BURLINGTON, Vt. — In a world changed with time and technology, only a boor would ask other diners in a restaurant to keep the noise down so he can hear the person on the other end of his cell phone.
Nearly 80 years after Emily Post first wrote "Etiquette," her great grandchildren are carrying on her legacy of consideration, respect and honesty.
They have updated her tome on etiquette, another on weddings and even written their own guide to manners for the workplace. And they plan another book on parenting.
Although times have changed since the 1920s, the Posts insist the principles of etiquette remain the same.
"The underlying goal is to develop good relationships, for people to enjoy each other," Peter Post says.
Dynasty at Work
From a narrow, brick-walled office in a renovated old school in Burlington, Post, his sister, Cindy Senning, and sister-in-law, Peggy Post, oversee the Emily Post Institute, which researches etiquette, publishes books and offers seminars.
Peggy Post serves in Emily Post's shoes. She speaks at bridal shows and business seminars, on radio and television, writes books and magazine columns from her home in Florida, and is spokeswoman for the institute.
The Posts say their mission is to offer guidelines to help people respond to social quandaries. The tips run the gamut from the formal (how to set the table for a formal dinner) to the obvious (be on time for a job interview) to the frivolous (how to eat a salad). They review traditional lapses, such as maintaining a graceful posture, and address modern predicaments--among them, what kind of gift to get for someone's fourth wedding.
All are tenets of consideration, respect and honesty.
"If you can use these to formulate a solution, you're going to get to a right solution," Peter Post says. "The problem is, people often lack confidence to apply them to their decision-making."
And there are often many right solutions.
"The world is full of shades of gray," he says. Society has become faster-paced and etiquette evolves with advances in technology and new ways of communicating.
Cell phones, for example.
"I call it cell-phone anarchy," Senning says. "There are no rules about cell phones. We all got cell phones and we all started using them."
Often at high decibels in public places.
It is impossible for bystanders not to hear, whether they want to or not, she says. Something to keep in mind: The rest of the world doesn't necessarily want to hear your private conversations.
As society becomes faster-paced, lives have become more stressful. Workers are expected to do more with less, and that leads to incivility in and outside the workplace, says Peter Post, who owns a small advertising agency called PostScript.
"Stress is what causes incivility," he says.
Treating a clerk at the convenience store or a hurried cab driver with courtesy and even engaging in a conversation pays off. That advice goes for work as well.
"The top reason people leave their jobs is because of their managers," Peter Post says. "Salaries have taken a back seat to environment."
He and Peggy Post co-wrote "The Etiquette Advantage in Business."
Confrontation a No-No
If a problem arises at work or with a co-worker, he says, "ask yourself if you really want to make an issue out of it."
Stand up for yourself but never resort to confrontation, even if someone cuts you off in traffic, or has a cart full of groceries in the 15-or-less checkout line. You never know what motivates people to do what they do, the Posts say.
Let the angry driver pass, point out the oversight to the grocery clerk.
The Posts, who migrated to Vermont from New York, grew up knowing the proper seating and place setting for an intimate dinner party and when to send handwritten thank you notes. Their mother, Libby, took over for Emily Post when she died in 1960. For 30 years, Libby Post wrote books, magazine and newspaper columns.
"Manners are how we articulate etiquette," Senning says.
And manners change across cultures, with technology and time.
Some of the formalities that Emily Post wrote about have faded. E-mail has replaced letter-writing, and answering machines often replace personal phone calls.
"[But] informality isn't an indication of disrespect," Senning says.
As long as the effort is made--a thank you expressed in an e-mail, an invitation left on an answering machine--etiquette exists. But the effort has to be there.
"Don't get careless. Do take care of relationships whether they're business, social or family," Senning says. "Take care of relationships, because they're critical."
On the Web: http://www.emilypost.com