Citizen of the World Guides
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chapter 5
going beyond basic courtesy

It is simple to remember to say “Please” whenever you make a request, “Thank you” whenever someone does anything for you, and “Excuse me” when you accidentally bump into another person. To demonstrate that you are a true Citizen of the World, however, you have to go beyond observing just the minimum standard of courtesy and good manners in your dealings with others. This is critical to making the right impression.
The Essentials
Follow these guiding principles in demonstrating proper courtesy and good manners:
  • Never abuse a position of power in your relations with individuals who are junior to you, regardless of the circumstances. Treat everyone fairly and with courtesy. This includes junior staff members, salespeople, waiters and cleaning personnel. Look people in the eye whenever you make a request of them or ask a question. Do not ever try to order anyone around.
  • Avoid stereotyping and “labeling” other people. No one is inherently better than anyone else. Respect people’s differences, including their nationalities. For example, people of one nationality do not like to be thought of or referred to as belonging to another nationality, even if there are certain similarities between the two. Do not refer to individuals by their ethnic background, nationality or religion. Treat everyone as an individual with his or her own personal identity.
  • Demonstrate consideration for people with disabilities without having to be asked to do so, including holding open doors and giving up your seat in buses and trains. The same applies for obviously pregnant women, people on crutches and mothers with small children.
  • Show respect for your elders. Stand up whenever an elderly person enters a room, joins a meeting or comes to your table at a restaurant. Hold open doors in buildings and restaurants for elderly people to go through before yourself. Open vehicle doors for elderly people. Give up your seat in a waiting lounge or transit vehicle for elders.
  • Do not post any indiscreet comments, gossip, photos, videos or other materials online that may be harmful to another person’s image and reputation.
Showing Respect
In your conversations and contact with others, practise the following:
  • When you see or talk to a person for the first time each day, acknowledge that individual by saying, “Hello”, “Good morning”, “Good afternoon” or “Good evening”, even if you are just passing by. It is a friendly form of acknowledgment that costs nothing. This includes doormen, receptionists, co-workers and anyone else you encounter on a regular basis.
  • In conversations, if someone says something that you did not hear properly, the polite way to request that the person repeat what he or she said is to ask, “I beg your pardon?” or just “Pardon me?” It is usually a mistake to pretend you heard or understood what was said when you did not.
  • Use the name of the individual you are talking to whenever you can. It usually has the effect of causing that person to be more receptive to what you are saying.
  • Do not interrupt people when they are talking. In a conversation or meeting, be patient and let the other person finish what he or she is saying before you respond or attempt to make another point.
  • If you are working on something when someone phones or walks into your office, stop what you are doing and concentrate 100% of your attention on your conversation with the other person. The same applies when you are on your computer. Continuing to do two things simultaneously will cause you to appear either distracted or rude.
  • Cover your mouth with your hand whenever you have to yawn or cough. Openly yawning when you are meeting with someone will usually be interpreted as you are bored.
  • Whenever you have to sneeze, try to cover your nose with a tissue, handkerchief or your hand. If you are with other people, turn your head away from them when you sneeze so they do not get your germs. Wash your hands afterwards. I always follow the practice of saying “God bless you”, “Bless you” or the German word “Gesundheit” (meaning “health”) whenever someone with me sneezes.
  • Refrain from talking to your companions during the actual performance at a cinema, theater or other cultural event. This also applies when you are attending a public ceremony or a religious service.
  • Do not use vulgar language, make ethnic slurs or tell inappropriate jokes that run the risk of offending someone, including making comments about someone’s gender or sexual preference. Doing so only demeans yourself. If you feel compelled to swear, do so privately. Be conscious that certain hand and finger gestures that are acceptable in one part of the world may be regarded as offensive elsewhere. For example, do not use the thumbs-up sign in Muslim countries.
  • Do not light up a cigarette at a meeting or when you are with other people unless you have asked the other people present beforehand, “Do you mind if I smoke?” It is also a good idea to find out if you are in a designated smoking zone before you start to smoke. This particularly applies to the U.S., Canada and parts of Western Europe.
