I Went To Sri Lanka And Remembered Etiquette Is Very Subjective

Those are just the rules

Those are just the rules

I can’t remember if it was when the guy on line for airport check-in wouldn’t stop inching up directly behind us, or the 10th time I was cheerfully interrogated about my name and ethnicity, but at some point on my two week trip to Sri Lanka and the Maldives I was reminded that most of the standards of etiquette we write about here are very, very Western. We’ve addressed this before, but it helps to be reminded once and again that there is no objectively correct way of doing things.

I began noticing the little things almost as soon as I got there. How women needed to cover their shoulders in temple, but a bared midriff in a sari is totally acceptable. How eating with your hands and your face low to the plate is preferred. How the concept of an orderly line just didn’t seem to exist. How no one thinks twice about bus drivers pulling over to chat with friends on the side of the road, or stopping their chores to strike up a conversation with a stranger. How bluntly asking “Are you Christian?” (actually, “Are you Christmas?”) with a smile is totally fine.

(Sometimes our clashing ideas of “normal” social interactions clashed. It doesn’t help that the constant friendliness, and really, Sri Lankans were so friendly, made us even more wary of being taken advantage of, as a few times a polite “Hello, how are you? Where are you from? Here, let me help you” ended with requests for cash for guides we never agreed to have. More than once we probably barked at well-meaning strangers just wanting to start up a conversation because we didn’t want it to turn into a solicitation plot 20-minutes later.)

But what struck me was that, despite all the cultural differences and language barriers, the thing that gets across is when someone makes an effort. We could tell when someone meant well, even if they didn’t do things like we would, and I hope we came off the same way. And that’s what this is about. Etiquette practices are a good shorthand for conveying good intentions, but they are meaningless if you don’t actually mean well. But even if you do mean well, just don’t smell Buddha’s flowers.

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: 1950’s Style Introductions

Be very mature and giggle at the author’s name. We’ll wait.

I have this great book called Etiquette for Young Moderns from 1954. It’s exactly what you would expect from a 1950s etiquette book for teens. And it starts out with how to make introductions.

The rules for introductions, according to this book, are pretty simple:

  1. You introduce men and boys to women and girls
  2. You introduce younger people to older people

This means that you say the name of the “socially superior” person first. Their charming examples:

Right: Mother, this is Chad Bowles.

Wrong: Chad, I’d like you to meet my mother.

Right: Mr. Walser, this is my kid brother, Bill.

Wrong: Bill, meet Mr. Walser, principal of Jefferson High.

They also list out acceptable and unacceptable phrases to use during an introduction.


  • I’d like to introduce
  • I’d like you to meet
  • This is…


  • Mostly this has to do with “giving orders” like, “meet” and “shake hands with”
  • May I present is considered too formal for most introductions

When you are introduced to someone, you simply acknowledge it with a “how do you do” or “hello,” but don’t use frilly phrases like “charmed.”

Men and boys must always shake hands when introduced to each other, but when a man is introduced to a woman, it is up to her to extend her hand first!

These rules are very similar to all the rules you will find in older etiquette books such as Emily Post. Like I said before though, I’m just happy if someone introduces people at all, without having to remember who is introduced to whom.


Nice to meet you! [Via Flickr user schluesselbein]

Introductions are one of those areas of etiquette that I see otherwise super polite people fall down on. I get it, because we get wrapped up in what we are doing and who we are talking to and forget to notice if we are leaving anyone out. But it’s really really awkward to be standing there while your friend talks to their other friend that you’ve just bumped into without introducing the two of you. Yes, you can and should introduce yourself if this happens, but be the bigger better person and introduce EVERYONE.

How to do introductions:

  • You are in a little group where you know all the other parties and they do not know each other.
  • You say, “Oh by the way, Millicent, this is Evelyn” they say hi and you move on and everyone is fine.


  • You are in a little group where you know all the other parties and they do not know each other. But you are hosting a party and need to mingle with your other guests.
  • You say, “Evelyn, this is Millicent- she went to college with me. Millicent, Evelyn plays on my recreational croquet league with me” And now they know something about each other and you can move on.

I am also a big fan of the walk into a big room of people and someone reels off everyone’s name. At least then you have been “introduced” and can reintroduce yourself later.

Whatever you do, just do something! I will tell you all about the crazy introducing rules that we don’t have to follow anymore on Friday.

Our Best Search Terms

We’ve been going at this etiquette thing for a year already! And it has been a total blast. In that time, we have been found with some pretty crazy search terms. Here are some of our favorites:

  • how to eat french onion soup (notable because of how often it comes up- who knew there was such anxiety about how to eat French onion soup?)
  • body bag bondage
  • polite what is wrong with you
  • cheese pun
  • invited to party dont want to wear a dress
  • erotic victorian chastisement
  • http://www.south african super snuff chewing debate
  • pigeons without toes
  • why is eating pizza with a fork strange
  • uncommon fetishes
  • proper etiquette to eat quail
  • if you’re hooking up with someone just casually how long should you wait to call them
  • i want to be alone on thanksgiving 2013
  • why did women take naps during balls in the 1800s
  • why southern belles didnt wear panties
  • witches email address 2013
  • can you put deviled eggs on a silver platter
  • french onion soup can i eat the cheese
  • assholes in a moshpit
  • http://www.chicken feet curse spell .com
  • what is the ediquette on christmas cake
  • i’m not hot enough to be negged
  • “bachelor party” “in a dress”
  • social nightmares
  • to catch a spinster
  • I don’t want to wear a maid uniform

A Different Way of Teaching Your Children Etiquette

Catherine Howard, the product of being reared by fancier relatives.

Send them away to be raised by someone else! It sounds intense, but during the medieval and Renaissance period in England, it was quite common for families to send their children to live with a different family to be taught things like a trade, but also how to behave. For most people, children were sent away in their early teens, to become apprentices and learn a trade. But for the aristocracy, the children were sent away much younger and in turn, their families also took in children from other families. The thinking was that parents loved their children too much to be properly strict with them. It was also believed that children would obey strangers more than their own parents.

A lot of aristocratic children were especially sent to the households of richer relatives or patrons. There, they would act as pages or ladies in waiting. This was especially done to teach the children how to behave at court and all the very fancy court manners (especially if their parents were not wealthy or noble enough to be part of the court themselves). These placements would also help the child to gain a helpful sponsor who was better placed to find them a good position or make a good marriage than the parents themselves. In turn, the children basically acted as servants (remember, ladies and gentlemen in waiting to the Queen and King actually WERE the servants because actual servants were too lowly to serve the Queen and King directly.)

Boys of course, were also prepared to be knights by passing through the stages of page and then squire. Combat training was a big part of their life away from home. Then, of course, as a squire, a medieval boy would be with the knight he served.

Catherine Howard, King Henry VIII’s fifth wife, was raised in the household of her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, who was much more powerful and influential that her own parents. As a influential duchess, a whole gaggle of girls and boys were sent to live in her household and learn from her. However, the Dowager Duchess was somewhat lax in the supervision of these girls and boys and Catherine Howard had some early romances with the boys in the household which later helped convince the King to chop off her head. However, it was her connection to her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk (a powerful member of court) who got her placed in the Court to be noticed by Henry in the first place. So, you win some, you lose some in this system.