It Isn’t Polite to Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth & Snub a Free Meal

You Are Invited ConceptReally, where have everyone’s manners gone? Have we all forgotten what our mothers taught us about being polite and watching our manners?

We know that etiquette has taken a nosedive on social media where stalkers can conceal their identities while lobbing insults. But a recent email exchange where I was copied involved real people. It should have surprised me, but it didn’t, because this kind of rudeness is all too common today.

You Can’t Make This Up

To protect the guilty these aren’t their real names. But this was the exchange between three alumni of my college. A classmate offered to host a luncheon in New York for members of our class in advance of homecoming this fall. He asked people to RSVP. This is a response he received from a recipient (as written):

  • Dear Mr. Jones, I’d like to go, but I wonder about the lunch. What kind of main course, is there a salad, wine and cocktails, or a cash bar for alcohol? I’ve been to many, many free dinners or lunches which were very cheaply and disappointed.     
    Thanks, John Smith

The host and other classmates certainly had cause to be offended. One classmate responded:

  • Consider this a “Dear John” letter. John, if you don’t like the FREE food, don’t eat it or DONT come. Or offer to bring something better. Or you offer to treat.

Another alum felt the need to weigh in and wrote:

  • “John you need to be institutionalized.”

My first thought was to wonder how these people graduated from a prestigious university without knowing correct grammar and spelling. That aside, John Smith committed the first offense by insinuating the meal would be cheap and not up to his standards. If he has food allergies, or is a vegan, he might have politely asked if it would be possible to accommodate his needs. Otherwise, he should have sent an RSVP with a polite yes or no and left it at that.

The host was no doubt offended, but how about a simple, “John, please don’t feel you need to come if you’re concerned about the food. Sincerely, Joe.” John should get the clear message that Joe was annoyed. As to the other alumnus, did he really need to chime in with his own offensive remark?

Remember to Say “Thank you”

You’d think someone on the receiving end of a favor would extend a simple “thank you.” But that simple courtesy is often overlooked.

A businessman I know was looking for an executive coach and asked a colleague for recommendations. She referred him to three different coaches whom he interviewed. They each followed up with proposals. The businessman never thanked them or even responded. That was very embarrassing to the person who made those referrals. It was also rude to the coaches.

Another friend was at a party recently and met an acquaintance she hadn’t seen in years. The acquaintance asked my friend to read her book and help with edits and connections. My friend is a very busy woman. Why would she be expected to take time out of her schedule to read and edit this book gratis? It was impolite to ask and my friend was put in an awkward situation.

Perhaps everyone should be required to read Emily Post’s Etiquette to brush up on good manners. Here are a few simple tips that may be obvious but are too often observed in the breach:

  • Always say thank you. If someone does you a favor or sends you a gift, say thank you, preferably in a hand-written note.
  • Learn to say no politely. If someone asks you for your opinion, don’t say, “That’s a terrible idea.” Explain why you think an alternative course of action might be better.
  • Respond in a timely manner. If you’re on the receiving end of a proposal, or report, it’s only polite to respond within a reasonable time frame, even if it’s to say you need to give it further review or you’re not interested or to just acknowledge receipt.
  • Don’t impose. When someone has extended several favors to you don’t keep asking for more. Understand that there boundaries in a friendship.
  • Don’t interrupt. When you see two people talking at a networking meeting, don’t interrupt. They may be talking business. Instead, seek out a group and say, “You look like a friendly group. May I join you?”
  • Be kind.  You wouldn’t want your boss to berate you in front of other people, so avoid doing it to your staff.

As Emily Post says, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

Have you been on the receiving end of someone’s bad manners? Please feel free to share your stories in the comment box.

4 comments to It Isn’t Polite to Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth & Snub a Free Meal

  • Yasmin Anderson-Smith

    Love that you chose this topic to write about in May which is Global Civility Awareness month. The every day practices of kindness and consideration you describe can go a long way to improve our relationships with others. Nice matters and good manners can take us where high academics and credentials cannot. Keep up the good work.

  • I love that you are writing about this. You must know that because you listed my post under “Related Articles” from my blog, An Empowered Spirit(

    Good manners are necessary and will never go out of style. We have to keep this conversation alive to continue stressing how important they are in everyday life, passing them down from generation to generation by example.

    Wonderful post.

  • Paul Graham

    Perhaps the most important thing one needs to know about etiquette is the simple… Do as you would be done by. As to spelling and grammar, sadly I have seen little evidence that they have any bearing at all on graduating from prestigious universities. Since they are also fundamental to communication and grossly undervalued there is probably a connection.

  • I always appreciate your well-written and timely blogs. As a business etiquette expert, I found this one particularly intriguing. You are so right that manners have taken a nose dive, and not just on social media. When did we decide that it was all right to stop being polite, kind and courteous to one another? Thank you for addressing this issue and offering such valuable tips. I hope others will read it and take it to heart. Lydia

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