13 Common Courtesy Rules Every Southerner Should Know

Easy, everyday rules that make the world a little bit more pleasant.

Growing up, we're taught about the Golden Rule, waiting your turn, and other important etiquette guidelines. As we age, it's useful to have a refresher on some of these key common courtesy rules and to remind ourselves why everyday courtesies are so important in our daily lives.

"The goal is to be kind, gracious, effective communicators," explains Avery Johnson, founder of The Southern Academy of Etiquette. "Common courtesy is a powerful start to building better relationships, effective communication, and simply spreading kindness."

Here are a few common courtesy rules all Southerners should keep in mind:

Two young women talking in living room
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Be Respectful When You're in Someone Else's Home

When you're entering someone's home, ask if they would like you to remove your shoes before you step inside, says Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert and founder of the Swann School of Protocol. Don't forget to bring a small hostess gift, like a bottle of wine, with you.

As you're enjoying that dinner or party at someone's house, Swann encourages you to be mindful of the hostess's privacy. While you may have no qualms about showing your home's interior on social media, not everyone shares this same level of comfort.

"If you're going to take photos or videos while in someone else's home, be mindful of the amount of the home that you're sharing. Try to keep your photo or video cropped so you're just depicting yourself and whoever's in the photo with you and not the interior of the home, artwork, or family photos on the walls," Swann says.

Make a Strong First Impression

Johnson says it's important to greet people with a smile and a firm handshake, and to give eye contact when someone is speaking to you. Don't forget to use basic manners, including "please" "thank you" and "excuse me." Whenever possible, make it a point to learn someone's first name. "It makes others feel special," she explains.

Don't Get Too Comfortable at the Office

Whether you're back in the office full-time or are working off of a hybrid model, Swann advises you to remember that your office is not your home and shouldn't be treated as such.

"Be mindful of the footprint that you bring into the office. Don't schlep all of your stuff in. When you're in the restroom, don't overdo it with primping in the mirror. Just remember, it's not your home away from home, it is a place of business. Respect the workspace," Swann says.

Steer Clear of Workplace Gossip

Part of respecting your workplace means making it a comfortable place to do business. Though gossiping with co-workers may seem like a light-hearted way to pass the time, Johnson says avoiding gossip is an important common courtesy rule that Southerners should keep in mind.

"It's important to speak kindly about others and to protect your character. Participating in gossip isn't a power move. Gossip isn't an asset to your life," she says.

She also encourages you to be mindful of excessive complaining and negative talk while at work.

Respect the Rules of Events

Whether it's your friend's luau birthday party or a tea party baby shower, if you're invited to an event with a theme, follow the rules, Swann says. This means if you're asked to wear certain attire, do so whenever possible. Make it a point to arrive on time and remember that if the invitation you receive doesn't specifically state that you have a plus one, it means the invitation is just for you.

Travel and Commute Politely

The second you leave your home, a world of manners awaits. From entering and exiting buildings to being a passenger on public transportation, there is never a bad time for a little grace. Some of these may feel like they should go without saying, but our editors came up with these instances from personal experiences, so it appears they could stand repeating. 

To start, holding the door open for the person behind you is a rule of thumb for Senior News Writer Meghan Overdeep. Of course, this is when they’re a reasonable distance away—don’t make someone feel like they need to run across the street in a business casual getup because you think you’re being polite. 

If you’re waiting outside of an elevator, train, or another mode of transport, let the people currently riding get off before entering yourself. And once you’re on that platform safely, “giving up your seat (could be anywhere—church, public transport, waiting room) for someone who needs it more, i.e. the elderly or parents with kids, etc.” is imperative, says Travel and Culture Editor Tara Massouleh McCay. 

Dress The Part

Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, reminds us of a rule that Mama always abided by that has sadly fallen by the wayside. “When visiting someone’s home, attending a party, or applying for a job, always put your best foot forward,” Gottsman says. “Even though casualwear is prevalent in most environments, there is a positive psychological association to dressing up. You feel better, and present yourself more confidently, when you look and feel your best.”

