Modern etiquette shouldn't be about knowing which fork to eat dessert with

It should be about being least damaging to the environment, to others, and to self

I was sitting in the Kalka Shatabdi from New Delhi to Chandigarh. It’s a lovely train ride, a bit too cold sometimes but it’s the best wait to travel to and from Delhi to and from Chandigarh, (wow that was hectic).

Photo by Scarbor Siu on Unsplash

In the row just before mine, a man wearing a ‘Ministry of Home Affairs’ lanyard was attending an Economics seminar — on Zoom without earphones.

Now, I don’t have to tell you how terribly annoying that must’ve been, but I want to tell you how nonchalant and completely unaware that man was about other people’s inconvenience. I mustered my courage and propped my head forward and said, “Could you please use earphones?” to which the man replied, “I don’t have.” in the most irritable tone as if I were the one antagonizing him. I had already exhausted my social skills quota for the day so I leaned in my chair hoping that this nonsense lecture would end soon; it lasted a whole hour.

I put on my earphones and tried to get this out of my mind, but it wasn’t about the noise anymore, it was about that silly man thinking it was okay to annoy everyone around him because he forgot his earphones and that he could subject everyone to this annoyance because he forgot his earphones.

I wanted to rant about people not understanding how to behave in a public space, but the problem is much deeper.

It’s not about public spaces and it’s not about mannerisms.

It’s about faulty thought patterns that do not inhibit people from being gigantic inconveniences to everyone around them. It’s that disgusting sense of entitlement and the splitting -hairs-humanistic notion that one can do whatever one wants irrespective of how annoying/damaging that may be to someone or something in the name of personal freedom.

To me, it’s acting in the least obtrusive way possible, being invisible, minding your own business — staying in your lane. It takes me by surprise how little people care about not being an inconvenience.

It is to be able to check yourself when you’re being a pain in the ass — which I’ve missed a couple of times.

It’s being able to read the room and manoeuvring your way without hurting people’s feelings.

Call me biased but what is up with middle-aged men chewing loudly, spitting in places, watching videos on loud, and being complete jerks wherever they go?

Redefining what refined living means to me has helped me focus on the parts that matter

  1. Practicing empathy.
    Being privy to the upmarket and bourgeois ways of life is a privilege. It is an outcome of one’s familial status and exposure to a certain standard of living. Assuming importance for this was bland. The sense of superiority that ran through me when I knew I needed to tilt the glass before I poured into it is amusing at best and dumb at worst.
    To be able to take people for their meaningful achievements as opposed to whether they know which buttons to fasten on a blazer.
  2. Accepting a no graciously.
    Very few people accept a no graciously. It often ends up being bitter. Everyone’s hurt. The no often transforms into a personal attack on the receiver’s ego and it’s a bad scene. It’s often mistaken for disrespect. If I ask you to do something you don’t want to do — just tell me no. I don’t want to put you or myself through it.
  3. Putting people at ease should be the primary objective.
    There is no joy in being Ms. Know-it-all. It’s boring, you look like an asshole when doing it and it’s boring as hell.

As AA Gill said,

It’s etiquette that points out to the girl next to you that she’s drinking from the finger bowl; it’s manners that insist you drink from yours to put her at ease…”

I would curtsy but what’s the point?

With so many redundant and self-created parameters of proper behaviour, we have curtailed our individual freedom.

There is only one etiquette — the one that prevents you from distributing discomfort and that’s the only one that matters.



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Sunvi Aggarwal

Sunvi Aggarwal

I like to eat, read, talk about what I’ve read and visit small cities. Overall pretty basic and easily confused.