Money & Career

The new etiquette guide for modern day situations

The new etiquette guide for modern day situations

Illustration by Matthew Billington

Money & Career

The new etiquette guide for modern day situations

Sure, Canadians are famous for being polite, but we figured a refresher course in customs couldn't hurt. So we asked some of the nation's top etiquette experts to help us navigate 14 scenarios. Is your knowledge of modern-day manners up to snuff?

1. With friends

Friends eat like royalty at restaurants, ordering a ton of liquor and food and running up the bill, which they insist on splitting equally. We're tired of paying for their meals.

Maybe your friends treat dining out like a true indulgence and go all out to enjoy themselves. Still, it's awkward. Why not suggest taking turns hosting dinners at each other's homes? Or try brunch, where it's harder to drive up the bill, save for a few Caesars or mimosas. — Karen Cleveland

I'm going to a friend's swanky destination wedding and spending a lot of money to be there. Do I have to get the couple a gift?

A thoughtful card with a heartfelt message will suffice—you're already incurring a big-enough expense. When a couple chooses a destination wedding, they're expressing a desire for your presence when they invite you over the alternative of having a regular wedding with gifts. — Louise Fox  

I'm tired of a Facebook friend's passive-aggressive status updates. Can I unfriend her?

Unfriending will cause a rift, so unfollow instead. You'll still be connected, but you won't see her posts. While you're at it, audit your own content to ensure that what you're posting isn't causing your friends to unfollow you. — Joanne Blake A friend asked if I'd lend her money. I'd like to decline. Try, "I know it must've been hard for you to ask, and I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I'm not able to lend you the money." And you're not obligated to explain why you won't lend it. If she's a friend, she'll accept your response and won't ask again. — Lew Bayer

2. At work

I spotted a colleague on the subway, but my commute is "me time." Do I have to chat?

Nope, you don't have to make conversation. But if you see a friend or colleague, you're required to acknowledge him or her. Just explain that your commute is your favourite time to get immersed in your book or listen to your podcast. People respect others who know how they want to spend their time. What they don't like is being ignored. — Margaret Page

I'm seeing a colleague romantically and want to announce our budding relationship. How should I do it?

Check your employee handbook or speak to human resources. It could be that you must disclose your relationship to your boss for the sake of transparency—or management could seriously frown upon interoffice affairs. If your employer's policy doesn't allow dating, don't do it. Your job and reputation are at stake. Note: Steer clear of courting your superior or subordinate—it's almost always a no-no. — Julie Blais Comeau

There's a collection envelope circulating for a colleague's baby shower. I'm not a fan of her. Must I contribute?

There's no obligation, but it behooves you to consider the optics of not giving. You may choose not to contribute to the office gift but to give a card instead. — JBC

3. With family

I'm remarrying. Should I invite my former in-laws to the nuptials?

That depends. Perhaps your first partner is deceased and you've remained close with your former in-laws. In that instance, they might wish to attend. But if you and your partner have gone through a bitter divorce, inviting any ex-relatives would be unnecessary and could be fraught with peril. — LF

I just got a new job and my sister-in-law scooped my news on facebook (again). How should I address this?

She may not be aware of the unspoken rules about sharing personal news on social media. Still, you can address your SIL's gaffe like this: "Sue, I'm thrilled you're happy for me. If you don't mind, though, I'd really appreciate if you would hang back so I can be the first to share my news online with our friends and family." — JB

My uncle asks how much I make, what's in my savings account, etcetera, at every family get-together. How can I express that I'm not interested in discussing my finances?

Keep it light. Instead of getting upset with your nosy uncle, thank him for showing interest and say, "There are some things you shouldn't ask a girl, Uncle Ted." Or have some fun and give him an outlandish answer to get your point across: "Uncle Ted, I make so much money, you have no idea. I'm actually saving up to buy a seat on the first spaceship to Mars." Then, excuse yourself to go to the bathroom. — LB

I sent a sext to my father-in-law instead of my husband. I'm mortified.

Try, "Oops! Sincerest apologies," with a smiley-face emoji. You'll likely be desperate to ignore this ghastly gaffe, but that makes the receiver super uncomfortable. If you're the receiver of an accidental dirty message, a quick "I don't believe this was meant for me!" works best. Be sure to use emojis to express that it was taken lightly and you had a chuckle over it to make the sender feel more at ease. — Nancy Kosik

4. Out and about

I'm of a certain age. If the seats on the bus are taken, is it rude to ask someone to give up his or hers?

Not at all. Try, "Excuse me, would you please be so kind as to give me your seat because it's hard for me to stand." Adding "because" to a request makes others more willing to oblige. Your tone is also critical. Stated genuinely, it will most likely fall on positive ears. Say it with malice, and you risk demonstrating bad manners yourself. — MP

There's a woman who comes in before yoga class starts and plops her mat down so close to mine that she practically savasanas on top of me. What should I do?

Ask the instructor for a word before the guilty party shows up—she'll know how important it is for you to have space for your practice and can move the offender to a more suitable location. Or tackle the issue by saying, "Would you mind moving your mat over, please?" This kind of rudeness is often caused by people not being mindful, which is actually pretty ironic for someone who's into yoga. — Lisa Orr

I passed gas in a crowded elevator.

When a bodily noise sneaks out (a.k.a. social unmentionables), stay quiet. In fact, avoid it altogether if it's silent. If there's a scent, leave the area in a subtle way and don't bring too much attention to it. But if it's unequivocally noticeable you've beeped your horn, so to speak, go with a simple, "Excuse me," under your breath and don't make eye contact. — NK

Our experts

Lew Bayer
civility expert, Winnipeg

Julie Blais Comeau 
chief etiquette officer at, Ottawa

Joanne Blake 
certified professional coach and etiquette expert, Edmonton 

Karen Cleveland
etiquette adviser, Toronto

Louise Fox 
etiquette expert, Toronto

Nancy Kosik
certified etiquette expert, Montreal

Lisa Orr 
certified etiquette and protocol consultant, Toronto

Margaret Page 
certified etiquette expert and protocol officer, Vancouver



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Money & Career

The new etiquette guide for modern day situations