  • Always stand and refrain from talking when the national anthem of a country is being played at a function you are attending. Men should also remove their caps or hats.
Relations Between the Sexes
Remember these points when it comes to the relations between men and women:
  • In business and professional situations, women generally prefer to be treated in the same manner as men. For example, in North America the person who gets to a door first, holds it open for those following behind, regardless of gender. This is not the case, however, in England and most parts of Europe where men hold the door open for women, regardless of the circumstances.
  • When a man and woman are walking on a sidewalk, the man should usually walk on the outside closest to the curb. If it is a social outing, men should hold open the car or taxi door for any women accompanying them, and should also assist women in taking off or putting on their coats.
  • Whenever a man and woman are getting into the rear seat of a taxi through the same door, the man usually should get in first, saying, “I’ll make it easier for you,” and slide over to the other side. Women have more difficulty in doing so, especially if they are wearing a dress or skirt with high heels.
  • Men should usually go first in getting on escalators and in going through revolving doors when they are with a woman. In the latter case, the man should say, “Here, I’ll go first to keep it moving,” or something to that effect.
  • For social occasions, men should stand up whenever a woman enters a room as well as when a woman comes to or leaves the table at a restaurant.
  • Do not use e-mail or any other form of electronic communication, including a posting on Facebook, to terminate a relationship or deliver other bad news.
  • Understand that sexual harassment in the workplace includes making inappropriate verbal comments about a subordinate or co-worker’s physical appearance or referring directly or indirectly to anything of a sexual nature with them. In addition, staring at a person’s physique is not acceptable behavior.
In 2017, a number of high profile men in the entertainment and media industries swiftly lost their positions when women came forward to accuse them of various forms of sexual harassment. This has produced a heightened awareness of the need to avoid any inappropriate touching, kissing, hugging or other bodily contact between the sexes in the workplace and at social events, including no bum pats, elbow squeezes or neck massages.
If someone initiates an action you deem to be any form of sexual harassment with you, right away say to that person, "Could you please stop doing (or saying) that. It’s inappropriate and makes me feel uncomfortable." If it continues, firmly say, "I said no and I mean it." There is nothing to be gained by being ambiguous or tentative about where you stand on this matter.
Dealing With Rudenss and Complaints
In the case of rudeness and complaints, keep these points in mind:
  • Do not react quickly to what you perceive as rudeness or a poor attitude on the part of someone else. Everyone has a bad day from time to time and you have no idea what negative event may have happened to upset that person beforehand. Give people the benefit of doubt and tolerance unless their rude behavior is repeated.
  • When you are confronted with rudeness, do not lower yourself to the same level by being rude back. You are often better off to ignore the rudeness and continue on with what you want to say or do. In some cases, you may want to confront a rude person by saying, “I beg your pardon, what did you say?” This may cause the offending individual to reconsider his or her rude behavior.
  • If you have a complaint to make, do so in an effective manner. Ask the offending person for his or her name and write it down. Then, say you would like to speak to the most senior person present, such as the supervisor, manager or owner. If you fail to get your complaint resolved satisfactorily at that time, get the information you need to put your complaint in writing to the most senior person in that organization. Send such an e-mail or letter as soon as possible.
  • Always keep your cool. Do not ever lose your temper. If you are requesting that some action be taken, make certain you are talking to the right person who is in a position to make a decision about it.
Coming and Going
For coming and going situations, observe these courtesies:
  • Before you get on to an elevator, bus or train, let the other people exiting do so before you enter. Also, let elderly individuals enter and exit first. Men should do the same for women in social situations.
  • Stand to the right when you are on an escalator or moving sidewalk to allow space for people to pass you on the left.
  • If people are standing in a line waiting for a transit vehicle or to do something such as purchase a ticket, go to the end of the line like everyone else. Do not try to barge into line ahead of those who were there before you.
  • Whenever you jostle or cut in front of someone, regardless of where it is, always quickly look the person in the eye, smile and say, “Excuse me.”
