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Newport Manners & Etiquette: Mr. Trump’s Laugh, Dating + Table Manners

Wednesday, March 08, 2017


Why doesn't Mr. Trump ever laugh? What to do when she sleeps with her cellphone? The loss of civility in the Oval Office, and when dating table manners are tricky to change because they're engrained in childhood were all questions to Didi Lorillard this week at NewportManners.

Mr. Trump's lack of laughter

Q.  We never see or hear the president laughing. It's interesting that he doesn't laugh because scientists tell us that laughing is a highly sophisticated social signaling system that helps us to bond and negotiate, and Trump takes great pride in his negotiation skills. This isn't actually an etiquette question, but more of a comment about social skills. Why doesn't Trump ever laugh?  GH, Boston

A.  Laughter has huge health benefits. Laughing is a great stress reliever, lowers anxiety, releases tension, boosts the immune system, and stimulates our circulation and conversation. Not being a scientist, my guess is that control freaks don't laugh. Mr. Trump would feel out of control should he find himself bursting into laughter. Laughter sets you free.

Dating table manners

Q.  My boyfriend has the most annoying habit of picking food off my plate and eating it. I want to say, "Here, help yourself," and hand him my plate. Even though I've asked him time and again to kick the habit my plea doesn't register. How do I get him to be more polite?  MO, Providence


A.  Next time you sit down to eat alongside your beau, make sure there is a small plate above your dinner plate. A butter plate or salad plate will do. Then when you notice him eyeing your food, make your move. He's zeroing into exactly what tidbit looks the most mouth-watering. Wedge off a piece of your grilled tuna with your knife and fork, scoop up a generous bite with your fork, place the tuna on the small plate, and handing it to him gently say, "Here, what else would you like to sample?" Make the small plate a ritual. Not only will this civilized addition to your routine make you both more patient, but it shows respect for each other: including your personal boundaries.

No, your boyfriend shouldn't be eating food off your plate, but he learned table manners as a small child and bad table manners are lifelong habits hard to break. Have patience, use the small plate trick. It will work. 

To quote the British author Peter Mayle, "Good manners make any man a pleasure to be with. Ask any woman."

You decide together, or not, that your relationship itself comes first, that the wishes of your partner are second and that personal needs come in third. 

This understanding between you and your partner only works when each partner prioritizes the other person's needs, the expectation is that the other will reciprocate and that at the end of day, you both get what you really need.

Cellphone menage-et-trois 

Q.  There are three of us in this relationship. My girlfriend is addicted to her cellphone. It's like having another person in the room whom she can't take her eyes off. Even at a restaurant her phone is on the table and she periodically reads messages. For example, we can be in mid-conversation about the fact that my dad is dying and she'll start texting or eyeing social media. 

I would say that this is the opposite of sexting, texting during a serious face-to-face conversation! I keep asking her to put her phone away, but she'll say, "It's business," which I would bet it is not. 

How can I communicate with her that I wish she would pay more attention to me and less to her screen? Last night she fell asleep with her cellphone in her hand.  RC, Brooklyn, NY


A.  Next time, before your sweetheart goes scrolling down that rabbit hole of browsing and texting, remember that she probably knows she's addicted to her cellphone, and that she can't do anything about it. She hates that she loves it and she loves hating it. Here are a couple of counter-intuitive ways to help her free herself.

Encourage her to acknowledge that it may not be the technology that she is addicted to, but the social awards from being liked instead of ignored. You know how she feels, since the consequence for you is that she ignores you. Talk about the patterns that set off her anxiety and addiction and compare them to gambling or having an abusive friend or partner. 

Most of what we tend to feel, think and do is inevitably influenced by our anticipation about other people's expectations of us. We see our world through the viewpoint of our friends and acquaintances, and we intuitively imagine circumstances that influence most of what we do.

  • There is nothing inherently wrong with her texting, emailing and using social media, because they provide a platform for not only her need to be connected on the one hand, but also for her addiction to watch and monitor others, and better still, for her need to be seen, heard from, remembered, monitored, judged and praised by others.
  • It is natural to want to know how much others mean to her, and how much she wants to mean something to them, because these are instincts embraced and followed by her circle of friends.


The problem, as you say, is setting boundaries. So, as a couple, why not talk and set your intentions. The screen doesn't flicker on the night-table but from across the room on your bureau. (There are those who believe sleeping next to, or carrying a cellphone close to the body, is dangerous, because your cellphone is connected to satellites that radiate harmful energy.) 

  • At meals, neither of you use your phones but you can see when your babysitter or dad is trying to communicate with you.
  • At bedtime, your phones are not next to your bed.
  • Neither of you answer emails after six o'clock at night.
  • Make time to spend a couple of hours in a natural environment.
  • Gauge how much time you spend in face-to-face conversation not looking at a screen.


When talking about who cares more, or less, about cellphone addiction, think of the dynamic as one of rising and falling tides, unceasing traits. As a romantic duo you might not wish to argue about who is the superior, who is the inferior -- by not being judgmental.

Oval Office lacks civility

Q.  What is going on in the Oval Office? Kellyanne Conway has made it her personal salon. She is tucked up on the couch feet-less and calves-less with her bare knees and thighs -- sitting on her feet -- in an attention-grabbing pose. Meanwhile dignitaries, university chancellors from historically black colleges, gaze on in astonishment as the White House photographer takes photos of Ms. Conway in a "look-at-me texting" pose. Is this correct professional behavior? She is as unhinged as Trump.  JL, Cincinnati, Ohio

A.  The most popular Tweet about her is: "Why does Kellyanne Conway always look like she's still drunk & wearing makeup from last night's bender?"  Personally, I'm more concerned about her obsession with "alternative facts" that are, for the most part, created to distract us from what's really going on. But I understand why you're angry about her lack of civilized behavior in the Oval Office. 

Didi Lorillard researches manners and etiquette at NewportManners.


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