Social Etiquette Dialogue (Questions 1 – 10)

Social Etiquette Dialogue (Questions 1 – 10)

  1. Our company and another company share washrooms in an office building. One day, I was in a stall, and received a message from my friend. I replied to her in a very low voice. Then someone knocked at my door and said: “Are you using your cell phone in the washroom? You should not do that!” My question is: is it rude to use cell phone in public washroom? At the time, there were empty stalls from other people to use, and my voice was kept very low.

Lorna: I don’t think it’s wrong to use your cell phone in the washroom on your own time. I would probably tell them to mind their own business.

Eric: It is NOT rude to use a phone in the restroom, but it is socially awkward as this is a place for privacy. People are self conscience about sounds being transmitted over the phone and cause a perceived embarrassment.

Andrew: It wouldn’t worry me if someone used their cellphone unless they were overly loud. I might learn something interesting    

Mandy: the common view is not to a use mobile in the toilet cubicle. It is a private place and people think it is not hygienic to use such a device in the toilet.

Joy and friends: We would never make phone calls in a public wash room.  In any small public space, another example being the waiting room of a clinic, we try to keep quiet so as not to disturb or embarrass other patrons.  However, the person who knocked at the door showed no good manners, either.

Steve and Mato: Is it really so urgent that you have to use your cell phone while using the wash room?  It is not so sanitary.

Mona: I don’t feel quite comfortable if somebody uses a cell phone next to me in a public wash room.  People could use a smart phone as a video camera…

David: It’s no ones’ business what you’re doing in the cubicle. As long as you’re not yelling on the phone you’re entitled to ask them to “mind their own business”.

  1. What will you do when your 9-year-old child received unfair treatment by her teacher at school? My daughter’s school holds New Year’s party every year. Each class sends a student to host the party. My daughter won the democratic election in her class, but the teacher ignored the election result, and sent her own daughter instead. The teacher keeps doing things like this. When I asked the teacher about the selection criteria, she lied. I was hesitant to talk to the principle because I was afraid that the teacher might give my daughter a hard time at school.

Lorna: You have to stick up for your children at school. If you don’t care, they will not care. I would talk to the principle and if the teacher has a problem with being fair and honest ask for your child to transfer to another class.

Eric: I would immediately ask for a conference with the teacher and the principle. Lay out your issues and see if she continues to lie about the situation.

Andrew: I would gain other parent’s support and have the teacher reprimanded and hopefully removed from their post. You say it’s not just the party but other things too.

Mandy: This is a difficult situation. It is unfair but there may be repercussions for the child. You need to pick your battles. Is it something you want to fight or ignore because of the unpleasantness involved?

Joy and friends gave different answers: 1. Gather clear evidence (witnesses, changes in child’s emotions, comments from other teachers, etc.), and talk to the principle in a calm, logical and polite manner; 2. Talk to the teacher directly if you are confident about your communication capability; 3. Tell my child that sometimes people do unfair things; This incident illustrates part of a real world, and we need to be resilient to it.

Steve and Mato: Be very clear on the specifics of the subject of what you are about to question. Make sure you lead the conversation so you maintain some control over what you intend to clarify. When questioning your contact, which in this case is the teacher, ask questions that have to be explained as opposed to those that a simple “yes or no” is all that is needed. For example, “Based on the democratic voting procedure that took place in class to choose the host for the New Year’s Party, why did you choose your daughter to be the host when it was my daughter who was voted in by her classmates to be the host?” If you don’t get a satisfactory answer and solution, go to the principle with the same question. In both cases never be aggressive, loud voiced or, argumentative. Be rational and diplomatic and if it is not truly resolved and you realize it won’t be leave with a, well, I don’t really agree with that but I thank you for your time”. At best, you leave with them knowing there was a questionable decision made on their behalf and a good chance it won’t happen again based on an interested parent’s intervention.   

Mona: The teacher set a bad example for the kids.  You need talk to her or the principle.

David: I would absolutely speak to the principal, after speaking to the teacher first. It is your right to do so and if the teacher mistreats your daughter I would be calling the school again immediately.

  1. When introducing a young man to a lady, Miss Manners, in her book, gave an example like this: ” Mrs. Clark, may I introduce you to Mr. John Carter?” Shouldn’t it be:” Mrs. Clarke, may I introduce Mr. John Carter to you?”

Lorna: I say: Mrs. Clark, this is Mr. John Carter. Mr. Carter this is Mrs. Clark. Then they will greet each other.

Eric: It should be the second option.

Andrew: I would say “may I introduce you to.“

Mandy: In my experience either way is okay.

Joy and friends: Either way is fine.

