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Goodbye…and Hello

Posted by Peter Post March 30, 2014 10:00 PM

I’m bummed.

I got an email from Boston.com announcing that Community Voices was being dropped as of March 31. The E-Word, which just celebrated its second anniversary (the first post was on March 7, 2012), will no longer be available as part of Community Voices.

Whenever I meet people and they learn that my family and I keep alive the advice that Emily started giving more than 90 years ago through The Emily Post Institute, the conversation inevitably turns to etiquette. People have opinions on the subject and they have questions, lots of questions. The E-Word has been a great way to keep the conversation going about current events that touch on how we treat each other as well as exploring a wide variety of etiquette issues.

I’d hate to lose the momentum The E-Word has generated. So with the demise of Community Voices, I plan to continue The E-Word and locate it on the Emily Post Institute’s website, www.emilypost.com.

If you want to continue to enjoy the blog, please visit the Emily Post website where more information on how to connect to The E-Word will appear on our home page shortly.

In parting, I’d like to thank Boston.com for hosting The E-Word these past two years, and I’d like to thank all of you for reading it and joining in the conversation.

The Handwritten Letter Is Still Important.

Posted by Peter Post March 25, 2014 07:00 AM

A recent interview I saw that the Associated Press conducted with former president Jimmy Carter got me to thinking: Just what is the benefit of a handwritten letter sent through the mail versus an electronic communication such as an email or text message?

Certainly letters carry an aura of privacy, especially when we hear of the surveillance capabilities of the NSA to gather electronic information. Former president Carter revealed that he communicates by writing letters. He either types them or he pens them in longhand. He explained that he puts the letters he writes in envelopes, puts stamps on them and mails them himself. Why? Because he feels that “my telephone calls and my email are being monitored, and there are some things I just don't want anybody to know." Clearly, he sees a privacy advantage to sending a letter in the mail.

Is a letter really and truly private? Certainly it is more private than an email or text message that the NSA can capture electronically. Even so, a letter can be copied or read by others.

One of the real benefits of a handwritten letter is the personal touch it conveys, which comes from the effort to handwrite or type the message. That message on paper says to the recipient, “You are important to me” in a way that an email does not. When that message arrives in the mail, it stands out from all the other bills and junk mail that are also delivered. Once opened and read, it remains as a visible reminder of the sender for hours, days, or even weeks. Rarely, is it crumpled into a ball and tossed. Yet, in effect, that is exactly what happens to an electronic message. Once read, if it is read at all, it is closed and deleted or superseded by all the other messages that come in after it. It is tossed.

In this day and age, while the privacy a mailed letter may enjoy is increasingly important, the personal touch of a handwritten letter, especially when so much is sent electronically, is what makes it a really valuable way to communicate.

A Time To Share And A Time To Keep Your Mouth Shut

Posted by Peter Post March 18, 2014 07:00 AM

I was visiting with a good friend of mine yesterday. I hadn’t seen her in a while and was enjoying catching up. FYI: She’s in the midst of dealing with a difficult cancer situation. She had taken the lead in talking about some of the challenges she had faced. Suddenly, in the middle of the conversation, she asked, “Do you know what really frosts me?”

Of course she knows that Emily Post is my great-grandmother and that I dish advice in the etiquette world, but it’s unusual when friends turn the conversation to etiquette. Friends tend to respect the boundary between my professional life and my personal life. Turn it she did.

“I hate it when someone suddenly starts telling me about someone they knew who had a cancer like mine and they end the story by saying, “And it didn’t turn out well,’” or, “And after all that treatment, they died in about six months.”

I was incredulous. How tactless. Bad enough the person was involving a third party in the conversation. But even worse that their story ended by focusing on the negative. “It drives me nuts when they do that,” she continued.

“Does that really happen?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” she said.

I couldn’t resist asking the next question. “More than once?”

“Lots more than once. All the time.” She countered.

My wife chimed in talking about a friend of hers who has cancer and had related the same tactless kind of story. They both agreed that you would think people would know better, but apparently at least some people don’t.

If you are with someone who has cancer, be supportive; be a good listener. But don’t tell them about a person you know who died or is faring poorly from the same condition. It’s not comforting, and even if they don’t say anything, it is anxiety provoking and hurtful.

Some good things to say? “I am sorry to hear that. I hope you are doing well now,” or, “How are you doing/feeling right now?” Then just listen to what your friend is willing or able to share. And if you are the person in difficulty, don’t be shy about asking for help. Friends really do want to be helpful and useful. So, if someone could cook a meal, pick up some groceries, take you shopping, or just go for a walk or be a listening ear, let them know. And friends, keep the bad outcomes to yourself and enjoy being with your friend in a positive, supportive way in the here and now.

Elbows on the Table?

Posted by Peter Post March 11, 2014 07:00 AM

It’s not often I come across etiquette that I’ve never heard of, but yesterday I did. What was even more interesting is how one piece of that advice reminded me exactly of the advice Emily gave in the first edition of Etiquette in 1922.

So what is the new-to-me etiquette advice I came across? 10 Rules for Naked Dining: The Etiquette of Nude Resorts. It was an article on the Fox News web site. When I saw it, I couldn’t resist so I clicked.

