Etiquette has a surprisingly large impact on culture. We often think of the rules of polite society – things like table manners and proper salutations – as inconsequential niceties. In fact despite being individually small the collection of things we call good manners are quite critical to the operation of society as a whole. It isn’t necessarily important if the custom is one thing or another, but the fact that we share some basis of how to greet one another, how to ask questions, and how to levy criticism allows us to interact with complete strangers with confidence. We can achieve our communication goals without unintentionally offending other people.

However just like culture is never monolithic neither are the rules of etiquette. The rules of polite society change constantly in all cultures. The larger the culture the harder it is to direct that change. As the inertia of the larger culture becomes more unwieldy smaller cultures tend to develop within it to adapt to their specific needs. Thus Meta has a different culture than the broader society within which it sits and teams within Meta have their own subtle variations therein.

We all adapt our behavior based on context. Few of us behave the same when we are at home with our families as we do in a restaurant with our colleagues. We are often acutely aware of times when we do not know the rules such as in a foreign country. And we sometimes get in trouble in societies which seem similar but have subtle differences of which we aren’t aware. Awkwardness is the feeling we get when we don’t know what the protocol is or we have a mismatch, and we work hard to avoid it.

I share all this context to explain why I often feel the need to share the various cultural observations and suggestions I do so often. Meta is large but still small enough that the culture can be intentionally shaped. But it is also large enough that unless such changes are explicit we risk fracturing or, worse, not sharing the same context at all. Taking these cultural concepts out of the implicit and into the explicit helps everyone align, helps us integrate new people to our society, and also lets us inspect them to see if they need to change.