15 Forgotten Niceties We Should Bring Back

iStock
iStock

Daily life in the 21st century is a lot more casual than it was in our grandparents’ and great grandparents’ day. We’ve traded suits and ties for t-shirts and jeans, ornate calligraphy-inscribed invitations for casual emails, and hand-written letters for emoji-filled texts. But while some of the niceties of days past may feel outdated and unnecessary, others might just be worth bringing back. 

1. HAT TIPPING

Nowadays, we greet each other with a quick hello, or if we’re feeling particularly formal, a handshake. But the seemingly outdated tip of the hat—which originated as a way for knights to display friendliness—is a fun, formal way to show respect. Plus, if you’re feeling a cold coming on, a quick tip of the hat in lieu of a handshake is a good way to avoid spreading germs.

2. WAITING TO SPEAK

When we’re excited about a conversation topic, or feel like we have something important to add, it’s easy to get carried away and interrupt the person who’s speaking. But back in 1918, one etiquette guide warned, “Interruption of the speech of others is a great sin against good breeding.” Today, interruptions aren’t an unforgivable social faux pas—and to some degree, they’re considered a normal part of lively conversation. But it’s a good idea to do your best to wait your turn to speak, since interrupting can give the impression you’re not listening closely, and may even be interpreted as a sign of disrespect.

3. SOCIAL CALLS

Feeling overwhelmed by your social obligations? Back in the Victorian era, people had a pretty great solution: social calls. Between 3 and 5 p.m., women would schedule “morning calls,” allowing friends (and often suitors) to drop in for a chat. Much like a professor’s office hours today, these social calls would let people casually stop by at their convenience and allow women to relax at home between engagements. Of course, the gender dynamics of social calls could use a little 21st century updating, but imagine how easy it would be if, instead of rushing from place to place, you encouraged friends to drop by during set hours?

4. GREETING THE HOST OR HOSTESS

“On entering a crowded room, a well-mannered man seeks first the hostess,” suggests an advice book from 1869, “He endeavors to be blind and deaf to all familiar faces and voices until he has presented himself to the lady of the house—he then bows.” Nowadays, you might skip the bow—unless you’re feeling fancy—but you can still express your gratitude for the invite by greeting your host or hostess at the start of a party and making it a point to thank them for their hospitality.

5. FLOWERS AT THE DINNER TABLE

In 1891, an upscale New York City restaurant published an advice column on how to properly set a table for a dinner gathering. While much of their advice was presented as general guidelines, not strict rules, they were adamant about one thing: “Flowers should never be absent from the dinner table.” Their advice makes sense—after all, flowers are a cheap and easy way to spruce up your table for a dinner party. Or, as the restaurant explained, “No matter how homely, they add to the picturesqueness of the feast.”

6. SENDING AN RSVP

In the era of social media invites, the RSVP has fallen out of style for everything but the most formal occasions. But one 1915 etiquette book shares a piece of good advice: “All invitations that are plainly limited to a certain number of guests ... should be answered at once, in order that vacancies may be filled,” the book explains. “Whether the invitation is accompanied with the request for a reply or not, all thoughtful people will recognize the propriety.” While there’s no need to RSVP for a large or informal party, any smaller occasion like a dinner or intimate gathering—even if the invite is delivered online—deserves an RSVP.

7. HANDWRITTEN THANK-YOU CARDS …

Show your gratitude for anything from a birthday party to a job interview with a handwritten note. Sending a card via snail mail might feel old fashioned, but it’s a gesture that won’t soon be forgotten. Unlike a text or email, the classic thank-you card is unlikely to be buried by other messages—plus, it’s an easy way to show how much of an impression someone’s act of kindness made on you.

8. … AND LETTERS, IN GENERAL

Though we have other means of communication, a letter, written by hand, remains an excellent way to let someone know you’re thinking of them. One 1904 book on the etiquette of correspondence recommends writing in black ink on paper in “shades of pale lavender, green, blue, buff, and pearl gray.”

9. SPEAKING CLEARLY ON THE PHONE

In the cell phone era, we’re just as likely to make an important phone call on a noisy public street as we are from the quiet solitude of a home or office. But we really should pay a little more attention to what the person on the other end of the line might be hearing. In the past, when telephone reception was a little fuzzier, phone companies and advice books recommended everything from keeping the phone exactly one and a half inches from your face, to making sure to move your mustache hairs away from the phone receiver while speaking. While neither of those recommendations are likely to help much today, the sentiment of the advice still applies: Make sure you’re speaking clearly when you talk on the phone, and do your best to call from a quiet location to ensure your voice is heard.

10. PUNCTUALITY

When it comes to attending a dinner party, there’s no such thing as “fashionably late.” As one old etiquette book explains, “It is proper to arrive from five to fifteen minutes before the hour mentioned in the invitation, allowing time to pay respects to the host and hostess, without haste of manner, before the dinner is announced.” Take a note from 1915 and arrive at dinners a little bit early to keep everything moving at a leisurely pace.

11. CLASSY CONVERSATION

“It is said that one can tell during a conversation that lasts not longer than a summer shower whether or not a man is cultivated,” explains one 1921 book of etiquette. “Often it does not take even so long, for a raucous tone of voice and grossly ungrammatical or vulgar expressions brand a man at once as beyond the pale of polite society.” While you probably won’t offend anyone with a grammatical slip-up these days, it’s still a good idea to keep conversations free of bad language or an overly raucous tone—especially if you’re in a professional setting.

12. TIPPING HOTEL EMPLOYEES

While it’s common practice to tip the porter who carries your bag, or the employee who cleans your room, one 1921 etiquette guide recommends tipping anyone who assists you during your stay at a hotel. After all, it makes sense to show gratitude for good service wherever it occurs. “At a hotel … remember the hall-boy, the chamber-maid, the porter, and the waiter in the dining room,” the book recommends, concluding that hotel visitors should tip those who “serve [them] in any way.”

13. BOWING TO PARENTS

Bringing back bowing as a formal greeting would undoubtedly help us all feel like sophisticated ladies and gentlemen. And encouraging little kids to bow to their parents just sounds plain adorable. That’s exactly what one 1856 children’s etiquette book recommended, telling their young readers, “If you pass by your parents at any place, where you see them, either by themselves or with company, always bow to them.”

14. OFFERING GUESTS A BATH

While we’ve focused primarily on the forgotten niceties of the 19th and early 20th centuries, this one comes to us across the millennia: In Ancient Greece it was considered rude not to offer guests a bath and clean clothes as soon as they arrived for a visit. Today, that rule makes little sense for a friend who’s just come to visit from down the street, but it’s a nice custom for friends or family visiting from afar.

15. GIFT-GIVING

Nowadays, we usually only give gifts on birthdays and holidays—but back in the day, gift-giving was much more common. One 1921 book of etiquette recommended sending a small gift after any party or gathering hosted at someone’s home. “After the visit the guest may send some little gift in appreciation of the hospitality enjoyed,” the book explains. “A bit of household linen, a book, flowers, or candy are most appropriate.”

30 Smart Home Products That Make Life Easier

Amazon
Amazon

Whether you just left for vacation and realized you forgot to turn the lights off or are dealing with a finicky thermostat as the height of summer approaches, there's a smart gadget out there that can solve just about any modern-day inconvenience. So to help make your life a little easier, we picked out some of our favorite smart products, ranging from TVs armed with all your favorite apps to doorbells that double as security cameras. And best of all, you can operate most of these right from your phone. Check out the list below.

1. Amazon Echo Show; $130

An Amazon Echo display.
Amazon

Amazon's Echo Show might seem like just another one of the company's countless smart devices—it's compatible with Alexa, responds to voice commands, and can control countless apps—but what sets it apart is the 8-inch HD screen, which is perfect for displaying your photos, making video calls, watching how-to videos, and much more. Far from redundant, there are countless ways that the Echo Show's display can make your life easier.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Nest Thermostat; $219

A Nest thermostat.
Google/Amazon

Simply connect this smart thermostat to your Wi-Fi and you’re all set to adjust your home's temperature from just about any of your devices. The Nest even keeps track of the weather outside and adjusts accordingly, so your home will always be at the ideal temperature. And the whole setup is DIY-friendly, meaning a pricey installation isn't completely necessary.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Smart Speaker with Google Assistant; $100

The Google Assistant.
Best Buy

If you're choosing to live in the Google ecosystem, this Google Assistant speaker is going to be your essential smart hub. Similar to Amazon's Echo, this device pairs to more than 1000 different smart products and apps, allowing you to control them with your voice. And instead of Googling questions on your phone, you can simply ask the speaker. This is basically the central nervous system for your smart home.

Buy it: Best Buy

4. TCL 4K Smart Roku TV; $270

A 50-inch smart tv.
TCL/Amazon

With several sizes available, this TV from TCL can turn any room into an entertainment center with its built-in Roku functionality. Stream your favorite movies and shows in HD from apps like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO, and hook it up to your Alexa device to control the television with your voice.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Amazon Fire Stick; $50

An Amazon Fire Stick
Amazon

Just because you don’t have a smart TV doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of one. The Amazon Fire Stick plugs into your TV's HDMI port and allows you to watch all your shows and movies on Netflix, YouTube, Prime, Disney Plus, and most other major streaming services. And since it hooks up to a user's Amazon account, you can also make purchases right from the TV.

Buy it: Amazon

6. 55-Inch Toshiba Smart LED TV; $450

A Toshiba smart television from Amazon.
Toshiba/Amazon

This Toshiba smart TV has all the functions of an Amazon Fire Stick built directly into it, allowing you to access your favorite apps and subscription services through a remote or Alexa voice commands. And with the 4K video quality, the shows and movies you love have never looked better. No gadgets or add-ons necessary, everything you need for the perfect entertainment setup is in this television.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Nebula Soundbar – Fire TV Edition; $230

Anker's Nebula Soundbar.
Anker/Amazon

Along with playing the audio from your television, this soundbar has all the Amazon Fire Stick capabilities built right into it. If you're already invested in Amazon's smart products, this is the ideal soundbar to complement it all.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Kasa Smart Plug; $25

Smart plugs from Amazon.
TP-Link/Amazon

These smart plugs operate through an app, so you can plug gadgets and appliances into them and control power from your phone. You can also have the plugs on a schedule that will power off the connected devices whenever you're not home. This is a low-cost way to control your favorite non-smart devices remotely, and can help cut down on energy waste.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Philips LED Smart Lights; $100

Philips Hue smart lightbulbs.
Philips Hue/Amazon

You'll never know true convenience until you've tried smart lights. Through the Philips Hue app, you can turn your lights on or off remotely, and you'll even be able to set schedules so your lights know when you leave the house and come home every day. Plus, smart bulbs consume far less electricity than traditional ones, which can help you save a little money, too.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Tile Pro; $60

Tile Pro GPS Tracker
Tile/Amazon

The Tile Pro will keep you from losing your keys, phones, and any other devices you just can’t live without. All you need to do is clip the device to whatever you want to keep track of and then download the app. You can learn more about the Tile by heading here.

Buy it: Amazon

11. LG Smart Refrigerator; $1800

An LG smart refrigerator.
Best Buy

This smart refrigerator from LG comes equipped with an InstaView panel, allowing you to look inside at what you've got to eat without opening the door and wasting electricity. It also comes with a smart cooling system, which can be controlled with either Alexa or Google Assistant. This monitors the temperature inside and makes any necessary adjustments.

