Manners and etiquette from an expert (sort of)
“A guide to manners and etiquette?” you might be thinking incredulously.
“You’re not my mother, Dining Guide!”
Well, that’s true. But let me offer a case for thoughtful etiquette that has nothing to do with authoritarian figures yelling at you.
No, my argument is simple, entirely selfish and very easy to follow: Acting nice makes you feel nice. Making other people happy does, too.
What better place to start than the dinner table? First, there are some lessons from cultures outside the U.S. that should be taken to heart. That means more of a focus on group harmony and mutual favors than on individual needs.
First of all, buy things for other people sometimes. And I’m not talking about trying to impress that cute girl you like by buying her drinks. This is something more sincere. Remember the feeling you got when somebody did something nice for you, for no reason, with nothing to really gain from it. Remember that feeling, and reciprocate.
I know you barely have pocket change for your own coffee, much less somebody else’s—but trust me, you can do this. At PSU, those quick breakfasts often involve coffee or tea, and you can easily grab coffees for your whole group for just a couple bucks.
In Ireland, there is a cool tradition that the popular phrase “buy a round” stems from: When you’re out at the pub with your friends, one person buys a round, or “shout,” of drinks, and then the next person is expected to buy the next round, and so on. It’s not just an occasional nice gesture, it’s standard practice! The money evens out this way, more or less. Try it some night with your friends.
If that’s too much booze for you, the collectivist spirit can continue at home, too. Simply buying the ingredients for a home-cooked meal and putting the time and effort into something more sophisticated than mac and cheese is a majorly underrated skill for many college students. I was shocked to find out that quick curry—that chiefly incorporates curry paste and canned goods—was considered fine dining by some of my fellow college students. Invite your friends over, because anthropologists agree: Dining together is one of the best catalysts for group bonding.
And when you eat, remember this fun fact: Proper table setting is to place the fork to the left of the plate and knife to the right of the plate, followed by the spoon.
Finally, this last piece of advice cannot be said enough times: Put your cell phone away. And remember, if you don’t feel like being nice for others, then do it for you.