For etiquette expert Patricia Rossi, the Golden Rule just doesn't cut it. "I believe in the Platinum Rule. You want to treat people the way they want to be treated, not just the way you'd want to be treated."
Rossi offers plenty of practical tips on how to practice the platinum way in her new book Everyday Etiquette: How to Navigate 101 Common and Uncommon Social Situations.
A television personality — her "Manners Minute" segments run on stations across the country — writer for newspapers and magazines, consultant and etiquette coach, Rossi says two things helped make her an expert on social skills.
A Tampa Bay area resident and native of North Carolina, she says, "It's a combination of growing up in the South, where these things are so important, and my belief in the magical things that simple social skills can bring into your life."
Her theory of manners is based not on persnickety, arcane rules but on kindness. "It can be as simple as remembering someone's name. There's not one person I've heard say, 'I can't stand hearing my name.' "
Critiquing someone else's manners publicly is never correct, she says. "You never want to embarrass them."
That doesn't mean we don't need some guidance. Rossi leads off the book with a couple of essential etiquette concerns, one ageless, one new: the handshake and the use of social media.
"That handshake is the only physical contact you have with most people," Rossi says, "and it sends a blaring Times Square message about you. If they get the wet fish, the Queen's hand, or if they say, he almost broke my arm — well, if you don't get that right, you don't get another chance."
Why outline rules for best practices in e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, texting and other social media? "Because it's the new frontier. If you don't get on that horse and giddyup, you're going to be lost in business, lost in your social life, lost in everything else."
Before you press send, she says, remember that "verbiage is alive and pulsating. Treat it just like you're face to face. If you wouldn't say it face to face, don't say it in an e-mail." Re-read every text, tweet and e-mail, and never send when you're angry.
Comment boards that allow people to cover their identities with screen names can exacerbate bad manners, Rossi says. "When someone posts anonymously, you have to wonder about their backbone. If you really think that, be there with it."
Rossi's book offers etiquette tips for some situations you probably won't find in traditional guides — such as how to behave at a tattoo studio and how to handle the news that someone has gone into drug rehab — as well as the tried and true, such as a diagram of a place setting for a formal dinner and notes on which fork to use when.
"I don't even care about the fork," she says, "but if you know what to do in that situation beforehand, you're more self-confident." Rehearsal always helps, she says. "Who hasn't gone to a funeral and gotten in that receiving line and thought, 'Oh my God, what am I going to say?' " Take a few minutes before you leave for the event and you'll have a plan.
Even the etiquette expert can commit a gaffe occasionally, though. Rossi recalls that on her honeymoon cruise, she and her new husband were on a party boat taking them to St. Maarten.
"Everybody was up and dancing, and I was dancing with this lady who was very, very pregnant. So I say to her, 'When are you due?' " Rossi laughs. "You know the rest. She wasn't pregnant."
What to do? "I called over my husband, and I said, 'Well, he told me you were!' and I danced away."
Blaming it all on your husband is not the lesson here, she says. "It's never, ever, ever in a zillion years assume anything. The best things I got from my honeymoon are my husband and this lesson."