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What Should You Say When Someone Cuts You in Line?

Michelle Buteau, our etiquette expert, weighs in

<p>Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images</p>

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Michelle Buteau is a mother, wife, dog mama, actor, writer, comedian, and TV host. Her book of autobiographical essays, Survival of the Thickest, will soon be a Netflix series. She also co-hosts the popular podcast Adulting on the Exactly Right network. With all this life experience, we trust Michelle's ability to navigate a number of social quandaries. Here's her advice to our readers in the December 2022 issue of Real Simple.

Have your own social dilemma for Michelle to solve? Tell us about it at modernmanners@realsimple.com.

Grad Gift Etiquette

SHERI: We’ve received numerous high school graduation announcements. We don’t know some of the kids very well. How much money should we send? Also, do you give money to college graduates?

MICHELLE: K, Sheri! Who are these people sending you high school graduation announcements when you don’t even know their kids that well? Honestly, you will not jeopardize your friendships if you don’t give gifts—especially in this economy, honey! If you feel like you really have to, a $50 bill or gift card is more than enough. There are other ways to be thoughtful, though. Instead of money, perhaps you could give a book you absolutely loved when you were that age. Or a book that might help the kids find direction—something a lot of grads are looking for! And to answer your second question: Yes, one typically sends money (or something!) to a college graduate, or for any event that comes once in a lifetime, like a baptism. But that only happens when you’re close with the kid or one of the parents. Do not stress this.

No Cutting In Line, Please

NICOLE: I was at a big-box store with a bunch of stuff in my cart, and a man holding a few bottles of wine asked to get in front of me in the checkout line. I said no, and he brushed away my response with “I’ll be quick, thanks!” I was totally mad, and he just didn’t care. How can I get my point across
if something like this happens again—without making a scene?

MICHELLE: Nicole! Reading this has my blood boiling! I’m so angry for you! Truly, this situation has me counting backward from 100. Please know that you are not alone. This kind of entitled behavior happens to all of us. Whether we’re driving, boarding a plane, or in line at the store, there will always be someone who’s ready to rage us with their nonsense. The 20-something-year-old Michelle would have popped off and made sure these people knew she was angry. What 30-something-year-old Michelle learned was that if somebody is going to be that bold, chances are they’re bolder than you. Now in my 40s, I’m proud to be passive-aggressive. Girl, the last time someone cut in front of me, I simply said (loud enough for them to hear), “It’s hard to be the bigger person, but I guess someone’s gotta do it.” Other gems I’ve laid down in the heat of the moment: “Oh, wow! Go ahead—it’s cool! I know what it feels like to be loved, so by all means!” And “Thank you for giving a lesson in what not to do that I can teach my kids!” Do what feels comfortable for you. We’re simply too cute to be mad, OK?

Cleaning Up the Neighborhod

ALLISON: I live on an alley, and my front windows look out onto my neighbors’ garages. The area is generally pretty unkempt—random pieces of trash, last year’s yard waste, etc. I get that they’re not super-concerned about the back of their lots, but it’s my main view. Is it out of line for me to clean up our shared alley space?

MICHELLE: Allison, you are not out of line at all. I say be the change you want to see. I know, for me, it’s hard enough keeping my house clean, and sometimes I’ll let our front yard or backyard go undealt-with for a little too long. Talk about back-burner projects! So hey, if you’re game, I think it’s a great idea. You might find that things stay neat once you’re done, because sometimes it’s easier to keep a place tidy than to do the full, deep-dive clean. You can even leave a signed note, like “You’re welcome for the cleanup!” Or do it anonymously and leave them wondering!

Up All Night

ELIZABETH: My husband and I recently went to a campground. We planned ahead, paid the fee, and were so excited. The second night we were there, a couple arrived with a baby. They set up their tent, and within minutes the baby started screaming. The crying lasted all through the night. We didn’t get any sleep! That morning, we packed up camp and left, as did four other camping groups nearby. I feel like the family should have been the ones to leave. What would you have done in this situation?

MICHELLE: Oh man, I feel bad for everyone involved! You, the parents, and that little-bitty baby! Children in public are very polarizing—like cilantro. You’re into them or you’re not. (I need to get better at analogies.) This is a situation where either you cut your losses or you become part of the village. Plenty of times, I’ve stepped up like I was in an episode of The Nanny and offered to hold a baby, change a diaper, or see if I could get the mother something. Plenty of other times, I’ve left
a restaurant or switched seats at a movie theater—just to give the parents space. Babies are so much work. And if you were annoyed after one night, imagine how rough it must be for the parents. They probably left their house to get a break, not knowing they’d impede on other people’s vacations. I’m sorry you had to end your trip early, but you picked the best option and you did the right thing.

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