Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Evolving Etiquette and the Posts

In 1969, publishers Funk and Wagnalls came out with a replica edition of Emily Post’s 1922 book, “Etiquette” for $10.00– for $6.95, they also came out with Elizabeth Post’s revised 12th edition of the same book. A writer compared the two books. – Photo above, Elizabeth Post, circa 1969

Emily Post’s first edition of “Etiquette” vs Elizabeth Post’s updated, twelfth edition of the same book. What has changed since 1922?

Nearly fifty years have passed since Emily Post's first published guide to good manners, but her basic world of etiquette and the underlying reasons for it, live on. It's not the same etiquette to be sure the bewildering world of valets, footmen, chaperones, finger bowls and P.P.C. cards and the rules associated with them, have disappeared as times have changed. What has remained is the idea that etiquette is good manners, “a goal that can be achieved only by making consideration and unselfishness an integral part of your behavior.” 

Comparing the index of Emily Post's first edition which appeared in 1922 with the 12th revised edition, updated in 1969 by Elizabeth Post (the wife of Emily's grandson) shows how informal American living has become. In the original, the topic “Informal Entertaining” is not even included in the index: the only mention along this line is to a “House Party in Camp.” In contrast, seventy-nine pages of the current edition are devoted to “Informal Entertainment,” including cocktail parties, picnics, showers, buffets, etc. No longer are we concerned with the rules for bowing; the sole reference to bowing deals with “bowing to the President of the United States.” Today two pages are devoted to butlers; the 1922 edition contained twelve pages on butlers and three on footmen. It's particularly amusing to compare the Post's pronouncements on the correct way to treat social situations of the day: 

MONEY MATTERS “Everyone has at some time been subjected to the awkward moment when the waiter presents the check to the host ... to avoid this transaction people who have no charge accounts should order the meal ahead, and at the same time pay for it in advance, including the waiter's tip.” 1st edition – “When everyone has finished his meal, the host catches the eyes of the waiter or headwaiter and says, ‘The check please’ He looks at it, checks it quickly for mistakes and returns it to the plate with the necessary money . . .” 12th edition.
LADIES TRAVELING “On a railroad train, if a stranger happens to offer to open a window for her, it does not give him the right to more than a civil ‘thank you.’ If, in spite of etiquette she should on a long journey drift into conversation with an obviously well-behaved youth, she should remember that talking with him at all is contrary to the proprieties.” 1st edition – “On a long journey if you happen to sit next to or near the same person on the dining car for a number of meals, it is extremely unfriendly to sit in wooden silence.” 12th edition.
CHAPERONS “The conventions of propriety demand that every young woman must be protected by a chaperon, because otherwise she will be misjudged. A young girl never goes even to an unmarried doctor's or a clergyman's (unless the latter is very elderly) without a chaperon who in this instance may be a semi elderly maid.” 1st edition – “From an ethical standpoint the only chaperon worth having in the present day is a young girl's own efficiency in chaperoning herself. The girl who has been taught to appraise every person and situation she meets needs no one to sit beside her and tell her what to do.” 12th edition.

To many people, particularly to the younger generation, even the 12th edition may seem a bit stilted and formal. Because of Elizabeth Post's reluctance to leave anything out, the modern edition, too, becomes amusing. For instance under the heading “Smoking in Public” we are told that it is taboo to smoke on the dance floor. “Not only does it look unattractive but there is a very real danger of burning your partner or his or her clothes.” Really, isn't this just common sense? That's what etiquette is all about. – Arleen Abrahams for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1969

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia 

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