Some families manage bakeries, nurseries, or vineyards.
For Daniel Post Senning, great-great grandson of Emily Post and an Emily Post Institute co-president, and Lizzie Post, great-great granddaughter of Emily Post and an Emily Post Institute co-president, etiquette is the family business.
The Emily Post Institute, based in Waterbury, Vt., conducts seminars and trainings. It partners with businesses and nonprofit groups to “bring etiquette and manners to a wide audience,” according to its website.
When you think of etiquette, you’re likely to be transported to Downton Abbey. Butlers, finger bowls, the dancing school lessons you hated as a kid – stuffy, rich (usually white, hetero) people at formal dinners managing a zillion salad forks – come to mind.
But, for Post and Senning, who co-host the popular, entertaining podcast “Awesome Etiquette,” etiquette is as far from being an ossified, exclusionary code of manners as we are from being the Dowager having tea at Downton.
Emily Post, the acclaimed etiquette maven, published her first book on etiquette, “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home,” in 1922.
Post’s seminal book, considered by many to be the “holy writ” of etiquette (and stolen from libraries almost as frequently as the Bible), has been revised by Post herself and her descendants during the past century to evolve with changing times.
“Emily Post’s Etiquette, The Centennial Edition” by Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning, the 20th edition of Emily Post’s “Etiquette,” is just out. (For info on “Emily Post’s Etiquette, the Centennial Edition,” the Awesome Etiquette podcast and the Emily Post Institute, visit emilypost.com.)
The “Centennial Edition” has lively, up-to-date advice and discussion on everything in life in the early 2020s from the use of “mx” as a title to grief to respecting people’s pronouns to how to get company to stop making bigoted “jokes” to how to handle an inebriated guest.
From the get-go, Emily Post, who was born in Baltimore in 1872 during the Gilded Age and died in 1960, didn’t view etiquette as restrictive or exclusionary. “As Emily explained,’” Post and Senning write, “etiquette is not some rigid code of manners; it’s simply how persons’ lives touch one another.”
If you browse some editions of Emily Post’s books (as this reporter has), you won’t find schoolmarmish directives or ethereal descriptions of the etiquette gods’ mannered lives on Mount Olympus.
You’ll find daily life “with all its successes and mishaps,” Post and Senning write, “With tales like ‘How a Dinner Can Be Bungled’ and characters such as Mrs. Worldly, Constance Style, Mrs. Kindhart and the Onceweres.”
Emily Post painted relatable pictures of what to do and not to do, Post and Senning write.
Though Emily Post wouldn’t have known what a smartphone or social media were, her etiquette “still aims to equip you,” write Post and Senning, “with a sense of confidence and preparedness for some of the situations you’ll encounter at home, at work, in your social life, and when you’re out and about.”
Despite claims that etiquette is dead, it is very much alive, say Post and Senning.
Steven Petrow, an award-winning journalist and expert on civility and manners, agrees. “I’m always surprised by how timely Emily Post’s advice continues to be,” Petrow, who is gay, said in an email to the Blade. “Recently, I wrote about ‘monkeypox manners,’ and cited Mrs. Post’s timeless advice about respect, consideration and honesty in our social interactions, which includes those in the bedroom.”
Post and Senning graciously took time out from their busy schedules (the launch of the “Centennial Edition,” hosting their podcast – along with their other work with the Emily Post Institute) to talk with the Blade over the phone in separate interviews.
“Emily Post’s Etiquette, The Centennial Edition” was a Herculean labor of writing and editing for Post and Senning. It took a year to write the book, Post said. And, then there was all of the time spent to ensure that the book was carefully edited.
“I would write,” said Post, 40, who manages the Institute’s publishing efforts, “Dan would come in and help me edit the book.”
It was intense, “day-to-day” labor for her and Senning (along with their other work), Post said. “I’m grateful to all the people who were willing to have their lives disrupted while we worked on it,” she added.
Etiquette has been used for less than gracious purposes, Post said. “It can easily be exclusive.”
The Post family believes that etiquette is based on the principles of consideration, respect and honesty. This may sound abstract. But these principles aren’t empty words. They have a profound impact in the real world.
Before joining the Emily Post Institute in 2008 when he was 30, Senning worked in the performing arts, touring with the Laurie Cameron Company in Los Angeles.
Today, Senning, who lives in Duxbury, Vt., with his wife, Puja and their three children Anisha, Arya, and William, manages the Institute’s training programs. He has co-authored several books on etiquette covering topics from business to digital manners and regularly speaks with media outlets about business, technology, and dining etiquette.
In 2009, same-sex marriage became legal in Vermont. “Then, before the Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling,” he said, “we were in the vanguard. We got questions about how to respond to same-sex weddings,” Senning added.
The Institute’s response was to note how normal civil unions were, Senning said, and that same-sex weddings weren’t different from hetero weddings.
“If you’re invited to a civil union, reply,” Senning recalled the Institute advising, “let people know if you can or can’t attend.”
Senning loved the “normalization” of the response. “It was really affirming to me,” he said.
Etiquette isn’t only for happy times. It’s called on when things get rough.
“Etiquette has a role in hard times,” Post, who’s been an American Express spokesperson and written columns for publications ranging from “Broccoli Magazine” to “Women’s Running,” said.
Many go through hard times from losing a job to being ill to grieving, she added. Emily Post may have written on etiquette a century ago, but her thoughts on grief ring as true on an iPad screen as they did then in a hardback book.
“At no time does solemnity so possess our souls as when we stand deserted at the brink of darkness into which our loved one has gone,” Emily Post wrote in 1922, “And the last place in the world where we would look for comfort at such a time is in the seeming artificiality of etiquette; yet it is in the moment of deepest sorrow that etiquette performs its most vital and real service.”
“All set rules for social observance have for their object the smoothing of personal contracts,” Emily Post added, “and in nothing is smoothness so necessary as in observing the solemn rites accorded our dead.”
Etiquette can help people grieve together in community through writing a condolence note, attending a funeral or another act of common grief, Lizzie Post said.
If you’ve suffered a loss, it can be incredible to realize the impact a loved one has had when you receive condolence notes or see so many people at a memorial service.
There’s a new trend where you can take part in the grief without going to a funeral, Post, who lives in her native state of Vermont, said. “When someone dies, for example, you raise a glass at five o’clock to honor them.”
Sometimes you have to use etiquette to stand against prejudice. If someone’s telling a racist or anti-queer joke at your dinner table, you’ll need to say, “‘I’m sorry. This is not a joke for this table,’” Post said.
While etiquette counsels against rudeness, safety trumps etiquette, Post and Senning have said on the Awesome Etiquette podcast and in the “Centennial Edition.”
Tolerance doesn’t mean tolerating an unwanted hug, an inappropriate touch or being “othered,” said Post, who has co-authored and authored etiquette books on topics ranging from weddings to legalized cannabis use.
Take hugging. “We talk about how to ask for a hug and how to block a hug,” Post said.
Etiquette experts, like the rest of us, take time off. On vacation, Post, co-author and narrator with Kelly Williams Brown of the Audible Original “Mistakes were Made” (think etiquette meets “Broad City”), doesn’t want to be rude to people. “But, sometimes, I don’t want to analyze behavior,” she said, “I just want to act.”
For info on the fascinating life of Emily Post, go to “Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners” by Laura Claridge.