10 Bizarre Etiquette Rules You Are Definitely Breaking

By Charlie Colville

8 months ago

The surprising Dos and Don'ts of everyday life


Despite everyone’s best laid plans (and tables), it’s very easy to drop one or two social faux pas. There are hundreds of rules when it comes to acting within polite society – making it pretty accurate to say that we more often than not break them than follow them. Want to know if you’re the vision of well-behaved guest (or want to know how to become one)? These are the some of the most common and bizarre etiquette rules that are broken on a daily basis.

Etiquette Rules You Definitely Break On A Daily Basis

Salt & Pepper

Didn’t you know? Salt and pepper travel together. If someone asks you to pass the salt or pepper at the dinner table, proper etiquette insists you hand over both seasonings so that the person receiving them has the opportunity to use them as they need (and not ask you to pass over the other a few seconds later).

Wearing Shoes Indoors

One of the biggest pet peeves among those entertaining guests is when visitors insist on wearing their outdoor shoes inside. Many people are house-proud and, let’s face it, it’s not exactly nice to think about people bringing dirt and bacteria from outside in on their shoes. The best thing you can do when visiting someone else’s home is ask them at the door if they would like you to take off your shoes, so as to avoid any awkwardness with the homeowner.

Shoes on shelf

(c) Jake Goosens, Unsplash

Umbrella Handling

It rains more often than not in the UK, so chances are you either have an umbrella squirrelled away in your bag at all times or chance carrying one with you in case of torrential downpour. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly?) there are a few etiquette rules to keep in mind when carrying a brolly. You should never hold it so that it sticks out from under your arm or waves around as you walk; instead, you should hold it pointing downwards with your dominant hand, or (if your umbrella has a hooked handle) hook it over your non-dominant arm.

@williamhansonetiquette And please keep a FIRM grip on the shaft #etiquette #umbrella #williamhanson ♬ Anything Can Happen (Live) – Zizi Strallen & Adelaide Barham & Gabriel Payne & Amy Griffiths & Petula Clark & The Definitive Mary Poppins 2020 Cast Recording Company

Going To The Bathroom

The worst thing you can do in a group setting? Announce that you’re going to the loo. To avoid becoming a party-pooper, it’s best to just quietly slip away from the group to hit up the bathroom. If someone asks, etiquette rules insist you simply say that you need to step away for a moment.

Drinking Tea

Now, you think we’d have this down to an art form in Britain – but surprisingly, there are quite a few rules us Brits neglect while indulging in a cuppa. Etiquette expert William Hanson gives us a few pointers in his ‘Tea Etiquette’ series on TikTok, highlighting some rules to abide by – including pouring milk in after the tea (so you can get an idea of how strong your brew is before weakening it) and stirring back and forth in a six-twelve motion (no whirlpools here, thank you).

@williamhansonetiquette 69: Common 6-12: Luxury #afternoonteaweek #etiquette #dining #williamhanson ♬ Summer Of ’69 – Bryan Adams

Spraying Perfume

As the popular saying goes, less is more. While it never hurts to give a couple of sprays, etiquette expert Lisa Grotts warns that you shouldn’t be heavy-handed with perfume. Your scent shouldn’t be overpowering, it should be a subtle accentuation – like a final accessory to your outfit, rather than the main event.

Eating Pasta

As a nation of enthusiastic pasta eaters (beaten to the top spot only by Italy, of course), it’s safe to say you’ll have found yourself confronted with at least one bowl of spaghetti in your lifetime. But, while you may be used to diving in with a knife and fork, it’s actually poor etiquette to cut up your pasta. Instead, stick with a fork and twirl your spaghetti around its prongs until you’ve collected the pasta in a bite-sized whirl – although, if you need a little help, you can use a spoon to guide the pasta around the fork. Just don’t hack it with a knife!

@williamhansonetiquette Do remember to go in with your dominant #etiquette #dining #spaghetti #williamhanson ♬ Main title (Bella Notte) / The Wag of a Dog’s Tail – George Givot (performer), Walt Disney Studio Orchestra & Chorus, Oliver Wallace (conductor)

Talking On The Phone In Public

This one’s for you, tube talkers. While it’s more common to see people with a phone in their hand than not these days, taking calls in public spaces where it involves disrupting others or ignoring people in your company is still fairly frowned upon. It’s best to avoid picking up the phone when on quiet trains (we assure you, nobody on the tube needs to hear what heinous thing your co-worker did today), in line for something at the shop or ordering at a restaurant (it’s rude to fob off your server when it only takes seconds to order or ask them a question).

Setting Your Cutlery Down After A Meal

After a good meal, it’s customary to put your cutlery down on your plate to signal you’ve finished – but did you know that the way you position your knife and fork can send a very specific message to the chef? The most common way knives and forks are placed down is by setting them together facing the top of the plate, indicating that the person eating has finished. If you’re taking a break between bites, you should place your cutlery in the centre of your plate with the tips facing each other to form an inverted ‘V’, and if you’re ready for the next course then you should arrange your knife and fork into a cross with the fork facing the top of the plate and the knife the left.

You can also let the chef know how much you liked the food. To convey that you really enjoyed the meal, you simply set your knife and fork together and point them to the right side of your plate. But if it was a rather terrible dish, position your cutlery as you would to indicate a break – but with the tip of the knife set between the prongs of the fork.

Messy plate covered in ketchup

(c) Richard Bell, Unsplash

Passing Food & Drinks Across The Table

A fun story for your next family dinner: when dining with a group of people, it’s common that you’ll end up having to pass dishes across the table so that everyone can serve themselves a helping (or two, no judgement here). It turns out that Britain is the only country to pass food and drinks clockwise around the table, typically handing dishes to the left, while the rest of the world seems to be in agreement that things should be passed anti-clockwise around the table, to the right. This is one to keep in mind if you’re dining abroad – but if in doubt, just make sure that everything handed around the table is going in the same direction.

Featured image: Kelsey Knight, Unsplash