Most of the advice was pretty obvious: Don’t get too near the grill; ladies, understandably, don’t lean across the table; carry a towel—not to wrap around yourself but to sit on; no staring; and others. But one piece of advice caught my eye:

“Sit up straight,” says Masini (the person interviewed). “Good posture at the dinner table is always a way to show good breeding and good manners, but when you’re nude, slouching and elbows akimbo are not only more noticeable—they create a silhouette that is less attractive than if you have clothes on. Sit up straight!”
One of the big misconceptions about dining etiquette that I’ve heard attributed to Emily Post is the “No elbows on the table” rule. While Emily counseled that elbows should not be on the table while you eat, in between courses, especially in restaurants where conversation could be difficult, sitting up straight while leaning forward with your elbows on the edge of the table was okay.
Elbows are universally seen on tables in restaurants, especially when people are lunching or dining at a small table of two or four, and it is impossible to make oneself heard above the music by one’s table companions, and at the same time not be heard at other tables nearby, without leaning far forward. And in leaning forward, a woman’s figure makes a more graceful outline supported on her elbows than doubled forward over her hands in her lap as though in pain!
Etiquette by Emily Post, 1922, pages 585-586
Posture, sitting up and forward, no slouching—it works at the dinner table whether you have clothes on or not.

Warming Up at the Gym

Posted by Peter Post March 4, 2014 07:00 AM

I went to my health club today and did a cardio session on an elliptical machine. First time in two weeks. I couldn’t help but notice that I wasn’t alone in renewing my commitment to indoor exercise. Anyone who’s experienced the weather this winter and was hoping the first week of March would offer the opportunity to exercise outside was in for a rude awakening. Snow and frigid cold, crazy cold for March, gripped a large swath of the mid-section, mid-Atlantic, and northeast. One result: People headed to their health clubs for relief.

So, now is a good time to remember that even at a health club, your actions affect the people around you, and there are a few important ways each of us can make the experience for everyone more enjoyable.

  1. You may use your smartphone to listen to music or track your progress, but don’t use it to talk to your best friend while you huff and puff away on the machines. If you’ve simply got to make/take a call, step out to the lobby or another place your conversation won’t bother anyone else.
  2. Clean up after yourself. That means wipe off your machines, weights, and equipment after you use them. There is nothing grosser than someone else’s sweat glistening on the equipment you’d like to use. Cleaning up after yourself isn't limited to equipment. Towels go in the hamper or basket after you’re finished with them. Shaving stubble shouldn’t greet the next person to use a sink. Cleanup any water you’ve dripped around your dressing area and leave it neat.
  3. With all the people going to the gym, respect any cardio equipment time limits the gym may have so everyone has a fair chance. Same goes for weights and other equipment. When you are finished with weight equipment remove the weights and/or rerack them.
  4. Respect the people in class with you. Be on time and if you have to leave early let the instructor know at the beginning of the class.
  5. Daunt flaunt yourself. A little modesty on the gym floor, in the locker room, or in class won’t disturb fellow patrons’ comfort levels.

Sergio Garcia’s “Good, good?”

Posted by Peter Post February 25, 2014 07:00 AM


The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship held this past weekend at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, AZ held more than its share of truly unique and surprising moments.

Watching Victor Dubuisson do the impossible twice was a once in a lifetime golf experience. On the first playoff hole, Dubuisson hit his second shot next to a cholla cactus leaving him a virtually impossible shot. He blasted out, landed near the pin, made the putt and tied the hole. He then did the same thing on the next hole—blasting his ball out from amidst a bunch of dead branches to again one putt and tie the hole. The wry smile on Jason Day’s face as he watched Dubuisson’s ball fly out of the brush and hop onto the green said it all—simply amazing.

Day didn’t look dejected, frustrated, or annoyed. Instead, he appreciated the magic he had just witnessed.

Perhaps, in some ways, the strangest moment occurred in the match between Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler. On the sixth hole, Garcia’s ball had landed on what appeared to be a bee’s nest. The effort to drop his ball away from the nest and take his next shot consumed a significant amount of time. All the while, Fowler had to wait for his attempt at what seemed to be a sure-bet birdie putt. He missed. On the next hole Fowler faced an 18-foot putt for par while Garcia had a six-foot par putt. While Fowler lined up his putt, Garcia suddenly asked him, “Good, good?” Fowler was incredulous at first. But when he realized Garcia was serious, he jumped at the chance. Hole halved. Why did Garcia offer such a magnanimous good-good? “I felt like maybe I took too much time (on the sixth hole)," Garcia said. "That might have made a difference on his (missing a birdie) putt."

And then he added: "I like to be as fair as possible. . . . At least I feel good with myself, even though I lost." With the much shorter putt he might well have won the seventh hole and maybe the match. But his sense of sportsmanship took over; he tied the seventh; then he ultimately lost the match one down, and he never looked back. It’s why I love golf, both to play it and to watch it. While I appreciate Day’s smile, I’m really impressed by Sergio’s sportsmanship. Congratulations Sergio. Well done.

Danica, Positively Brilliant

Posted by Peter Post February 18, 2014 07:00 AM

Danica Patrick is starting to grow on me. She’s been sort of a curiosity since she stepped onto the NASCAR scene. But truth be told, I’ve probably seen her more in her GoDaddy commercials than I have seen her when I happened to be watching a NASCAR event.

What’s brought her front and center is the recent brouhaha over Richard Petty’s comments about her skills as a driver and the chances she has of ever winning a NASCAR event. NASCAR News & Media reported Petty’s comment in response to a question at the Canadian Motorsports Expo this past weekend this way: “[Patrick] would only win a Sprint Cup Series race, ‘if everybody else stayed home.’” Ouch.