Remember That Your Phone Is Not An Appendage 

Have you ever thought you lost your phone only to realize it’s already in your hand? Us, too. It can feel like our phones are literally part of us, but we have to be conscious of the fact that they are not, especially in public.

"It's essential to take advantage of in-person connections," Johnson says. This means putting your phone away when you're spending time with loved ones or colleagues in-person. If an important phone call comes through, Johnson explains that you should first excuse yourself and step away from the group before conducting your conversation.

Always put your phone away while checking out at a store or restaurant, while ordering somewhere, or while speaking to someone who works at a business you’re visiting. 

“Texting or chatting on the phone while the cashier is ringing you up is so dismissive,” says Homes and Features Editor Betsy Cribb. 

While we’re on the phone subject, we have to talk about volume. If you’re not on a reality television show, there’s no need to use speaker phone in public. There’s also never an excuse for playing your personal music, videos, podcasts, or any type of auditory media out loud in public places. These efforts are all about being considerate of others around you and examining your own self-awareness. 

Always Offer Alcohol-Free Options

With words like mocktail and sober-curious in everyday jargon now, leading an alcohol-free life is more prevalent and celebrated than ever. Hosts should never assume everyone at the party will be imbibing and should always have non-alcoholic offerings other than water so that no one feels out of place or uncomfortable asking. Also, never press a guest on why they’re choosing to abstain from alcohol—it’s their business to keep or share, not yours. 

“A Southern girl may choose not to drink alcohol at a wedding, cocktail party or other celebration for a variety of reasons,” Gottsman says. “There is no need to make excuses. A good host knows to always have a selection of beverages, alcoholic, and non-alcoholic at the ready.”

Tidy Up After Yourself

This is an article about “common courtesy,” and as grown humans, we should be expected to not leave a place a wreck after we’ve vacated. Whether that’s a restaurant, hotel room, or store, it’s only reasonable to have a certain standard of cleanliness when existing in the world. 

At restaurants, there are of course staff members who will help with a knocked-over drink or tumbled condiment. But at busy fast-food and fast-casual spots, there’s not a dedicated waiter for immediate service. “You should throw away your garbage and wipe up any obvious spills when you're done,” Overdeep says. We’re not suggesting you whip out the disinfectant spray and a table crumber—just be cognizant of how the table looked when you arrived and have respect for the person who works there who will clean after you leave.

The same goes for hotel rooms, which are sadly often treated like fraternity houses. “Yes, housekeeping will clean your hotel room top to bottom, but that doesn't mean you should leave it a mess,” Cribb says. 

The Dog Days Are Over

Though we live in a world that’s increasingly dog-friendly, an invite to someone’s home does not automatically include your pup as a plus-one. Even if it’s a close friend who also has a dog, always, always ask if your pooch can join before showing up with Fido in tow.

“Not everyone likes dogs and wants them in their home or yard,” Overdeep says. “I think some dog owners assume everyone loves their dog as much as they do.”

Even the families who you know are down to have a dog party might not want extra paws in the house if it’s just rained or if their pup isn’t feeling well, so never assume. 

Cough With Care

We all know that COVID changed how we live and interact. There was even a time when people thought handshakes might go extinct. Luckily, our greetings are mostly “normal” again, but there are certain considerations we’ve learned that should stick around for good. 

“In these times especially, covering your mouth when you cough and/or covering the mouth of your child when they cough in public” is common courtesy, says Overdeep. 

Tag People with Respect

We all know that social media has ushered in a new era of etiquette conundrums, which can include privacy concerns and boundaries. 

“Everyone enjoys taking a beautiful picture at a lovely event, but don’t post pictures of anyone without their permission. It’s a courtesy to always ask before posting and tagging another person,” Gottsman says. 

This is especially important when children are involved. Many parents choose not to post photos of their kids online, and every person should be respectful of their authority on the matter. 

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