Buy it: Best Buy

12. Smart Instant Pot; $125

A smart Instant Pot on Amazon.
Instant Pot/Amazon

Not only does this one appliance combine a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, and four other devices into one, but you can operate all of those different settings through an app. Now, you can schedule cooking times, monitor your food's progress, and access recipes from wherever you are.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Corsori Smart Wi-Fi Air Fryer; $120

The smart Corsori air fryer.
Cosori/Amazon

Similar to the smart Instant Pot, you can schedule and monitor the progress of your hot wings and French fries all from the VeSync app. This device is as simple as it comes: just throw your ingredients in, schedule a time on your phone, and wait for the notification when it's all done. You can also find recipes on the app, so the instructions for the perfect crispy shrimp will only be a click away.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Perfect Drink Pro; $100

The Perfect Drink Pro.
Perfect Company/Amazon

Rise above amateur mixologist and start competing with the pros. All you have to do is select what drink you’re having in the app, put your glassware on the scale, and add the ingredients. The app will let you know in real time when you've added enough of each ingredient and which one to use next. It's a foolproof way to nail your favorite cocktail.

Buy it: Amazon

15. Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug; $80

A smart coffee mug that keeps your drink warm.
Ember/Amazon

Never let your coffee or tea go lukewarm again. This smart mug keeps your beverage hot and can last up to one hour on a single charge. When it's out of juice, simply throw it onto the charger, which doubles as a coaster. And through the app, you can choose your ideal temperature, receive notifications, and more.

Buy it: Amazon

16. Hamilton Beach Works Coffee Maker; $90

A smart Hamilton coffee maker
Hamilton/Amazon

Now you can make sure your coffee is ready to go before you get out of bed. The Hamilton Beach Works Coffee Maker connects to the Alexa app, so you can tell your coffee maker to start brewing, how you want it made, and more. And if you happen to leave the house without turning it off, you can simply take care of it from the app.

Buy it: Amazon

17. Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker Nano; $99

The Anova Cuisine Sous Vide Precision Cooker.
Anova Cuisine/Amazon

This tool takes all the guesswork out of the sous vide culinary method, which involves cooking meat slowly in water that's set to very specific temperatures. It's tricky to do manually, but through the Anova app, you can control the device down to granular details, including exact times and temperatures. You'll even get access to recipes, helping you learn exactly how to make the food as delicious as possible. Learn more about how it works by heading here.

Buy it: Amazon

18. Etekcity Digital Kitchen Scale; $30

A smart scale from Amazon.
Etekcity/Amazon

Eating healthy just got a lot easier. This scale has an app that will detail the calories and nutritional facts of all the food you weigh, while keeping track of your daily meals and snacks. You can also sync the information with your Fitbit or Apple Health app to get a clear picture of what you're really eating every day, and how many calories you're burning.

Buy it: Amazon

19. GE Smart Microwave; $145

A smart microwave.
Best Buy

If you're tired of heating up food only to have it hot on the outside and cold in the middle, you need this microwave. Its Scan-to-Cook technology enables you to send package cooking instructions from your smartphone to the microwave, so you'll always cook your food for the proper time.

Buy it: Best Buy

20. iDevices Kitchen Thermometer; $80

A smart thermometer for cooking.
iDevices/Amazon

With this smart thermometer, all you have to do is set up what your food's temperature should be on your app and stick the thermometer in the meat you're cooking. The app will monitor the rest, and when it reaches the right temperature, you'll get a notification.

Buy it: Amazon

21. Garage Door Opener; $36

A smart garage door opener.
Chamberlain/Amazon

If you want some more peace of mind, this smart device allows you to open and close your garage door from your phone, wherever you are. You'll also get alerts if the doors open without your consent or if you simply forget to close the door after heading out for work in the morning.

