Etiquette At The Theater/Movies, Or Why Can’t People Ever Remember To Turn Off Their Cell Phones!?

This is a theater I would patronize. [ Flickr user Mark Wallace]

Going to the theater used to be something that people dressed up for. Ok, people used to dress up for everything. My mom wore a corsage the first time she went on a plane. Anyway, in the great democratization of entertainment, this is not so much the case anymore. And that’s pretty great! You don’t have to wear a tux to go to the symphony (but you absolutely can if you want!). You don’t need an usher at the movie theater. But despite the slightly relaxed atmosphere, you (and everyone around you) did just pay $15 to see The Croods 2: Crood Harder, so here are some tips to make sure that money doesn’t go to waste.

In General

  • Arrive on time. If you are late to the movies, be quiet as you get settled and try to find a seat fast. If you are late to the theater an usher will either assist you or instruct you to wait in a room with a monitor of the show until there is a pause in the performance.

  • Silence your cell phone and put it AWAY. Come on, people, you know this. You should not speak on, text from, or even glance at your cellphone in a darkened theater. Even in your lap, people can see it and it is extremely distracting. (In Broadway theaters, using your cellphone during the show is actually illegal and you can be fined!)

  • Be quiet at all times: no talking and try to keep food noises and rustling to a minimum.

  • When passing people to get to your seats: there is some debate of whether to face the people you are passing or to face away. Victoria prefers to face away to avoid awkward eye contact and Jaya prefers not showing her butt to strangers. Either way, do your best not to step on them or their belongings. If someone is trying to pass you, do your best to clear a path and scoot your legs to the side or stand up.

  • If you have a coughing fit, please step outside until it is over.

  • If someone sitting near you is talking, playing with a cell phone, or otherwise being distracting, it is perfectly acceptable to politely (POLITELY!) ask them to please stop as they are being very distracting. You can also fetch an usher.

For Live Theater

  • Flashing lights mean you need to return to your seat immediately as the show is about to resume.

  • You cannot take photos in the theater, not because the ushers are mean, but because the set design is usually visible and it is copyrighted.

  • You can clap after songs and scenes- follow along with the rest of the crowd. (Though not at a symphony. You clap at the end of the performance, not after each movement).

  • Standing ovations should only be for very extraordinary performances. This may be a losing battle because everyone ends up standing for every show anyway, but don’t feel obligated to stand if you don’t want to- you won’t be able to see though!

  • Do not sing along with the musical. Yes, some people need to be reminded of this.

  • A note on that guy who threw that woman’s phone across the room during a play: Yes, that woman was being incredibly rude by being on her phone, and we all probably wish we could have the balls to do what he did. But what is more disruptive, this woman forcing you to deal with her cell phone screen, or everyone having to deal with your outburst? If someone is bothering you, tell them quietly. If they don’t comply, you may want to alert an usher to what is happening. But don’t make yourself the center of the disruption.

For The Movies

  • Very quiet comments and discussions about popcorn during the previews are acceptable, but all talking should cease when the feature begins. Reaction noises are perfectly normal, of course (laughter, gasps, etc.). The occasional comment to your friend is fine, but any kind of actual conversation, constant running commentary and questions, or anything above a whisper is definitely rude.

  • Don’t bring small children to adult movies unless you are sure they can behave and are willing to leave if they are acting up. Children’s movies have more leeway. A movie theater seat is also not the place to change your baby’s diaper. And anecdote time! Victoria was once at a showing of The Karate Kid starring Jaden Smith and a woman put her toddler in a seat next to Victoria and then left! So don’t do that.

  • Don’t put your feet up on the seat in front of you if someone is sitting in it, or rock back and forth a lot in your chair. That type of motion carries.

How To Not Make An Ass Of Yourself At The Dinner Table

This is why the "no elbows on the table" thing. (via)

This is why the “no elbows on the table” thing. (via)

So many things can go wrong when dining socially, but if you keep these basic ideas in mind you won’t have to worry about embarrassing yourself:

  • Don’t put your elbows on the table while you are eating. (Fun exercise: Sit up straight at a table and try to cut and eat your food while resting your elbows. It’s impossible anyway!) Between courses is fine though- such as when the main meal has been cleared but you are waiting for dessert and are really engaged in conversation with someone.

  • Don’t butter your whole roll- put a pat of butter on the bread plate, and break off sections of the roll and butter them individually.

  • Don’t chew with your mouth open.

  • Do use your utensils except for very dry foods like bread, or in more casual situations. You’ll probably look like an idiot trying to eat chicken wings with your fork and knife at Hooters.

  • Do ask for things to be passed to you instead of grabbing them.

  • Do pass the salt and pepper together.

  • Do remember that your bread plate is to your left, drink is to your right.

  • Do use good cell phone etiquette. We’ll discuss this more later, but we have to mention that your phone has no place at the dinner table (unless in an extremely casual setting), and if it’s an emergency to properly excuse yourself from the table

  • Don’t feel awkward about “grace.” You may be asked to say grace when dining in a religious home or at a holiday dinner. There are a number of well known graces you can say if you feel comfortable, but a general thanking of the host and talking about the beauty of the food is fine. If you want more of a “grace” feel, you could try this secularized version: “for what we are about to receive, let us be truly thankful. Amen.” If someone else is saying grace, follow along with everyone else and either bow your head or join hands respectfully and either say amen at the end, or say nothing.

  • Do wait until everyone has been seated and served before beginning to eat

  • Do put your napkin on your lap. If you get up from the table, leave your napkin on your chair, but when you finish your meal, place your napkin loosely at the side of your plate.

  • Do put your fork and knife together on the plate with the handles at the 4 o’clock position when you are finished eating.

You would think that a lot of these would be so obvious they don’t need to be said. But I once attended a sorority luncheon at a fancy restaurant and one of the girls ate her fully dressed salad with her fingers, so you never know. That being said, I eat most of my meals sitting on my couch in my tiny apartment, so when you are alone you are permitted to eat like an animal!

A note for parents:

I am not a parent and am therefore hesitant to give advice, but I am going to anyway! Kids can have good table manners even from an early age but it does take a LOT of repetition and practice. In my family we ate dinner at the table every night, often with candles and classical music. Table manners were strictly enforced and by the time my sister and I were 11 or 12, we could happily sit through three course meals at some extremely nice and expensive restaurants. Practice at home and then occasionally take your kids out to a restaurant with waiters and real plates for them to practice using their good manners in public. Then they won’t end up as the college girl who eats salad with her fingers in public!