An etiquette expert’s thoughts on manners and more.
To say that Myka Meier knows etiquette is like saying that Babe Ruth plays baseball. Technically both a true. But also, big understatements. Myka Meier is one of the country’s leading experts on etiquette. She is also an entrepreneur, parent, and the author of two books: Modern Etiquette Made Easy and the new Business Etiquette Made Easy.
Myka is founder and director of Beaumont Etiquette, a bicoastal consultancy and etiquette school named one of the Leading Protocol and Etiquette Schools of the World. Far from being a stuffy, “pinkies out” affair, Myka and her team focus on making etiquette approachable and updated, with a focus on its practical importance.
I wanted to interview Myka for a lot of reasons. In addition to being a savvy businessperson and media presence (she’s appeared on The Today Show, and in Town & Country, Vogue, The New York Times, and many more), Myka manages to balance promoting a new book — while in a pandemic! — family time, and running a business.
Moreover, our present circumstance of sheltering at home raises new and important etiquette questions. Here, we talk best Zooming practices, top table manners mistakes, and why etiquette always matters.
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Unpeeled’s Interview With Etiquette Expert Myka Meier
This article has been lightly edited and condensed for space.
Lisa Ruland [LR]: You make the important distinction that etiquette “is really all about kindness, respect, consideration, and putting others first.” What is the biggest misconception about etiquette? Why does etiquette matter?
Myka Meier [MM]: I think the biggest misconception is that it’s only to be used in fancy places or it is snobby behavior. It’s actually the polar opposite, and I spend a lot of time batting those stereotypes away! Etiquette is a wonderful way of conducting yourself to show respect, consideration, and kindness to those around you. Society is evolving and changing so rapidly, we must change with it. Etiquette matters because it’s all about treating others in a way that makes them feel respected.
For instance, teaching people how to dine politely is actually about showing respect to the other people at the table (think business dinners or dating) which is relevant every day and not just during “fancy” meals. I think etiquette is arguably more relevant today than ever before, with increased phone, email, and video call use. We are so attached to our cell phones and devices that we forget how to communicate in person, how to eat around a table, and socialize without checking a phone.
LR: I want to talk about the importance of dressing in a polished way. Why is that important? I also wonder if that principle applies — or how it is appropriately adapted to — this specific time. I think it is fair to say that there are a lot of yoga clothes and sweatpants happening right now as we’re trapped inside for pandemic living. What is your advice?
MM: To put yourself together and look polished is not just about making yourself look and feel great, but actually is showing that you put effort into yourself to make the people special that you didn’t just roll out of bed to see them. In the end, it’s still all about showing others you care through your actions.
During the pandemic, I have been following a rule called the “2-of-3” rule. It’s essentially saying the “big three” are skin, hair, outfit. You always want two of the three things put together, even when you are just working or socializing from home. So if you are wearing athleisure, then make sure your skin is clean and your hair nicely combed or styled before you hop on that video call with your friends. It also makes you look and in turn, feel good. The rest of your day will be affected by how you personally feel.
LR: You are promoting your new book, Business Etiquette Made Easy. Congratulations! How, exactly, does one promote a book and juggle parenting and a business while in quarantine? How are you managing? It sure seems like a lot.
MM: Thank you very much! Yes, I just released my second book, Business Etiquette Made Easy. And yes, it is a lot!! I have had to learn to be more gentle on myself during this time when measuring my own success. I am very goal oriented and every month have targets I planned to hit and things I want to achieve, and once the pandemic hit, everything I planned went to the wind, much like for everyone else. I therefore have just been practicing daily goals, meaning every day I start my day over coffee planning the two big goals I need to achieve by 1:00 p.m. each day.
