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|Amber Brooks • 9/30/16|
The Short Version: Although Emily Post lived almost 100 years ago, her lessons on politeness and consideration never go out of style. Today, The Emily Post Institute is run by her descendants, who act as ambassadors of courtesy through many books, e-learning programs, and podcasts. Lizzie Post, a fifth generation etiquette expert, told us she and her cousin want to uphold their family’s tradition of good manners — with a modern flair. Covering everything from thank-you notes to selfies, this pair introduces thousands of people to etiquette for the 21st century. To find out the right way to act on a date, at work, in group texts, or during any other interactions, you can check out the seminars, workshops, books, and podcasts offered by The Institute.
When I was 9 years old, a family birthday party devolved into an angry mess because of a piece of chocolate cake. It was the last piece. My younger cousin and I both said we wanted it, so the grown-ups told us one of us could cut it in half and the other could choose which half she wanted.
My cousin volunteered to cut it, and that’s when she decided to be sneaky.
Instead of cutting down the middle of the cake, she cut off to the side so one piece was a good deal bigger than the other. To her indignant shock, I chose the bigger piece.
Red-faced and fuming, she complained that it wasn’t fair. I disagreed. Our parents swooped in to mediate. “You didn’t cut the pieces equally,” they explained patiently to my cousin. “It was her choice.”
“She was supposed to pick the smaller piece!” my cousin wailed.
I took a deliberate bite of cake and said with my mouth full, “As if.”
We were only kids, but both of us could have behaved more considerately to each other that day. Oftentimes children have a hard time with proper social behavior because it means thinking about another person ahead of yourself. After a few screaming matches, though, it becomes apparent that a little cordiality is in everybody’s best interests.
Good manners are important wherever you go: on first dates, at weddings, in business meetings. You need to know how to behave in different social settings to help you stay in everyone’s good graces.
The Emily Post Institute has been a bastion of good manners since their founding in the 1940s. Lizzie Post, great-great granddaughter of Emily Post, is a modern etiquette expert less interested in which hand you use to pour tea and more interested in your daily interactions.
Through helpful podcasts, books, and seminars, she and her family guide individuals through a variety of social situations where a little consideration can go a long way.
Before Emily Post became a renowned name, synonymous with proper etiquette, she was a writer of early romance novels. She wrote about young women in search of husbands and having adventures.
Then she got a number of phone calls from a Mr. Duffy, a publisher, who wanted her to write a book about etiquette. At first, she refused, thinking it wasn’t a substantial enough project. Her editor persisted in the idea, telling her to at least look into it, so she did. In her research, she discovered it was a more intricate and nuanced topic than she’d thought.
“She started making notes about her daily life and her interactions with people,” Lizzie explained. “She started putting all this thought into it about how her actions and other people’s actions were all affecting each other, and 627 pages later there was ‘The Big Blue Book of Etiquette.’”
In 1922, when Emily was 50 years old, her book was published. At a time when America was seeing a rush of industrialization and immigration, the book was a welcome toolkit for people struggling to adapt in a melting pot.
“It really became an interesting phenomenon,” Lizzie commented, almost a century later. “People needed to know how do we behave, and how do we respect one another?”
The book was a hit. About 10 years later, Emily adapted the lessons in her book into a radio show. This was an inexpensive and accessible way to reach every house in America at that time, and so Emily Post made herself famous by championing politeness and courtesy.
In 1946, she founded The Emily Post Institute, intended as a way to pass her business on to her family members. She was adamant about keeping the business within the Post family.
After Emily’s death in 1960, her grandson and his wife (Lizzie’s grandparents) took over the business, after that it went to their children, who now pass it on to their children (Lizzie and her cousin Dan).
“So far it’s been successful,” Lizzie said. “We’re the the fifth generation doing it.”
When Lizzie’s grandparents retired, her father and aunts took the reins of the Emily Post Institute. For the first time, more than one person was representing the Post name, each family member specializing in a certain topic. For example, Lizzie’s father handled business etiquette while her Aunt Cindy pioneered a children’s series.
Soon the sibling team realized there was a gap in their advice, going from graduation to marriage without fully addressing topics that young people care about.
As the youngest in the family and still in college, Lizzie was asked to write a book about etiquette for her generation of 20-somethings. She dove into it, writing about roommates, professors, dating, sex, first jobs, and other common hurdles facing newly independent adults.
Published in 2007, Lizzie’s book “How Do You Work This Life Thing?” brought her into the fold of the Emily Post Institute. Meanwhile her cousin Daniel moved from sunny California to Vermont to work in the administrative side of the business.
