I used perfect proper etiquette for an entire day, and here's what happened

0 Ratings

Somehow, over my three years of working at The Daily Meal and The Active Times, I have found myself on an unexpected beat: etiquette. I've written what feels like countless articles on questions that you didn't know are rude, manners children should learn and how to follow modern dating etiquette rules. And while I now know the most proper etiquette, I don't always follow my own advice. I almost exclusively eat dinner on my couch while watching TV, I burp in a manner that my mother will compare to only the burliest truck drivers and I slouch so low at my desk, sometimes it looks like I'm drifting off to Neverland. Do as I say, not as I do.

While I have adopted several more proper habits than I used to have, it felt like it was high time to practice what I preach. What if I lived just one day trying to be as polite as humanly possible? So, that's what I set out to do. It was an ordinary Tuesday, but it shall be forever known as the day I, Carolyn Menyes, attempted to live with perfect etiquette in New York City, and here's what happened.

Carolyn Menyes/The Active Times

Studying up

The night before the most proper day ever, I did a little research. While I consider myself to be a semi-expert in the field of etiquette now, there's one topic I have somehow never covered: office etiquette. (Hey, editors, let's do that soon! It's a good story idea, no?) And since I would be spending the vast majority of the day at the office, I went to the ultimate source for etiquette, Emily Post, and read how one should conduct themselves in the workplace.


Dressing for work

According to Emily Post, one should adhere to their office's dress code but also make sure clothes are clean, ironed and appropriate. Tribune, thankfully, doesn't have a strict dress code and only asks that employees wear casual appropriate attire and refrain from wearing shorts, flip-flops and hats. My typical workday attire is either a casual dress or some sort of T-shirt or sweater with a skirt, which, thankfully, falls in line with the clean and appropriate category. I felt a lot of stress getting dressed to impress, especially because I didn't have the foresight to wash my massive pile of laundry in anticipation of my proper day. I opted for a green sweater, black skirt, black tights and black flats. I had showered the night before, so I kept my hair down and wore just a touch of eye makeup. To feel extra professional, I tucked my sweater into my skirt, which I typically wouldn't do. I know. I really stepped outside the box.

Carolyn Menyes/The Active Times


While the Metropolitan Transportation Authority technically has a code of conduct and general advice for not being rude to your fellow commuters, these things aren't always followed in practice. People sleep while en route, blast their music at full volume, spread out while sitting and stand in the doorways while people try to exit and enter the train. These are all things I encountered on my fated Tuesday morning, which really tested my patience less than two hours into my politeness experiment. But I did my best to behave.

Walking with my head held high, I moved toward the center of the train, saying "excuse me" and edging kindly by every man and woman who wasn't following that particular rush hour rule. Typically, I get a real joy out of a good elbowing to subway riders who don't follow the "step aside to let others off first" rule, but it is not my job to judge the etiquette of others, just follow it myself. So I held back from giving these rule-breakers a good body check, which honestly took a lot of restraint.


Refraining from gossip

I know that there are a lot of good reasons why you should never gossip, but I am a nosy person, and I love some hot tea. This was a day that I was to refrain from gossiping not only about those around me, but also refrain from celebrity gossip. This felt like the most polite move. Shying away from celebrity news was harder than it sounds, since I have been a celebrity gossip and news fiend for over a decade. I chose not to listen to one of my favorite podcasts, "Who Weekly?", which has new episodes every Tuesday, since it covers this topic. I also spent my lunch hour not reading celebrity gossip on Oh No They Didn't (a blog I've been lurking on since I was a teen) but instead by looking up vegetarian dinner recipes.


Standing up straight

I have poor posture. It's something my mom and grandma have been hounding me about for basically as long as I can remember. But according to Emily Post, "to project confidence, strong body language, including excellent posture, is a must" in the workplace. I made it a point to stand up straight and sit up straight at my desk all day, which honestly was a struggle. I also could hear my bones crack as I walked from my desk to our morning meeting, which means I really should think more about my posture on a day-to-day basis. I will say, however, that my better posture helped me to feel more confident and breathe better, though it wasn't exactly comfortable.


Staying on task

Workplace etiquette also states that you should stay focused on your work while at work, which feels a little duh. But as someone who works on the internet, it's really easy to get distracted momentarily by Facebook and Gchat notifications or the ability to scroll through Twitter or Reddit all day, every day. I tried my hardest to avoid all of my bookmarked tabs and favorite blogs and just stay focused on the things I'm actually getting paid to do, which is writing and editing. The result was a fairly productive day, though I'm not entirely sure it was any more productive than a day when I would take mini breaks to surf the web. Feeling like I had to stay on task instead of just wanting to get things done gave me some pretty serious burnout.


