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11 Essential Etiquette Tips For 20-Somethings

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My new book, Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck [St. Martin's Griffin, $14.99], is a manners book for regular people. In other words, it excludes engineering-style blueprints (or any mention at all) of where the soup spoon goes, and sticks to what really matters in our lives today: caring about how we make other people feel. Here are a few etiquette tips to help you smooth the ride through your 20s (and beyond):

Think twice about throwing a birthday party in a pricey restaurant -- or any restaurant.
Unless all your friends are hedge-fund kazillionaires who shred dollar bills to line the hamster cage or you are picking up the entire dinner and drinks tab, consider having birthday cake and cocktails at your place or another friend's. At the very least, celebrate with birthday drinks in a bar -- one where those short on finances can order a single glass of house wine and get a separate check without a glare from the bartender or waitress. Yes, your birthday comes but once a year, but the Visa bill comes monthly and includes interest, and your friends will be even gladder you were born if they don't celebrate your next birthday by finally paying off the bill from celebrating your previous one.

Don't break up via text.
Once you've spent more than a few naked hours with somebody, you can text them to tell them you're late, but not that you're never coming back.

First dates should be cheap, short, and local.
On the first date and maybe even the second, you should meet for coffee or happy-hour drinks for an hour or two -- at most. This helps keep things from going too fast (a big source of misery and resentment) and keeps anyone from needing to shell out much money. Also, if a date turns nightmarish, it will at least be a Hobbesian nightmare: nasty and brutish but also short.

At a business function, introduce yourself with your first and last name.
"Hi, I'm Amanda" sounds like it should be followed by "and I'll be your cocktail waitress." As a bonus, giving your whole name makes it far easier to find you and hire you or ask you on a date.

Say "you're welcome" instead of "no problem" to anybody who looks old enough to have gray hair.
People born before 1960 tend to feel almost homicidal when someone responds to "thank you" with "no problem" instead of "you're welcome." Ridiculous, I know. Unless you say "no problem" in a surly tone, you're probably indicating a cheerful willingness to be of service. You may also feel "you're welcome" sounds a little stuffy. But if your tips depend on how well you're liked, it's probably wise to swap out "no problem" for the old standard that doesn't make the old people want to either dock your tip or grab the busboy's tray and clobber you.

Don't date people you aren't attracted to.
A reader wrote to me saying she is tall and is really only attracted to tall men -- six foot two and up -- and was having a hard time finding a boyfriend because of it. Her friends suggested she be "more open-minded" about dating shorter men -- which is terrible advice.

No matter how exemplary a human being somebody is, if you find them physically unappealing, they'll just get more and more repellant to you over time, until you'd arrange to get pecked to death by crows just to avoid having sex with the person.

So, yes, "it's what's inside that counts"; it just doesn't count enough if you don't want to get naked with what's on the outside. And think of the guy. What guy wants a girlfriend who's with him because her friends say it's the "open-minded" thing to do?

RSVP.
All it takes to keep your host from feeling you don't give a bent crap about them is maybe 20 seconds of your time to either respond right away or mark your calendar to respond in a few days.

Send thank you notes.
After a job interview, snail-mail a thank you note. Proofread it first. And sure, after a party, you can thank the host via email, but he or she will appreciate it -- and you -- if you mail at least a thank you postcard after any party where they've done more than pull out a six-pack and a half-eaten bag of Doritos.

Friends don't post photos that make friends look like crap.
Yes, the camera may have captured you at the exact moment heaven opened up and the angels wept at the sight of your radiance. Resist publishing the shot if it also captured your friend at the exact moment she's never looked more like a crazy homeless woman taking a brief break from rifling through a Dumpster to smile for the camera.

When dining with a group, the dinner check should not turn into a form of wealth redistribution.
If everyone's paying an equal share of the check, the person whose meal and drinks cost substantially more than somebody else's should take the lead and make things fair. If that's you, you might turn to the vegan next to you who had only the $12 tofu platter and a Coke and say, "You just put in $20, and I'll put in the other $70 of your share since I had that glass of port from a bottle wept on for three decades by a French monk."

A few words on Moochstarter and other sources of crowdfunding.
Sure, some of these crowdfunding requests are for noble causes or -- occasionally -- ventures that might someday turn a profit for those who invest. And I don't get all miffy when close friends e-mail me about causes or projects they're trying to fund. But for vanity projects -- those unlikely to pay off in any meaningful way for anyone but the creator -- I think it's in bad taste to ask for what amounts to friend- and acquaintance-supplied welfare. This is too often requested by people who would simply rather spend other people's money -- and try to get the opportunity to do that by (consciously or unconsciously) preying on people's fears of seeming stingy or having their refusal to donate held against them. If you have a vanity project, perhaps consider funding it the old-fashioned way: by working long hours at some dull job until you can pay for it yourself.