The countless collection of social graces is constantly growing and changing to reflect the world in which we live. Yet for every self-explanatory etiquette principle (silence your phone at the movies), there’s another seemingly arbitrary one (men should escort women on the left). While these “rules” may seem old-fashioned and are often broken in today’s society, they were once the guidelines for proper manners. I took the courtesy of demystifying five of them.
1. Why You Shouldn’t Point at Another Person
When assisting theme park guests, Disney employees, also known as cast members, are trained to point with two conjoined fingers, index and middle. The primary explanation is that standard pointing is considered rude in numerous cultures — especially if aimed at another person. A perception that dates back to Shakespeare’s time, pointing brings unwanted attention to the recipient, implying that they’ve committed a wrong. Repeated pointing in Japan can even instigate hostility. Figurative “finger-pointing” is defined as “making explicit and often unfair accusations of blame.” In situations where you feel compelled to point, it is kinder to use an open palm, flight attendant-style.
2. Why You Should Keep Elbows Off the Table
Table manners were originally introduced to prevent mealtime fights, with the knife and fork establishing each eater’s boundary lines. Today, the elbow rule stops people from slouching or accidentally leaning their arms into food dishes. Moreover, when breaking bread with a group, placing your elbows on the table blocks those on either side of you from making eye contact.