them in more than friendly matter. However, that someone is taken and there are many reasons why it will never work out. Also, I am aware young love is pointless because you will just end up breaking up and making stupid decisions. And yet, I still really want to make my relationship with this someone into a closer and romantic relationship. Do you have any ideas?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Welcome to adolescence. As a young adult, we have many inexplicable feelings and urges. We are after all undergoing significant physical changes, as well as emotional adjustments. We also fall into the trap of making assumptions to justify situations in life as they arise. Young love is not pointless - in fact, it is very important. Unfortunately for you, the object of your desire is not available. My advice is to back off. Your intrusion into a budding relationship will likely cause you to lose both of your friends. Trying to force situations to suit your wishes will not work, not now, not ever. This you will hopefully discover as you grow into adulthood. My advice is that your respect your friends’ relationship, and not be jealous of it. And, look elsewhere for companionship. There are many fish in the sea! I hope this helps.

Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Social Anxiety in High School

Is there something wrong with me because I am not able to make and keep friends, and I'm always freaking about it? 

Dear Jay,
I have a problem. This is my last year in high school, and I feel as if I haven't made friends or even acquaintances with all the wonderful people here. I've always been extremely self-conscience and I've never been able to make friends easily. I try too hard to be myself, and I feel awkward around people. When I do begin a kind of relationship with anybody, I begin to panic because I don't make relationships easily and I want to keep the ones I start. I don't really know what to do or say and I don't don't want to pretend. Then I become awkward and I don't even know myself anymore. I've started to worry about myself. Is there something inherently wrong with me? Do I just lack the basic skill of interacting with anyone? How am I supposed to go through life if I freeze in high school?

Is there something I can do, because I don't know how to help myself anymore.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: First of all, you need to relax. Secondly, you need to understand that forming lasting relationships is difficult at the best of times. High school years have a whole load of issues involving both physical and emotional upheavals within every student. I advise that you schedule some quiet time for yourself. Listen to some of your favorite relaxing music. Meditate. Read a book of poetry. Take a hot bath. Give yourself some time to take care of yourself. This is how you will come to know who you truly are. The more time you can schedule the better. An hour a day would bring changes to your life you never imagined possible. I would not worry about going through life awkwardly, or lacking basic skills, or that there is something wrong with you. You are you - perfectly you. Develop some respect for yourself and you will make friends very easily. I hope this helps.



Jay

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Pushing the panic button

Should I start stressing about losing all of my older friends when they graduate next year? 

Dear Jay,
I have a serious problem!  I am taking some junior courses my sophomore year, and I really like the juniors.  Problem is, they will leave a year before me, so I won't be able to see them!  How much am I allowed to panic in this situation?

Jay's ANSWER...

A: Panicking is never a good solution to any of life’s challenges. I advise that you focus on the present moment, and enjoy the time you have with these students while you can. Fretting about the future only detracts from your enjoyment of what’s going on right now. I would also challenge your statement, “I won’t be able to see them”. Is this true? Are you absolutely sure? Making assumptions about the future is a dangerous trap to avoid at all times. I hope this helps.



Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

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.



Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Not invited and not admitted

How do I help my teenaged son understand that it isn't okay to go to party uninvited even if others do? 

Dear Jay,
My 16 year old son was invited by friends to go to a school mate's birthday party last night (Friday night, high school party). My three concerns were: are parents home, are you invited, and how are you getting home. I confirmed that the parents would be home. He texted the birthday boy and asked if it was okay to come. The response was "I'm not allowed to have any more people, sorry"... So my son wished him happy birthday and dropped it. The birthday boy sent my son a text a few minutes later and asked him to tell everyone that he wasn't letting them in, that he didn't want things to get out of control. So my son passed on the info which was promptly dismissed by all the kids, except my son.

Today I am dealing with a very resentful 16 year old because 20 other kids who a) were not invited and b) just showed up, were allowed in and had a great night. I stand by my insistence that you never show up uninvited. He is mad that I told him to ask. He says “It's high school, you just show up. I'm the only one who asked and I got told no. Everyone else just showed up and had fun".

Am I wrong to insist that it's in poor taste to show up uninvited? Is that common behavior and accepted now? The parents admitted all the kids who showed up uninvited.

Jay's ANSWER...

A: You are absolutely correct. This is precisely why kids growing up today stand little chance of being taken seriously in the real world when they need to function as adults. One, his parents are at fault - which happens far too frequently for not setting guidelines about who will be attending the party. Two, the birthday boy had no business texting your son with such a directive. There are times when party invitations are less structured, which is fine. However this situation is very hurtful for your son. I would be on the phone with the birthday boy’s mother and ask for some clarification. 16 year olds don’t always get the facts straight, and they obviously need guidance to avoid such problems from occurring in the first place. Since  the parents are clueless,  your job is to sit down with your son and explain to him the difference between right and wrong, and why. He is justifiably upset. Work as a team player, not as a dictator. But remember, you are right, and this is a great opportunity to turn a lousy situation into a teachable moment - with compassion. I hope this helps.
 
