This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Australia, which closed in 2021.

Your Everyday Etiquette Questions Answered

Including how to behave in a lift.
Hmmm... would it be rude to eat with my mouth?
Hmmm... would it be rude to eat with my mouth?

'Etiquette' may seem like an old-fashioned and stuffy word, but in reality, it has very little to do with parading around a ballroom balancing a book on your head. (Anyone else seen 'A League of their Own'?)

In fact, modern etiquette is something you most likely deal with multiple times every day, whether realising it or not.

However, while some practices are like second nature to most (hopefully by now we've all pretty much nailed our 'pleases' and 'thank yous') some are murkier than others. For instance, do men still hold the door open for ladies, or is that an outdated concept in a modern world? When (if ever) is it acceptable to take a phone call? How should you blow your nose in public?

The Huffington Post Australia chatted to etiquette expert and founder of The Good Manners Company, Anna Musson, to find out.

Should you walk up an escalator or stand to one side?

"It is correct to stand to the left of the escalator so those who would like to walk may do so on the right," Musson told HuffPost Australia. "Keep an eye on your bag so you aren't unintentionally taking up two spaces."

Is it OK to get in someone else's 'segment' in revolving doors?

"Only in rush hour. It can be tricky to map your steps when sharing a revolving door so pick your timing and check the size of the door."

How long should you open the door for someone?

"Anyone who is approaching and up to five seconds away is worthy of having the door held for them, with a smile."

Is it still the etiquette that men have to let women in first to a lift, for instance?

"In business, etiquette is gender neutral so we should deference to the person senior by position. For example, the intern will say 'after you' to the CEO.

"This principle frees ladies to let gentlemen go before them in lifts, through doors etc. It remains however, that a gentleman will always let ladies go first and a lady will always receive this graciously with a 'thank you'.

Who should you stand up for on the bus/train?

"Anyone who looks like they need the seat more than you," Musson said.

"If a person is elderly, disabled or injured, pregnant, or looks like they're struggling in heels.

"A gentleman will always stand for a lady and a lady will always respond kindly, even if it's to graciously decline the offer. School students should always give up their seat for a standing adult."

What is the correct etiquette for blowing your nose?

"If it is a short, low decibel blow, it's perfectly acceptable to blow it in the meeting, even at the table, but if you know it will be potentially long and loud, it's always best to excuse yourself with a quick, 'excuse me'. It's thoughtful to carry hand steriliser for this purpose."

What is the correct distance to keep from someone and does it differ? (For example, talking to someone as opposed to waiting in a queue.)

"A full step is the appropriate distance, you should be able to reach them with your arm but not with your body, so your bag should not be touching them. This distance will change slightly in a congested crowd, but in a queue at the supermarket or the bus, keep a step back. Keep three steps back at the ATM."

New game: the person to first touch their device has to pick up the bill.
New game: the person to first touch their device has to pick up the bill.

What are some general pointers you can share about mobile phone etiquette?

"The greatest compliment you can give a person is your full attention," Musson said. "If your phone rings and you are with someone, a bright, 'do you mind if I take this?' is far preferable to just answering the phone as if it is the third person in the conversation."

Don't talk on your phone:

  • In the bathroom/cubicle
  • In a lift
  • In the theatre
  • Crossing the street
  • Walking down the street
  • In a queue
  • At the counter to order or purchase something
  • Driving
  • In a meeting
  • At the table when dining
  • At any kind of event -- BE PRESENT!
We'll say it again: PUT THE PHONE AWAY.
We'll say it again: PUT THE PHONE AWAY.

What about trolley etiquette at the supermarket -- any tips or no no's?

"Let others go before you in the supermarket when trolleys look close to crashing and put the trolley away in the car park. No one is so busy they can't undertake this simple courtesy.

"Under no circumstances should you take the trolley home. If you are fortunate enough to live close to a supermarket and are very keen to walk it home, walk it back. Trolleys in a public street are an eyesore and is theft."

Is there a correct way to behave in a lift?

"It is good form to hold the lift for someone you see approaching and perfectly acceptable to ask for someone to hold the lift with a 'hold the lift please'.

"When arriving in the lift, a pleasant 'good morning' sets a positive tone for the journey, particularly if there is just one other person inside.

"Walk to the back of the lift, turn and face the doors. Do not preen yourself in the mirror or check your phone, just be present. This is an ideal time to strike up a conversation with your fellow passengers, whether at work or home."

It's not going to kill you to hold the door for someone. Unless, of course, you're a certain 'Game of Thrones' character.... (too soon?)
It's not going to kill you to hold the door for someone. Unless, of course, you're a certain 'Game of Thrones' character.... (too soon?)

Is it rude to start eating before everyone is served, even if it's a hot meal?

"If you are with a group, it's an 8/10 rule. For hot meals, you may start when 8 out of ten have received their meal. For this to work it's important if you are one of the two still waiting for your meal that you say, 'please start'. If the meals are cold, wait for everyone to receive their meal before starting.

"If in doubt if its alright to start, look to your host. Your host should begin to eat first."

Other everyday etiquette tips to get you by:

  • The bread and butter plate is always on your left.
  • The last thing to do when finished a meal is push in your chair -- this applies to the food court, fine dining and at a friend's for dinner.
  • Adults should not chew gum in public. Save it for a quiet moment and keep your mouth closed.
  • In a taxi, thank the driver for stopping, it sets a pleasant tone for the journey.
  • Keep to the left on the footpath.
  • When introducing yourself, a well mannered person uses their first and last name. It helps people to remember your name but more importantly allows them to place you. For example, 'Good morning, I'm Anna Musson', 'Oh, my Dad used to always shop at Musson Butchers, is that your family?'... If it is, you have a connection.
  • Hold red, white wine and champagne flutes by the stem. The expression 'red wine should be served at room temperature"' is for Europe, not Australia where the room temperature is 24 degrees.
  • Regarding nail polish, fingers and toes should match.
  • Refrain from parking your car on the grass. It is uncivilised and looks unsightly.
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