Steve and Mato: Instead of the male to female or female to male protocol, you might want to consider who is being introduced to whom based on the social situation. If you are introducing a friend to someone you could say, “John Carter I’d like you to meet Mary Clark”. “Mr” and “Mrs’ is very formal for today’s social interchange and rarely used unless there is a great difference in age. For example, if you are introducing a 15 year old to an older senior that is say, age 70 + you should defer to Mr. or Mrs.). The teenager would feel awkward as well calling someone much older than their parents, by their first name.

Mona: I would just say “I’d like you to meet Mona. Mona this is Yang. This is for very casual introductions. You can substitute the first names by Mr.____ and Mrs. _____.


David: It’s not very important in Canada but often you introduce the person you’re with or the female or the most important person, to a new person joining you. i.e. If you’re with John you might say to Mary, this is John or if you’re with Mary or your boss you might say Mary (boss) this is John. The most important thing is that you at least introduce them both to each other.


4. Would you encourage your son or daughter in middle school to date someone he or she likes? What if he or she likes more than one person, or more than one person expresses affection to them? Should they keep in touch with all of them, or should they date just one person at a time?

Lorna: I think middle school is too young to date. If they want to ask a girl to a school dance or something that’s ok. Better to be friends with all of them.

Eric: I would only encourage them if they want to do it. Do not pressure the child to interact. This is an awkward age and some children don’t want to do it.

Andrew: I wouldn’t encourage them to date anyone. If they did and it was with affection, I’d encourage them to date just one person at a time.

Mandy: I wouldn’t encourage boyfriends/girlfriends but friends is okay with supervision and make sure they have a good sex education and understand they need to wait a long while before having sex!!!  There are consequences from not taking their time with growing up!

Joy and friends: We’ll respect our children’s decision, and won’t interfere.  It’s ok to dance, dine out, go to a movie, etc., with different friends; if a serious relationship has been established, they should be serious about it, and not be promiscuous.

Steve and Mato: At this age they usually go out in a group.  It’s less likely to meet the One at this point so it’s good to relate to all friends. Not a good idea to be possessive or being possessed at a very critical time in social adjustments within social circles of your peers.

Mona: Each family has different policies based on its own values and concerns.  People should  date only one person at a time, instead of dating one on Monday, another on Tuesday, and the third on Wednesday…

David: It isn’t necessary to encourage them. Rather, encourage them to be honest in their relationships i.e. whether they want to be friends with some or all of them or they are committed to just one person.

5. It’s rude to interrupt people. So I wait. But sometimes I can not find the right time to present my own opinion or questions at a meeting because some people are just talking and talking, or others just seem to be quicker than me. How would you pitch in and what would you say in this case?

Lorna: I think Americans are rude this way, including myself. You just have to jump in and say ‘Excuse me’, and present your thought.  

Eric: Lifting a finger and pointing it upward is the universal sign that you have something to say.

Andrew: I’d normally wait for a pause for breath by the speaker or I’d wait for something that I disagreed with and pitch in heavily at that point.

Mandy: You could say “excuse me for interrupting but have you thought about ….”

Joy and friends: It is not rude to jump in and voice your own opinion if others keep talking, especially when they get pointless.  Give an indicator first, like “Excuse me.  May I say something?”  Another way I use to pitch in is to give a favorable comment on what the person is saying, then switch to what I really want to say.

Steve and Mato: It is not rude to interrupt in this case.  It is rude of the person who keeps talking and cares little about what other participants may want to say.  I’ll give a signal, like raising my hand, to the person who presides the meeting; he or she should do something to help me pitch in and voice my opinion.

Mona: I usually wait for my turn. Indeed, it happens sometimes that I haven’t gotten a chance to speak when people already finish their speeches and move to the next subject.  If the topic is really important, I will probably bring it up again later.

David: If you have been patient it may be necessary to interrupt, prefacing your comments by simply saying, “may I interrupt for one moment?” and then speaking immediately.

  1. When you have different or opposite opinion against your boss’, what would you do? Will you express your own thoughts to the boss? How would you say it?

Lorna: That is a tricky situation. You have to know your boss and if they are open to others ideas. Some are not.

Eric: I would say that I have a different perspective to your solution and propose your idea with him/her.

Andrew: I’d tell him I disagree and explain why and then let him reply with reasoning. I’d try and understand from his and the company point of view and if it was still illogical, I’d go through the pros and cons from my view point. It depends on the disagreement of course.

Mandy: Yes you should debate all ideas even if different but do it respectfully and politely.

Joy and friends: Generally speaking, no.

Steve and Mato: A boss is supposed to be a source of directive leadership and support for those being managed. If an opinion is asked of you and your opinion is actually different, it is best to approach the subject with, “Well, perhaps we could consider” and then state your case and close with, “What do you think?” You will get an immediate response and certainly know where you and the conversation stand at that point and where to go with it.

Mona: I agree with Lorna.