“We double as experts,” she said about her family members. “It became really logical for us to have as many family members as we can working at The Institute.”
When Lizzie started in the business, she was answering emails, booking travel, and doing go-for work, but she was also a published author and spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute. “I was of double value, basically,” she said, explaining the importance of having family members represent the brand, drawing from their experiences and authority to offer sage advice.
Recently, the Emily Post Institute has changed hands yet again to bring Lizzie and Daniel into the leadership role. Increasingly, Lizzie’s father handles the background support and lets his daughter and nephew step into the spotlight.
“It’s nice, as a family,” Lizzie said, “being able to shift our roles based on where we are in life and not have to let go of this wonderful thing that we’re so proud of and that America really seems to want and value.”
Since August 2014, in the Awesome Etiquette podcast, Lizzie and Dan answer questions of etiquette posed by their listeners. This experienced duo brainstorm solutions to difficult situations, which can include dealing with noisy neighbors or hosting international dinner guests.
Whether it’s at a dinner party or in the workplace, Emily Post’s great-great grandchildren point listeners in the polite direction.
“Our podcasts are truly what I’m most proud of,” Lizzie said. “I love it because what made Emily so well-known was her radio show, and this is a modern day version of it.”
She also enjoys having a direct connection to an audience that’s overwhelmingly positive with their feedback. Anyone can ask a question by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by leaving a voice mail at (802)-866-0860.
“I wish I could show you the emails,” she said, telling us about glowing responses from her listeners. “Not only does it make me feel good helping other people, but it makes this thing that my great-great-grandmother created so very valid and relevant in a time that she isn’t even living in.”
Coming up on 100 podcasts, Lizzie and Dan entertain their 20,000 listeners while instilling positive values. Always with an encouraging and friendly tone, the Post cousins cover the etiquette for gift-giving, housesitting, selfies, and even pizza toppings.
These episodes often include lively discussion, sometimes on silly subjects. In Episode #70: I’ll Have What You’re Having On My Pizza, a family wrote in about a three-hour debate over what toppings to get on a pizza. “It was this big argument about who’s right and who’s wrong and what it means to say ‘I don’t care,’” Lizzie chuckled as she talked about that episode. “It just absolutely cracked me up.”
In each show, Lizzie and Dan offer listeners a soothing authority that promotes kindness above all else. Lizzie believes that Emily would love to see her great-great-grandchildren coming together to make accessible shows that discuss specific scenarios and offer personalized advice.
Ranging 30-45 minutes long, these podcasts make a good companion in the car for commuters. Lizzie said that many parents like to play podcasts in the car for their kids. The shows are appropriate for all ages. The Post family updates etiquette lessons to make them relevant and relatable in the 21st century.
Far from being old-fashioned, good manners matter. The Emily Post Institute teaches people how to act in a way that builds relationships and goodwill. This guidance can be applied anywhere you go, but it’s especially useful on a date when your behavior is under particular scrutiny.
Lizzie is well-accustomed to offering dating advice to young people. The core of her message is to have a clear intent and respectful communication. If you want to pay for the date, for instance, be open about that fact so you both have the same expectations when the bill comes.
As a general rule, these etiquette experts suggest that the person who does the asking does the paying — or at least offers.
To form a close bond, two people should have an open and honest dialogue about wants, needs, dreams, and logistics. The Emily Post Institute tells their listeners and readers how to word requests and approach uncomfortable subjects to make interpersonal relations go smoother.
A web series called Etiquette Bites offers concise videos on specific issues. Lasting about three minutes, these miniature pep talks give you a quick summary of etiquette do’s and don’ts.
“All of our etiquette is based on consideration, respect, and honesty,” Lizzie said.“If you use those principles to guide your actions — and if you’re aware of who’s around you and how they’re affected by your actions — generally you’re going to come up with really great results that build relationships.”
Whether ordering pizza, paying on a first date, or splitting a piece of chocolate cake, it’s helpful to know the proper etiquette to make that process go smoothly.
For five generations, The Emily Post Institute has helped individuals of all ages understand how their behaviors affect other people. On podcasts and in seminars, Lizzie Post and her cousin Dan continue the family tradition of courtesy and respect while updating the subject matter for the 21st century.
Taken as a whole, the institute’s learning tools help listeners and readers become more thoughtful, considerate, and likeable human beings.
“We’re the good guys,” Lizzie said. “We’re standing up for the good in people. I genuinely believe that people are good and they want to treat each other right, but, with all the distractions we have, it’s very easy to let that slip– and so I’m grateful for the fact that Americans still care about this.”