Ask people what they think of when they hear the word etiquette, and invariably they respond with “manners” or “rules.” And they don’t say those words nicely. They are ideas associated with things you HAVE to do, that your mother told you to do.
One of the first questions people like to ask when they engage in small talk with someone they have just met is, “What do you do?” I get this question as often as most people do. When I answer, “My great-grandmother was Emily Post, and now I’m part of the fourth generation of the family to carry on the tradition. I teach, write books, give speeches and conduct media interviews to promote etiquette in America.”
I always expect the response to be something like, “Is etiquette really relevant today? Does it really matter?” Instead almost universally, what I hear is, “Really. That’s so interesting.” Followed by, “I’ve got a question for you.”
People always have a question, either something they’ve wondered about or a situation they’ve been in recently:
“Should I hold the chair for my date when we arrive at the dinner table?” “Yes.”
“Should I give my boss a birthday gift?” “No.”
“Can I bring a date to the wedding I’ve been invited to?” “Not unless the invitation specifically said 'and guest.'”
“How much should I tip when I go out to dinner?” “20%.”
People have questions. They want answers. Not because it’s rocket science or because they really don’t know what to do. They want confirmation so they can be confident in their interactions with others, especially people they don’t know very well. After all, we all like to feel confident, and certainly people enjoy being with people who are confident (not cocky.)
That’s the beauty of etiquette. It helps you be confident. So, no, etiquette really is not dead. If you have questions, ask. Until we meet, you can always go to the Emily Post blog, Etiquette Daily, and join the conversation, ask a question, and get your answer.
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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."