In 1909 Emily Post’s novel, The Title Market, was published. It’s the story of a young American woman who travels to Italy in hopes of finding a titled man to marry. She is successful in finding a man with a title, Prince Sansevero, but while he is titled, he is not wealthy. The new princess had to learn to be frugal when entertaining, and, even more importantly, to learn the real role of a host. And that role has as much validity for anyone who is a host as it did for the fictional heroine. Emily described the princess’s acumen as a hostess this way:
But the princess was one of those hostesses whose personality thoroughly pervades a house; a type which is becoming rare with every change in our modern civilization, and without which people might as well congregate in a hotel parlor. Each guest at Palazzo Sansevero carried away the impression that not only had he been welcome himself, but that his presence had added materially to the enjoyment of others.
When we teach dining etiquette, after time spent on the place setting, and how to hold utensils and how to get food from the plate to your mouth without making a mess of it, we finish up by asking participants, “What is the most important thing a person can do at a business meal?” The answer: Be an active participant with the goal of leaving the host and others with impression that you are a person they would want at the next business meal. The purpose of the meal isn’t the food; it’s building relationships.
The successful participant will make an effort to interact with the other diners, take part in the general conversation and, when there is no general conversation, engage the person on his left and the person on his right in small talk.
The host not only assures that the venue is right, the food is excellent, and the atmosphere is conducive to conversation, but he also does what the princess did at Palazzo Sansevero. He makes each guest feel that their presence is valued and enhances the opportunity for the success of the event.
What impresses me is how Emily understood and wrote about the role of the host thirteen years before she wrote the book about etiquette that made her so famous. The passage in The Title Market demonstrates her understanding that etiquette is much more than rules. Instead, it is about building strong, successful relationships in all facets of our lives.
If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected] You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at infiniteguest.org.
Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com.
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.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.