What’s Patrick’s response to this shot across her bow? "People are going to judge what he said and I'm just not going to." She comes on pretty strongly that everyone is entitled to an opinion and, generally speaking, those opinions about her generate a positive return for her. "I really feel that I like people who have opinions. That is fine with me. It creates such great conversation. The last time someone said something that wasn't so positive for me, it spawned so many positive articles. So for me, there is a positive side to it, too.”

So rather than being insulted, rather than attacking Petty, rather than getting upset, she finds the positive. She says she’s not bothered by it and won’t even pursue trying to speak to Petty about his comments or look for a retraction or an apology from him.

And that, in a nutshell, is a lesson Emily Post taught, right from the first day Etiquette was published back in 1922: Have confidence in yourself and find the positive in a situation. And that’s why Danica Patrick is starting to grow on me. She handled what could have ended up as a slanging match perfectly by turning Petty’s comments into a positive for her and not getting stressed out about his opinion. We can all take a lesson.

Bravo Danica.

Life’s Little Annoyances

Posted by Peter Post February 11, 2014 07:00 AM

For the past twenty-one years my wife and I have enjoyed a long weekend playing golf in Florida with three other couples. It’s always been a much-needed brief respite from the winter weather in Vermont. All January it’s something to look forward to, and the shot of warm weather helps us get through the rest of February and March.

Yesterday, one of the men I was playing with simply could not avoid landing in a bunker. Every hole at least once, and sometimes two or more times, he was blasting his way out of the sand. It was painful to watch, and the rest of us could only commiserate as we all have experienced similar golf difficulties at other times. To his credit he didn’t complain, get overly frustrated, swear he’d never pick up a club again, or do anything other than play from the bunker and then rake up after himself. While his bunker play improved with each passing hole, what was really impressive was how positively he handled what was a decidedly frustrating round of golf.

That got me to thinking about other examples of repetitive frustrations and how others or I handle them. For me, it’s traffic lights. There are days when it seems no matter where I am or how many times it has already happened, as I approach a traffic signal, it turns yellow. I’m not sure why, but as the day progresses, it gets more and more annoying. After watching how my friend handled his adversity in the bunkers, I vowed not to let frustrations like yellow lights get to me, not to swear, and grumble and be exasperated.

Those repetitive frustrating events are going to be part of everyone’s journey. They can breed anger and stress, which in turn can lead to discourtesy, incivility, and an unpleasant time for everyone involved. Or, you can navigate them with a positive attitude and an understanding that there are more important things in life than being in a sand trap or waiting at a light that’s just changed yellow. The next time it happens to you, take a deep breath, relax, envision the bigger picture and save yourself and the people around you from unnecessary discourtesy and stress.

Coping With Airline Travel Foul-Ups

Posted by Peter Post February 4, 2014 07:00 AM

My daughter popped her head into my office a few minutes ago. (Yes, she works at The Emily Post Institute, too, along with my other daughter and one of my nephews.) She had been scheduled to fly from Burlington, Vermont to New York City later in the afternoon.

“I just learned my flight has been delayed from 6:30PM until 8:00PM,” she announced. Now, the average person might just think to herself, “Now I can delay going to the airport for an extra hour and a half.” But my daughter said something that demonstrated a keen grasp of having learned how to handle today’s vagaries of flying, especially in the lousy weather we’ve experienced in the past month. “I think I’ll still go to the airport early. You never know when they might end up sending the plane early even though they’ve announced the new time.”

She wasn’t frustrated or annoyed. Instead, she’s learned to take the downs of flying in stride, and not to get stressed. When flying plans do go south, here’s some advice to make the situation as palatable as possible:

  1. Remain calm. When you speak to the customer service agent, be as friendly and helpful as you can. The old adage really works here: “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
  2. Anticipate. Even though she may have to wait that extra hour and a half at the airport, my daughter will be there and be ready for any unexpected earlier departure. What a bummer to arrive an hour and a half later and find out the flight had ended up departing earlier after all.
  3. Keep moving. Do whatever you can to fly out of a troubled area. I was in Washington’s Dulles airport one evening with thunderstorms and horrendous weather screwing up flights all over the place. I was trying to get back to Burlington and my plane kept getting delayed. I noticed there was a flight boarding passengers for Boston. So I ran to that gate and arrived just as they were finishing up. “Can you put me on this flight?” I asked, showing the agent my ticket to Burlington. There were three seats still available, and she asked if I had checked luggage. (I hadn’t). She made a few keystrokes and told me to get on the plane. I called my travel agent from my seat (great use of a smartphone) and asked her to book me a rental car from Boston. I was able to drive home that night. Later, I found out people had been delayed in Washington for as much as two days because of the weather.
  4. Accept the inevitable. The unfortunate reality is if you’re going to fly, things are going to go wrong a certain amount of the time. Weather is going to cause you to miss a flight. Equipment problems are going to delay you. A pilot is going to be delayed getting to your flight. Getting worked up and stressed out won’t change anything, and if you do take it out on customer service agents, it’s not likely going to help you resolve your situation. Rather, it could just lose you that cooperative edge, so necessary when you need it most.

Super Bowl Party Oxymoron

Posted by Peter Post January 28, 2014 07:00 AM

I was with some friends last week and the topic of Super Bowl parties came up. For a long time now I’ve thought the concept of a Super Bowl Party was an oxymoron. But, as a regular Super Bowl Party invitee, I’ve been too timid to express my observation.