Although I don’t have any in-person courses right now, with The Plaza Hotel being currently closed, I love working. I therefore had to pivot by launching webinar etiquette courses (some free and some paid) on my website, and also launching a YouTube channel for adult etiquette, and a second one for children’s manners. I have “work” hours at home and then play hours where I’m with my daughter and husband. My work hours are when she is doing her online school for two and a half hours each day. I also work when she goes to bed some nights if I need to. When I’m with her, I’m fully focused on her. I’m just like any other mom, wife, and businesswoman trying to figure it out as I go! I of course do drop balls (some days they all drop), but the important part is to pick them up as fast as you can and keep juggling.
LR: I think that people most commonly associate etiquette with table manners. What are the most common dining etiquette mistakes that you encounter? What is your official stance on phones at the dining table?
MM: People holding their silverware incorrectly; holding glasses with stems by the bowl of the glass; having cell phones out at the table (to answer that question); and starting to eat before everyone has their food at the table.
LR: Help! Is there such a thing as “Zoom etiquette”? Any suggestions for what we should be doing or not doing?
MM: Here are some rules to follow to look super polished on your next video call. Whether work work or a social call, or even online dating platforms, these are also great tips for to help guide you, and ones that I use, too:
- Always make sure you are on mute if you are not speaking.
- Lighting: Make sure the light is coming onto your face from the front and not directly overhead or from behind you. Natural light looks best on camera.
- Try to get your camera to be eye level, even if it means stacking your laptop on books.
- Make sure that when you are speaking on a video call you look at the camera and not at yourself on the screen.
- Background: The less going on to distract, the better!
- Avoid busy patterns. Solid colors, block coloring or light pattern works best.
LR: At what age does etiquette begin? What are some early lessons young children can learn?
MM: The key to lifelong manners is to start children learning when they are young. By teaching them young, they don’t know anything else. I also think they learn the most from home, so remember they are mirroring you. I think training can start as soon as a child starts talking.You can begin teaching etiquette to children as soon as they begin speaking even just a few words. One of my daughter’s first words was “please.” Start by teaching them the simple phrases like “please” and “thank you” when they ask for something.
When the child is old enough to sit at the dinner table (even in a high chair), you can start teaching dining etiquette in terms of holding silverware correctly and skills like that. I think the most important thing to teach a child is to be kind to others and all living things around them, and to teach them compassion early on. For others, the environment and animals. If nothing else, I always want my little girl to be the nice girl at school. If someone is sitting by themselves at the lunch table, I want her to invite them to come sit at her table. That’s what is most important in the end.
LR: Finally, why do you think etiquette can give the impression of being formal or fusty? How do you try to make etiquette relatable and show how modern and relatable to real life it actually is?
I think etiquette got its bad name because historically, it was literally a set of rules that were put in place to guide aristocracy on how to socialize and politely behave in court. Many people would obviously find that offensive if there was an inclusive set of rules that only applied you had money or status. I find that offensive too!
Etiquette in fact couldn’t be more opposite than snobby, frosty behavior these days, however. It’s a common misconception that it still is about pretentious behavior. It’s actually about showing everyone around us kindness and that’s how I teach it. Fast forward to today, and I think etiquette has evolved tremendously. And while it’s still seen as a code of conduct to show politeness, it is completely about respect for others and yourself, and not at all about court and different class levels, which don’t even exist in America.
For me and what I teach, if it’s an old rule that I don’t believe in, I don’t teach it. Take wearing white only during certain times of the year. That is a classist and irrelevant rule that no longer applies, and I therefore don’t teach it and make a point of wearing white year around! When I started learning etiquette, I took all the great parts about it (showing respect and kindness) and then took the old rules and modernized them before I started teaching them. I have also had to create new rules as society changes. From creating a new version of the contactless greeting during Covid-19 to re-writing the rules of gender in the workplace. None of this existed when I entered this industry years ago, and so I know it’s in part my job now to lay new rules for both today and future generations. It’s an important job with a lot of social responsibility, and I feel honored I get to help do this. I am so passionate about doing good and teaching good and keeping this beautiful industry alive and thriving for the next generation.