I'm horrible, you are horrible. Look no further for evidence than the nearest etiquette poll, which will no doubt reveal that the very things we all hate most are the very things we do constantly, like terrible hyena people who have never known kindness yet still manage to bust a text out during dinner.
Every etiquette poll is the same: What will we do about the technology! What is happening to our time-tested traditions! Why can't people act like they did in the past even though everything is different now and lots of that old stuff doesn't even make sense anymore?
Take this etiquette poll from Vanity Fair and 60 Minutes — no doubt arbiters of the collective pulse of America's best behavior at any given moment. In it, we learn that not only do we have stupid expectations for other people's behaviors, but that everything we wish people wouldn't do are largely things we all do constantly.
If you could stop people from doing one of the following activities, which would it be?
E-mails and texts during meals: 56% (total); 55% (18-34); 52% (35-44); 60% (45-54); 54% (55-64); 59% (65+)
Not letting people off elevators before you get on: 23% (total); 23% (18-34); 25% (35-44); 22% (45-54); 25% (55-64); 22% (65+)
Using coats and bags to save seats at the movies: 9% (total); 10% (18-34); 9% (35-44); 7% (45-54); 10% (55-64); 10% (65+)
Blocking the climbing lane on the escalator: 7% (total); 8% (18-34); 8% (35-44); 8% (45-54); 6% (55-64); 4% (65+)
I can think of a lot more things I wish people would stop doing. Like, being so boring that I would rather look at my phone than listen to them. But you never see that in an etiquette poll, do you?
Here's my etiquette poll. It's one question.
What do you wish people would stop doing?
Being so boring/awful/terrible that I would rather do anything but be around them, listen to stories over dinner (100%; 18-65+)
But noooooo, it's on everyone else to sit and nod politely when there is a perfectly fascinating Twitter convo going about the show Kate & Allie.
Emailing/Texting at Dinner:
Sure, it's rude to email and text during meals if you are not listening to a conversation, but people should also try to be better conversationalists at dinner, you know? That might help? How about if we all tried to be so fascinating at dinner that people literally forgot they even had cellphones? In lieu of that, let's all relax a little.
Also: It is one thing to whip out your phone and start scanning Facebook while someone describes the details of their harrowing gallbladder surgery (though your desire to do so is totally understandable because why are they telling you about gallbladder surgery) and quite another to be in a group discussion where someone mentions clown porn and you need to get on Google stat for a judge's ruling on whether it is, in fact, real (it is).
Overzealous Elevator Enterers:
In my entire life maybe one person has ever gotten on an elevator before letting exiting folks off first and I am actually straining to remember whether it even happened that once or maybe I saw it in a movie I cannot even believe that was an option in this poll it cannot be more widespread than occasional and you should be far far more annoyed by this run-on sentence instead.
Saving a Seat at the Movies for a Friend:
Hey, we all hate technology so goddamn much, it would be great if we could start spending more time together and do old-timey fun things like meet for movies in the afternoon during the Depression. But ONLY IF WE GET THERE AND SIT DOWN AT THE EXACT SAME TIME NO MATTER WHAT NO SAVING SEATS MY GOD ARE WE MONSTERS.
If you go to the movies and you get there before your friend you can save a freaking seat for them with your coat or bag. Movies do not have a rule like some restaurants where you can't be seated until your entire party arrives.
People don't exist in a perpetual state of hyper self-awareness about whether someone is coming up on them fast and they need to step aside. It would be great if they could, and I would also like every place I go to be catered.
When I am on an escalator on purpose because I don't want to walk, I will try to move to the side if I sense or feel someone is coming up beside me, obviously. I stay to the side anyway as a general rule. But if I am zoned out or buried in my phone or daydreaming about taking a train to Marrakesh and maybe I am taking up more space than I realize, god forbid, someone could just say "Excuse me" and I would literally step over. That is all it takes. This doesn't even need to exist on a poll anywhere ever again, it takes minimal human interaction and that is what happens when you leave the house.
The expectation that everyone sees you, knows your needs, and understands the whole complex system at work in any given scenario and we can all act together in a choreographed demonstration of mutual interest is highly appealing but batshit crazy. Name one situation where have pulled this off ever in the history of ever.
If we are suggesting that some people literally refuse to move on escalators even when you say "excuse me" than that person either cannot hear you or is looking to fight. It is then ok to punch them, but just once and squarely in the center of the back so as to send them flying face forward.
Which one of the following formalities do you think is most important to be kept alive?
Men opening doors for women: 41% (total); 52% (men); 30% (women)
Hand written notes: 23% (total); 12% (men); 33% (women)
Taking off your hat indoors: 13% (total); 12% (men); 15% (women)
Wearing black to funerals: 9% (total); 11% (men); 8% (women)
Keeping elbows off the table: 8% (total); 6% (men); 10% (women)
Capable people should open doors for people with their hands full. SOLVED.
I will hand-write the fuck out of notes as soon as you once again provide me with the mailing addresses of everyone I know across the country. If I have to make contact to get their address, I'm probably going to go ahead and address the pressing reason for the contact, thereby expressing the very sentiment I was going to express in the note. Then I am basically doubling up because of etiquette, but OK.
Did people stop wearing black to funerals but are still showing up to commemorate the dead? Hang on, let's ask if the deceased minds.
Could you keep your elbows on the table while writing a hand-written note? Just curious.
In conclusion: Much as I would like us all to listen to chillwave and binge-watch Miami Vice together, what makes culture interesting is the fact that we are all different, and even though I get that etiquette is supposed to make us all feel like we are following the same set of rules so everyone feels comfortable, everything about assuming there is even an agreed-upon set of rules we all have access to in the first place is a ludicrous delusion, and often super classist.
Just use common sense! Say a lot of people, as if etiquette really is that simple, but it isn't. But what about please and thank you, someone will interject. Can't we just agree on that?!
You'd think so. But even recently there was an entire debate over the use of saying "no problem" (third question down) as a response to someone saying thank you, and etiquette folks agreed it was bad form. People were actually saying "thank you," and young people were responding with their own twist on "your welcome," and everyone fell to the floor weeping with rage. Never deviate!
Which is why it is not surprising that in the same Vanity Fair-60 Minutes poll, a lot of people said they simply follow not their grandma, but their gut when it comes to figuring out etiquette. And this all but guarantees that there will be an endless supply of offense, handwringing, and polls to complain about how we are all doing it wrong. Because if one thing is certifiably true, it's that our guts are stupid.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby