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handshake between two well dressed business men

Newport Etiquette


Modern Manners

by Didi Lorillard

The sheer number of questions that come into NewportManners.com every day tells us that etiquette and manners are still hugely important. We’ve had such a wonderful response these past fifteen years from people all over the country and abroad, that I have been encouraged to write a book. A reference guide to manners and etiquette in the 21st Century. Many of  these conundrums have appeared in my weekly column at GoLocalProv.com.

The book chapters are works in progress.  When there is a new draft for a chapter, it is posted here. 

Your feedback is welcome and greatly appreciated.  Go to Ask Didi to post a comment or tell us your dilemma about love, family or life in general.

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Chapter One

Socializing:  Greeting, Introducing, Connecting, Networking

Partnerships, careers, mergers and marriages all begin with an introduction. First appearances are rarely deceiving.  Feel that you look your best and your behavior will follow suit.

Put your best foot forward upon entering a social situation: 

*Turn off your cellphone


*Throw back your shoulders

*Observe the scene while counting to ten

*Circumnavigate the crowd to find your host and then keep circling.


People watchers inevitably keep their eye on the entrance to see who arrives next.  After you’ve taken a couple of seconds to check out the crowd, map out your next move and cruise the event looking for your host(s) to thank them for inviting you.  A good host will introduce you to whomever they’re talking to at the time. Although, you may have to wait to catch his eye contact before stepping into the conversation.  It is easier to make the approach when there is more than one other person with him.  Unless you know who he is talking to, approach two people deep in conversation gingerly. Wait for them to look around. When you don’t know the host, ask someone you do know to point him out or ask a waiter where he is and introduce yourself.

Always Introduce Yourself

When you spot someone you would like to know, introduce yourself. That’s what these events are for: networking socially or for business.  They in turn will introduce themselves to you. Even if you know someone, don’t assume they will remember you, even if their eye contact tells you they recognize you.

How to Remember Names

When you want to remember someone’s name, first repeat it out loud to make sure you heard it right. Listen, for them to correct you. Then say it again silently to yourself. If you don’t consciously make an effort to learn the name, you may well forget it. Don’t be shy about asking:

Example: “Please, tell me your name again.”

At a business event, it is natural to make sure someone knows your name but asking, “Would you like my business card? Do you have one to trade?” Socially, unless you’re really clicking with someone or knew them from before, asking someone if they want your business card can come off as pushy. To be polite, you would never refuse the offer of a business card from anyone by your arch enemy, and we hope you don’t run into him.

The Japanese present their business card with two hands and you would take if from them with two  hands. Otherwise, one hand is preferred. Taking the crd, you would read back a piece of information. Pronounce their name, mention the name of the company, or even say, “Oh, I know someone who works in that building,” to show interest in their card. It seems silly, but you wouldn’t tuck it away without giving it a meaningful glance.

How Close Is Too Close to Stand

In a crowded noisy room, you may not have a choice. Optimally, with someone you’ve just shaken hands with, you would then stand back a step giving yourselves a distance of an outstretched arm length apart.  Don’t stand too close. Never ever put your arm around someone you’ve just met, even though you’ve acknowledged you’ve heard of them or they’ve heard of you. If you want someone to feel comfortable with you, keep your distance until you really get to know them.  Some people find it offensive when a stranger comes into their space and acts too familiar, and perhaps touches them.

When there is flirtation going on—an instant sexual attraction—that’s another story. But be sure the chemistry is flowing both ways. There is always the chance the attraction can turn off after a few minutes of conversation. For instance, once they’ve spotted your wedding band or they spy a piece of salad left over from your lunch between your two front teeth.

More on Personal Space

Most humans need two to four feet of personal space, when you cross that and enter their intimate zone reserved for lovers, confidents, best friends, and relatives, they freeze up.

Finding Their Intimate Zone

Gauge the distance a person maintains when shaking your hand. That should give you a big clue as to how much interest there is in meeting you. It is analogous to that first time handshake that is way too strong or too limp. That initial space is the distance they need in order to continue comfortably talking to you until they know you better.

Studies show that city people like to maintain approximately approximately eighteen inches as their personal zone—the average distance  between the wrist and the shoulder—while shaking hands.  In general, those from rural areas are more use to having wide-open spaces and are measurably more comfortable keeping a distance greater than eighteen inches.

Should you be the person who habitually slaps people on the back or has to stroke their arms or hand, please, take note:  In a social situation, most of us prefer to limit our physical contact to a handshake. With children and young adults it’s more apt to be a knuckle bump or elbow tap.

Body Language

The way you stand, sit, walk, talk, eat, drink, hold a wine glass or a fork, your mannerisms and facial expressions all give off a series of nuances.  These sublet clues about who you are either repel, attract interest in you, or seem naturally normal. Be aware of how you appear to others.  Then either adjust to suit the social situation or walk away.

When you want someone to open up to you and listen to what you are saying, talk with your released palms open toward the ceiling and they’ll instinctively feel at ease.  Our lives are filled with mood triggers that are so contagious we can sense them as quickly as a whiff of bad cologne. Be sure to smile and be scintillating, or at least slightly animated.

Studies show that it is hard to lie with your palms exposed: open your palms and people will naturally trust that your intentions are good. It also signals that you’re open to listening what they have to say.

Introducing Strangers

The role of a boss, leader, employer, and host is to introduce strangers. The poal of every introduction is o encourage people to connect and network.  Use an abbreviated resume the length of a text or mention that you have a friend, associate, colleague, coworker,  job city, school or situation in common. Commonality is the biggest ice breaker.  Googling people you may think you would like to meet ahead of time, should help you connect. E-vites for social or business events may have a list of those who have committed to attend. The savviest hosts will let a few people ahead of time know who else may be coming to their cocktail party or dinner.

Should you find yourself in a sea of strangers without a friendly sole to talk to, it is best not to ask someone their name first, but introduce yourself first. You can ask them how they are connected with the event or host. Then it is their turn to introduce themselves.  If two of you are standing alone, one would introduce the other person to the stranger before introducing himself.

Or, for instance, “How do you do? My name is Julia Roberts and the host is my brother. This is my partner James Wilson.”

Here is a typical question to NewportManners:

Q Whenever my girlfriend takes me to a function where she knows everyone, she never introduces me. Is this acceptable manners?

A Be a self-sustaining boyfriend and introduce yourself. A gentleman over the age of thirteen has enough savvy to introduce himself.Q

Be a Savvy Self-Sustaining Guest, introduce yourself around.

When you’ve never met the person, always use a greeting and say, “How do you do?” then pause when being introduced or when introducing yourself.

Most people say, “Hi, how are you?” and then pause before the introduction.  However, if you don’t know the person, you wouldn’t ask them how they are feeling.   It only puts people on the spot because they have to respond with “Fine, thank you, how are you?” which leds to yet another, “Fine, thank you how are you?” This is very boring dialogue which doesn’t lead anywhere, because you’re not going to jump in to talk about your bad knee or lack of sleep.

The added, “How are you?” assumes you know the person well enough to care about how they are doing, what they are feeling.  It is an awkward opening line to a stranger that will do little to encourage further conversation except for the cliche, “Nice to meet you.” Well, how do you know it is nice to meet them when they are a perfect stranger? Unless, of course, it is someone with whom you have contacts in common.

At any rate, if saying, “Nice to meet you” isn’t productive, why use it?  It is the job of the person who is doing the introducing to bring you into the fray of the conversation, or if you’re doing the introducing listen up.

For instance, give people clues to help them pick up on the conversation.

“George, I would like to introduce you to Miranda Stewart. She’s a Vice President of _____ at HBO. Miranda, George Harrison knows a lot about _____.”

Talk about what you know, when there’s no interest change the subject.

For instance, “Katie (the hostess) and my sister Zoe are partners in a chic boutique on Abbot Kinney (in Venice, CA), you must know it living in Santa Monica, Neat Feat.” Now, there is a lead in to a conversation with a new person by giving away a clue to a possible connectiveness. Women and a clothes shopping resource in a common neighborhood.

Men should remember to stand when being introduced to a woman of any age.


When you put out a bit to someone you offer your hand, your name, and your connection to the event. Should you be at a loss as to what to say, you can always give a compliment to break the ice. Any compliment is a gift that the receiver should graciously accept.  Think of a compliment as an ice breaker. “Nice tie. Love the color.”

People will accept your bid by responding. They’ll put out their hand, tell you their name, as well as their connection to the event.

Your success as to whether you are welcome into their personal space, or not, is for you to monitor.  So be aware of the need to adjust and correct. Does their bright red tie mean they are a Republican? So, stay away from politics until you know how the weather blows. Should they step back, you either step back a bit, too, or lean your body back by arching it.

