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The next 100 days will pass

Posted by Peter Post July 31, 2012 07:00 AM

We’ve passed the 100-day mark—less than 100 days until the presidential election that is. I’m of mixed mind about this news. On the one hand we’re getting closer to the election, but on the other hand, before we get through these next 100 days, the rhetoric and the advertising are sure to skyrocket. Along with that increase in noise and hype is the tendency to ask others about their opinion and to engage in political conversation.

I often advise people to avoid certain topics when at social gatherings or during downtime at business, specifically sex, religion and, yes, politics. But somehow during this 100-day season, I suspect completely avoiding politics when questions get asked or comments get made is not a very realistic piece of advice.

I was reminded of all this on the golf course just the other day. Inadvertently, one of the members of my foursome made a political comment. Quickly a few other opinions went back and forth, and then one member said, “Maybe we better not talk about this here.” Just like that all four of us realized that the topic was better shut down. Not another word was spoken about it. Back to golf and another beautiful afternoon in summertime Vermont.

The way the situation was handled was a perfect example of how to deal with a political discussion that may be better not engaged in. The phrase the golfer used did not point a finger at anyone or presume that one point of view had precedence over another. That’s how to disengage when you are uncomfortable with the direction of any conversation. Speak up without being judgmental, and suggest to change the subject If in the unlikely event that the others don’t agree and you’re still uncomfortable, then you may need to remove yourself from the group.

Conversely, join in when you are comfortable. But also show consideration for everyone involved. If someone is uncomfortable or the discussion is getting personal, then be willing to assist in moving the conversation off topic. Their friendship is more important and more long lasting than the 100 days that surely will pass.

Grace at the British Open

Posted by Peter Post July 24, 2012 07:00 AM

Ernie Els won the British Open golf championship and, true to form, the hearts of the golfing world as well. He demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt what it means to be a great champion and a graceful winner.

Adam Scott
was suffering through a monumental collapse after having enjoyed a commanding lead in the fourth round. Starting on the fifteenth hole, Adam proceeded to bogey the last four holes. When he just missed his eight-foot putt for par on the eighteenth hole, he fell one stroke behind, and the Claret Jug and the British Open championship were Ernie’s.

Meanwhile, Ernie was on the practice putting green preparing himself for a possible four-hole sudden death play-off with Adam Scott. When he heard the news of his victory, he didn't jump for joy or pump his fist in the air. No whooping or hollering. Instead he hugged his caddie. Gently. No big grin or laughter. Just relief and disbelief.

That disbelief was more for what had happened to Adam in those last four holes than it was for the realization he had won. In his on-air interview, and again at the award ceremony on the eighteenth hole, Ernie focused on Adam and how Adam would feel and deal with the disappointment that is sure to accompany such a complete collapse. The first words out of Ernie’s mouth weren't how excited he was to have won. Instead, the first words out of his mouth were: "I feel for him. I'm numb. Later on it will set in that I won this tournament. But right now I really feel for my buddy. He's such a great guy. He's so close to being such a great superstar. I know that's not the way he wanted to lose a tournament. I feel very fortunate. But I feel very bad for Adam today."

Later, Ernie would celebrate and let the joy of the victory engulf him, but in that first moment, he demonstrated a beautiful compassion, understanding, consideration and respect for his good friend. And in that moment he demonstrated what a true champion he is.

Does etiquette change over time?

Posted by Peter Post July 17, 2012 07:00 AM

I remember the first time I heard my mother swear. That expletive came out of her mouth, and it was like a bomb exploded in my head. As a teenager, I knew better than to comment. The funny thing is, I have absolutely no idea what caused the cursing. But I remember the moment like it was yesterday.

That’s the problem with swearing. My daughter, Lizzie, a spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, recently did an interview about swearing, an issue raising eyebrows yet again in public life. She correctly pointed out: “The words we’re focusing on are probably not the ones they want us to.”

Take the case of former vice president Dick Cheney who famously tossed the f-word at Vermont senator Patrick Leahy on the floor of the United States Senate. I doubt if anyone remembers why Cheney felt the need to curse, but whenever there’s a story about swearing in public that story is often cited.

