15 difficult etiquette questions your parents never had to ask

Syda Productions/ShutterstockOur parents never had to worry about etiquette rules around smartphones.
  • Etiquette standards for previous generations look very different than today’s.
  • Technology etiquette guidelines are murky, leaving people uncertain about acceptable behaviour for using devices at work, to form relationships, and for basic communication.
  • According to experts, there are at least 15 etiquette questions your parents never had to ask, but you certainly do.

Etiquette adapts to each technological innovation. In the digital age, the ways we communicate seem to be constantly shifting – and standards for politeness change with it.

While our parents and their parents only had to worry about misdialing their dates’ landlines or letters getting lost in the mail, younger generations are overwhelmed with questions about texting guidelines, dating app protocol, and email etiquette.

Business Insider consulted two communication experts, who weighed in on 15 difficult etiquette questions previous generations never had to ask:


1. Can I keep my phone on the table during a meal?

Gang Liu/ShutterstockYou should keep your phone tucked away.

“Unless you are dining alone at a roadside fast-food chain, your mobile device should be off and away,” Jodi RR Smith, president ofMannersmith Etiquette Consulting, told Business Insider. “Your phone should not buzz or distract you from interacting with your tablemates.”

“If you are with friends and ‘must’ take pictures of your entrees, you may explain what you are doing, take the picture, and then put the phone away,” Smith said. In the case of a debate amongst friends, “you may ask to check the internet to keep the conversation moving, and then put your phone away,” she said.


2. Can I answer a text or call during a date?

“I prefer for phones to be out of sight during a date,” dating expertMeredith Goldentold Business Insider. If something comes up, like an emergency or childcare issue, it’s polite to explain to your date the reason why your phone is out, she said.

“Other than this, the date is the time for the two people to connect. It’s not the time for catching up on your texts,” she said.


3. How long can I go without answering an email?

Adam Berry/Getty ImagesThere are different standards for work and social emails.

A professional email should be acknowledged within 24-48 hours, even if it’s only by an automatic message, Smith said. For social emails, you can wait up to a week, unless it is time sensitive.


4. What is the proper way to address someone in an email?

Tim Shaffer/Microsoft via Getty ImagesEtiquette experts recommend taking a formal approach for the first email.

“The first time you are corresponding in writing, you should default to the more formal manner of address,” Smith said. “Then, watch how I sign my return email. If I sign ‘Jodi,’ you may use ‘Jodi’ in the next email. If I sign ‘Jodi Smith,’ you should continue to address me as ‘Ms. Smith.'”


5. Is it OK to keep my phone volume on while commuting on the bus or train?

Dean Drobot/ShutterstockEither mute your volume or wear headphones.

“The volume should be muted. Calls, if any, should be excruciatingly brief. Music or videos should be listened to via headset or earbuds. Texting is ideal for commuting,” Smith said.


6. Is it appropriate to use my phone to take photos and videos during a wedding ceremony?

MNStudio/ShuttestockPhones should stay away during the actual ceremony.

“Generally, pictures and video may be taken during the processional and recessional. Phones should be away during the ceremony,” Smith said. “Unless the couple specifically requests no pictures.”


7. Should I announce my engagement or pregnancy on Instagram?

By Natalia Deriabina/ShutterstockExperts recommend telling your loved ones in person or over the phone.

“There are those who really need to know in person or at least by phone. Once those who would be truly hurt or insulted if they read about your news online are aware, you may turn to social media,” Smith said.


8. Should I still dress in business attire for a job interview if the employees dress casually?

Stephen Chernin/Getty ImagesDress to impress.

“If the office is casual, you still want to be one or two notches above what the employees are wearing,” Smith said. “It is better to show you cared too much as opposed to not enough.”


9. If I’m over 21, can I post photos on social media that show me drinking alcohol?

Ethan Miller/Getty Images for CineVegasPost anything you would be OK with your employers seeing.

“With the ubiquity of social media, you are your own press agent,” Smith said. “Is it a formal event where you are dressed up, toasting with champagne glasses? Or it is you in your bathing suit doing a kegstand at the beach?”

“If you would be OK with your colleagues from work seeing the picture and they would still regard you professionally, it’s fine,” Smith said. It’s also easy enough to put down your drink or hide it for a photo.


10. Can I send a thank you note over email?

wavebreakmedia/ShutterstockA hand-written note is meaningful.

“An emailed thank-you note shows you cared enough to do the very least,” Smith said. “A handwritten note is still the standard for any gift, being taken out for a meal, or hosted overnight,” Smith said.


11. How long should I talk to someone on a dating app before meeting them in person?

Teerawit Chankowet/ShutterstockPlan a ‘micro-date’ after a few days of chatting.

Dating apps create opportunities for people to connect, but dating happens offline.The point of talking is to decide if there’s interest in meeting, not if you’re soulmates.

“Chatting for under a week is optimal. At this point, a plan for a micro-date (20-45 minutes) can be made,” Golden said. “Stop chatting after the date is set and save the conversation for when you meet.”


12. How can I safely meet someone from a dating app in real life?

wavebreakmedia/ShutterstockStay in public.

“Do a quick Google search to make sure that there are no red flags,” Golden said. Many dating apps don’t provide a last name, so it’s socially acceptable to ask for one after the date is confirmed.

“Tell a friend who and where you’re meeting. Check in after the date. Stay in public, and don’t let them walk you home,” she said. “Carry the emergency $US20. If something feels exceedingly uncomfortable on the date, it’s easiest to throw down the money and exit.”


13. Is it ever acceptable to ghost someone?

Garry Knight/Attribution Licence/FlickrIt’s considerate to let them know where your head’s at.

“If one party is interested and the other isn’t, an ideal response would be something along the lines of, ‘It was great to meet you, but unfortunately I don’t think we’re a match. I hope you meet someone great,'” Golden said.


14. Should I delete my ex on social media?

Garry Knight/Flickr/Attribution LicenceIt may benefit you to delete them.

“If seeing your ex on social media sucks up hours of your time and leaves you feeling dysregulated, then perhaps unfriending or unfollowing may benefit you,” Golden said. “If seeing your ex in a new relationship makes you feel happy for them, feel free to stay connected on social media.”

Do remove pictures of you and your ex from social media, because whoever you date in the future will see them. “It’s better to keep those memories private,” she said.


15. How soon after a date should I reach out?

Samuel Borges Photography/ShutterstockReach out the next day if you’re interested.

“The three-day rule is too long. Once there’s been a good date, the suitor should keep the momentum going and reach out the next day,” Golden said. Once you do reach out, make a plan! “No one likes a text buddy,” she said.

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