Every year thousands of people visit thousands of other peoples’ homes to eat, drink, and watch a football game. My issue with this concept is you can go to a party or you can watch the game, but watching the game at a party is decidedly difficult. You inevitably have the stalwart fans glued to the television. They tend to snag places up front near the screen and intently focus on the action. Then, you have the not-so-rabid fans who watch, but at the same time they converse about anything and everything. Then, you can throw in the commercial watchers who could care less about the game but want to rate the ads and the next day see how their opinions jive with America’s. Finally, you have the people who have absolutely no interest in the game or the commercials. They stand or sit in the back and converse oblivious to how their conversation may make watching or hearing the commercials, much less the game, impossible.

And back up front the people actually interested in the game try with limited success to hear the commentary over the cacophony of chatter from the other three groups.

“Do you think it’s okay if we bolt at half-time and go home to watch the game?” one friend asked. “Maybe we should just get together here and actually watch the game,” commented another.

I’m not sure what their final choice will be. I’ll find out on Sunday evening. I’ll be sitting up front and if they’re not there, I know just where they are.

Fork and Knife 101

Posted by Peter Post January 21, 2014 07:00 AM

My daughter, Lizzie, was a guest on Katie, Katie Couric’s talk show last week. While, naturally, I enjoyed all of Lizzie’s appearance, I was particularly struck by one of the etiquette dining tips Katie and Lizzie discussed: holding a fork when cutting food. While you might think it need not be mentioned, it’s something that people notice.

The important thing about manners, and table manners in particular, is that they help you project a positive image to the people around you. With table manners, the real goal is NOT to draw attention to yourself as you are eating. And, unfortunately, holding a fork incorrectly draws unwelcome attention to you. Katie makes this point when she said, “I go out to dinner with some adults and how they hold their fork and knife, that’s shocking to me.” What shocks her is to see a person holding a fork like this:

Fork-2-WO.jpg

A better way, a way that lets you be in control of your fork (and knife for that fact because you hold it the same way) is to hold it like this:

Fork-1-WO.jpg

It’s easy to do: With the tines of the fork facing down place the butt of the handle in the palm of your dominant hand. Then, grasp the handle with your middle finger, ring finger, and pinkie. Place your thumb on the handle so you hold the fork firmly with your thumb and fingers. Finally, place your forefinger on the back of the handle of the fork. Now you can easily press the tines of the fork into the food to hold it while you cut it with your knife. The easiest way to hold the knife is to do exactly the same with your other hand.

Typically, people who are right handed hold the fork in their left hand and the knife in the right hand. Left-handed people can do exactly the opposite.

A Tale of How Not to Eat Pizza in New York City

Posted by Peter Post January 14, 2014 07:00 AM

Every now and then a news story comes along that puts perspective on the 24-hour news cycle that simply doesn’t have enough “news” to fill it. Enter New York Mayor Bill de Blasio whose bow to tradition ended up in the news cycle for the wrong reason. Apparently there’s a tradition of sorts in New York politics to eat pizza at Goodfellas Pizza on Staten Island. Certainly, considering his Italian roots, eating pizza at Goodfellas should have been controversy free.

But it wasn’t.

Mayor de Blasio committed the cardinal sin of pizza eating, at least the cardinal sin of pizza eating in New York City. While the ten or so other people with him manhandled their slices into their mouths, de Blasio picked up his fork and knife and proceeded to cut bite-size pieces and raise them to his mouth on the fork.

The shame of it.

Reading the good-natured ribbing de Blasio took from such culinarily refined institutions as the New York Daily News, one might wonder if de Blasio will ever live down this dining etiquette slap at pizza eating New York-style.

So what is the etiquette of eating pizza?

The answer lies in why we have dining etiquette at all. Basically, dining etiquette helps us limit the grossness of the act of eating. Think about it. You cut, scoop, or pick up food on a utensil (or in your fingers in the case of New York pizza), put it in your mouth, chew it into a mushy pulp, swallow it and then repeat the process twenty or thirty times—all while trying not to gross out the people you are eating with. That’s dining etiquette in a nutshell.

The de Blasio supposed infraction of New York City pizza eating rules smells very similar to the great dining etiquette debate of whether using your utensils to cut food American or Continental style is more appropriate. In American style you cut a piece of food with fork and knife, then put the knife down and switch the fork to the hand that held the knife and lift the food to your mouth. When eating using the Continental style, after cutting a piece of food you immediately lift the food on your fork to your mouth without switching. The Emily Post take on this etiquette issue: It doesn’t matter which method you use; use the one that you are most coordinated eating with, the one that allows you to get the food to your mouth without grossing out your dinner companions.

So, Mayor deBlasio, here's my advice to you: Eat your pizza your way, even at Goodfellas. Whatever way is most comfortable to you, do it. You’re less likely to walk out with pizza splatter all over your shirt. And I suspect if you did mess up your shirt, that would be a whole new story for another slow news day.

Questionable Email: Trust Your Instinct

Posted by Peter Post January 7, 2014 07:00 AM

I received an email today from an old colleague. The message read:

I stumbled unto (a misspelling in the message) this very interesting and educative article on wealth management and decided to share it with you. I hope you enjoy it

Click Here

WARM REGARDS / HAPPY NEW YEAR


FYI: The “Click Here” was a URL link that I have deleted from this blog post.

The email really seemed like it came from the colleague. I even noticed that the signature was her complete signature block.

Although it seemed legitimate, I thought it strange that she was writing to me, as I hadn’t communicated with her for a couple of years.

