Lizzie Post’s Practical Fork-Signals

Often Lizzie Post joins us along with her cousin, Daniel Post-Senning, but this week she's shipped him off to answer the etiquette questions of all of Korea, leaving her to handle our listener questions alone. To guide her, she brings along her dog, Benny, and her great-great-grandma Emily Post's essential practicality.

Rico Gagliano: Every week, you send in your questions about how to behave, and here to answer them this week is our friend, Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of etiquette doyenne Emily Post herself, from The Emily Post Institute in Vermont. Lizzie and her family single-handedly keep the world genteel.

Brendan Francis Newnam: They are etiquette superheroes.

Rico Gagliano: They really are. She’s also the co-author of several books, including the recent Wedding Etiquette, 6th Edition. And Lizzie, you’re flying solo today. What did you do with your cousin, Dan?

Lizzie Post: Ah, I shipped him off to South Korea two weeks ago. No joke.

Rico Gagliano: Literally? Lizzie Post: Yeah, we got some business in South Korea. There’s a focus on business etiquette there, especially learning and being able to work with Western business etiquette skills. But, instead, I brought my trusty dog, Benny, with me! So, he’s with me in the studio today.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, I’m not going to tackle the etiquette of bringing a dog to a studio.

Rico Gagliano: Or basically saying that a dog would take the place of your cousin.

Lizzie Post: Of my cousin? Yeah.

Rico Gagliano: That’s very nice of you.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, let’s proceed to the reason you’re here.

To kiss or not to kiss? Two kisses or not two kisses?

Rico Gagliano: Yes. Here are some questions. We have tons of them that listeners have been sending in. Here’s one from Jimbo in Dallas, Pennsylvania.
“My wife and I,” writes Jimbo, “frequently attend events with our friends. While greeting the other women/wives at these events, is it always appropriate to do so with a cheek kiss? What about in a situation where there are close friends with whom I’d be comfortable with a cheek kiss, but maybe also some acquaintances with whom I’m not so close. Is it impolite to kiss one person and offer a handshake to anther?”

Lizzie Post: Yeah, he’s right to know that it’s different depending on who you’re greeting. It’s not impolite at all if there are people at the party with whom you’re much closer and so you give the kiss and the hug to them, and then other people who you might be meeting for the first or second time, so you give a handshake to them. But no matter what, make your greeting warm and welcoming, and you’ll do just fine.

Rico Gagliano: But the other thing, of course, is that this is a country-specific issue, right? In America, there’s a question, but in Europe, in many countries…

Lizzie Post: Yeah, it’s just normal.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, but in Europe you have to be careful. There’s the double kiss versus the triple kiss. I’m not making this up. So, some cultures, I know in Croatia, you kiss on each side of the cheek greeting man or woman, but if you’re in Serbia, you do three sides, you know, back and forth and back.

Lizzie Post: No kidding.

Rico Gagliano: What happens if you make the mistake? If you do that in Croatia with the triple kiss, then they’re like, what are you?

Brendan Francis Newnam: They give you a leg sweep and pour red wine on your head.

Rico Gagliano: Sounds fun.

Lizzie Post: Well, that might not be too bad.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, that sounds like a party.

Annoying, If Not Entirely Inappropriate, Whistling

Brendan Francis Newnam: And that’s actually how I greet people in my neighborhood. All right, our next question comes from Britney in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. And Britney writes, “I work in a very open floor plan building and there’s a whistler among us. I can hear him whistle whether he’s on the top floor of our building or the first floor. I figured out it’s the daily maintenance worker. He’s very nice, but I just can’t handle the whistling. Is it appropriate to talk to him or should I simmer at my desk quietly?”

Lizzie Post: Ah, man, this is a tough one.

Brendan Francis Newnam: This is. Dan’s not here to help you now, Lizzie.

Lizzie Post: I know. What are we going to do? Benny, quick, what do you think? He’s like, “I love whistling, Mom.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Exactly.

Lizzie Post: If you can get over it, I would really suggest you get over it, because this guy’s just going about his job, and probably not even aware he’s doing it and it bothers anybody. You probably wouldn’t be writing to us if you could ignore it, but I’m just wondering if it’s only here and this is like that thing that she’s picked out that’s freaking her out.

I kind of want to say go to HR just to talk to them about, “Look, this is driving me nuts. I don’t know if I should just get over it, if it’s okay for me to be wearing headphones, because I’m not that comfortable with you going up to the custodial staff and saying, ‘You should be behaving like this.’”

Brendan Francis Newnam: What about a middle ground? I think, demand a corner office. “I need a door!”

Lizzie Post: Yes, “I need a door.”

Rico Gagliano: That always works.

Lizzie Post: That’s a great reason to ask for a promotion.

Brendan Francis Newnam: There you go.

Rico Gagliano: “Kick out the CEO and install me, due to whistling.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Britney, we gave you several strategies.

Rico Gagliano: Pick one.

Lizzie Post: We hope something feels right, because there is no really great answer to that question.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And also if the whistle you are hearing is [cat-call whistle], that’s a whole different thing. And you should feel comfortable going to HR.

Sending Fork Signals

Rico Gagliano: Here’s Daniel in Havertown, Pennsylvania. And Daniel writes, “My wife and I have a running debate about what it means to a server when silverware is placed on a plate at the end of the meal. Are there messages being sent depending on how the flatware is arranged?”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yes.

Rico Gagliano: Is there a correct way to signal that the plate is ready to be removed?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yes.

Lizzie Post: Well, Brendan’s got the answer.

Brendan Francis Newnam: We want to hear what you have to say.

Lizzie Post: I know. I’m like, going, “He’s answered it twice.” Yes. The answer is yes. When you are finished, you place your fork and knife with the tines of the fork and the blade and the knife kind of near the middle of the plate. And the handles right at about the number four on a clock would be. And the tines, most people do tines up so that it’s not scratching the plate.

Rico Gagliano: Oh man.

Lizzie Post: I know, it gets technical. There’s a reason for it.

Rico Gagliano: I had no idea.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, yeah.

Lizzie Post: The reason that you signal this is, A, to signal that you’re finished to the server, but it’s also place in that four position because during formal service, you always retrieve on the right. So, if you think about it, the server can come in on the right side of you, very easily secure your silverware so it doesn’t slide off the plate, with their thumb, and remove it. And that’s why.

Rico Gagliano: Where are you having dinner? I mean are you having dinner at palaces or Downtown Abbey?

Brendan Francis Newnam: This is classic etiquette though. Her great-great-grandmother probably was.

Lizzie Post: Very much so. Well, not palaces, we don’t have servants, but you do have servers. You’ve got waiters and waitresses. You know what I mean?

Brendan Francis Newnam: I like that there’s a real reason because some of these rules. You’re not like, great-great-grandma Emily Post was just like “Heh, I’m gonna put them here to the left.”

Rico Gagliano: I think that looks pretty.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Exactly. I like it there. I’m left-handed.

Lizzie Post: I will defend her to the end and say that she was an incredibly practical woman, and if it made sense, it stuck around. And if it didn’t make sense anymore, out it went.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, Lizzie Post, we’re going to remove the microphone from the right. Thanks for coming by.

Lizzie Post: Take care, guys. Thanks so much.