On the Rise

Dear Helena,

Do you always have to stand up when greeting or saying goodbye to a dinner companion? Sometimes it can be difficult if you’re wedged in tightly. Also, my mother taught me that the male guests should stand up when a woman leaves the table and when she returns. Is this now considered outmoded, like opening the door for women? —Stands on Ceremony

Dear Stands on Ceremony,

You should almost always rise when other guests arrive or depart. It’s a symbolic act of respect. Plus, standing serves a practical purpose: Kissing or hugging someone from a seated position is awkward. Jodi Smith, president of Mannersmith, an etiquette consulting firm, and author of From Clueless to Class Act, explains, “If you shake hands across the table, you might knock something over or set your elbow on fire.” Even if you’re in the middle of eating, you should get up (if you’ve got something in your mouth, swallow it first). Once you’ve offered your hug or handshake, sit down.

Sometimes it’s inconvenient to physically greet someone. Perhaps you’re in a large group and it would be too time-consuming for the approaching party to shake everyone’s hand. Or maybe you’re boxed in. Instead, do a half rise—just enough for you to shake out the wrinkles in your trousers. Rodes Fishburne, a San Francisco writer with exquisite manners, says he always makes the effort, even if he can only rise a few inches: “It’s a choreographed way of saying, ‘I think you’re worthy of me getting to my feet.’” If the table edge truly has you pinioned in your seat, then just say, “Sorry I can’t get up.”

But what about the issue of men rising if a woman leaves, temporarily, to go to the bathroom or something? Many believe this custom originated when a man always stood to pull out a lady’s chair. “Women were seen as frail flowers too weak to do it themselves,” Smith says. Personally, I find that this kind of chivalry goes hand in hand with sexism. The last time I saw men stand for women in this way was when I was an undergraduate at Oxford University, a place where my professor thought nothing of telling me he’d admitted the women in the year below for their looks.

So while I don’t expect a bathroom rise, when I called around, I was surprised to find that some women do—at least on special occasions. Even Cameron Tuttle, author of The Bad Girl’s Guides and advocate of using a condom as a ponytail holder, says, “It’s honoring a woman in a way we’re not honored these days.” So be aware that in more buttoned-up settings, some women will think it’s classy if you get up for them.

There’s no need to do it at McDonald’s or brunch. Save the gesture for dinner at a swanky restaurant, or any occasion that requires cocktail attire. Unless you’re in black tie, a half rise will suffice.

You need get up only for your date and/or for a woman sitting next to you, and only the first time she excuses herself from the table. Otherwise, it could get awkward. What if she has an upset stomach, a coke habit, or bulimia? It’s best not to draw attention to the length and frequency of a woman’s breaks.

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