Do you consider yourself the Emily Post of your family (or neighborhood)? I don’t know much, just basically what I was taught growing up, and I certainly will agree that rules are always changing. The rules my grandmother followed regarding her wedding invitation are surely out-of-date. But some rules you’d expect would stay the same over the years.
Emily Post’s first book about American manners and etiquette was published in 1922 under the title Etiquette and is now on its 19th edition, written by the original author’s great-great-grandchildren. This go-to guide to all forms of social, business, and wedding decorum has produced some real cornerstones of etiquette advice that have been passed on from one generation to the next. While each edition is a genuine reflection of its publication date, there are a few tidbits of advice that have stood the test of time. And yet, there are some passages that are downright laughable by today’s standards.
Rules are still rules, and timing is everything when it comes to sending out invitations. The address on a wedding invitation should be handwritten; printed labels are not appropriate (though calligraphy done by computer directly on the envelope is gaining popularity and acceptability). You should spell out all words in an address on your wedding envelopes. For instance, rather than “St.,” “P.O. Box,” and “Apt.,” use “Street,” “Post Office Box,” and “Apartment.” This applies to city and state names as well; instead of abbreviations, write “Saint Paul, Minnesota” and “Washington, District of Columbia.” House numbers smaller than 20 should also be spelled out. For those of us who relied on The Gregg Reference Manual to do their job correctly, this is basically common-sense.
We expect change over the years. Here is a comparison of what Emily Post told us in 1922 regarding conversation, compared to what Daniel Post Senning (Emily’s great-great-grandson) told us in 2013:
- Emily: But as a rule, the man who has been led to believe that he is a brilliant and interesting talker has been led to make himself a rapacious pest.
- Daniel: Twitter can be a study in the banal when you tweet what you had for breakfast today, or that your car won’t start.
What about dinner table distractions?
- Emily: Letters, newspapers, books have no place at a dinner table. Reading at table is allowable at breakfast and when eating alone, but a man and his wife should no more read at lunch or dinner before each other or their children than they should allow their children to read before them.
- Daniel: Institute a “no device at the dinner table” rule. This is the time for your family to be together, to reconnect face-to-face without distraction or interruption.
On meeting new people:
- Emily: If Mrs. Younger is presented to Mrs. Worldly, Mrs. Worldly says “How do you do?” If the Ambassador of France is presented to her, she says “How do you do?” Younger and the Ambassador likewise say “How do you do” or merely bow.
- Daniel: Generally speaking. people are not offended to receive a friend request. They may accept it. They may not.
On dealing with death:
- Emily: With the exception of telephone messages or telegrams to relatives and very intimate friends, no other notices are sent out. Only those persons who are expected to go to the house at once have messages sent to them; all others are supposed to read the notice in the papers.
- Daniel: It is critical to give a family enough time to notify other family and close friends personally. It is okay to post the news a few days later, or after the obituary or death notice has appeared in the newspaper or online.
- Emily: There is nothing which more quickly reveals the veneered gentleman than the card table, and his veneer melts equally with success or failure.
- Daniel: Never forget the big picture. . . . No matter how you compete, it is important to remember good sportsmanship. Online or off, you are more fun to play with if you keep a good attitude and obey the rules–both written and unwritten—of all competition.
And finally, on dating:
- Emily: A young girl who is unprotected by a chaperon is in the position precisely of an unarmed traveler walking alone among wolves—his only defense is in not attracting their notice.
- Daniel: If your profile lets you pick a username, choose something that fits your dating goals. Casual daters should not imply a search for life partners and those looking for marriage should avoid frivolities like “HotToTrot” or “SmokingGoodTime.”
I started this article wanting to ask you a question about receiving a wedding invitation nowadays. I understand weddings are expensive, the bride’s parents aren’t always paying for the wedding, and sometimes the bride and groom want to spend money on their honeymoon instead of fancy invitations. This week, I received a lovely yet simple wedding invitation which, of course, contained an RSVP card to return with my response. The envelope to mail back the RSVP card didn’t contain a stamp.
What do you think?