My best,

Jay

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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,

Jay

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The Locker Room
Dear Jay,

Do the men's locker rooms in catholic private high schools have nudity? I am an incoming freshman and would like to know. Thanks.



Jay's ANSWER...

All men's locker rooms have nudity. It's part of life. Communal showering has been around for millennia. However, if one has never been exposed to this before, it can be justifiably terrifying. Fear not, young man. There will be plenty of other young lads who feel the same way. If this becomes a serious fear for you, I suggest speaking with your father or with an older brother (if you have one) or with a male mentor? Your hesitation is understandable, but you will be surprised just how quickly you can assimilate into your peer group, leaving your fears in the past. I hope this helps.

Kindest regards,

Jay


Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

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?

--Debra



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,


Jay

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Double Booked for a Birthday?

What NOT to do when you've been invited to two birthday parties on the same day...

Dear StageofLife.com,

I have been planning my teenage daughter's birthday party for weeks.  Although she is only inviting three guests, the party involves appointments for facials, going to a movie, and a dinner reservation. 

However, one of her guests called a week before the party and requested that we change the date of the party as she has received an invitation to another event.  Evidently the hosts of the other event refused to change the date of their party. 

As you might expect, I also refused to change the date of my daughter's party stating that there were reservations, other guests to consider, and my family's schedule.  I said if needed, she was welcome to attend only part of my daughter's party if this would work better for her.

Does this seem like rude behavior from the invitee? Or should I have been more accommodating since our party involves a small number of girls?

-Party-Planning Mom


Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Party-Planning Mom,

Planning a party with spa appointments and other fun activities does involve being organized well in advance. The guest who called to ask you to reschedule your party is way out of line and exhibits the height of rudeness. You were very kind.  I would strike her from future guest lists in a hurry!

If one receives a "better" invitation once they have accepted a previous invitation, they must regret the second invitation, without question.

I hope this clarifies this matter for you. Where have good manners gone?

Kind regards,
Jay

Contact Stage of Life with your Etiquette QuestionIf you have an etiquette question and would like a personal response from Jay and StageofLife.com, please contact us and we'll post your question and the answer in the hopes that it'll help others in the same life situation.

Civility Begins at Home

Bullying

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.

--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!

--Jay
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


Jay's ANSWER:

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

Driving Miss Teen Daisy

Driving Etiquette 101 for Teenagers

As temperatures rise and people’s pockets are lightened more rapidly than ever due to the current economic disaster, so unfortunately people’s own tempers can flare on the road.  As a refresher, following the basic rules of driving that we all learned at a younger age will go a long way to ensure safety for all.

Let People In:  You've heard the term "one good turn deserves another." That's also true when driving. Proper driving etiquette can be contagious. If you let someone in to the traffic flow, they'll probably do the same for someone else down the road. Most people often let people in, if they're signaling, but they expect at least a thank-you wave, and are frustrated when they don't get one. A polite acknowledgement is often forgotten when a driver is in a hurry. For a real twist on this, practice random acts of kindness sometimes too. For example, when on a toll highway, pull up to the attendant and pay your toll and tell them you’d like to pay the toll for the next car as well. You will always get a smile and often times that chain of kindness continues.

Don't Be Aggressive:  Allowing more time to reach your destination will make you a safer and more courteous driver. Aggressive driving is dangerous and it puts others in danger as well. People get nervous when a car cuts too close in front of them, especially without signaling and especially when there’s an infant in the car. When you can see both headlights of the car you passed in the centre rear-view mirror, it’s safe to pull back into the right lane and remember to use your turn signal. I find that even when there’s no one else on the road, if I am going to turn onto another road, I use my turn signal automatically. It’s a very good habit to have deeply ingrained in your driving patterns. Trying to cut corners to get through traffic faster doesn't save you any time - it just gets you to the next red light a little sooner, all the while endangering those around you.

Slow Down:  Driving within the speed limit seems like a thing of the past. Teenagers can be a group guiltiest of this, simply due to their inexperience of the consquences.  Some (not all) zoom down their town streets with little regard that a toddler or stray animal might bolt into the path of their car.  I remember watching this one day as a girl ran over a cat. The cat was badly wounded and would eventually die. The girl was devastated. She was truly upset and remorseful and in need of some serious consolation. What a terrible way to have to learn why speed limits are there for a reason.

Be Sober:  Driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol is another serious danger of which we all aware. This is not isolated to a single demographic group. Sadly it covers everyone who has a license, even those below the legal drinking age. More times than not, one loses one’s sense of speed when driving under the influence, which is one reason they’re so easy to nab. Parents really need to teach their children that the dangers of this practice can have serious consequences, such as a criminal record, loss of driver’s license and loss of respect from others and from oneself, not to mention serious injury. There was a party here recently following the senior prom. People from many local high schools came to a central private location where several sets of parents had agreed to be responsible chaperones. All of the keys were collected so there would be no chance of driving under the influence. Those students who thought they’d beat the system by parking on the road to make a fast getaway were greeted with deflated tires (that were inflated the next morning). There were about 200 youth there and there were no troublesome incidents. Those youth are now empowered to teach their own children, when they have them, how to act responsibly.

Drive Defensively:  Driving defensively is always the best policy. In order to do that, your full attention must be on the road. Be totally aware of all the cars near you as well as the road conditions. You can’t do this while adjusting the radio, chatting on cell phones (which is illegal in many areas for just that reason) or rummaging for a CD. I know this first hand. I was driving on a ski trip one day with two passengers. I was fumbling for a CD and hit a patch of black ice which was concealed from vision under the snow. The car (a Land Cruiser) went into a spin and crashed off the road into a rock formation and flipped. Through a miracle there were no injuries despite the fact that the vehicle was totaled. Imagine what that outcome could have been.

Civility and good manners will never do us any harm, on or off the road. Driving is a privilege and one which we take for granted far too often. Be ever mindful of those around you. It may just save a life.

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?

Teens Testing Boundaries

Teaching Thanks

Jay,

I am a mom of three teenagers who seem to have no respect for handwritten thank you notes after receiving a gift. " I already told them thank you when I opened it." "I don't want to seem redundant." "They know I am thankful."

I find these answers rude and inconsiderate of the amount of thought, love and caring that went into thinking of them (on a birthday, Christmas or graduation) and I don't understand how they can think that this is acceptable. I used to not allow them to play with any of their toys until thank you notes were written. Now with the eye rolling and "I wouldn't want someone to keep thanking me over ad over." I am beside myself.

Please help. Is a verbal "thanks" enough?

-Laura


Jay's ANSWER...

Dear Laura,

Thanks for asking this good question. Kids, especially teenagers, are always testing boundaries and questioning authority. Parents must be clear and firm with their directions, and often times setting a good example is the way children learn. They have obviously not received a thank you note themselves in order to experience the joy a thank you note can generate. By not writing a thank you note, they are demonstrating a lack of gratitude and a lack of respect. These are not good qualities to be exhibiting and there need to be consequences.

I would think a non-threatening chat might help. If kids understand why these rules or guidelines are in place, explained in a non-dictatorial way, they tend to "get it". Of greater concern to me is the disrespect they are showing you with their flippant answers. Somewhere along the line they were allowed to get away with this. Basically you have enabled them to become this way. You and your husband need to be united in your approach in dealing with this issue. If they don't learn the principle of cause and effect now, they will have to learn it later in life. 

I hope this helps, Jay

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.

Say Thank-You, Often

Thank-You Card Etiquette for all Stages of Life

The very first thank-you notes I wrote were for Christmas presents. My mother, sister and I would sit down the day after Christmas with our boxes of note cards and lists of gifts and who had given them to us. Everyone who had given us a gift received a hand written thank-you note.

This at first seemed like a daunting task for an eight year old, but as the years rolled by it became a routine which we looked forward to. Learning to compose a note that had some personality was the challenge. Penmanship was also important. Cards with mistakes had to be discarded and begun anew. In this day and age where actual hand writing has unfortunately taken a back seat to the computer, penmanship is atrocious. Teachers take note! Even students in high school can barely write their names in a legible way. Nonetheless, I have received numerous heartfelt notes from students which meant a great deal to me. And because they were so personal, I know the gratitude that the students felt was sincere.

There are many times when writing a note of thanks is important. There also is a certain feeling of warmth that one gets from writing them. You should send a thank-you note when you are given a gift, sent flowers, asked to lunch or dinner, invited for a weekend, asked to a concert or performance of some kind or when someone does something nice or helpful in a business or social situation such as an introduction or letter of reference. I write far too few thank-you notes. However, I do make a point of phoning whenever I am invited to dinner. People appreciate knowing that the effort that went into cooking dinner and the camaraderie of the time spent together with friends was genuinely enjoyed.

There is an excellent book which was recently published by a colleague of mine entitled 101 Ways to Say Thank You. In it Kelly Browne gives excellent examples of what to actually say in such notes. It has great tips on buying stationary, superlative words to use in a note and many helpful suggestions.

Imagine the delight in receiving a thank-you note. I find that it strengthens friendships and relationships, especially in business situations which are just budding. Whenever someone extends themselves to celebrate a happy occasion, lend a helping hand, make an introduction for you or acknowledge a difficult time you may be experiencing, take the time to write a note. It takes only a few minutes. In some cases notes with “Thank-you” can be purchased at a stationary store or at local gift shops. Some of the highest quality stationary is sold by Crane & Company in the US. They have an excellent website and have a wide variety of cards and stationary which can be personally engraved if required. You can buy note cards at the Dollar Store as well, so there’s not a lot of expense required to accomplish this mission.

