Common Courtesy Today & Ways to Practice It in Daily Life

Common courtesy — a dying tradition or a still-relevant practice? We’ll let you decide.

Published October 24, 2023
Businessman opening office door for colleague

From holding doors open to staying to help clean up, there are so many ways we show common courtesy every day of the week. Although it doesn’t look exactly the same as it did even a decade ago, common courtesy still holds the same meaning and social weight.

So, brush up on your courteousness and learn more about the glue holding our society together.

What Is Common Courtesy?

Common courtesy as a concept is rather broad. When you boil it down, it’s basically the things you expect others to do in the name of social politeness. Of course, your parents or grandparents have probably tossed around the phrase when you’re acting up at the grocery store or in a restaurant, but for how liberally we use it, it’s pretty difficult to pin down.

Part of the problem is that the way we culturally define polite acts that fall under the umbrella of common courtesy changes. Depending on your location, your heritage, and the decade you’re in, the expectations you have of others and that others have of you change.

For example, your grandparents would have always responded to "thank you" with "you’re welcome," but today there’s a plethora of responses we use, ranging from "no problem" to "of course." What seems informal to one generation is standard fare to another.

Fast Fact

While the meaning of common courtesy can be nuanced with different factors, the Cambridge Dictionary defines it as "the basic level of politeness that you expect from someone." 

Why Does Common Courtesy Matter?

In the 2010s and 2020s, people have focused a lot of attention on elevating culture and identifying the old traditions we can leave behind. While some people might lump common courtesy in that bunch, it’s actually just as important today as it was hundreds of years ago.

It Sets a Positive Tone

At the end of the day, almost everyone wants to treat others with respect and kindness, and knowing common courtesy shorthand lets you do that in a language other people understand. Being courteous to strangers from the start can set a positive tone for any future interactions you have.

It Keeps Social Order

Sure, we all generally walk through life abiding by bigger laws of the land, but for the everyday stuff, we can only rely on common courtesy to get us through. Without some kind of established behavior profile, every public interaction would end in chaos. Just imagine trying to get on the train without everyone knowing not to crowd the entrance, not to shove, and to make room for people getting off.

It’s a Quick Way to Show Respect

Most importantly, practicing common courtesy is just another way that we can show respect for other people. Being polite makes sharing a common space comfortable. You can’t avoid dealing with others, so you might as well make them feel welcome.

10 Easy Ways to Practice Common Courtesy in Your Everyday Life

All that theory’s well and good, but what you really need to know is how to be courteous in real life. Chances are, you’re already doing 10 courteous things a day without even thinking about it. But, here are 10 more to add to your list.

Young Adult Man Helping Senior Adult Man To Carry His Groceries

1. Help People Pick Up Things They Dropped

There’s not much that feels more embarrassing than dropping all the change out of your bag onto the floor when you’re checking out. The coins race to spread across the self-checkout area, and there’s no quick way to pick them all up. So, if you’re a bystander to a scene like this, the courteous thing to do is start helping them pick up their change.

2. Ask Someone Struggling if They Need Help

When you’re walking around the grocery store and see a shorter person desperately trying to knock a box of graham crackers off the top shelf with their phone or when you see someone struggling to open a door and hold on to a big box at the same time, stop and offer to help.

3. Be Kind on the Phone, Even When You’re Angry

Having to deal with call centers to solve a problem can ratchet anyone’s blood pressure up, but the disrespectful thing to do is start screaming at the worker on the line. They’re just doing a job, and it’s important to treat them with care and kindness.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have a discussion with them about the situation, it just means you have to be careful of the words and tone you use. You know, flies and honey and all that jazz.

Quick Tip

Before you dial the customer service number, take a second to grab the information the rep might ask you for. Having your account numbers, statements, receipts, etc. on hand can help the call go more quickly and will reduce the stress of having to rifle for it when you're already trying to explain the problem. This can make it a little easier to be courteous. 

4. Open or Hold the Door for Someone

One of the easiest ways to practice common courtesy is holding a door for someone who’s closely following behind you. It’s such a micro action, but it can have a huge impact.

5. Let Someone Merge When You’re Driving

There’s literally nowhere you need to be that’s worth playing chicken on the road just to keep yourself one car length ahead of someone trying to merge into your lane. If they’ve got their turn signal on, let them get ahead of you. Common courtesy doesn’t stop when you click in your seatbelt.

6. Apologize When You Bump Into Someone

Despite what your mom might’ve told you, we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads. Sometimes, we stumble and bump right into people without meaning to. The courteous thing to do is apologize, whether you did the bumping or not.

7. Say Thank You

It goes without saying, but the common courtesy you can use almost every day is saying “thank you.” It literally takes seconds to acknowledge someone’s hard work and effort, but the impact it has is huge.

8. Don’t Stand Right In Front of the Elevator Doors

When you’re waiting for elevator doors to open, you don’t know if someone’s going to be coming off. Stand back a few feet and/or to the side of the doors to give them space to exit. No one wants the jump scare of someone shoving past them the minute the doors open up.

9. Acknowledge Everyone in the Group

If you run into a friend and they’ve got someone with them, make sure you give them a nod and say hi. You might feel uncomfortable greeting a stranger, but it’s way more uncomfortable acting like they don’t exist when they’re right in front of you.

10. Stay to Help Clean Up

Barney didn’t teach a generation the clean-up song for you to slip out the doors the minute the party’s over. The polite thing to do when you’re invited to someone else’s event is to stay after it’s over and help clean up. They might shoo you on your way, but it’s your gesture that makes all the difference.

Everybody Do Your Share

It shouldn’t take a big purple dinosaur singing to you to remember to be polite and kind to people. Life is hard! Everyone hits their rough patches, but acting out common courtesy is what turns those bad days into good ones.

Common Courtesy Today & Ways to Practice It in Daily Life