Buy it: Amazon

22. iRobot Roomba; $269

The iRobot vacuum cleaner.
iRobot/Amazon

The Roomba was among the first robot vacuums to hit the market, and the models have only gotten sleeker and better over time. This one can be controlled through its native Roomba app, or through the major smart hubs. Scheduling cleanings has never been easier, since all you're really doing is punching a few commands into your phone. The vacuum will then embark on its cleaning journey on its own, even if you're not home. And when the Roomba is out of juice, it will automatically head back to its charging station to power back up.

Buy it: Amazon

23. Ring Smart Doorbell; $169

a smart doorbell.
Ring/Amazon

The Ring Smart Doorbell connects to your smartphone, Echo Show, and other devices, allowing you to watch a live feed of your front door in real time. You can also speak to visitors through the app and keep tabs on the video stream even if you're away from home. This one is ideal for users already set up with Amazon's smart hub.

Buy it: Amazon

24. Rachio Three Smart Sprinkler Controller; $219

A Rachio smart sprinkler system.
Rachio/Amazon

The Rachio sprinkler system can help keep your lawn and garden lush and vibrant all through your smartphone. It allows you to schedule waterings, monitors your water usage, and keeps tabs on the weather to avoid turning on in the rain.

Buy it: Amazon

25. eufy Security Wi-Fi Video Doorbell; $160

A smart doorbell.
eufy/Amazon

The eufy smart doorbell, which is similar to the Ring, has two-way audio that allows you to communicate with anyone at the door, in addition to allowing you to pre-record messages while you're away. No matter where you are, you can see who's at your door through eufy’s app.

Buy it: Amazon

26. August Home Smart Lock; $194

A smart lock.
August Home/Amazon

We've all experienced the heart-dropping horror of locking the door behind us, only to remember the keys were still inside. With the August Home Smart Lock, you can unlock or lock your door from wherever you happen to be by using the company's app (don't worry, there's a walkthrough). Or, better yet, you can just use voice commands. For a little added security, there's also a feature that will send you notifications every time your door opens or closes when you're not around.

Buy it: Amazon

27. Sensibo Sky Smart Air Conditioner; $199

A smart air conditioning system.
Sensibo/Amazon

Along with being able to set weekly schedules for your air conditioner seven days in advance, you can use the Sensibo app to control the system from anywhere on a daily basis. And like the Nest Thermostat, the Sensibo keeps track of the temperature outside and adjusts accordingly. If you've got pets, it's the easiest way to make sure your home is at a comfortable temperature when you're not there.

Buy it: Amazon

28. Aromatherapy Smart Essential Oil Diffuser; $40

A smart essential oil diffuser.
Sierra Modern Home/Amazon

If your version of relaxation includes some essential oils, this smart diffuser can release those soothing scents without any real work involved. The app allows you to control the mist intensity and LED lights from your phone, and it can also be controlled with voice commands with the help of Alexa and Google Home.

Buy it: Amazon

29. PetSafe Food Dispenser; $180

A smart pet food dispenser.
Petsafe/Amazon

An automatic feeder is a lifesaver for a busy pet owner, but what about one that you can control with your phone? With the Petsafe, you can dispense food from anywhere and schedule up to 12 meals at a time, all from an app. It's perfect for the cat whose go-to meal is dry food.

Buy it: Amazon

30. Furbo Dog Camera; $199

The Furbo camera.
Furbo/Amazon

The Furbo also allows you to monitor your dog on video from wherever you may be. You can even remotely launch treats, so you can give your canine companion some love even when you're at work or on vacation.

Buy it: Amazon

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

100 Banned Personalized License Plates

Your car's license plate can say a lot about you.
Your car's license plate can say a lot about you.
Eli Christman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In October 2010, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission dispatched a letter [PDF] to a resident who had received a personalized license plate that read 33MTA3. The letter informed the driver that the plate was issued in error and could not be granted due to the fact it violated Title 39, which stipulates that a vanity plate “offensive to good taste or decency in any language” is prohibited.

