Connect with us

Books

20th edition of Emily Post’s ‘Etiquette’ offers updated advice on pronouns and much more

A guide for daily life ‘with all its successes and mishaps’

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Books

New book reveals that some secrets last a lifetime

‘All the Broken Places’ should be on your must-read list

Published

on

(Book cover image courtesy Pamela Dorman Books)

All the Broken Places
By John Boyne
c. 2022, Pamela Dorman Books
$28/400 pages

It shall not pass your lips.

No, That Thing You Do Not Talk About is off-limits in all conversation, a non-topic when the subject surfaces. Truly, there are just certain things that are nobody’s business and in the new novel, “All the Broken Places” by John Boyne, some secrets must last a lifetime.

She hated the idea that she would have to adjust to new neighbors.

Ninety-one-year-old Gretel Fernsby wasn’t so much bothered by new people, as she was by new noise. She hated the thought of inuring herself to new sounds, and what if the new tenants had children? That was the worst of all. Gretel never was much for children, not her own and certainly not any living below her.

Once, there was a time when Gretel could imagine herself with many children. That was nearly 80 years ago, when she was in love with her father’s driver, Kurt. She thought about Kurt through the years – he had fallen out of favor with her father, and was sent elsewhere – and she wondered if he survived the war.

Her father didn’t, nor did her younger brother but Gretel didn’t think about those things. What happened at the “other place” was not her fault.

She hadn’t known. She was innocent.

That was what she told herself as she and her mother fled to Paris. Gretel was 15 then, and she worked hard to get rid of her German accent but not everyone was fooled by her bad French or her story. She was accosted, hated. As soon as her mother died, she sailed to Australia, where she lived with a woman who loved other women, until it became dangerous there, too. She practiced her English and moved to London where she was married, widowed, and now she had to get used to new neighbors and new sounds and new ways for old secrets to sneak into a conversation.

OK, clear your calendar. Get “All the Broken Places” and just don’t make any plans, other than to read and read and read.

The very first impression you get of author John Boyne’s main character, Gretel, is that she’s grumpy, awful, and nasty. With the many bon mots she drops, however, the feeling passes and it’s sometimes easy to almost like her – although it’s clear that she’s done some vile things in her lifetime, things that emerge slowly as the horror of her story dawns. Then again, she professes to dislike children, but (no spoilers here!) she doesn’t, not really, and that makes her seem like someone’s sweet old grandmother. ‘Tis a conundrum.

Don’t let that fool you, though. Boyne has a number of Gretel-sized roadside bombs planted along the journey that is this book. Each ka-boom will hit your heart a little harder.

This is a somewhat-sequel to “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” but you can read it alone. Do, and when you finish, you’ll want to immediately read it again, to savor anew.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading

Books

Memoir reveals gay writer’s struggle with homelessness, rape

‘Place Called Home’ a powerful indictment of foster care system

Published

on

(Book cover image courtesy Legacy Lit/Hachette)

A Place Called Home: A Memoir
By David Ambroz
c. 2022, Legacy Lit/Hachette
$30/384 pages

For David Ambroz, 42, author of the stunning new memoir “A Place Called Home,” one of his childhood recollections is of himself and his siblings walking with Mary, their mother, on a freezing Christmas morning in New York City.

Today, Ambroz, who is gay and a foster parent, is a poverty and child welfare expert and the head of Community Engagement (West) for Amazon.

But, on that morning, Ambroz remembers, when he was five, he and his seven-year-old sister Jessica and six-year-old brother Alex were freezing. Mary, their mother was severely mentally ill. They were homeless.

Ambroz draws you into his searing memoir with his first sentence. “I’m hungry,” he writes in the simple, frightened, perceptive voice of a malnourished, shivering little boy.

As it got dark and colder, Ambroz recalls, he walked with his family, wearing “clownishly large” sneakers “plucked from the trash.” 

Five-year-old Ambroz remembers that the night before his family got lucky. They had dinner (mac and cheese) at a church “with a sermon on the side.”  

“We heard the story of the three kings bringing gifts to the baby Jesus,” Ambroz writes.

But the next day they’re still homeless and hungry. Talk about no room at the inn.

Young Ambroz doesn’t know the word “death,” but he (literally) worries that he and his family will die. Frozen, hungry and invisible to uncaring passersby.

Ambroz’s mom, a nurse, is occasionally employed and able to house her family in dilapidated apartments. But she’s soon ensnared by her mental illness, unable to work. Then, her family is homeless again.

Until, he was 12, Ambroz and his siblings were abused and neglected by their mother.

Ambroz doesn’t know as a young boy that he’s gay. But, he can tell he’s different. Instead of playing street games with the other kids, Ambroz likes to play “doctor” with another boy in the neighborhood.

Mary tells him being gay is sinful and that you’ll die from AIDS if you’re queer.