Navigating an office lunch

Knowing what is and is not rude regarding eating in the workplace isn't particularly easy, nor is there a simple answer online. I know which foods to avoid bringing in an office lunch, which basically amount to anything that is overwhelmingly smelly. I hate to admit it, dear reader, but this may be where I stumbled. You see, my lunches are leftovers the vast majority of the time, and the night before I made a shrimp and asparagus pasta for dinner. I needed to eat those leftovers ASAP.

Seafood and asparagus are notoriously stinky, so I microwaved my leftovers for the bare minimum, about 40 seconds. I brought my lunch to my desk and ate it quietly while perusing Pinterest. And while it sounds super smelly, when asking my co-workers later if they had noticed my lunch the day before, they said they didn't. But maybe they're just being nice. While this is far from the worst etiquette mistakes, it made me realize that being 100% perfectly proper is hard.

Carolyn Menyes/The Active Times

Accepting an invitation

Something that can challenge a perfectly proper day is the unexpected, which is what popped up on this particular day. One of my husband's co-workers had a spare set of concert tickets to see The Black Keys in Brooklyn, a show I was enthusiastic to attend as a fellow Akron, Ohio, native and general fan of the band. I know that one should RSVP to an invitation as soon as possible, and while this was an informal invite done via Gchat, I still responded speedily.

Carolyn Menyes/The Active Times

Grocery shopping

I left work and stopped quickly at home to have a snack, change clothes and pet my cat. Between work and home, I stopped at the small grocery store on my street to buy a little snack. There are a lot of ways you can be rude at the grocery store, and I must admit I tend to do several of them. I'll listen to my podcasts while walking down the aisles, which does make me quite distracted. I also, like I said, am nosy and will take a quick peek into other shoppers' baskets to see what they're buying. I am happy to say, however, that I took my earbuds out of my ears while I grabbed a seltzer and some cheese, and I felt much better about my shopping habits for doing so. Future Carolyn, take note, and stop shopping while podcasting.



After a quick snack and wardrobe change, my husband and I decided to grab a few beers before the show. We went to a bar a few blocks away from the Barclays Center and each got a beer. I feel very strongly in general that one should tip bartenders and servers at least 20%, so I followed that feeling and tipping etiquette with a $2 tip on a $10 check. When we hopped to a second bar, once again, I tipped 20% on two beers.


Drinking in moderation

I like to imbibe from time to time, I won't lie. But I know perhaps one of the rudest behaviors is to be totally drunk in public. I drank moderately on this particular Tuesday night, having one beer an hour between 7 and 10 p.m. I had a slight buzz but wasn't trashed, which my future self was thankful for when I had to wake up early the next day for work.

Carolyn Menyes/The Active Times

Rock concert etiquette

It's funny to think that there is concert etiquette at all beyond the rule of "Don't be rude in public," and while Emily Post doesn't have a guide to being at a rock show, Rolling Stone has a list of annoying concert behaviors to avoid, which felt just as valid (if not more so). While maintaining good posture (and dancing), I refrained from using flash photography, talking excessively to my husband, recording and taking pictures of the entire show (though I did take short Instagram video clips of some of my favorite songs) and complaining about the setlist. I also stayed present throughout the experience, not texting friends or family during the actual show or browsing Twitter during the down moments.

Carolyn Menyes/The Active Times

Setting the table

After the show, my husband and I realized we hadn't had a proper dinner yet and ordered some burgers from the bodega on the corner. Here's where practicing proper etiquette felt silly, as I had to clear off space on my kitchen table (which is usually cluttered with groceries, clean dishes and mail) and set a place so I could eat my $8 burger and onion rings and be proper at the dinner table. I didn't need a fork or knife, but I took careful note to place my water glass to my right and place a napkin on my lap. Meanwhile, my husband just got to eat on the couch.

Carolyn Menyes/The Active Times

Writing a thank-you note

Before I went to bed, I had one final proper task to perform: writing a thank-you note. My husband's co-worker went through a few logistical hoops to get us tickets to the show, and while I normally would just thank her the next time I saw her (or send my regards via Instagram message), I thought a personalised thank you note felt like the right move.

I penned a few quick lines about how kind the gesture was and why the show meant a lot to my husband and I. (Which it did! We're Ohioans who love our local, successful rock band and the opening act, Modest Mouse, was another favorite of ours from our teen years that neither of us had seen yet.) While a thank-you note may seem excessive on a typical basis, I actually felt a sense of fulfilment writing it, and it's something that I am thinking about incorporating into my life more often when people go out of their way to help me. It's an easy and great way to express gratitude, and frankly, an old-fashioned etiquette practice we really need to bring back.

More from The Active Times:

Easy Things You Can Do to Be More Polite

Etiquette Mistakes You Need to Stop Making by Age 30

25 'Bad' Habits That Are Actually Good for You

Etiquette Lessons Your Grandma Wishes You Knew

11 Little-Known Etiquette Rules You're Likely Breaking

Carolyn Menyes/The Active Times
No comments found. Sign up or Login to rate and review content.

More Stories