From Ghosting to Hosting: The Etiquette Rules of Today’s World


Charlotte Legrand (she/her) questions the purpose of fixed etiquette rules in an ever-changing society.

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Image by Polina Tankilevitch

By Charlotte Legrand

There’s little I find more frustrating than friends never paying me back. Despite always cringing as I press send, I will always send multiple text reminders after covering for someone. Although I know the grudge is completely justified, I cannot help but feel rude for asking more than once. There’s a similar awkwardness around social media: do I leave read receipts on? Are they expecting me to reply to that message? To answer these burning modern conundrums, The Cut magazine recently released their guide titled ‘Do You Know How to Behave? Are You Sure?’, detailing 140 rules to “generally exist in polite society today”. The article sparked debate all across the internet, making me realise how subjective the idea of etiquette is today. In a culture where there is a genuine difference in meaning between texting ‘k’ instead of ‘ok’, is it helpful to have an exhaustive set of social ‘rules’ to follow?

From dealing with poor connection on Zoom calls to discussing your TikTok For You Page, The Cut’s list touches on many niche 21st-century situations. They describe how everyone’s social graces are ‘rusty’ after the Lockdowns of Covid-19, with everyday politeness lost in the blur of remote working and social distancing. Thinking back to my first post-lockdown gatherings, I can see where they are coming from: I found myself overthinking everything from my first greeting to the volume of my voice without a mask, out of practice in everyday social interactions. So maybe there is comfort in a rulebook. However, the strict categories and numbers of The Cut’s list reduce its relatability, making it more threatening than comforting.

Lots of the article’s critics pointed out how outdated the article felt, alongside the whole idea that society needs to rely on a list of modern etiquette lessons. Dating back to Early Modern France, etiquette began as a consciously developed set of written rules for social interaction. These included recommendations of what to wear, where to sit at dinners, and even how to properly hold a fan. Monarchs and politicians manipulated these rules to their advantage, boosting their public status. Stemming from the French word for ‘placard’, the whole point of etiquette rules was to be printed, posted, and given out on little cards at dinner parties. Today, it’s so easy to literally ‘post’ anything for the world to see, making etiquette so much less clear-cut. Even though the list’s content is definitely modern, The Cut’s approach isn’t at all dissimilar from that of the French nobility.

Etiquette rules in general seem to me, by their nature, exclusive. By creating a guide of what everyone should be doing, you can’t help but judge people that do the opposite. In 17th-century France, the rules of etiquette were confined to the upper class bourgeoisie, suggesting that you could tell someone’s social status through their behaviour. You can see how this would make class divides more obvious, opening a whole new opportunity for discrimination. I feel a similar tone of superiority in The Cut’s article, although of course less explicitly. Rule 140, for example, ‘“don’t post RIPs for celebrities” is explained as “an attempt to sycophantically associate themselves with the famous”. I can’t help but see this as an almost arrogant idea. Surely social media has created such a false closeness to celebrities that mourning their death as if you personally knew them is fair enough? It seems unfair that a reposted photo on a follower’s Instagram story is deemed enough to make a judgement about their character. By dissecting every kind of social interaction, etiquette rules seem so distant from everyday situations and everyday people.

So, to me, a list of social rules and expectations is anything but modern. I think the excitement of navigating all the newness of 2023 comes from the freedom and experimentation of figuring it out as you go, without a fixed set of rules to follow. This kind of sentiment is particularly applicable to the world of dating, one tackled with advice such as “it’s okay to ghost after one date” and “don’t be loudly naive about dating apps if you’re in a relationship”. Yet, such a traditional approach to relationships doesn’t quite seem to fit today’s more fluid outlook on love.

A perfect example of Gen Z’s redefining of romantic relationships is the rise of the ‘situationship’. Rising to prominence courtesy of Love Island, a situationship is a romantic relationship that’s undefined or uncommitted. Beginning with TikTok’s ‘I want a boyfriend but not a relationship’ trend, this embrace of the grey area in relationships could really be seen as liberating. As described by Alya Mooro, the new relationship model combines the independence of being single with the intimacy of a partner – a balance which for her “feels very much like having my cake and eating it, too”. This disillusionment with traditional relationship roles represents to me the wider movement away from needing set standards of social etiquette. The traditional ‘relationship escalator’ is not really applicable to today’s dating world, and we shouldn’t feel the need to come up with a completely new set of rules to replace it. Ironically, sometimes Gen Z’s fear of labelling only results in new, more confusing labels!

Although an interesting spark for internet debate, I really think that The Cut’s list of modern etiquette rules should be taken with a generous pinch of reality. Maybe we should encourage making room for new, fluid social practices after Covid-19 instead of needing to be ‘reminded’ of outdated ones. It feels impossible to condense every modern situation into a fixed numbered list that could never be universally applicable. Despite the comfort of a rulebook, the authenticity of human interaction should be embraced, in all of its awkwardness!