real life

"I'm 26, and everyone thinks I'm rude. But it's a much deeper problem than that."

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Thanks to our brand partner, V.I.Poo

There are some things in life which come very naturally to me.

If I’m walking down the street, and I see a Labrador looking up at me with his big brown eyes, before I’ve even thought about it I’m on the pavement asking, “Hello beautiful man, how are you today? What is your name? Are you going for a walk? Would you like a pat on the head?”

It’s second nature – as automatic as walking with your limbs swinging in opposite directions, or sneezing in an eerily quiet room.

Listen to the hosts of Mamamia Out Loud discuss Jessie’s etiquette issue. 

But there is something that has never come naturally, and I’m beginning to realise it’s fairly substantial.

Last weekend, I attended an open house with my boyfriend. When I was greeted at the front door by the agent, I realised it was a friend I’d gone to school with. “Hello!” I exclaimed, “How are you? I haven’t seen you in ages!”

We spoke as she showed me through the apartment, and I asked lots of questions. The interaction probably lasted a total of 15 minutes.

As we left the apartment, and I was patting myself on the back for sustaining a conversation with a human I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade, my boyfriend said, “Hey… how come you didn’t introduce us?”

Oh.

“It was a little bit awkward,” he continued. “I felt like we were both waiting to be introduced, and you just sort of… never did it.”

I obviously explained it was because I am both highly embarrassed and ashamed of him, and would prefer if we acted like strangers in public.

But that wasn’t actually the reason. 

The truth was, at no point had introducing these two people to each other crossed my mind.

In my teens, I could get away with a level of social awkwardness and dismiss it as youthful ignorance. I was just lacking confidence. I didn’t know how to operate in an adult world. My mum and dad should have been there to prod me along and do all the hard work for me.

But now I’m twenty-f*cking-six. When you’re an adult and you don’t know basic etiquette, it’s not cute.

It’s rude.

And my social ineptitude is hardly isolated to introductions. Other things I struggle with profoundly include:

  • Knowing when/how to say hello to people. Should I greet everyone (at work, at a lunch etc.) individually? Or just a general ‘HEEEEY’? Should we shake hands? Or kiss on the cheek? Or not touch at all? My boyfriend says that when I turn up to an event, I do this thing where I pretend that I’ve been there all along and he has never seen behaviour so bizarre in all his life.
  • Asking people, particularly people older than me, questions about their lives. It’s not because I don’t care, I do. I just feel like it comes across as obnoxious or awkward because in my mind I’m still nine, and asking my mum’s friend “Hi! How are the kids?” just sounds like I’m mimicking adulthood.
  • Saying ‘thank you’ in a way that sounds sincere. Again – I just overthink it. If someone buys me a gift, or pays for my dinner, I just feel so uncomfortably indebted to them that no amount of thanking feels sufficient. So then I get nervous and mumble ‘thank you’ in a way that most definitely sounds rude.
  • Knowing how to say ‘BYE’, particularly in a room full of people. My worst fear is interrupting someone, so do I break up conversations just to be like “BYE I’M LEAVING NOW BYE”? Refer to point number one regarding confusion about kiss/handshake/no physical contact.
  • Restaurant behaviour – is “no elbows on the table” still a thing? Also, a woman at work said the other day “Is there anything ruder than when someone you’re having dinner with fills up their glass, and no ones else’s?” My face went white. I didn’t know this was a thing you were meant to do because no one ever told me. 
  • If I go to a birthday, at a friends house or perhaps a dinner, should I bring a present? If so, what? Should I buy them a drink?
Jessie Stephens
"But now I'm twenty-f*cking-six. When you're an adult and you don't know basic etiquette, it's not cute."
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I have spent a great deal of time trying to work out why this behaviour comes so naturally to some, and not at all to me. Was there a class at school I missed? Are my parents buffoons? Am I just really, really shy?

But NO. I've watched my parents in social situations and they know exactly what they're doing. How did I never pick up their skills simply by watching them? And I'm a little bit shy, but not cripplingly so. WHY CAN I SPEAK POLITELY TO DOGS AND NOT TO PEOPLE?

I'm at a loss. But I've begun to accept that my real difficulties in this arena are being (... and fair enough) interpreted as rudeness. If there's one set of skills that's worth investing in, it's goddamn basic etiquette.

Listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud right here:

Perhaps this is why I feel so anxious entering social situations sometimes. I have no script. No cue cards. No real blueprint for how to behave. And I always feel as though I'm failing, probably because I absolutely, most definitely am.

Etiquette gets a hard time. We're always debating it, and something about the whole idea feels a bit classicist and exclusive. But I don't think we can underestimate what an important role good manners and politeness plays in our social interactions. Sometimes, rules make life a lot easier.

So I am going to invest some time in learning the rules, and observing those around me who are really, really good at it.

This content was created with thanks to our brand partner V.I.Poo.

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