Personal etiquette

N-etiquette rose There are many different types of personal relationships.  Each has its own guideline for what is acceptable regarding courtesy.   This point should not be difficult to understand as we instinctively treat our family differently than our friends, and our friends differently than our personal acquaintances.


Etiquette is simply courtesy to others.  We recognize general categories of manners as 'formal' or 'informal'.  Many  do not know the old rules.  Many are simply confused about their application to our newer communications media.  Below are some commonsense guidelines to manners on the internet for personal correspondence.

E-mail is a godsend for families and best friends who are separated by distance.  For centuries it has been the trivia that has bound us together and kept our traditions and shared values in place.  E-mail is perfect for trivia.  There have always been those beloved souls who would write "Hey, Granny, I just washed the dog, now it's my turn" on a napkin and then address an envelope and mail it.  Email allows us all to indulge in that type of communication.

Too many of us, however, seem to have difficulty in recognizing the difference between family manners, best friend manners, co-worker manners and acquaintance manners.  Informality in all areas of etiquette is reserved for our family and best friends.  Acquaintances expect and should be accorded more formality - even in email.  Co-workers are generally between these two extremes of formality.

Sympathy and condolences are - and must - be treated formally.   In the Southern vernacular, an email sympathy card goes beyond 'tacky' and becomes 'common'.  This is not to say that an informal email may not be sent to those we love and to whom we are very close; those heartfelt emails do not take the place of a formal sympathy card or letter, however.  These can be difficult to write in the best of times, but there is help available in the form of suggested phrasing.   One excellent web-reference of Online Sympathy and Condolence Resources:


Formal e-mails should never contain personal opinions, use emoticons or be accompanied by cartoons, slogans, or jokes.

  :> or :-> = Devilish grin
  :] or :-] = Friendly
  :( or :-( = Frowning
  :/ or :-/ = Frustrated 
 :) or :-) = Smiling
   :O or :-O = Surprised
   ;) or ;-)= Winking
  :} or :-} = Wry smile

Certainly, show interest in the major events of your co-workers' lives and comment on the darling new photo on the desk.  It is better, however, to request to see the wedding album photos on your break or after work.

Certainly forward an occasional, appropriate joke to a co-worker.  Humor is important in human relationships.  Do not, however, send them frequently or en massé.  There should not be a list of addresses that the same email is being sent to.

For each person or company that you deal with at work, establish a comprehensive list with as much information as possible (name, nickname, honorifics, telephone, fax, mobile numbers; e-mail addresses; office addresses; website URLs; etc.)  Do not interrogate to get this information<g>.  As you need information or it becomes available to you, simply add it to your personal directory. 

Computers are wonderful for organization.  For your family and friends, make a calendar that includes dates that you do not want to miss or let slide without acknowledgement.  Most of us have always done this for birthdays and wedding anniversaries, but the ease of organization on your pc makes so much more possible.  E-cards - available free on the 'net - are wonderful pick-me-ups to those you may not see often.  One day a month, you can go through your calendar and choose appropriate cards for those in your address book and note the day that you want them sent. 

When forwarding jokes or other emails, do not send to everyone in your address book.  By all means send a joke (or several) to a friend, but make sure that the joke was chosen for that friend.

DO not use BCC on personal or family emails.  It is rude.  If you are sending Holiday cards of some type, it is nicer to send each individually.  It is less personal but still marginally acceptable to send with using the regular CC function.

A family Newsletter would, of course, be a perfectly acceptable instance of proper use of the CC function.

Chain letters are illegal - whether they are snailmail or email.  It is also in extremely poor taste to threaten, whether jokingly or not, others if they do not forward your annoying and illegal chain letter to others of their acquaintance. 

One novel, but over-the-top, approach to Spam was seen in a recent article named Green Eggs and Spam:  "When receiving one of those annoying chain letters - usually regarding hoaxes – from your nearest and dearest friends (I think we all know what we are talking about here), be sure to hit “Reply All”. Reply in your message that you are a Captain in the Internet Police who has intercepted this message. Cite the official Postal regulations for punishment regarding forwarding chain mail. Cite the Ponzi laws. Cite the repercussions for knowingly passing on a hoax (sure, give them SOME credit). Cite mental illness, if you must. You will never hear from these people again. When you meet them by accident, it is permissible to deny all knowledge of this “interception”. State that you, personally, are in a position to know that there are no internet police. Explain that you are SO popular that you have had to hire a secretary – actually several. (SMILE!!!!)"

Do not forward a 'Warning' to everyone without checking it out first.  There are many sites on the internet that compile hoaxes and scams.  One that is generally very up-to-date is  You would not come into someone's living room screaming that there was an accident on the corner when there was not.  Why would you find it acceptable to forward a 'Warning' of a missing child, a company that needs to be boycotted due to unpatriotic business practices, or a legal point guaranteed by a cousin's-boyfriend's-lawyer's daughter, without checking it out first?

There is no current way for anyone to count the number of copies of an email in circulation on the internet; nor can the number of times something has been forwarded be counted. This means that:

Do not make yourself appear stupid to others or waste their time.

SPECIAL WARNING NOTE:  In the light of the viruses and worms that are now prolific on the internet, Do NOT ever send anything INCLUDED, LINKED OR ATTACHED to an email unless you have sent an note to the addressee of that email warning that it is your intention to do so.  It is rude to cause stress to others.  This involves no more than a simple, short, email to someone saying, "Shirley, I am sending you an email with an attachment - please be on the lookout for it."

See Also:

Baby  or Bridal Shower  Etiquette Internet Forum Etiquette
Birthday Party Etiquette Internet List / Group Etiquette
Business Etiquette Other Opinions
Cemetery Etiquette Personal Etiquette
E-mail Etiquette Website Etiquette


Wedding Etiquette
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