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 But while some of the niceties of days past may feel outdated and unnecessary, others might just be worth bringing back. 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 But the seemingly outdated tip of the hat—which originated as a way for knights to display friendliness—is a fun, formal way to show respect.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.”

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.