If you can feel you’re losing their attention, ask an open ended question (Not a question easily answered with a yes or no.) and open your palms upwards towards the ceiling to show that you are receptive to hearing what they have to say.  Keep in mind the fact that our brains are wired to be amenable to connecting and being attuned to each other.  When you come face-to-face, voice-to-voice, skin-to-skin with someone your brains interlock.  How long the they stay interlocked is 50% up to you. Let me tell you that if you are in a bad mood, you might as well announce that you have the flu, because nobody is going to want to talk to you once they start feeling your toxic mood. Everyone knows a bad mood is like a bad cold, contagious.  People will want to talk to you when you are being intelligent about the relationship, as well as part of it.

To keep their attention from wandering be nice, be upbeat, and watch their body language and listen to what they say. People sense when you are not really listening to the words they are saying.


Take Command of A Handshake


*Look the person directly in the eye.

*Put your hand out toward them vertical with your thumb pointing up toward the ceiling and the pinky is parallel to th floor.

*Shake no longer than three seconds.

*Say something as simple as, “How do you do.”

*Introduce yourself, “My name is Henry Winston and I am the father of our hostess.”

They’ll respond to your friendly attitude because you’ve made it simple for them to connect with you. But remember, it is always up to the woman to initiate the handshake. She has the choice of stepping back and being aloof or smiling and putting her hand out in a second bid of good will. It would be awkward if the man had his hand out first and she didn’t want to shake it. It happens.  No matter the occasion, the woman always sets the tone of the introduction when she offers to shake hands.

When she offers you her hand, take it warmly and firmly, but shake it for only three seconds.  If she does not extend her hand first, it means she hasn’t decided if she wants to know you better.

The exception is in business, where everyone shakes hands but it is still the woman’s prerogative to extend her hand first.  Interestingly enough, it is one of the few old-fashioned rules that naturally and gracefully put women in control and a position of leadership. Woman should remember that it is natural politeness to initiate the handshake and set the tone of the encounter.

Here is another typical question to NewportManners:

Q I hold out my hand when I greet my supervisor, but she doesn’t shake back; what should I do?

A It is a woman’s prerogative to shake hands. Always wait for a woman to extend her hand before extending yours. If she extends it, that is your cue to shake it briefly. Most women do not like to shake hands and in most countries women still don’t. If she is your supervisor and she is a woman, you take your cues from her. It’s what you don’t do, until you’re cued to do it.

Be ware of cold hands, when you are being introduced.  At a cocktail party, remember to hold your drink in your left hand so that you don’t have to apologize for your cold hand. Alternatively, keep a cocktail napkin between your hand and the glass.

How to Introduce an Interloper

While talking with someone and another person joins the conversation, the person who knows the interloper makes the introduction.  Turning the introduction into a personal connection with a text length resume or a reference to a mutual friend or colleague will enliven the conversation and give you an escape to move on and circulate.

When There Is More Than One Newcomer

You introduce the man to the woman, the younger person to the older person.

Or the person of lower rank to the person of higher rank. For instance, you would introduce the younger woman to the U.S. Senator, because it is assumed that she knows who he is and less likely that he would know who she is. You would introduce the older man to your younger woman Managing Director.

For instance, after an brilliant sermon, I introduced my eight-year-old daughter to Bishop Tutu of South Africa by saying, “Caroline, I would like you to shake hands with Bishop Tutu.”

Avoid large-scale introductions because there is too much room for error. Nevertheless, if you’re the host, for instance, and Senator Jack Reed walks over to join in the conversation, you would say, “I would like everyone to meet Senator Jack Reed.  Senator this is John Winslow from Newport,” and then motion my hand to the next person who would pipe in to say their name as he stepped in to shake hands followed by the next person. Try to use last names as well as first names, but if you’re not sure of, say, someone’s date’s last name, just use first names and leave it up to the guests to introduce themselves.

How to Be A Savvy Host

*Greet your guests at the entrance to the party or event. Or have someone else instructed to be the greeter.

*The greeter encourages guest to have food and drink and/or pickup their table card to see where they’re being seated.

*When they have a coat, umbrella, briefcase, the greeter either tells the entering guest where they can leave them, or has someone nearby to take their things from them.

*The responsibility of the host is to keep guests talking by introducing them