David: Yes, if you’re a valuable employee your opinion can be useful. You might preface your opinion by saying, “may I suggest.”

7.When you enter a meeting room or a subway or a bus cart where there are empty seats, is there a social norm to consider when taking a seat? Or just choose whatever available chair that you like the most? In a narrow, seat [packed space, like a flight cabin, when exiting, is there a general rule to follow? Like row by row from the front, line by line from the outside/aisle, etc.?

Lorna: On a bus or subway, it’s wherever there is an open seat and not next to someone who looks scary. When exiting an airplane, people start in the front and go row by row getting carry on and going to the front to exit. It is rude to push ahead.

Eric: Most of the time you look for an empty row and take that seat closest to the inside to allow others to sit next to you. Americans are rude and don’t do this and cause social anxiety.   Exiting protocol is to exit from the rows nearest the exit back in an orderly manner.

Andrew: On a train I’d try and find a seat not immediately next to someone. If the train were crowded, I’d just be happy to have found a seat, where-ever it was. I have put people’s bags on the overhead rail, when they’d left their bag on a seat, to stop people sitting next to them. In aircraft I normally see people exiting row by row from the front.

Mandy: Mainly just give up your seat to someone who may need it more than you for example an elderly person, pregnant woman etc. and leave without pushing.

Joy and friends: Take the seat you like and is available for you.  When you feel other people may need your seat, don’t hesitate to offer it by asking: (to an elderly) “Would you like to take my seat (which is at the aisle)?  I can move inside.”; or (to one of a couple) “Would you like to exchange seat with me so you can sit next to your friend?”; etc.

Steve and Mato: To answer the first part of the question. In a meeting room you sit where you want that isn’t designated as reserved and normally not at the head of the table as that is where the meeting is normally conducted from. On public transit sit wherever there is a vacant seat but be prepared to relinquish your seat when you are seated on a blue seat that is designated for those having a disability or are seniors. That is the law.

The second question is based on safe, expedient exiting. Those closest to the exit first, row by row and the outside seat in the aisle first followed by the next. The reality is the first to board are the last to exit. The exception to this are those needing assistance to exit are prepared to do so by the flight crew and others wait for the clearance of those being assisted.

Mona: When boarding a bus or train take any seat except those that are designated for the elderly or anyone that has special need. In a plane people exit row by row from the front. It would be rude to push past people.


David: There is no social norm for taking an empty seat (some people prefer you don’t squeeze beside them if there are other empty seats further away). On planes, in Church (for Communion) or funerals people leave row by row, closest to the door first.

8.About RSVP: If I am not going, is it OK that I do not reply? For the person who sends out the invitation, is it OK for him or her to ask people who have not replied again if deadline is approaching or even past?

Lorna: You should reply to an invitation if you’re going or not.  Sometimes people are planning how much food or space they will need for the event. If you need to call and ask it’s OK because they should have let you know. You can say your checking in case they didn’t get the invitation. That gives them an out for their rudeness.

Eric: If they bothered to send a card of set up an online RSVP, then you should bother to reply one way or the other. Do not say you are coming if you are not as others may not be invited or gifts/food may be purchased for you. That is rude.

Andrew: It’s rude not to reply. It’s ok to ask people who haven’t replied again as some people are forgetful or have busy schedules. You’d just need to be prepared for negative responses or excuses. Some people have other things they’d rather do. What’s worse is someone who says they’ll attend but doesn’t turn up; particularly if time & money are spent.

Mandy: You should respond even if you are not attending. That is the polite thing to do.

Joy and friends: You don’t have to give the reason, but you need to reply even if you are not going.  Also, it is a good manner to call or write between 24 – 48 hours after you come back from a party, to thank the host/hostess again for their hospitality/the good time you had had at the party.

Steve and Mato: RSVP does require a response whether you are attending or not. Out of courtesy to the one organizing the activity you do respond immediately or within a couple of days after you have checked your personal calendar to actually see if that day is free for you. It is alright for the sender to check with you again but it shouldn’t be necessary. You were invited, respond.

Mona: I agree with everyone that it is rude not to reply. The people planning the party need to know how many people are coming. I don’t think it is rude to follow up with those who have not replied.  A discreet email to remind people to RSVP.


David: Politeness dictates that you reply (R.S.V.P.) and if they don’t, it is absolutely okay to ask again i.e. for dinner or a party (how do you know how much to prepare otherwise?).

  1. I see the garage or porch light of many houses are often lit on throughout the night.  Is it a common practice?  What is the purpose of keeping the light on all night long?

Lorna: I think lights on are for safety reasons. If your house is lighted all can see what going on. Burglars will pick a dark house instead hopefully.

Eric:  Generally the porch light is a signal that the home is approachable, especially if someone is still out and will turn it off when then arrive at the home. Modern homes have motion sensor porch lights to deter thieves.

