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5 Rules of Etiquette That Every Collegiette Needs To Know

I hate to admit it just as much as any other girl, but sometimes Mom really does know best. And when it comes to manners, this is often the case. Not to sound too disparaging about our generation, but any visit to a college dining hall or a crowded mall sure makes it seem like a lot of us just don’t know how to conduct ourselves like the young ladies and gentlemen that we are. Etiquette isn’t just for job interviews and tea parties, we need it every day! Poor etiquette can lead to lost opportunities, social awkwardness and an increased likelihood of coming across as a buffoon. Yikes. Luckily, it’s really not that hard to avoid all of that. Follow these five little rules and you could snag that dream job, become teacher’s (professor’s?) pet, get more friends and even make Mom smile!

1. Turn off your cell phone.

“The number one thing that a collegiette  should remember about her cell phone is that you want to be focused on the person you’re with, not the device,” Lizzie Post of the Emily Post Institute, and great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, says. If you’re with someone, whether it’s a date with that hunk from Orgo, shopping with a roomie or dinner with an academic adviser, leave your phone in your bag. “It is rude to talk or text at the table because it makes everyone around you seem less important,” says Evelyn A. Matthews, co-founder of The Etiquette Company. If you’re expecting a really important call and do not want to miss it, explain that to the person you’re with at the beginning. Then put your phone on vibrate and keep it in your pocket. “Don’t leave it on the table, like a ticking time bomb waiting to go off,” says Post.

2. Be grateful—send a thank-you note!

Want a quick and easy way to make yourself stand out from the crowds of applicants for a job, internship or fellowship? Send a thank you note! “A thank you note should be written within 24 hours,” says Naomi Torre, director of The Etiquette School, “after that it loses its nuance.” For that speedy turnaround, a two or three sentence e-mail expressing your gratitude will do. Don’t forget to follow up with a hand-written thank you note as well, advises Post. “They’re still necessary and they’re really important,” she says. Thank you notes aren’t just for after interviews, either. Here are a few other things you should send thank-you notes for:

  • Did you get a gift? Do you want to get another one someday? Send a thank you note!
  • Did your teacher/employer/supervisor write a recommendation for you? The least you can do is write her a thank you note!
  • Did your friend’s parents let you crash at their house over break? Send your thanks for the pancakes and pillows.
  • Did a neighbor hire you as their pet-sitter while they went on vacation? A thank you note definitely won’t hurt your chances of it happening again!

For how to write the perfect thank-you note, check out this HC article!

3. Don’t eat like a barbarian.

“Eating is inherently gross,” says Post. “It’s taking something, mushing it up, getting your saliva into it and swallowing it down.” But eating, like many other bodily functions, is necessary. And, so that we don’t gross everyone out when we do it, we have table manners. Here are the basics: chew with your mouth closed, swallow before speaking, don’t smack your food and try not to lean into your plate and shovel in the food (even if you’re really hungry, the dining hall is not a barn and you are not a pig). As far as little intricacies of dining etiquette are concerned, Post says, “even Emily Post—she didn’t care what fork you used, she cared that you used a fork.” So don’t sweat the small stuff—but do keep general table manners in the picture. The fork thing raises another issue—what’s okay to eat with your hands and what’s not? Here are some foods that you can go forkless for:

  • Chicken wings—frankly, these are going to be messy no matter what. Just try to keep the mess to a minimum and wipe the sauce off your hands as soon as you’re done.
  • Pizza—no, you don’t have to whip out the fork and knife for this one. Unless, of course, you’re eating a gourmet pizza in a nice restaurant.
  • Sandwiches—see above.

And here are some foods that do warrant utensils:

  • Sushi—if you’re brave, you can swap in the Western utensils for chopsticks (but you might need some practice)!
  • Sashimi—think about it: it’s raw fish. Eating this with your hands, and then touching other things, could lead to some unpleasant health situations. Just don’t.
  • Ribs—I know what you’re thinking: “Hey! How are chicken wings fine, but ribs aren’t?” The difference here is that ribs don’t have to be messy. Cutting the meat off of the bone isn’t too difficult and then you can enjoy your meat and stay ladylike at the same time.


4. Introduce acquaintances.

Introducing others is important because it prevents awkward situations. Imagine that you’re walking to the library with a friend and bump into someone you know. If you just start chatting away, the friend you were with will quickly come to feel like a third wheel. It’s even worse when the third wheel is not your friend but your boyfriend, which will likely lead to even more drama.  Introducing your acquaintances prevents that uncomfortable situation, contributing to everyone’s ease. “Also, you never know where it could get you,” says Post. If you introduce your acquaintances to one another, they may introduce you to their acquaintances. A broader social network can always come in handy, so keep the introductions coming! A quick ‘Have you met my friend Julie?’ will suffice.

5. Be punctual!

Just because this comes at the end of the list does not mean it is any less important than the others—in fact, punctuality is hugely important. “It instantly puts a bad taste in someone’s mouth if you make them wait for you,” says Post.

“When you’re trying to win that coveted internship, stacking the odds against you is exactly what you don’t want. Always late? Plan to arrive 10 minutes early,” advises Matthews. That way, even if you’re later than you hoped, you’re still on time. Another great way to improve your punctuality is to time your routine. Don’t make any shortcuts; the time has to be honest to be useful! Shocked by how long it takes you to get ready? Check out this HC article to speed up your routine!

So there you have it—it’s pretty easy to improve the impression you give off to others. Come on, collegiettesTM, let’s keep it classy.

Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, Etiquette Consultant at The Emily Post Institute, and author of How Do You Work This Life Thing?
Evelyn A. Matthews, Co-Founder and Instructor, The Etiquette Company (www.etiquetteco.com).
Naomi Torre, Director of www.etiquette-school.com and Certified Etiquette Consultant.


Danai Kadzere is a Human Evolutionary Biology Concentrator at Harvard College. In addition to Her Campus, she blogs at http://living-learning-eating.blogspot.com and loves acting, reading, writing, fashion, trying new things, yogurt, apples, and life. After college, she's being absolutely ridiculous and moving at NYC to be an actress or a poor writer (whichever sounds more plausible to you).