So, I read it and reread it and began to get more suspicious. I was bcc’d (blind carbon copied). Perhaps she had sent it to a number of people and wanted to avoid sharing everyone’s email addresses with each other—normally a considerate thing to do when emailing a group of people who may not know each other. Still, the bcc gave me pause to look more closely.

Then I noticed that the email not only came from her, but the TO address appeared to be a second email address of hers. Why would she send an email to herself? While I realize people who send a bcc email will often fill the TO field with their own address, I still got more suspicious.

And then I began to wonder about the content of the message: “unto this very interesting and educative article on wealth management” that she wanted to share with me. That didn’t make sense. Our relationship was based on etiquette work.

Trust your instinct. Don’t open email attachments unless you are sure they come from someone you know and that it is logical that the person really sent the email to you. Not sure? Send the email back to the person and ask him if he really sent it to you. I did.

I heard back from her very quickly: ‘Thanks for your caution and you were correct, I didn't send it. We think it was a hacker.”

To Whom Should You Send an Actual Thank-you Note?

Posted by Peter Post December 31, 2013 07:00 AM

Holiday gifts have been given, received and opened. The mess of paper and ribbons has been cleaned up, and life is starting to get back to normal. But there’s one final step to be taken: the thank-you note to those from whom you received a gift.

So to whom should you send an actual thank-you note?

The easiest way to think about it is this: If you open a gift in front of the giver and thank the giver on the spot, then you have fulfilled your obligation and are not on the hook for having to write a thank-you note. If, on the other hand, the giver is not present when you open the gift, then a thank-you note is in order. In this case, not only are you expressing your appreciation, you are also letting the person know you did receive the gift. Not sending a thank-you note puts the giver in the awkward position of having to contact you to find out if the gift even arrived.

The real key to the “to write or not to write the thank-you note” dilemma is couched in the word “obligation” in the previous paragraph. Much too often we think of thank-you notes as something we have to do—a dreaded chore. Instead, think of the thank-you note as an opportunity to reach out and show your appreciation to someone who was thoughtful enough to give you a gift. The note itself doesn’t need to be long or involved—just three or four sentences will do very nicely; tuck it into an envelope, address it, stick a stamp on it, and mail it.

Email or through the US Postal service? Think of it this way. Amidst the bills and junk mail the recipient gets every day, your note will stand out. After the recipient reads it, she’ll put it down on a counter or desk or table where she’ll be reminded of you each time she sees it. An email, which may get stopped by a spam blocker or sent to a junk folder, will be opened, read, closed, and then deleted. Ask yourself: Would I rather my thanks be remembered or deleted?

One final suggestion: If you have children whom you are encouraging to write their notes, try making it a group activity and you write your thank-you notes right along with them. Provide the tools if needed—notecards, envelopes, pens, pencils, or crayons for the little ones. You’ll demonstrate to them that you hold yourself to the same standard that you’re asking them to meet.

Your Most Important Gift This Season: Saying Thank You

Posted by Peter Post December 24, 2013 07:00 AM

Each year at this time The Emily Post Institute receives interview requests about holiday related subjects. Typically, there’s always one issue which dominates more than others. One year we were inundated with requests about regifting; another it was about office parties. This year the focus is on what’s an appropriate amount to spend on a holiday gift and what to do if you have a limited budget.

The issue of an appropriate amount to spend really isn’t an etiquette question except when it involves spending too much. Then it can become an issue of the gift making the giftee uncomfortable and that is the antithesis of what gift giving should be. The reason the value of the gift isn’t an etiquette question is because each person’s circumstances are different. What person A can afford, person B simply can’t without racking up debt. Each person should set a budget, figure out how much they can afford to spend on each person on their list, and then find the nicest, best, most thoughtful gift possible without overspending. Homemade gifts can keep you on budget: food items are always well received but so, too, a scarf you knit or a watercolor you paint.

Regardless of the gift, and frankly even if you can’t give a gift at all, express your sentiments to the person with a card or note. Use it to express your thanks and appreciation to that person for being in your life and wish them the very best in the year to come. After all, that expression of thanks and appreciation is what the holiday season is really all about.

In that spirit, I extend a sincere thank you to all of you who take the time to read this blog. I really appreciate your comments (even when you don’t agree with me), your interest in etiquette, and the importance of building positive relationships. Have a happy and safe holiday, and I wish you all the best in the new year!

Who’s Receiving Holiday Tips?

Posted by Peter Post December 17, 2013 07:00 AM

‘Tis the season to say thanks and to acknowledge those who have provided you with service throughout the year. Every year at this time people ask about holiday tipping—a tradition that’s been around for a long time.

As you consider who you would like to tip, figure our just how much you can give this year and then share it out amongst those on your list. Most importantly, people should not feel obligated to give holiday tips if it’s simply not within their budgets to do so. The real importance of the holiday tip is saying thank you. A card with a heartfelt message is a perfect alternative.

The Emily Post Institute offers guidelines for holiday tipping, but I’ve often wondered who actually makes the holiday tip list and what they receive. So, The Emily Post Institute and SurveyMonkey conducted a holiday tipping survey in early December. The results are in and show most of us are still quite conscious of seasonal gratitude in the form of holiday tipping—61% of us, to be exact. We’re not spreading pre-recession levels of tipping cheer just yet, but we are intent on bestowing a little extra on those who help us throughout the year, be it a monetary tip or homemade gift or simply a hand-written note of thanks.

Specifics from the survey:


  • 61% of respondents give holiday tips.

  • 39% don’t tip, for a variety of reasons, including lack of awareness of this long-standing tradition, or because they have no essential service providers in their day-to-day life.

