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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.

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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