Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning: Manners for a New World—Now More Than Ever
Emily Post published her first tome Etiquette: In Society, In Business, In Politics, and At Home in 1922. The 19th edition of the iconic “blue book” came out last spring, proof that we still crave guidance on social matters and manners. The Post family has always kept current with the times, and cousins Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning, both native Vermonters, are the fifth generation to shepherd the Emily Post Institute from their offices in Burlington. The world may be changing, but the need for manners hasn’t.
Edible Green Mountains: Let’s start with the obvious. Define etiquette.
Dan Post Senning: The heart of good etiquette is making people feel comfortable and at ease. It’s not about a system of rules and manners; it’s about creating a climate and culture of caring for others.
Lizzie Post: You embody etiquette by showing consideration, respect and honesty in your interactions with people. We consider those as three fundamental principles that guide decisions and behavior.
DPS: Basically, etiquette involves manners that help you navigate new or unusual situations.
EGM: Where do you see codes of behavior shifting most quickly these days?
LP: We know where they don’t shift: table manners. Good table manners remain good table manners.
DPS: Standards around communication are constantly evolving but can still be shaped by those three principles of consideration, respect and honesty.
LP: And aside from table manners, most guidelines are contextual.
EGM: Your family has always embraced radio as a medium. Emily Post hosted a radio program that began in 1929 and your grandparents co-hosted a show on WNYC in the 1970s. Vermont Public Radio listeners now can hear a five-minute chunk of your own Awesome Etiquette each Sunday morning. How did that podcast come about?
LP: The guys from Dinner Party Download invited us to do a segment on their show in 2012 and we had a blast! That turned into a monthly gig. American Public Media approached us about doing our own show, and of course we said yes. Our first show was August 2014.
EGM: You two obviously love what you do, and listeners can sense your commitment and hear the joy in your voices. Does the recording unroll as effortlessly as it sounds?
LP: We wanted to be the Car Talk for etiquette! We pick four or five questions each week; I pull together a basic script; and Dan writes many of our postscript segments, where we dive a bit deeper into etiquette. But, yes, so much of it flows organically. We tape the show every Tuesday morning at the VPR studio.
DPS: It’s absolutely our favorite part of this business, and the podcast is the vehicle we’re looking to grow.
EGM: Describe the work of the Emily Post Institute.
DPS: Emily was a real wordsmith and produced volumes of work. But the fourth generation, our parents, expanded the venture from a single person into multiple authors and spokespeople. By doing so, they developed a more systematic approach based on fleshing out those three core principles. The Institute provides workshops, trainings, a podcast, books and a website. We have about 25 lifestyle titles in print, ranging from Playing Through, which Lizzie’s dad wrote about golf etiquette, Manners in a Digital World, my first solo book, to The Gift of Good Manners, which my mom wrote to help teach manners to kids. Our three cornerstone books are Etiquette, The Etiquette Advantage in Business and Wedding Etiquette.
LP: People look to us for advice at the transitional milestones in life, such as weddings, funerals, births, moving, new jobs, etc.
DPS: Situations are changing, you’re dealing with new people, the stakes are higher, and you start to have questions about how to behave. The busiest day on our website is Thanksgiving. We get a huge spike, and the common search term is “table setting.”
EGM: You’re making civility cool and manners applicable. What’s your secret?
DPS: We’re answering the questions that are relevant to our times, just as Emily did in her day. Emily was a career woman and a parent. She also was divorced in an era when that was fairly scandalous. She had to support herself and her kids and never remarried. But she became a lifestyle expert, a manners coach. She was the Oprah or Martha of her generation.
LP: We focus on relationships and offer advice rather than dictate. I believe 100% that etiquette will save our country as people realize the value of listening to one another and showing genuine respect. We all are individuals with unique views and it will take some work for us to get along and function as a society, but etiquette will make that happen, if we choose to practice those standards.
EGM: Joys of this business?