His mother, having decided that he’s Jewish, makes Ambroz undergo a badly botched circumcision. At one point, she beats him so badly that he falls down a flight of stairs.

At 12, Ambroz reports this abuse to the authorities and he’s placed into the foster care system.

If you think this country’s foster care system is a safe haven for our nation’s 450,000 kids in foster care, Ambroz will swiftly cut through that misperception.

From ages 12 to 17, Ambroz is ricocheted through a series of abusive, homophobic foster placements.

One set of foster parents try to make him more “macho,” rent him out to work for free for their friends and withhold food from him. At another placement, a counselor watches and does nothing as other kids beat him while hurling gay slurs.

Thankfully, Ambroz meets Holly and Steve who become fabulous foster parents. Ambroz has been abused and hungry for so long he finds it hard to understand that he can eat whatever he wants at their home.

Through grit, hard work and his intelligence, Ambroz earned a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, was an intern at the White House and graduated from the UCLA School of Law. Before obtaining his position at Amazon, he led Corporate Social Responsibility for Walt Disney Television.

But none of this came easily for him. Coming out was hard for many LGBTQ people in the 1990s. It was particularly difficult for Ambroz.

In college, Ambroz is deeply closeted. He’s ashamed to reveal anything about his past (growing up homeless and in foster care) and his sexuality. 

At one point, he’s watching TV, along with other appalled students, as the news comes on about Matthew Shepard being murdered because he was gay. Ambroz can see that everyone is enraged and terrified by this hate crime. Yet, he’s too ashamed to reveal anything of his sexuality.

Over Christmas vacation, Ambroz decides it’s time to explore his sexuality.

Telling no one, Ambroz takes a train to Miami. There, he goes home with a man (who he meets on a bus) who rapes him.

“I run in no particular direction just away from this monster,” he recalls. “When I get back to my hotel room, I’m bleeding…I order food delivered but can’t eat any of it.”

“A Place Called Home” has the power of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”

Ambroz’s writing becomes less powerful when he delves into the weeds of policy. But this is a minor quibble.

Ambroz is a superb storyteller. Unless you lack a heartbeat, you can’t read “A Place Called Home” without wanting to do something to change our foster care system. 

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading

Books

New book explores impact of family secrets

Her father was hiding his sexual orientation

Published

on

(Book cover image courtesy HarperOne)

The Family Outing: A Memoir
By Jessi Hempel
c. 2022, HarperOne
$27.99/320 pages

Don’t tell the children.

For most families in America in the last century, that was the maxim to live by: the kids are on a need-to-know basis and since they’re kids, they don’t need to know. And so what did you miss? Did you know about familial philanthropy, rebellion, embarrassment, poverty? As in the new memoir, “The Family Outing” by Jessi Hempel, did secrets between parent and child run both ways?

“What happened to me?”

That’s the big question Jessi Hampel had after many therapy sessions to rid herself of a recurring nightmare. She had plenty of good memories. Her recollection of growing up in a secure family with two siblings was sharp, wasn’t it?

She thought so – until she started what she called “The Project.”

With permission from her parents and siblings, Hempel set up Skype and Zoom sessions and did one-on-one interviews with her family, to try to understand why her parents divorced, why her brother kept mostly to himself, how the family dynamics went awry, why her sister kept her distance, and how secrets messed everything up.

Hempel’s father had an inkling as a young man that he was gay, but his own father counseled him to hide it. When he met the woman who would eventually be his wife, he was delighted to become a husband and father, as long as he could sustain it.

Years before, Hempel’s mother was your typical 1960s teenager with a job at a local store, a crush on a slightly older co-worker and, coincidentally, a serial killer loose near her Michigan neighborhood. Just after the killer was caught, she realized that the co-worker she’d innocently flirted with might’ve been the killer’s accomplice.

For nearly the rest of her life, she watched her back.

One secret, one we-don’t-discuss-it, and a young-adult Hempel was holding something close herself. What else didn’t she know? Why did she and her siblings feel the need for distance? She was trying to figure things out when the family imploded.

Ever had a dream that won’t stop visiting every night? That’s where author Jessi Hempel starts this memoir, and it’s the perfect launching point for “The Family Outing.”

Just prepare yourself. The next step has Hempel telling her mother’s tale for which, at the risk of being a spoiler, you’ll want to leave the lights on. This account will leave readers good and well hooked, and ready for the rest of what turns out to be quite a detective story.

And yet, it’s a ways away from the Sherlockian. Readers know what’s ahead, we know the score before we get there, but the entwining of five separate lives in a fact-finding mission makes this book feel as though it has a surprise at every turn.

Sometimes, it’s a good surprise. Sometimes, it’s a bad one.

A happily minimized amount of profanity and a total lack of overtness make “The Family Outing” a book you can share with almost anyone, adult, or ally. Read it, and you’ll be wanting to tell everyone.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular