Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Do You Know How to Behave? Are You Sure? How to text, tip, ghost, host, and generally exist in polite society today.

The Cut

The ways we socialize and date, commute and work are nearly unrecognizable from what they were three years ago. We’ve enjoyed a global pandemic, open employer-employee warfare, a multifront culture war, and social upheavals both great and small. The old conventions are out (we don’t whisper the word cancer or let women off the elevator first anymore, for starters). The venues in which we can make fools of ourselves (group chats, Grindr messages, Slack rooms public and private) are multiplying, and each has its own rules of conduct. And everyone’s just kind of rusty. Our social graces have atrophied.

We wanted to help. So we started with the problems — not the obvious stuff, like whether it’s okay to wear a backpack on the subway or talk loudly on speakerphone in a restaurant (you know the answers there). We asked people instead what specific kinds of interactions or situations really made them anxious, afraid, uncertain, ashamed. From there, we created rigid, but not entirely inflexible, rules.

Then we took our own medicine — we implemented these rules in our professional and personal lives. Some really didn’t work. (“It’s been great to chat” didn’t quite land when we used it as a way to exit a boring conversation at a holiday party.) Others felt like instant canon (we agreed, for example, that text-message amnesty is granted after 72 hours). We fine-tuned and eliminated. We talked to friends, entertaining experts, and service workers. We sparked office arguments and made messes and ended up with a guide that we hope will stand the test of at least a bit of time — until the next great exciting social upheaval.


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