  • 27% of non-tippers say the reason why is because they tip regularly during the year.

  • 25% of non-tippers say they simply can't afford it.


The most tipped professions include:

  • Barber/beauty salon staff: 57% with the majority (46%) tipping $1-$25

  • Mail carrier: 46% with the majority (42%) tipping $1-$25

  • Newspaper Delivery: 38% with the majority (35%) tipping $1-$25

  • Trash collectors: 25% with the majority (21%) tipping $1-$25

  • Housekeepers: 23% of respondents tip and the majority (9.4%) tip $26-$50


Not all holiday gratitude is expressed with cash:

  • 7% of respondents don’t tip monetarily, and say that instead they give or make a gift.

Whether it’s cash, a card, or a gift, I encourage you to take a moment to say “thanks” this holiday season to those who make your life more pleasant or run more smoothly throughout the year.

Deciding What To Give To Whom This Gift-Giving Season

Posted by Peter Post December 10, 2013 07:00 AM


With the approaching gift-giving season, I often get asked how a person should approach the process of deciding who to give to and what to give.

The most important consideration in deciding the who and the what is first to determine just how much you can afford to give this year. The answer should not include borrowing or credit card debt in order to give gifts to family, friends, colleagues, or those who provide service throughout the year. With that caveat in mind, each person has to decide for him or herself just how much they can afford to set aside for gifts.

Next, make a list of the people you to whom you want to give gifts. If the list gets too big, you may have to prioritize. Then slice up your gift-giving budget among those people. Now you have a place to start, whether you shop online or in bricks and mortar stores.

What to give? I like trying to think about what interests the person has and what gift I can find that reflects those interests. Gift cards are another perfectly acceptable way to go. I like them because even if you haven’t found a specific gift, you have directed your gift giving to a particular interest of the recipient. Cash, while not at all personal, is almost always appreciated by service providers and nieces and nephews alike.

You may find yourself in a tight budget situation. In that case consider a gift that includes some effort on your part but which may go a long way in allowing you to give a gift while staying within your budget. It may be something you make yourself that is a gift of your time and talent: a food item like cookies you bake, something you’ve grown in your garden that you’ve preserved, a gift certificate of your time to baby sit a niece, nephew, or friend’s child. As long as you think it is something the recipient would enjoy or appreciate, a homemade gift or a gift of your time has value and meaning.

Google Glass vs. Your Right To Know You Are Being Photographed

Posted by Peter Post December 3, 2013 07:00 AM

I remember when I was a kid growing up, I saw advertisements for cameras that were so small that you could use one without others knowing their photos were being taken—spy cameras. Or, on the back of bubble gum wrappers, a camera that would let you see through a person’s clothes to the skeleton beneath. I always wondered what kind of scam those cameras were. Ever since the days of the portable and compact Brownie, cameras have had the ability to invade others’ privacy, to be used without the subject knowing they were being photographed.

Fast forward to the advent of the cell phone camera. Again, here’s a camera that is small, inconspicuous, and can be used secretively. My advice regarding cell phone cameras is that they shouldn’t be used in places where people don’t want to be photographed or don’t know they are being photographed, such as restrooms. You couldn’t be sure if the user was talking on the phone or shooting a picture of you during a private moment. Then, too, phones are being used intentionally to catch people in compromising positions. Think Michael Phelps.

Fast forward to today and you have the capability not only to take photos surreptitiously, but also to post them virtually immediately for the whole world to see. And that’s when you run into the problem of whose “rights” to privacy supercede whose.

  • Should we expect a certain level of protection against being “caught” or is it the right of the photographer to catch us unawares anytime, any place?
  • Is it reasonable for an establishment to ban the use of a device simply because it is possible for that device to be used to embarrass or image people without their acquiescence?

And therein is the conundrum faced at Lost Lake Café & Lounge in Seattle recently. A patron entered wearing Google Glass. He was asked to remove the Google Glass or leave the café. He chose to leave.

The owner saw a difference between using a camera—cell phone or otherwise— that other patrons could see being used as opposed to the Google Glass camera, which can be used to take photos or videos without others being aware they are being photographed.

While the jury is out on Google Glass etiquette, regardless of the kind of camera, the thoughtful, considerate thing to do is to let the subject know you are taking their picture and, if they object, then not to take it. In addition, before posting any image of somebody online, take a moment to ask if they mind if you share the image. If they do, then keep the photo to yourself or delete it.

Wait for the Whistle

Posted by Peter Post November 26, 2013 07:00 AM

I was attending a University of Vermont men’s hockey game Sunday afternoon. The second period was only a minute old. Action on the ice was fast and furious. Then, suddenly from my left I hear, “Excuse us, excuse us.” And my view was blocked as this couple was trying to work their way across our row to get to their seats. All of a sudden my view was blocked and my attention was diverted from the game to trying to accommodate these latecomers.

“Unbelievable,” I thought to myself as I tried my let them pass as quickly as possible.

Seriously, they couldn’t wait for a whistle to blow and the action to come to a stop? That’s the considerate, fan-appropriate behavior. Whatever the sport, wait for a break in the action before crossing in front of people who have gotten to their seats on time. Better yet, make a real effort to get to your seats before game time.

The problem of late arrivals isn’t just limited to sporting events. I hear the same complaint from people attending concerts, the movies, a play, a wedding, or the opera. At some events, once the program has started ushers will keep latecomers from going to their seats until there is a natural break just so people already in their seats aren’t disturbed.

