Psychology and Relationships

How to make a good first impression: 3 tips from the host of Netflix's 'Mind Your Manners'

Courtesy of Sara Jane Ho.

Sara Jane Ho has made a living by teaching people how to not be a jerk. In 2012, she founded Sarita Institute, a finishing school in Beijing that offers courses including wine appreciation, small talk, and hat etiquette.

As of 2022, she also has her own Netflix show called Mind Your Manners where she administers a sort of etiquette makeover to a new "student" every episode. 

To her, etiquette isn't about sticking to a code. It's about learning the norms of a situation and adhering to them. In other words, etiquette is about reading a room, something that everyone has failed to do at least once. 

"I feel that part of etiquette is about putting people around you at ease," she says. "Instead of etiquette being a restricting convention, I see it as being an empowering tool." 

Ho views herself as an informal anthropologist. When she enters any room she observes what slang people are using, what kind of jokes are being made, and how causally — or not casually — people are interacting with one another. 

"Everything is a microculture," Ho says. "Whether it's in high school or in your family or at your work, it's a microculture."

Everything is a microculture. Whether it's in high school or in your family or at your work, it's a microculture.
Sara Jane Ho
Etiquette expert

Part of her astute observational skills come from her nomadic upbringing. By the time she was 18, Ho had lived in a handful of places including Papua New Guinea, England, Hong Kong, and the United States. 

This meant that she was repeatedly required to start over and make a good first impression in a city whose culture was vastly different from the one that preceded it.

Making a good first impression, be it professional or personal, can be nerve wracking, especially because it feels near impossible to remedy making a bad one. Making a bad first impression on a partner's friends or family members can haunt you, seemingly, forever. 

"When you're going into that kind of setting for the first time, it's usually a test," Ho says. "Whether your partner knows it or not, they are testing you. I know I do it."  

Here's how to pass that test, according to Ho.

3 tips for making a good first impression

Take a back seat 

When first meeting a partner's friends Ho says she goes into "in the field" mode. This means she is hypervigilant about what gestures are being used and what topics are being discussed.

"I like to take the back seat initially and follow my partner's lead," Ho says. "If I'm usually 100% I'll dial it back 20%." 

Don't be commandeering. You want to fit in with the group dynamic not reconfigure it. 


Even if you've had a bad day, it's important to enter the room with a smile. 

"Always look happy," Ho says. "Even if you're walking to the dinner and had a huge fight with your boyfriend, you don't want it to show because the next thing you know you're the downer girlfriend." 

Just like you would in a professional setting, when meeting friends for the first time you check your baggage at the door. 

 "You have to be really good at compartmentalizing, which can be difficult when you feel like you want to kill your boyfriend, but you have to put that aside," Ho says.

'Join in like water'

This doesn't mean you have to sit silently and smile.

"Join in like water," Ho says. "You join in with the jokes but you're not trying to control the conversation in any way. You're not really the leader initiating the group, you're the follower." 

Your presence should feel seamless to the group. You are there but you aren't really changing the direction of the night. 

"A lot of people tell me, 'I have no etiquette. I'm too honest to have etiquette.' The two are not in conflict," Ho says.

You should always be yourself, but just not at the expense of the mood in the room.

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