Ethics and Etiquette with Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning

Our resident etiquette diplomats teach us why ethics are at the heart of good etiquette and try to solve our listeners' holiday present problems, invitation time snafus, and more.

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Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning. Courtesy of The Emily Post Institute.
Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning. Courtesy of The Emily Post Institute.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Each week you send in your questions about how to behave, and sometimes we ask them to wildly unqualified celebrities, but today, we are joined by the veritable “Post-er” guy and gal of etiquette. Get that? See where I’m going with that?

Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning [are] the great-great-grandkids of Emily Post. They’re co-authors of Emily Post’s Etiquette, the 18th Edition. Lizzie, Dan, thanks for joining us once again, and happy New Year to you both.

Daniel Post Senning: Thank you for having us. We are delighted with your terrible puns.

Lizzie Post: I’m just going to laugh politely.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s what you’re supposed to do. Are you telling me you’re “Post-pun”? Is that what I’m… is that what you’re…?

Lizzie Post: I’ll keep you “Post-ed.”

Daniel Post Senning: We are never post-pun.

Rico Gagliano: Oh, my gosh. I’m going to stop this by asking you a question: There’s been some news this week about the Congressional Ethics Committee.

Congress, for those who don’t know, tried to, basically, do away with that committee. They failed to do so, but it got us thinking: how do you distinguish ethics from etiquette? Or are they two sides of the same coin?

Lizzie Post: Cousin Dan!

Daniel Post Senning: This was a favorite theme of Emily Post.

Rico Gagliano: Really?

Daniel Post Senning: She thought that ethics were at the heart of good etiquette, a set of core principles or values that the particular rules or advice are derived from.

Rico Gagliano: Which are?

Daniel Post Senning: For the Emily Post tradition, we’ve identified consideration, respect, and honesty as our core principles.

Rico Gagliano: Oh, that’s not going to work for Congress. So, all of your etiquette tips derive from those concepts.

Lizzie Post: And if they don’t, there is a very good chance that they derive from a tradition that American culture has chosen to uphold.

Daniel Post Senning: Even when a rule doesn’t appear to derive from those core principles, it usually did in the context that it came from. So, if you’ve got a traditional manner, it was probably an expression of consideration, respect, and honesty at the time that it came about.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, it’s consideration, respect and honesty — are the guideposts. I just made a pun without meaning to. Sorry about that.

Lizzie Post: Another one.

Rico Gagliano: Oh, my gosh.

Daniel Post Senning: Gold star.

Lizzie Post: Can we get a little dinging count of how many Post puns?

Brendan Francis Newnam: I really didn’t mean to make that.

Rico Gagliano: Let’s get to our listeners’ questions. Not surprisingly, this week they had a lot of residual holiday party and gift-giving questions. Are you ready for these?

Lizzie Post: Yay!

Daniel Post Senning: Born ready.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You literally were born ready.

Keeping up the favorite gift façade

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, our first question comes from Alexis in Portland, Oregon, and Alexis asks: “Every year for the last five years, my dad has gone out of his way to buy me a very particular tea from a special shop, believing this tea to be my favorite. In fact, I don’t like it at all, never have, and usually give it away to friends. I once tried to casually mention that I had a new favorite tea, my actual favorite, but he didn’t hear me or remember. This year, he bought me two packages. Should I tell him I’m not actually fond of this tea and save him the annual trips to the shop, or should I just keep this little charade as another holiday tradition like pretending I love Mom’s fudge?”

Wow. Maybe she needs to address this to a therapist.

Lizzie Post: Yeah, I know, right?

Brendan Francis Newnam: But how about you guys give it a crack?

Lizzie Post: I don’t know. I always come down in that land of: be honest and find a gentle, nice way to be honest about it. Say, “Hey, Dad, it’s been so nice over the years, but I’d really love to try a different tea at this point.” I think it’s OK to say that.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But Alexis has tried that.

