When one thinks of Emily Post, one thinks of words like outdated, rigid and stodgy. Despite those pre-conceived notions I somehow, on a whim, picked up a copy of Post’s original 1922 book, Etiquette, and was shocked to find it intelligent, scathing, and occasionally beautiful.
Of course some topics, like “How to pack an appropriate trousseau,” are admittedly dull and irrelevant. Yet I found that even seemingly silly topics still offered some keen insight into the intricacies of human behavior, and Post has a gift for thinly veiled sarcasm and a clever turn-of-phrase. Her personality has a force, too, and it emanates from every word. By the time I finished it, I felt like I personally knew that brilliant, vicious Emily Post — and you should too!
I found so much of her advice applicable to modern-day situations that I felt obligated to share it with you so you, too, can experience the joy of Etiquette.
Highlights from the 1922 Edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette
A bore is said to be “one who talks about himself when you want to talk about yourself!” which is superficially true enough, but a bore might more accurately be described as one who is interested in what does not interest you, and insists that you share his enthusiasm, in spite of your disinclination. To the bore life holds no dullness; every subject is of unending delight. A story told for the thousandth time has not lost its thrill; every tiresome detail is held up and turned about as a morsel of delectableness; to him each pea in a pod differs from another with the entrancing variety that artists find in tropical sunsets.
Never send a letter without reading it over and making sure that you have said nothing that can possibly “sound different” from what you intend to say.
Remember that every word of writing is immutable evidence for or against you, and words which are thoughtlessly put on paper may exist a hundred years hence. Always keep in mind and never for one instant forget that a third person, and that the very one you would most object to, may find and read the letter.
She has a courteous manner that makes every one feel there is nothing in the day’s work half so important as what his visitor has come to see him about! Nor is this manner insincere; for whatever time one sees him, he gives his undivided attention.
Bitching to Your Girlfriend
So many people save up all their troubles to pour on the one they most love, the idea being, seemingly, that no reserves are necessary between lovers. Nor need there be really. But why, when their house looks out upon a garden that has charming vistas, must she insist on his looking into the clothes-yard and the ash-can. There is a big deposit of sympathy in the bank of love, but don’t draw out little sums every hour or so—so that by and by, when perhaps you need it badly, it is all drawn out and you yourself don’t know how or on what it was spent.
Introspective people who are fearful of others, fearful of themselves, are never successfully popular hosts or hostesses. If you for instance, are one of these, if you are really afraid of knowing some one who might some day prove unpleasant, if you are such a snob that you can’t take people at their face value, then why make the effort to bother with people at all? Why not shut your front door tight and pull down the blinds and, sitting before a mirror in your own drawing-room, order tea for two?
An engagement, even with a member of one’s family, ought never to be broken twice within a brief period, or it becomes apparent that the other’s presence is more a fill-in of idle time than a longed-for pleasure.
Conversational cleverness is of no account in a ballroom; some of the greatest belles ever known have been as stupid as sheep, but they have had happy dispositions and charming and un-self-conscious manners. There is one thing every girl who would really be popular should learn, in fact, she must learn—self-unconsciousness! The best advice might be to follow somewhat the precepts of mental science and make herself believe that a good time exists in her own mind. If she can become possessed with the idea that she is having a good time and look as though she were, the psychological effect is astonishing.
Don’t think that because you have a pretty face, you need neither brains nor manners.
Don’t think that you can be rude to anyone and escape being disliked for it.
Whispering is always rude. Whispering and giggling at the same time have no place in good society. Everything that shows lack of courtesy toward others is rude.
Don’t allow anyone to paw you.
Don’t hang on anyone for support.
It is not even so necessary to do something well as to refrain from doing things badly. If she is not good at sports, or games, or dancing, then she must find out what she is good at and do that! If she is good for nothing but to look in the glass and put rouge on her lips and powder her nose and pat her hair, life is going to be a pretty dreary affair.
A gift of more value than beauty is charm, which in a measure is another word for sympathy, or the power to put yourself in the place of others; to be interested in whatever interests them, so as to be pleasing to them, if possible, but not to occupy your thoughts in futilely wondering what they think about you.
Great love is seldom flaunted in public, though it very often shows itself in pride—that is a little obvious, perhaps. This underlying tenderness and pride which is at the base of the attitude of each, only glints beneath the surface of perfect comradeship. Their frank approval of whatever the other may do or say is very charming; and even more so is their obvious friendliness toward all people, of wanting the whole world beautiful for all because it is so beautiful to them.
Even if you are placed next to some one with whom you have had a bitter quarrel, consideration for your hostess… exacts that you give no outward sign of your repugnance and that you make a pretence at least for a little while, of talking together.
The Spoiled American Girl
*Note: this is the actual title of a section
Such a girl is always over-dressed, she wears every fashion in its extremist exaggeration, she sparkles with jewelry, and reeks of scent, she switches herself this way and that, and is always posing in public view and playing to the public gallery. She generally has a small brother who refuses to go to bed at night, or to stop making the piazza chairs into a train of cars, or to use the public halls as a skating rink. When he is not making a noise, he is eating. And his “elegant” sister looks upon him with disdain.
She is nearly always alone, and the book she is perpetually reading is always opened at the same page, and she is sure to look up as you pass.
Sound advice! Check out the 17th edition of Etiquette.