Andrew: My mother is over 80 and frail. She does leave her front-of-house light on when she expects to return late. The light helps her find the steps, and get the key in the door. There’s an actor and his family living opposite my house. Their garage light is always on. I think they must have their deep freeze in the garage and keeping the lights on saves on time getting to the ice cream (they’ve two young children).  I left my garage light on once in four&half years and it gave me a guilt complex.  When the actor’s family moved in, it helped me overcome my guilt complex so I thanked them.

Mandy: These days it would be considered an environmental issue and frowned upon.  It is mainly done if someone will be late home or for safety reasons.  However, given the issues with electricity and carbon – it would be considered an inconsiderate thing to do these days.

Joy and Dale: I agree with Steve and Mato.  Actually we do this all time

Steve and Mato: Normally, a porch or garage light is left on if the homeowner is expecting some family member coming in late at night so it is provided for their safe approach to the house. Another reason is to say to potential intruders that there is someone home or will be shortly so don’t bother trying to rob us. Not the best deterrent these days for professional thieves though.

Mona: Perhaps it is for safety reasons. I’m not sure. Everyone has their own habits.

David: People forget to turn them off. Usually you leave the light on only for guests (or your kids) so they know they are welcome.

  1. Western manners emphasize “Ladies first.”  However, in introduction or the salutation of a letter, I see both “Mr. & Mrs. XXX”, “Boys and Girls”, and “Ladies and Gentlemen”.  In these cases, sometimes males are mentioned first, other times the opposite.  Is there a rule here?  When introducing a group of guests, or writing an article and I need to mention a group of names, is there an order I can follow to avoid offending some people.

Lorna: I believe all three introductions above are correct. It depends on the group you are talking to and the situation.

Eric: Generally, the male is introduced first and the correct titles are used. Example:   Mr. Joe Smith and Dr. Mei Liu etc.

Andrew: I do address the most important person first and if no order of importance, I use alphabetical order. Tradition does have a large part to play too. URL has some tips.

Mandy: Long ago there was a protocol for all kinds of invitations and to whom they were offered. However, these days I would argue anything goes.  In fact, with women’s equal rights, it can be argued that putting Ladies first is sexist!

Joy and Dale: The safe thing to do is to use woman’s name first. But, in any formal occasions where there are people with titles, you first introduce the most senior person.

Steve and Mato: The first part of the question is best looked at who is the primary receiver of the information you are sending or requesting from and indicate them first.

Large groups being addressed can best be acknowledged by alphabetical listing with those being addressed informed at the beginning of your introductions or correspondence.

Mona: All three types of introductions are correct. They are the norm when writing. I am not sure why but they are correct when addressing an audience as well.

David: Those three examples are just common expressions (all three are very acceptable). When introducing guests, you usually start with the most important (i.e. like the Vice Principal, me!).



We owe our sincere thanks to our western friends who participate in this dialogue, and take the time to answer the questions for Chinese immigrant communities.  The friends are: (Sequence based on the time we have received their answers)

Lorna: Supply Chain Coordinator, Southern California, USA

Eric: Operations Manager, Southern California, USA

Andrew: Solution Architect (telecommunications), Chelmsford, Essex, UK

Mandy: Lawyer, Sydney, Australia

Joy invited her local friends – Dale, Aurelia, Carol, Helen, and Kathy – mostly retired professionals who used to work as a CEO, a chartered accountant, a department store general manager, and a business developer, respectively, – to discuss our questions at coffee time.  They live in Bowral, New South Welsh, Australia.  The answers are translations by Yang based on Joy’s summary of their discussions.

Steve and Mato: Both residing in Toronto, Ontario

Steve: Orientation & Mobility Specialist for the Blind and Partially Sighted; Recreation Programmer; Concept Developer

Mato, Co-Founder, Durham Centre for Excellence and Event Coordinator

Mona: Teacher, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

David: Retired High School Vice Principle, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Also, only with the kind help of the friends listed below, could we possibly reach out the above mentioned enthusiastic and thoughtful English-speaking ladies and gentlemen:

Mei Liu, Ling Wu, Jing Yuan, Joy Zhao, and Yang Wang

Thank you all so much, dear friends, for sharing your true opinions, and for your effort to help immigrants immerse into their new countries!

Last  but not least, we thank following individuals of Chinese origin for sharing the questions on their minds:

Eva Shan, Sunny, Wei Li, Jing Wang, Yang Wang, and Feng Liu

We cordially invite our Chinese readers to join them, and raise your own, specific questions on manners and social norms; and our Western readers to give your frank thoughts and suggestions.  Let’s keep the dialogue going!  Isn’t it fun for everybody? 🙂

(Dialogue organizer and editor: Yang Wang

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