Lizzie Post: No, she hasn’t. She’s done a very gentle…

Brendan Francis Newnam: No, in the question, she says, “I once tried to casually mention that I had a new favorite tea…”

Rico Gagliano: One time.

Lizzie Post: One time casually mentioning does an effort in this direction make.

Daniel Post Senning: Tell him three times. Give him a chance to really hear it. Or don’t feel so aggrieved and receive that gift well, and we’ll address the question of re-gifting next year.

Rico Gagliano: Alexis, I hope that you took that to heart.

When the party invitation time is not a suggestion

Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from Nancy in Birmingham, Alabama. We actually addressed this ourselves in a Facebook Live session we did where listeners asked us etiquette questions — very ill-advised of them without you guys backing us up.

Lizzie Post: Oh, I saw that.

Rico Gagliano: So, we thought we’d run this by you to get an expert opinion. Nancy writes: “If the invitation says the party goes from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., I have always assumed I could drop in anytime between 5:00 and 7:00, as long as I left by 7:00, but when I recently attended a baby shower, I missed the honoree unwrapping her gifts and passing them around, and the guests were already starting in on the food. What’s up?”

Lizzie Post: I… funny enough — Dan, is it OK if…?

Daniel Post Senning: Guilty confession. Yes, please.

Lizzie Post: OK. So, Dan recently had a baby shower. And sure enough, the invitation, issued by his mother, had a start and end time, which is usually an indication that you can show up any point within that defined time. That’s usually something you would use for a housewarming or a backyard afternoon barbecue type of thing, not something where you have a specific event happening at the party like a gift opening.

If you get an invite to something that has a specific event associated with it, just show up at the start time. Your host, I think, technically, made a mistake in issuing the invitation that way.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But these are two different questions, right? Because I think it’s… showing up between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. — it’s like, sure, show up between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., but why would you expect they would wait for you till 6:59 p.m. to serve the food and open the gifts, you know?

Lizzie Post: Right, exactly.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You just know that you might miss something if you show up more than halfway through the event.

Rico Gagliano: And, also, by the way, I would say that, as a guest, when it comes to a baby shower, they’re doing you a favor by telling you how long the baby shower [is] so you can show up after all of that baby shower stuff.

Daniel Post Senning: Ooh!

Rico Gagliano: Just, it’s so damn boring. That’s just me, though. I don’t think that’s probably in your book.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right. So, now I know to always have an end time when I invite you to a party, Rico.

Rico Gagliano: Please do.

A cautionary tale of edible gifts

Rico Gagliano: And here’s something from David in Los Angeles, California. And David writes: “A friend gave me a beautifully wrapped little gift of chocolates. Just as I was about to open the chocolates, I discovered that THEY’RE EXPIRED! Should I say anything to her? I’m hesitant to do so. However, if she bought them recently, then she’s been had. Either way, chocolate does not age well. What do I do?”

Lizzie Post: Dan-O, what do you think?

Daniel Post Senning: Oh, boy. Every once in a while, you’ve got to take one for the team.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, right?

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s what I’m thinking. Just throw it out and don’t say anything.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, this is the classic “thought that counts,” right?

Daniel Post Senning: Unless there was something so expensive about these chocolates that you really think that someone would want to get them refunded or something, but I think, generally speaking, you’re not going to point out the faux pas here. You’re going to thank them for the thought.

Rico Gagliano: It is possible, though. There are chocolates out there that are absurdly expensive.

Lizzie Post: Oh, yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But don’t you think that his, “she’s been had” — that’s him searching for a reason to tell her that?

Lizzie Post: I agree.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Because if the chocolatier is this corrupt, I think they’ll go out of business before, you know, David calls them.

Rico Gagliano: Nope.

Lizzie Post: What?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Or she re-gifted, and she’s not really your friend. And so, David…

Daniel Post Senning: I’ve heard about tea that makes a nice re-gift.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s right!

Rico Gagliano: Yes, get her a very special tea.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning, you are our friends, always.

Lizzie Post: Aw.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Thanks so much for coming by and telling our audience how to behave.