I have gleaned these rules through decades of trial and error. Since it is considered “impolite” to ask about directly, I can only guess at these rules.
Most rules may only apply to white American males between twenty and forty years old -- since this is the only experience I have.
These rules should be taken very seriously if you want to be respected in middle-class American society. Outside the United States and/or the middle-class, there are entirely different rules.
Many of these rules are arbitrary, wasteful, or downright dangerous. If you find a rule truly disagreeable, find a way to hide what you really do and pretend to obey the rule.
- You must brush your teeth after you eat breakfast and after you eat dinner, but claim to brush your teeth after every meal you eat.
- You must floss at least once a day, but claim to floss every time you brush your teeth.
- You must claim to gargle with mouth-wash every time you brush. If you perceive that people are unhappy with your breath you should actually use mouth-wash up to three times daily. If nobody appears to notice your breath, you can avoid mouth-wash altogether. Be wary, however, that people will often criticize your breath to others, but not alert you to any problems. If you are at all sensitive to this type of treatment, you should use mouth-wash before interaction with the general public.
- Bathe (preferably shower) at least once per 24 hours. If you, due to extreme emergency, go 24 hours or more without bathing, you must apologize to everyone you meet for having performed manual labor which has caused you to perspire. Do not admit to not having bathed. Nobody will tell you that your appearance or smell is offensive, so you must immediately apologize at your first interaction of the day with everyone.
- You must claim to wash your hair every time you bathe. How often you wash your hair in reality will depend on many factors such as race, gender, and hair-style.
- You must wash your hands, with soap, after any interaction with a toilet. This is one of the few rules that has basis in actual hygiene. You can make other people ill if you fail to do this.
- Feet are considered dirty even when freshly washed. You cannot touch anything with them whether bare, in socks, or in shoes.
- Walking in bare feet is considered "unhygienic".
- You must claim to get your hair cut or trimmed at least monthly. You may, in reality, never cut it if you are female. If you are male, you must keep your hair shorter than neck-line, unless you are considered to be extremely attractive.
- You must claim to comb your hair several times a day, though in reality, you must only do this once a day, after you bathe.
- (Update) How to comb your hair is a moving target. Some years parting in the middle is the norm. Some years choosing a side is, other years, it's unacceptable. In recent years, the safest bet has been to towel dry male hair and leave it messy. Female hair can be parted in the middle, but, as is always the case for females, the fashion rules are really quite complicated. The rules are completely incomprehensible to me if your hair is kinky.
- You must apply under-arm deoderant immediately after you bathe.
- You must clip your finger-nails extremely low so they cannot collect dirt. Cleaning them with the knife included in your nail-clipper is unacceptable.
- You must claim to immediately wash any article of clothing, other than shoes, after one use. In reality, you may wear any article of clothing repeatedly until it is obvious to others that you have worn it more than once. Because you cannot detect the scent of your own body accumulating on your clothing, you cannot smell your clothing to tell whether or not it is acceptable. You must develop a sense for how often different articles may be worn without accumulating too much of your natural body-odors. A general rule of thumb is
- Shirts: wear only once if you sweat at all during the day, twice if not. Note that you may sweat without noticing while performing manual labor, and then forget when you remove your shirt later.
- Socks and underwear: wear only once. If stained by anything such as bodily waste, coffee, tea, or ink, you must dispose of underwear immediately. Though, if worn, your underwear is not usually exposed to the public, it may be suddenly exposed if you change in a locker-room or get into an automobile accident. You may retain socks for as long as you like, regardless of the number of stains and holes they may accrue. If they are ever exposed to anyone, however, you must claim that they are the only pair of socks you have that have these problems.
- Pants: can be worn up to five times if jeans and three times if slacks. You must examine closely to note how dusty the cuffs get. At the first indication of dust on the cuffs, you must wash, even if you've only worn them once.
- Also, note that if you wear an article of clothing more than once, you must refrain from wearing said article on consecutive days, as this will give you away. If you accidentally wear the same article two days in a row, claim to have just done the laundry the previous evening and add, "I really love this (shirt/pair of socks/pair of pants)."
- You must never stick your finger in your ear or nose, even surreptitiously. You must blow your nose to remove anything, no matter how small. Likewise, you must a use a q-tip to remove anything from your ears.
- You must claim to wear underwear unless sleeping or bathing. You do not actually have to wear them, though.
- If you wear anything that reveals your socks, for instance a pair of shorts, you must crumple your socks down sloppily. You cannot roll them down carefully; it is important to get a haphazard effect. Under no circumstances, can you wear your socks stretched up over your calves as their design seems to imply.
- Clothes must not "clash" in color and style, but also must not match too precisely in color.
- You are either a "hat person" or not. In the former case you must never be seen without a hat, in the latter, you must never wear one.
- You must claim to wear clothes while sleeping. You do not actually have to wear them, though.
- When people say "How are you?" you must not tell them how you are. You must respond with one of the following
- "How are you?" (strangely enough, this works)
- If you are a passenger in a car, you must claim to enjoy any music, or lack of music, coming from the driver's radio.
- If you ride in any public transit vehicle, you must avoid eye contact with any other passengers. Usually, you should stare fixedly at one spot if not pretending to read a book or look at your wrist-watch.
- You must wear a wrist-watch at all times if you are male.
- You must claim to be apolitical and areligious.
- You must never contradict any part of an anecdote that somebody is telling.
- You must never express doubt in another person's personal beliefs.
- You must never criticize another person's appearance positively or negatively unless asked. If asked, you must invariably respond positively.
- Strong memorization of details is considered equivalent to respect for an object or person. The more you can memorize about a person, the more you appear to care about them. Conversely, the more you forget about a person or object, the less esteem you appear to hold him or it in. Upon meeting somebody, you should memorize facts 1 and 2. To appear to care more, memorize more facts on the list.
- His first name.
- His last name.
- His birthday.
- His favorite sport(s) and food(s).
- His birthplace.
- His middle name(s).
You cannot ever state that you have the facts memorized, they must come up naturally in conversation. Though, in reality, you could be deeply in love with someone and not remember fact 1, you must not reveal this. When you have forgotten anything, it is taboo to ask, you must glean the information secretly. - Use of him/he/his when the gender of a person is unknown is considered an assertion of the superiority of men, non-existence of women, or something else equally untenable and offensive. You must instead use any of a number of awkward circumlocutions. Your sensitivity to the plight of women is measured by the awkwardness of the circumlocution. So, for example, replacing him/he/his with them/they/their is considered polite. But, replacing him/he/his with "her or him"/"she or he"/"her or his" ranks a person among the most ardent feminists. You must change which circumlocution you use to match the criteria of your listener. It is virtually impossible to tell what will offend and what will please, so the safest thing to do is to wait for your listener to use an ambiguous pronoun.