Recently New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg started reading a speech from notes at a hot-dog eating contest, when he asked the rhetorical question, “Who wrote this s***?” Interestingly, the crowd seemed understanding and accepting of his swearing rather than insulted by it.

On network television we hear words that would not have made it by censors a few year ago; surf the cable and paid channels and anything goes. Yes, we seem to be more accepting of cursing in our language. But that doesn’t change the fact that swearing is still jarring. But, if you want people to remember what you actually have to say, less profanity and more content will help make your case.

Urinal etiquette in the smartphone age

Posted by Peter Post July 10, 2012 07:00 AM

Please pardon me for what I am about to bring up, but I’m actually serious. I’m in a men’s room doing my business when someone steps up to the urinal next to me, talking on his cell phone as he proceeds to do his business. A host of questions come to mind each time this happens, and each time I hesitate to respond, so clearly I am still vexed as to how to handle the situation.

First, there’s any noise he or I happen to be making. There can be a noticeable sound, anywhere from a garden sprinkler to running water. Should I attempt to quiet the “noise,” or let it rip?

Then comes the question of flushing. No doubt about it, flushing is audible. Even if the person on the other end of the phone hasn’t figured out what is going on, the flushing is a sure give away. So, as I finish, do I step away quietly and not flush or do I flush? I think: “Flush. “

Now the last time this situation arose, he finished before me. I was curious: Would he flush? It turns out he had a modicum of concern for the impact on the person he was speaking with. He kind of stepped back, about as far as his arm would let him, and then he yanked the handle, quickly stepped away and was gone. And, of course, that raised the issue of does he put the phone down to wash his hands, or does he, ugh, skip that sanitary step? I think to myself, “I hope I don’t have to shake his hand.”

And then there’s a third issue about phones and public places like public restrooms. Not that it’s happened to me, not that I really think it will. But smartphones have cameras and frankly, I don’t want to be the subject of surreptitious photos.

Now I am speaking only from the male experience here, although I have also heard women speak out on the subject. And the advice I have for everyone is: Put the phone away when you’re in a public restroom, please. If I’m on the other end of the call, I don’t want to hear you doing your business. And if I’m standing next to you, I simply want to get done and not be embarrassed or put into an embarrassing position.

How do you feel about people making calls next to you in a bathroom? Please voice your opinion by taking the poll at EmilyPost.com. Thank you.

Peter Post's Essential Manners for Men was first published in 2003 and became a New York Times bestseller for advice books. Essential Manners for Men 2nd Edition is available now.

Shaking hands is not a contest

Posted by Peter Post July 3, 2012 07:00 AM

She extended her hand in greeting. The man, a former politician, enthusiastically reached out, grabbed her hand and squeezed. He squeezed hard. When he let go, my wife stepped away, rubbing her knuckles. The expression on her face was not a happy one.

It turns out for the next six months her hand was sore. She flinched when faced with shaking hands with anyone for fear it would aggravate the injury. And she never forgot the person who shook her hand so strongly.

Her injury and fear are not the results a handshake should achieve. The handshake is an integral part of greeting someone and should be a pleasant, positive experience. Even today she still will recount the story if the conversation turns to handshakes.

Every now and then, someone makes a contest out of shaking hands, squeezing noticeably harder than I am. I try to ignore it, but the reality is I don’t appreciate it. On the flip side, occasionally, I’ll shake hands and feel as though I just grabbed a dead fish. Ugh! In either case the focus is on the handshake itself and not on enjoying the moment of greeting.

Shaking hands is part of our culture. It’s an expected norm when we greet each other, and it’s the first step in building a relationship. Most of the time I find the person shaking hands with me does it correctly: firm grip but not too firm, crook of my thumb against the crook of the other person’s thumb, two or three shakes and release. That’s it. When greeting someone, expect to shake hands and then do it in away that shows your respect and pleasure of the encounter.

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. The column is distributed by The New York Times More »

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