13 Things About Manners Gen-Xers Know That Their Kids Won't

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1. When someone helps you professionally, you thank them.

In the olden days, people wrote letters of introduction or arranged to introduce contacts via in-person meetings. (Even when I was starting out, in the late ’90s, emails still felt a lot like letters.) In the digital world, these favors fly by so quickly that it’s easy to forget that someone used a bit of their time and social capital to help you out. But even an email of introduction can pay off in a big way, and it’s infuriating when you take the time to help someone and they never bother to acknowledge it. “This is a problem with understanding the value of digital currency,” says Melissa Kirsch, author of The Girl’s Guide. “An introduction is more valuable than a text—they seem to have the same value, but obviously an introduction uses more social capital than a text. The medium is not the message. The message is still the message.” And people need to be thanked for their message.

2. Look me in the eye.

As Bruce Feiler writes in the The New York Times, children today do not learn to shake hands while looking the other person in the eye. He blames technology for the erosion of this particular skill: Kids today, glued to their devices, are allowed to be isolated while still amidst other people. But a good handshake is the beginning of a relationship—you don’t want to botch that initial greeting.

3. Having the driver unlock your car door and then walk around to their side and get in.

This ended, of course, with cars that automatically lock and unlock, but also, young people don’t really drive. Car etiquette in general, like taking turns choosing which cassette to play, is long gone.

4. Hostess gifts.

Co-living and communal living is on the rise for millennials; in a shaky economy, more people move in with their parents. The “sharing” economy, i.e., Airbnb, further blurs the line between being a guest in someone’s house versus crashing. Housing is more fluid for young people, and that trend may very well continue into our kids’ generation. The imperative for a hostess gift—that you would bring a bottle of wine or a bag of goodies from the farmers’ market when you stay at someone’s house—seems to be less urgent these days. But it shouldn’t be. Our kids should know that if someone offers them a couch or a guest room, the least they can do is cough up some miniature soaps.

5. Phone manners.

As soon as I could pick up our avocado-green wall phone and call a friend, my mother taught me to say, “Hello, this is Leigh, may I speak to so-and-so, please?” The other person would clonk the phone down on the counter and stomp off in search of so-and-so. Kids today barely talk on the phone at all, of course, and when they do, the receiver already knows who’s on the line.

6. Addressing people you don’t know as Mr. or Ms.

My local parent community is very casual—all kids address the adults by their first names. For the most part, I’m fine with this. I don’t even remember the last time I addressed a fellow adult by their title, unless it was a doctor and I was in a paper gown. (A couple of my Southern mom-friends did try to get “Miss First Name” going, but it didn’t stick in our Brooklyn neighborhood.) But I do remember when my best friend’s mother said to me, once I finished college, “You may call me Karen.” I felt like it initiated me into the world of adults, as well as a new relationship as equals with a woman I respected. I wonder if our kids are missing something by assuming a more intimate relationship with someone from the get-go.

7. The conversational gambit “How was your day?”

We’re in constant contact with all of our loved ones. We live out their lives with them in real time. The altercation with the client? You heard about that the second it happened. The guy who almost hit you crossing Smith Street? Found out two seconds later: almst hit xing smith fking dipshit drvers. By 6:00 p.m. the client and the fking dipshit are old news. This is a problem with adults, too, obviously, but kids today don’t even remember a time when someone might have some information they want to tell you face to face. Everything is stream of consciousness.

8. Deciding on a plan in advance and meeting at the agreed-upon time.

OMG traffic sry running 15min l8.

9. Handwritten thank you notes.

An email is just not the same.

10. Appropriate condolences.

Okay, this may be lost even on Gen Xers. The generation above us had formal mechanisms for offering condolences—sympathy cards, wakes, shivas, casserole brigades, flowers. In the world dominated by social media, posting “sorry for your loss” on Facebook is not enough. People need to see you, or at least see evidence of your handwriting on a card, for it to mean anything. If a robot could have sent it, it doesn’t count.

11. Proper sign-offs.

How do you say goodbye in a digital world in which no one ever says goodbye? I prefer “best”—my friend says that’s chilly and signs her emails “warmly.” Whatever it is, end it cleanly, don’t do a “let’s pretend this conversation is going to continue until we die.”

12. Waiting until everyone is served to eat.

This is because (see No. 6) no one arrives for the meal at the same damn time.

13. Letting new acquaintances reveal information about themselves at their own pace.

We used to get to know people via normal conversational channels. Now you know your date’s 5K finish time in last Sunday’s race and how he’s hoping to get some advice on managing eczema. All new relationships come pre-seeded with information—thanks to Google and social media—that we have to pretend not to know. This means that the pace of getting to know someone, for kids, is much more accelerated than it was when we were young—both because they know a lot about one another’s lives but also because they’re “spending time” with their friends online as well as in person.

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