The ‘Seinfeld’ Guide to Good Manners
With Seinfeld back via Hulu, we’re re-watching Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer stumble through a cavalcade of social faux pas, each one instantly nailed by some self-appointing arbiter of postmodern manners. Here’s a handy guide to navigating the Seinfeld world gracefully, featuring lessons learned throughout the series.
Don’t double-dip the chip you already bit.
Episode: “The Implant”
George flies home with his latest girlfriend Betsy for her aunt’s funeral. But a brawl erupts when Betsy’s brother, Timmy, catches—and is disgusted by—George dipping the same chip twice in a bowl of sour cream.
Scoop small food, such as peas or corn niblets, with your fork. Don’t prong them one at a time.
Episode: “The Engagement”
Jerry and George make a pact to act like adults in their love lives and not break up with women for silly reasons. Jerry gives his ex Melanie another chance but then reneges when she eats peas slowly one at a time (instead of scooping) during dinner.
If a guest brings food, such as a loaf of bread, to your dinner party, serve it.
Episode: “The Rye”
Future in-laws get a bad impression of each other after the scruffy Constanzas bring marble rye bread to dinner that the stuffy Rosses forget to serve. Insulted, the Costanzas then secretly take the rye home which the Rosses later realize.
Don’t degift (take back something you gave), regift (give away something you received), issue an unvite or noninvitation (to someone you hope won’t attend your function) or overthank (by calling with a day-after thanks if you said thanks the night before).
Episodes: “The Rye”; The Label Maker”; The Betrayal”; “The Face Painter”
Several episodes touch on the etiquette of gifting and thanking. “The Rye” (see above) introduces the idea of degifting when the Constanzas take back their bread. Lots of confusion is caused in “The Label Maker” when Dr. Whatley (Jerry’s dentist) is suspected of regifting a label maker that Elaine gave him. When Elaine receives a very late invite to Sue Ellen Mischke’s destination wedding in “The Betrayal,” she believes it’s an “unvitation” but still grudgingly heads to India. In “The Face Painter,” Jerry takes a stand against thanking a friend too much for hockey tickets.
Don’t buy a faulty item as a gift just because it’s cheap – the recipient will notice.
Episode: “The Red Dot”
George learns this lesson the hard way when he first gives Elaine a $600 sweater that had been discounted to $85 because of a small red mark, but she catches him in a lie about it. When he later tries giving the sweater to the office cleaning lady he slept with to keep her quiet, she notices and gets him fired.
You need only keep a thank-you card for two days after receiving it, unless you have a mantle.
Episode: “The Pledge Drive”
Jerry inadvertently insults a friend who sends cards he doesn’t keep, but claims he would keep more if he had the space. Meanwhile, George makes up a fake rule about keeping cards.
Never stare at cleavage (it’s too risky). Think of it as looking at the sun: Get a sense of it, then look away.
Episode: “The Shoes”
George accidentally sabotages the NBC pilot he’s writing with Jerry by staring at the cleavage of executive Russell Dalrymple’s 15-year-old daughter. Elaine eventually saves the day—and the pilot—by offering a mesmerizing “cleavage peek” to Dalrymple.
Never term a friend’s relationship as “hot and heavy” unless he or she has given you permission to do so.
Episode: “The Rye”
Elaine is dating “sponge-worthy” jazz saxophonist John Germaine, but he “doesn’t like to do everything” (in bed). Despite this, Jerry describes the relationship as “hot and heavy” to Germaine’s friend, which upsets Elaine about potential performance issues. This worry comes true when Germaine (unsuccessfully) expands his sex repertoire with Elaine right before an important gig, which ends up shattering his career.
Be sure to ask a woman her name before you make out with her.
Episode: “The Junior Mint”
A woman attracts Jerry’s attention in the supermarket’s produce section (a provocative area with all those melons!), but he still can’t remember her name. She mentions it rhymes with a female body part, but he’s embarrassed to ask her again. He only remembers it after a few unfortunate guesses that drive her away.
Even if you know her name, don’t make out during Schindler’s List.
Episode: “The Raincoats”
The Seinfelds are visiting for a few days en route to Paris, but it’s bad timing for Jerry. He hasn’t been with present amour Rachel for long, so he’s starting to feel “backed up” in the love department. Newman later catches Jerry and Rachel making out during the serious movie Schindler’s List.
After sleeping with a woman, you must date her for at least three weeks.
Episode: “The Gymnast”
Hoping for acrobatic sex, Jerry pursues Romanian gymnast Katya, but he finds little to say on a date except, “Ceaușescu, he must have been some dictator.” When he does sleep with her, he’s disappointed but, per Elaine, he can’t break up right away. Ironically, Katya ends up breaking up with him for being boring in bed.
Don’t order the same breakfast as your date. It’s just one small step up from the couple that dresses alike.
Episode: “The Wife”
Both Jerry and his new girlfriend, Meryl, want to order pancakes. Jerry convinces her it’s embarrassing to mimic each other, so Meryl opts for a short stack instead.
Romance does not mean sharing your toothbrush.
Episode: “The Doodle”
Jerry forgets to pack his toothbrush when he stays over at his girlfriend Shelly’s apartment. He’s disgusted when she offers her own to him, which recalls an earlier incident when he accidentally ate a pecan she had spit out.
Doctors, dentists: Do not sully the clinical atmosphere of your waiting room with magazines such as Penthouse.
Episode: “The Jimmy”
While browsing through the magazines at Dr. Whatley’s office, Jerry finds copies of Penthouse. Even though he sneaks a peek, he’s disturbed that the dentist has allowed a sterile environment to be tainted.
Don’t refer to little people as midgets.
Episode: “The Stand-In”
After meeting Kramer’s diminutive actor pal Mickey, George inadvertently insults him by saying “midget” instead of the more PC “little people.” Later, Kramer suggests that Mickey put lifts in his shoes to prolong his acting career, but it leads him to be shunned by the other little people. The social crime: “heightening.”
The longer you know someone, the shorter you have to wait for him or her on the street.
Episode: “The Little Jerry”
In the opening scene, Elaine can’t believe that Jerry only waited five minutes for her the day before but was willing to wait 40 minutes for Kramer’s friend, a stranger. Despite the argument, they both leave after five minutes before meeting George—just as he arrives and thinks he’s early.
When in a movie theater, observe the empty “buffer zone seat” between you and the person beside you.
Episode: “The Pool Guy”
At the theater, Jerry insists that Kramer sit one seat away from him. He believes the personal space is necessary because they wouldn’t sit right next to each other on the couch at home.
Spare a square in the restroom.
Episode: “The Stall”
Jerry dates Jane, who won’t “share a square” of toilet tissue with Elaine in the ladies’ room. Elaine later gets revenge on Jane by removing all the toilet paper rolls from a different restroom.
Don’t pee in the shower at the health club.
Episode: “The Wife”
George is caught urinating in the gym locker room shower by a man who Elaine is interested in dating. She’s embarrassed to ask him out for fear he’ll know about George, but the guy turns out to be interested in someone else.
And for goodness’ sake, don’t remove a TV Guide from someone’s home—it may be part of a collection.
Episode: “The Cigar Store Indian”
To keep entertained on the subway ride home from the Costanzas, Elaine grabs a TV Guide to read, not suspecting that she has robbed Frank of Vol. 41, No. 31 from his collection. Elaine and Jerry try to replace the issue without success.
Adapted from TV Guide Magazine’s 1998 Seinfeld special issue.