LP: At the risk of sounding saccharine, I love helping people. We can champion the good stuff in the world. Taking someone in their moment of frustration or confusion or sadness and being able to offer the gift of a solution.
DPS: We can be advocates for decency. We get to see the good side of people.
LP: Living up to expectations. People naturally have assumptions of who we are and how we should act, but we’re just as human as the next person.
DPS: Overcoming negative associations with the word “etiquette”: elitist, stuffy, judgmental, old-fashioned. It’s a loaded word but judging from questions from our listeners and traffic on the website, people still seek and appreciate the guidance we can offer.
EGM: As we enter the whirlwind of holidays, what advice can you offer hosts and guests?
DPS: It’s a dance and you need to be a good partner and embrace your role. And if your partner steps on your foot, be gracious!
LP: Basically the host makes guests feel welcome and comfortable while the guest participates positively and tries to be as little a burden as possible. When these two coincide, a wonderful gathering unfolds.
EGM: Is it acceptable for a host to carve out a bit of personal time to maintain sanity when hosting a houseful?
LP: Absolutely! Just let your guests know in advance what you’re doing and make sure their needs are taken care of. They should understand your need to take a run or a nap.
EGM: It’s meal prep time and people offer to help. Some hosts welcome assistance, others don’t. How to handle this potentially awkward situation?
DPS: A host is a stage manager. Know your guests’ strengths—and weaknesses—and steer them toward tasks that mesh with their natural affinities. Work with the situation rather than impose your own will.
EGM: How about managing difficult or awkward conversations about politics, religions, lifestyle choices, etc. with our family, friends or coworkers?
DPS: That’s a crucial life skill because we’re not going to agree with everyone in our path. If you’re only going to talk politics with people who agree with you, our civic life will stop functioning. If you only discuss religion with people of the same faith, our spiritual life will atrophy. My favorite etiquette questions involve thinking ahead about how will I handle something so I can be emotionally or intellectually prepared to manage a situation.
LP: I think we all want to get along with our friends and family we’re entertaining. We don’t walk into a gathering ready to fight or ignore someone we disagree with. Sometimes it’s helpful to set boundaries and acknowledge, “Hey, I know we have differing views on x, but let’s put that to the side tonight and just enjoy our time as family or friends.” You don’t want to tell someone how to think or what to believe, so you have to be careful about how you choose to express it. Let your approach be guided by consideration, respect and honesty.
Maria Reade values the simplicity of those three guiding principles of consideration, respect and honesty. And now she won’t feel guilty if she takes a nap when hosting family gatherings.
THE HOST-GUEST DANCE
Host: Invite and give information that allows guests to plan and prepare.
Guest: RSVP in a timely fashion and come ready to engage.
Host: Prepare well.
Guest: Be on time.
Host: Your mood sets the tone for the gathering.
Guest: Participate positively.
Host: Greet people when they arrive, introduce guests to each other, check in on them periodically.
Guest: Offer to help when and as you can.
Host: Accidents will happen, mistakes will be made. Handle them with grace and poise.
Guest: Take responsibility, offer to rectify the situation if possible, then don’t dwell on the mistake.
Host: Thank guests for attending and for any gifts.
Guest: Reciprocate thanks; never slip away without thanking your host.
EGM: Breakfast today?
EGM: Cake, pie or cookies?
LP: Chocolate cupcake with vanilla butter cream or coconut cream cake.
DPS: I’m a savory guy. Capers please.
EGM: Favorite childhood meal?
LP: Chicken with tarragon and lemon, French-cut green beans, white or brown rice.
DPS: Shepherd’s pie.
EGM: Guilty pleasure?
LP: Ribs? Fried chicken? Should I feel guilty??
DPS: Chocolate malt shake.
EGM: Late-night snack?
LP: A second helping of whatever Blue Apron I made that night.
DPS: A bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios or Cinnamon Life cereal.