In business situations, thank-you notes can be sent via email. It is a matter of discretion however and a hand written or typed note may serve your purposes better. Whatever you decide, be sure that the note is sincere and includes a reference to the purpose of your meeting. If you are sending a note to an interviewer from whom you want a job, be sure not to send a gift. In most companies as well as in government, there are policies against accepting gifts.

In the case of weddings and the tremendous joy and love and support you receive from friends and family, thank-you notes are essential and absolutely must be hand written. And there is no reason why the bride needs to be the sole writer. The groom should share in that responsibility. Be sure that as you open your presents at showers that someone records the gift and the sender. For wedding presents which arrive in the post, one trick which comes in handy is to cut off the return address from the package and attach it to the gift or gift card. Again be sure you have a list and as each thank-you note is written, check it off the list.

The most important thing to remember is to say thank-you often. There are so many more occasions to verbally express your gratitude to another person than there will be reasons for a hand written note. Use the phone if you want to. Speak directly to the person to whom you are grateful. I know of no one who says thank-you too often. Say it with a smile on your face and make direct eye contact. This will go a long way to show the respect you have for others and for yourself.

High School Graduation Etiquette

Observations on Graduating With Class

I had the distinct honor of being invited to this year's graduation for the senior class of the Sir James Dunn Academy. Graduation ceremonies are filled with protocol and a bit of etiquette. Without these, the organizational elements would be totally chaotic. The graduation itself took place in the gymnasium and was beautifully decorated and carefully planned and executed. Walking into the school and seeing everyone all dressed up was so refreshing and really nice.

It is always interesting to learn who is related to whom. One would think that after 17 years, I might have a clue about parents and their children, and in some case I did, but the extended arms of various families still had my head spinning. Graduations are one of those occasions we experience when we try to put aside any untoward feelings we may have about family members with whom we have an estranged relationship and focus our attention on the graduates themselves.

Another part of graduations which I look forward to are the various speeches. This year reminded me of why I like them so much. For one thing, I am impressed with the facility people have of standing in front of an audience of strangers, speaking about a broad range of subjects about life, it's impending pitfalls, its moments of joy and the adventures that lie ahead for the graduates. This year's speeches were all short, punctuated with humor and seeded with wonderful advice. Those heartfelt personal messages are the just the kind of advice that is doled out in one form or another throughout the busy school year and often go unheeded. For some reason, perhaps because we are a captive audience, we pay closer attention at graduation. We actually listen and hear things we yearn to hear often.

The afternoon affords the graduates and their parents plenty of time to prepare for the Grand March, a local tradition dating back several decades. The Grand March starts off an evening of celebration. Formally dressed in a beautiful array of colorful dresses, tuxedos and suits, the grads and their parents walk arm in arm through Centennial Park and are announced before the assembled crowd, much like a formal cotillion. Girls are escorted by their dads, brothers or grandfathers, while the boys walk in with their moms, grandmothers or sisters. It is a highlight of the year for many people and this event is well attended.

The tradition of graduation as a rite of passage is celebrated all over the world. Watching the baton handed from one principal to another, one MC to another, and one class president to another over the course of the years is proof of how important we as a society hold such matters. It is always heartwarming to see a class of school mates unite and perform as a group, including the entire class in the planned activities. An example of this was beautifully described in one of the speeches. Customarily the class takes a trip together as a fun extra curricular activity to punctuate their achievements. They usually go white water rafting. This year, however, one of their classmates is confined to a wheelchair and as a result would not have been able to participate. The class decided that it was more important to include everyone in the activity and chose an alternative which would allow for total inclusion. I mention this as an example of how we may all learn from the students whom we so often teach. Wouldn't the world be a more wonderful place if this same dynamic was carried throughout our daily lives and society as a whole?

The students demonstrated great individuality during the year. At graduation they come together as individuals and uphold tradition. This year's class was no exception. But above all, they demonstrated how they order their priorities. To my mind, they are doing just fine. If tomorrow's leaders were in that group of graduates, and my guess is that there are many, then we have much to look forward to. The teachers to whom parents entrust their children are commendable. Their guidance is working, and in no small part because they are allowing the students to help in the process. The future is bright.

Congratulations to the class of 2010!

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 allexperts.com and has answered over 1,000 questions from people around the world...and he's now ready to answer your questions here on Stage of Life. 

Just let us know your question, your stage of life, and we'll post your question and Jay's official etiquette response on this page.

Ask Jay a Question

You can read more about Jay on his website, EtiquetteGuy.com

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