  • Men should take off their caps and hats when they go indoors, get on an elevator or are eating a meal anywhere inside. The exceptions are when you are at an indoor sporting event or in a shopping mall.
Cellphones and PDA's
With cellphones and any other handheld electronic devices, remember to:
  • Always, always turn off your cellphone and any other PDA’s when you are at business or social meals, restaurants, dinner parties, cinemas, theaters, churches, art galleries, libraries, museums, gyms, places of worship and funerals. The same applies to when you are riding in an elevator or attending public ceremonies and most performances. It is rude not to do so.
  • Also, turn off your cellphone and other PDA’s whenever you are attending any type of meeting. Nothing is more irritating or distracting than hearing a ringtone and having someone start to talk on a cellphone in the middle of a meeting. While you may think that this shows people how important you are, what it really shows is a lack of consideration for others. Similarly, do not send e-mails, tweets or text-messages on a PDA during a meeting.
  • When you are talking on a cellphone or PDA in any type of public place or transit within the hearing range of others, do so in a soft voice and keep your conversation short. Just because your cellphone is small does not mean you have to speak in a loud voice to be heard by the other person. No one around you wants to hear your voice nor should they have to. In fact, avoid talking loudly in a public place at any time, including when you are at a restaurant.
  • At a lunch or dinner with someone, put away your cellphone or other PDA as opposed to placing it on the table in front of you. If you are expecting a call that you must take, explain this to your companions when you first sit down and switch on your PDA to vibrate when you put it in your pocket or on your lap. Then, if it vibrates during the meal, excuse yourself from the table and go somewhere private to take the call.
  • Never conduct arguments or discuss problems of a personal or professional nature on your cellphone in front of others, especially when you are in public or on a transit vehicle.
In addition, return phone messages and answer e-mails and letters within a maximum of one to three days of receiving them. This is especially important for those of a business or professional nature.

With invitations, “thank-you’s”, and other correspondence, follow these practices:
  • If you receive an invitation to any kind of business or social function that includes the term “RSVP” on it, that means you must let the host or function organizers know as soon as possible whether or not you can attend. Sometimes the invitation may include a separate RSVP reply card with an addressed envelope for you to use for this purpose. If not, then it is usually best to telephone the host or organizers with your response. When you are unable to attend, give a brief excuse, such as “Thank you for your thoughtful invitation but unfortunately I’ll be out of town then” or “I’ve got a prior commitment at that time.” RSVP is an abbreviation for the French term répondez s’il vous plaît, which means “please reply”.
  • When you have been invited to a party or event with a written invitation and you want to bring someone with you to that function, call the host beforehand to ask for permission to do so unless the invitation specifically states “Bring a guest”.
  • Once you have accepted an invitation to attend a social or professional function, you should attend that event unless an emergency occurs. Think of it as a commitment that you must honor.
  • Send a handwritten thank-you letter to the host or hostess of any social event, such as a dinner party, within three days after you attend it. You should also send thank-you notes to individuals who have held a meeting largely on your behalf (e.g., a job interview), gone out of their way to do something significant for you or given you a present. The same applies if you have been someone’s guest at his or her home.
  • Thank-you letters reinforce people’s positive opinions of you and should be sent within a three days of the event or kind act. If the social event was “a big deal”, consider sending flowers on the following day to the hostess with a thank-you note enclosed, instead of writing a letter.
  • Using e-mail to thank someone for anything of any consequence is a weak way of doing so. If the other person went to any effort for you, acknowledge that in a more meaningful form than by e-mail.
  • End your letters to business acquaintances with the separate phrase, “With best regards,” and underneath sign your first name. Use “Sincerely yours,” in ending letters to individuals with whom you do not have a personal relationship and sign your full name underneath. In the case of brief cards and notes, just end them by signing your first name.
To sum up, you will always be in good standing if you observe the Persian proverb, “Treat your superior as a father, your equal as a brother, and your inferior as a son.” In other words, develop a reputation as an individual who treats everyone with courtesy, consideration and respect regardless of the circumstances. Make this one of your signature traits.


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