Should men hold doors for women? Is it okay for players to spit on the soccer field? If couples are legally separated, should they continue wearing their wedding rings?*
For almost 100 years, Americans have turned to Emily Post for answers to these types of pressing questions. Times keep changing, but the Emily Post Institute has evolved as well. This month marks the debut of the 19th edition of Post’s book of advice, “Emily Post’s Etiquette: Manners For Today,” by Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning ($45, William Morrow).
Written by Post’s great-great grandchildren, the 700 page tome offers readers both general and detailed guidance on all matters of etiquette. But don’t try reading it cover to cover, no matter how much you need to brush up on your interpersonal interactions.
“I would recommend reading the chapter on consideration, respect and honesty. If you read the principles of etiquette, that will put you in good stead in almost any awkward situation you find yourself in,” said Lizzie Post. “This book is not meant to be an end all be all, etiquette is flexible, it is growing and it is accommodating.”
Even etiquette experts get tripped up. Post said she is consistently bad at sending wedding gifts to weddings she can’t attend. “My friend Brandt got married last summer and the gift is sitting in the closet. I need to wrap it and I have even expressed to him that I have it,” she said.
And don’t bring this resident of Burlington, Vermont out to Georgia without explaining to her exactly how we use the term, Ms. “I would want someone to explain to the whole Ms. thing to me. When it is tied to a first name, I just don’t get it,” she said.
When in doubt about the rules of etiquette, it is okay to just ask. if you are hesitant to ask or don’t know someone who may know the answer, flip through the pages of Emily Post’s Etiquette to find the answer.
Here Post talks about some of the biggest issues facing a new era of etiquette in our country and how the Emily Post Institute can help us rise to any occasion.
Q: Over the decades, what is the one etiquette error that endures?
A: Usually if we are messing it up that bad it goes away. It’s one of those things where, ‘Man, if we really can’t do this, should it be at thing?’ In the 1960s and 1970s, my grandmother Elizabeth Post was writing about etiquette and the emergence of reply cards was raised. It was becoming increasingly popular to include a reply card in wedding invitations. She said when someone invites you to a wedding, you should take the time to hand write a reply about how excited and honored you are to receive this invitation. We don’t think that way today. We just think ‘Oh My God, we are going to another wedding.’ Finally my grandmother broke down and said, ‘I guess this has become the norm today.’
Q: We live in an increasingly global and diverse society. What place do cultural nuances have in everyday American etiquette?
A: We are a melting pot, a nation of mixed cultures. American culture incorporates so many things into it. We tried very hard to be aware of that. Things change as American culture changes. Emily Post etiquette has tried to be absorbing and reflective of these cultures. We are like a social barometer. It isn’t, this is what America is. It is, who is America and how do we want to behave?
Q: Are there regional differences in etiquette that should be observed?
A: If both parties involved enter the dance, then you have a good chance of everyone feeling well-respected. Introductions is the place to get the lay of the land you are entering into. You can share your own perspective, but do it in a way that doesn’t put down the culture you are entering into. You want to be open, positive and respectful toward the culture you are coming into as an outsider and you hope that your hosting culture is going to make you feel comfortable. If both parties are asking the other what they prefer, even if they are different, you can still honor each other.
Q: We seem to have lost a certain level of civility in American society lately, why do you think this is happening?
A: Everybody feels like they are not being heard. More people need to start listening. The problem we are having when it comes to civility these days is that everyone wants to talk about what they are upset about and what they feel. Those things need to be validated and recognized but then we need to move on to the how. We got a massive dose of just how difficult that is in the past year. More people are feeling confident stating their perspective, but what do we do now that they are speaking? We need to figure out how to look at situation, ask who is involved and how are they effected. When we ask how are they effected as a nation, I hope we get to a point where we are including everyone in that conversation. All groups need to be heard.
Q: I was surprised to see the term “ghosting” in Emily Post! How did this make it in?
A: Fist bumps made it in. Ghosting makes it in because ghosting is a serious etiquette issue. Dan, my cousin loves the idea that if both people ghost it is okay. But he’s married and I’m single. To me, we will better serve ourselves if we take something like ghosting and say, ‘Hey, it is not cool.’ We have to do a little better job of toughening up and dealing with rejection.
Q: Social media has led many of us to put it all out there. How hard is it to balance the dictates of etiquette with the expectations of social media?
A: We often say that posting positive things is always worth it according to American culture. People are excited to hear about life events, big or small, in their friends lives. Where we start to see cracks is when you start to put up difficult or negative things. Do you like someone’s post when it is a negative thought? What do you do? When it comes to posting, you keep it positive and keep it supportive. That being said it is your page and your space and you are in control of it.
*No. Any able-bodied individual should hold the door for another. Yes, sometimes. Players on a field should try to spit in a tissue or trash can, but can aim downwind if neither is available. And yes, separated couples can still wear their wedding rings.