Emily Post’s Etiquette Tome Revised for the 21st Century
NEW YORK (AP) — Kissing without permission. Putting down a parent in front of children struggling with divorce. Privilege displayed. Being a bad listener or, worse, a terrible loser.
The world and all of its interactional black holes would probably have Emily Post spitting her tea. The great lady of all manners died in 1960, but two of her descendants have revised her advice book for the 21st century to mark the centenary of the first edition.
“I especially think it’s really easy to paint etiquette and manners as tools of elitism, tools of secrecy, tools of exclusion,” said Lizzie Post, the great-great-grand- daughter of Emily and co-author of the latest “Emily Post’s Etiquette”.
“And when they’re used that way, and they certainly can be, they’re effectively unnecessary. But when we use etiquette and manners as a tool for self-reflection and awareness of others, I think we’re really going to have a chance to make the world a better place,” she said.
As incivility has taken an even stronger hold on the culture, the newfangled book encourages patience and humility to talk about difficult topics. This, he notes, requires “getting comfortable with the idea that your brilliant remark might go unsaid.” The book also pleads for grace in defeat and a “good excuse,” avoiding the word “if” to neutralize effort, or “but” to dig your hole deeper.
Emily published her first version of the book under a different title in 1922 after making a name for herself as a novelist and travel writer. It’s been refreshed over the decades, but the 20th edition released in October is a complete update.
There’s plenty of advice on setting tables, dressing for different occasions, and basic courtesies on things like gifts, tips, and greetings. But Lizzie Post and her cousin and co-author, Daniel Post Senning, tackled far more crucial questions. They did it partly by crowdsourcing, including ideas from callers to their Awesome Etiquette podcast.
And they did it amid a pandemic and the #MeToo movement, both recognized in topics like optional handshakes, or asking for permission to kiss or kiss each other on the cheek.
“The hug is such an intimate gesture that, for some, an unwanted one can feel like a violation,” the new book notes in part. “When someone isn’t asking, pushing for one, or even forcing it, they’re communicating that because they think it’s okay, they’re pressing their body against someone else’s. Depending on how it’s done, it can turn into sexual harassment or assault.
Not exactly groundbreaking, unless it’s written as Emily Post.
Emily herself was born into East Coast privilege, having grown up in Baltimore and New York. His father was a prominent architect for the wealthy, who designed the Tony enclave of Tuxedo Park, New York, and his mother was the daughter of a coal baron.
Emily met her husband, Edward, at a Fifth Avenue ball. There was a scandal involving his romantic alliances with choristers and actresses, resulting in an announced divorce in 1906, according to a biographer and reports from the time. Those around her tried to protect her privacy after that, and her descendants have wise words for friends and family today offering sympathy in divorces and separations.
“Avoid trying to push or suggest the right decision to a friend,” the Posts write in the new book. “It is especially important to be careful what you say around children whose parents are separated or going through a divorce. There is no need to encourage the news or make negative comments.
The book touches on other losses often left unaddressed in Emily’s time, such as grieving a miscarriage.
“You definitely want to avoid saying things like ‘Next time it will happen’ or ‘It just wasn’t your time,'” the book advises.
During her travels, Emily learned more about the lives of people outside her social background. In 1922, she wrote in the first chapter of the first edition of the book, what was then called “the best society” was not a group born into great wealth or status, but a group composed of “gentle “who take care of each other.
“The best society,” she writes, “is not at all like a court with a particular queen or king, nor confined to any particular place or group, but might best be described as unlimited brotherhood. which extends over the whole surface of the globe, whose members are invariably people of culture and knowledge of the world, who have not only perfect manners, but a perfect manner.
His descendants embrace privilege in this way: “Privilege can be and look like many different things, but in conversation it mostly comes across as a lack of awareness that you have benefited in a way that others have not. maybe not.”
Modern pronoun mannerisms are also discussed in the new book, as a way to show “basic support, respect and courtesy”.
“You might think someone’s pronouns are pretty easy to tell just by looking at them, but the reality is that’s not always the case,” the Posts write. “If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, and you need to know them to make an introduction, it’s polite to ask, ‘Joan, what pronouns do you use?’ Note that you don’t ask which pronouns Joan “prefers” – an unfortunately common construction for this question.
Emily was 87 when she died. Ironically, Lizzie Post said in an interview, “The older she got, the less she liked participating in society. … She felt, I think, a lot of autonomy and a lot of power and a lot of agency just being able to stay home and not be a big deal.
Expanding his empire all the time with other etiquette books.
As an only child, Emily was a “daddy’s girl”, said Lizzie, and the loss of her father in 1903 was a blow. Other tragedies followed. His mother was killed in a car accident in 1909. One of his two sons, Bruce, grew up to be an architect like his father, but died aged 32 of appendicitis while working together on a house in Martha’s Vineyard. This is where she spent the summer as she continued to write new books and produce editions of her etiquette bible.
With her surviving son, Ned, she founded the Emily Post Institute in 1946, and the family still runs it today.
In print, Emily has become “more inclusive over the years,” Lizzie said. Emily’s label became more based on education and merit than ideology and socioeconomic status, she said.
For this, Lizzie said: “I am happy.”
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