If you’re wondering how 33MTA3 might be considered offensive, look at it in a mirror.

Personalized license plates are a bane of each state's motor vehicle division, as drivers can sometimes request a combination of letters and numbers that might prove problematic for the reasons described above. The resource site GovernmentAttic.org wrote to state offices in Arizona, Colorado, New Jersey, and New York to get some examples of the types of vulgar plates prohibited by law, and you can take a look at the highlights below. (If you notice that common expletives or slurs are omitted, rest assured they’re part of the list. We’re not going to repeat them here.)

Plates Banned in Arizona [PDF]

A man is pictured removing a license plate from a car
Arizonians are prohibited from using DRUGDLR, among other plates.
Jens Rother/iStock via Getty Images
  1. ASSCLWN
  2. BIGFART
  3. CRKHEAD
  4. DAPOOP
  5. DRGBALZ
  6. DRUGDLR
  7. GOT2PEE
  8. IBALLIN
  9. MCBOOB
  10. OOBIES
  11. PEEPEE
  12. PERVY
  13. PHORPLAY
  14. POOOOP
  15. PSDOFF
  16. PUKFACE
  17. RACIST
  18. REDPILL
  19. RU8TEEN
  20. SCAMINU
  21. SCROTUM
  22. SHWING
  23. SLAVE1
  24. SNORTIN
  25. SPANKME

Plates Banned in Colorado [PDF]

A man is pictured securing a license plate to a car
Colorado prefers drivers not identify as MSBOOTY.
victorass88/iStock via Getty Images
  1. BENDOVR
  2. BOYTOY
  3. DAMFINE
  4. DRUGS1
  5. EATPOO
  6. FATBUTT
  7. GIMEAZZ
  8. IAMNUDE
  9. IGETNKD
  10. ILFRT4U
  11. JRKWAD
  12. MSBOOTY
  13. ONMETH
  14. PHART
  15. POOPONU
  16. PORNSTR
  17. RUBBIT
  18. RUEZIM
  19. SMUT
  20. SNOHOE
  21. TOOSEXY
  22. UDDERS
  23. WEEWEE
  24. WETDRMS
  25. WHIPME

Plates Banned in New Jersey [PDF]

A New Jersey license plate is pictured
GOTMILF is among the vanity plates that New Jersey will turn down.
Kathleen Gail/iStock via Getty Images
  1. BADASS
  2. BALLNN
  3. BIOCH
  4. BOOBIES (BOOB1ES)
  5. DKLKR
  6. COPUL8
  7. DEZNUTS
  8. ENDOWED
  9. FORPLAY
  10. GETSOM
  11. GOTMILF
  12. ILOVEAZ
  13. LMAO
  14. MUDRFER
  15. NMPHO
  16. OMGWTF
  17. PHOCER
  18. PHOQUE
  19. PHOKU2
  20. PUCKIN
  21. QQYASHIT
  22. ROCKSNOT
  23. SUMNUTS
  24. UPUTZ
  25. VIB8R

Plates Banned in New York [PDF]

A New York license plate is pictured
New Yorkers cannot opt for AWCHIT at the DMV.
Netalieh/iStock via Getty Images
  1. ASS
  2. ASSOUL (ASS0UL)
  3. AWCHIT (AWCH1T)
  4. BOOBS (B00BS)
  5. BUTT
  6. COITUS (CO1TUS)
  7. DILDO (DILD0)
  8. DMSHT
  9. DORK
  10. DRUGSALE
  11. EATME
  12. FART
  13. FBI (FB1)
  14. FOC (F0K)
  15. GONAD (G0NAD)
  16. HUMPIN (HUMP1N)
  17. KOTEX (K0TEX)
  18. MAFIA (MAF1A)
  19. ORGY (0RGY)
  20. PIMP (P1MP)
  21. PVERT
  22. SEXBUS
  23. UBGAY
  24. UPYURZ
  25. VULVA

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