Celebrating a century of etiquette with Emily Post

Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 4:25 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A Vermont institution is celebrating 100 years of etiquette advice. The Emily Post Institute published its centennial edition this year. And in the age of internet trolls, inflammatory political dialogue, and other divisive behavior, you might think a book like that wouldn’t be a hot seller, and you’d be wrong.

It’s considered shortsighted -- maybe even rude -- to judge a book by its cover. Because if you glanced at this one -- dark blue with gold lettering and no artwork -- you might not think the 20th edition of “Emily Post’s Etiquette” would be Bridgeside Books’ hottest holiday hit.

“So far, this is the most of any book that we’ve sold,” said Katya d’Angelo, the store’s owner. She says they have almost 300 orders so far from places far away from their town of Waterbury. “We’ve been getting orders from all over the country really.” The publisher’s first run sold out. A second was ordered, and then a third.

“Sales have been gangbusters,” said Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post She says despite the turbulent last several years, it shows people do still care about how they interact with others. “It’s music to my ears because it means people really care about this topic. Etiquette is not dead.”

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Were you ever concerned that etiquette would die off? We seem to hear a lot these days about how contentious everything is.

Lizzie Post: I think it’s really easy to think that etiquette could die at any point. But I know from history that each generation of my family has dealt with that particular headline, and etiquette is still here.

But 100 years is a long time in society. A lot of cultural and technological changes that in turn influence how we interact with others. And part of the challenge for the Emily Post Institute is knowing when to turn the page on a tradition. “Etiquette is a moving target and we have to change and evolve as the world we live in changes and evolves. At the same time, there are some things that remain remarkably consistent about how people interact and what works in human relationships,” said Daniel Post Senning, the great-great-grandson of Emily Post He’s quick to say there’s no “etiquette authority.” But he says what the Emily Post Institute has that the denizens of the internet comment sections don’t, is generations of experience tracking what social norms stick around and which ones shift.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: What are some of the things that say were acceptable in 1922 and might not be acceptable, or might even be considered rude in 2022?

Daniel Post Senning: Well, there are a lot of them... So, one of the areas that has been of particular interest recently are questions around traditional gendered courtesies. Once upon a time, you would base a lot of your interactions with someone based on your understanding of what their gender was... Nowadays, we try to respect the intent of those traditional courtesies but we try not to be so quick to assume that everybody is going to want to interact based on other peoples’ identifying of their gender.

That’s just one example, he says, of how the Emily Post Institute stays adaptable, including with their etiquette guide. It’s been pared down to what Lizzie Post calls “everyday etiquette,” the things people come to them for most often, including greetings, tipping, invitations, hosting.

And while the manners may look different now -- like sending a text message instead of leaving a calling card -- their three main tenets haven’t changed. “The idea of treating people with consideration, respect, and honesty -- we’ve found that has never gone out of style. And so as long as we’re leading from that, we’re in a good place,” she said.

There’s an event Thursday with Dan and Lizzie at Bridgeside Books in Waterbury including audience etiquette questions. Because of how popular the book has been, there won’t be copies there for you to buy. But you can order one and they’ll personalize it when it comes in.