Regardless of the event, if you arrive late be considerate of the people already seated and wait until a break in the program before making your way to your seats.

By the way, when you do climb across in front of people already in a row at the movies, the theatre, or a stadium, you should face away from them. It’s one of the few times it’s okay to have your back to someone. That way if you do stumble, you don’t fall right into a stranger’s lap but instead can catch yourself on the back of the seat in front of you.

Limit the Negative Effects of Smoking On and Off the Golf Course

Posted by Peter Post November 18, 2013 07:00 AM

I was driving down the fairway at my local golf course last week when I noticed something that didn’t belong there. One of the things about golf courses in general is they tend to be relatively litter-free. The closer I got the more it became apparent that the object was a cigar butt.

Gross.

I have been known to smoke an occasional cigar and I have even tried smoking one on the golf course. Frankly, I found it disruptive to my concentration on the course so I’ve stopped. But when I did smoke one, I, as well as the others in my group who smoked, took great pains 1. to extinguish it completely, and 2. to deposit it in an appropriate receptacle. Cigar butts, and for that matter cigarette butts, should not litter the golf course.

If you do want to enjoy a cigar or cigarette on the course here are seven tips to make sure your enjoyment doesn’t come at other peoples’ expense.

  1. Before lighting up, ask the others in your foursome if they will mind you smoking. It is especially important if you are sharing a golf cart to ask your fellow rider if he or she minds.
  2. If you are sharing a cart, you might consider walking while you indulge yourself.
  3. Pay attention to where your smoke is blowing. Try to position yourself downwind of others so your smoke doesn’t waft across them as you puff away. In particular, puffing away while standing upwind of someone who is about to make a shot is the height of discourtesy.
  4. If you decide to hold a cigar or cigarette in your mouth while you make a swing, be careful that you don’t inadvertently end up burning a hole in your shirt or sweater.
  5. Take care with where you deposit ashes. Special attention should be taken to avoid dropping them on the green.
  6. Don’t drop your lit cigar or cigarette on the green, either.
  7. Always dispose of butts safely and in an appropriate receptacle.

By the way, the advice for on the course is a good starting point for any time you light up a smoke: Ask first, position yourself so as not to bother to others, take care with your ashes, and extinguish and dispose of it appropriately.

The Selfish Funeral Selfie

Posted by Peter Post November 12, 2013 07:00 AM

I first came across what will hopefully be a relatively short-lived phenomena while reading a Huffington Post blog, “The 8 Selfies You Must Absolutely, Positively Never Take.” I had seen the title in a news item and decided to follow the thread.

And then I saw the first item: The Funeral Selfie. “You have got to be kidding me,” I thought to myself. People don’t really shoot a selfie of themselves at a funeral and then post it.

Sure enough, they do. Right there in the copy was a link to Tumblr where a post titled “Selfies at Funerals” shows a whole series of examples.

The girl in the first one posts a sincere message, “You never appreciate what you have until it’s gone. R. I. P. Grandpa, you will be missed.” Unfortunately, her selfie seems at odds with her message. Her short shorts seem out of place for the seriousness of the occasion and her expression is dubiously sad, but at least the message is sincere.

“Maybe,” I thought to myself, “I’m being quick to judgment. Maybe funeral selfies really are thoughtful, heartfelt tributes to the recently deceased. So I scrolled down to check out the others.

Nope.

As I scrolled down, I spied the third selfie in which the writer seems more concerned about her hair than the funeral she is attending: “Love my hair today. Hate why I’m dressed up. #funeral.”

By the time I got to the “On our way to a funeral selfie” I thought I couldn’t be surprised by anything anyone posted in this genre, but again I was wrong. Tongues wagging out of gaping mouths lack any semblance of respect. The message: This is all just one big joke We’re here because we have to be.

The funeral selfie is simply outrageous. It is not about respect for the person who has died. As the term implies, it’s all about the self, the person shooting their own picture, and that is the antithesis of the purpose for attending a funeral or expressing one’s condolences. The title of the Huffington Post blog was right on: the funeral selfie is one selfie you absolutely positively should never take.

Finally, Flight Attendants Can Stop Being “Hall Monitors.”

Posted by Peter Post November 5, 2013 07:00 AM

"We're frankly tired of feeling like 'hall monitors' when it comes to this issue," Laura Glading, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said in an article titled “FAA loosens rules for electronic devices during flights” in USA Today on November 1.

I’ve often wondered how the flight attendants felt about having to enforce what was a seemingly foolish directive. It’s readily apparent that the devices don’t affect the aircraft in flight. All one had to do was look around at nearby passengers and see how many devices were simply closed rather than shut down to realize planes have been flying safely with devices turned on for years.

I applaud this common sense change. The next step is for the airlines to certify that their planes will not be affected by devices being on, and I’m pleased airlines are moving quickly to get FAA acquiescence to change their in-flight passenger directives, and let people use their devices throughout the flight.

Along with privilege comes responsibility: responsibility on the passengers’ part to use their devices in a manner that does not negatively impact those around them. Here are four guidelines to make your use of your electronic device pleasant not only for you but also for your fellow passengers.

  1. Make sure content on your device won’t offend your seatmates or passengers walking up the aisle who may see your screen.
  2. Be careful about showing confidential information on your screen. You should assume the people next to you and near you can see anything on your screen.
  3. Use ear buds or headphones to listen to a show, movie, or music.
  4. Put your device down while the cabin crew makes its safety announcement at the beginning of the flight and take a moment to identify your closest emergency exit. That one moment of precaution could save your life.
I hope this FAA rules change will make the flight attendants’ jobs just a little easier. They already have plenty to do to make the journey safe and pleasant without having to be hall monitors, too.

Holiday Warm-Up

Posted by Peter Post October 29, 2013 07:00 AM

Even though Halloween is only a couple of days away, stores are already setting up displays for the Christmas and holiday seasons. I walked into a Lowes the other day and there, large as life, were fake Christmas trees for sale. And all sorts of other holiday stuff.

At the Emily Post Institute those displays can mean only one thing: an influx of holiday-oriented questions from around the country. Among the first will be questions about holiday greeting cards, so for those of you organized types who are getting out your address books, here are some of our top tips:

  1. Plan ahead. This is my personal failing. If you start now you might actually get that card with a picture of your spouse and/or children or pet printed up and ready to send before Valentine’s Day.
  2. Make a list, check it twice. Make a list of recipients so you’ll know how many to order or purchase. This is also a good time to update addresses, too.
  3. Not their holiday. You can send a greeting card to a person who doesn’t celebrate your holiday, but be mindful of the message and send a seasonal rather than a religious card.
  4. Electronic or traditional in the mail? There’s no one size fits all here. Digital cards may look great on the screen, but printed out on twenty-pound white printer paper, they may look pretty dull and uninteresting compared to the traditional cards hanging next to them in a person’s home. You may choose to send a digital card to people whom you know will enjoy hearing from you that way and send traditional cards to digitally challenged individuals. Review your list (tip 2 above) and see if your recipients are better served with a digital or a traditional greeting.
  5. Bag the brag. Beware the long message detailing all your and your family’s accomplishments during the past year. It’s a greeting card, not an in-depth accounting of all your activities.
  6. Do you have to reciprocate? No. But remember, if you don’t, you may find yourself not receiving a card in the future. It’s a good idea to order a few extra cards in case you would like to reciprocate with someone who sends you a card for the first time. As the sender, send to whom you want and don’t be annoyed if someone doesn’t send one in return.
  7. Work or home? If you want to give a greeting card to a work colleague, send it to his or her home or give it outside of the office. That way you avoid the possibility of others feeling unappreciated.

I’m losing a good friend in 10 days.

Posted by Peter Post October 22, 2013 07:00 AM

Typically, you wait until the event actually happens before you offer condolences. At least that’s what etiquette says. Offering condolences before a person actually passes (weird how we use the word “passed” rather than “died”) is definitely like putting the cart before the horse.

There’s an etiquette question: Is it more appropriate to say “passed” rather than “died” as in “My uncle passed last week.” Somehow using the word died has a harsh reality to it that “passed” avoids. Even so, I’m really not sure that one is better than the other. I think it depends on the individual and his or her comfort with the words.

Back to my impending loss. I think maybe I’ve been hoping that if I ignored it, it wouldn’t be true, that Google would come to its senses and not put iGoogle out to pasture.

There’s one silver lining in this black rain cloud for me: Kudos to Google for being up front about its plans. They’ve given us a year or more to prepare. But honestly, who prepares? Certainly I haven’t.

Well that’s not entirely true. I googled “alternative to iGoogle homepage” a few weeks ago. I even clicked on one or two alternatives. But nothing got me excited. So as is wont with all things Internet, when I wasn’t instantly satisfied, I blew the whole effort off and haven’t made any attempt to find an alternative since.

And now the end is fast approaching. And there really is absolutely nothing I can do to change the outcome except to say, “Thank you Google, for being my gateway to the Internet all these years. I’m sorry to see you go.”

The Oyster Fork Has Outlived Its Time.

Posted by Peter Post October 15, 2013 07:00 AM

Lets consign the oyster fork to dust bin of dining history. Here’s why I say that.

I ate oysters and clams this weekend. On the half shell. Fresh out of Katama Bay on Martha’s Vineyard. Nestled in ice. Consumed as soon as they were opened. Simply beyond compare.

I’ve been opening and eating clams and oysters on the half shell pretty much my whole life. I have movies of my father wading in knee-deep water at a secret clamming spot, finding clams with his toes, picking them up, opening them right then and there, and slurping them down. Frankly, as a youngster, I had no idea there was any other way to eat them other than squeezing a little lemon on the freshly opened clam and then picking up the half shell of pure ambrosia and sliding that luscious morsel into my mouth.

Whenever I’m out and anyone orders oysters, I see them look at the oysters and then at the oyster fork and hesitate. I can see them thinking: “That fork is there for a reason so I better use it.”

Have you ever tried eating an oyster or a clam with an oyster fork? It’s messy. You try to spear it, and maybe you succeed. But still it dangles from the fork most unappetizingly, and then you drip all that good clam or oyster juice onto the plate, your napkin, or maybe your blouse or shirt as well.

And still, my advice is if you’re out at a restaurant with your boss or someone else equally important to you, in spite of your reservations about using the oyster fork, do it. Try your best to balance that slippery devil on the fork or spear it and get it to your mouth without making a mess.

But if you’re the boss or the important person, or you’re with friends, I hope you might recognize the ridiculousness of the situation and alleviate the oyster/clam eater from his or her misery. “John (or Mary or Dan or Betty), please go ahead and pick up that oyster on the half shell and enjoy it the way it should be eaten.”

There is something exquisite about the flavor of a fresh oyster on a half shell. It is the taste of the sea. Everyone who was eating them with me this weekend commented on that special flavor. And they all enjoyed them on the half shell the way they should be eaten.

About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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