Rico Gagliano: Each week you send in your questions about how to behave, and here to advise us this week are the crème de la crème: etiquette experts Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning.
They are the great-great-grandchildren of Emily Post and co-authors of “Emily Post’s Etiquette, the 18th Edition.” They help run the Emily Post Institute in Vermont, and they host the podcast “Awesome Etiquette.” Lizzie and Daniel, welcome back to the show.
Lizzie Post: Thank you so much for having us.
Daniel Post Senning: It’s always good to be here.
Rico Gagliano: Yes, we agree.
Brendan Francis Newnam: We do!
Rico Gagliano: With a dairy reference right off the top!
Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, a little Vermont dairy reference! Well, here’s another Vermont reference: someone from Vermont’s running for president. This is an election year. A lot has been said about the coarsening of political debate in this country, and we’ve been noticing an uptick in profanity among presidential candidates.
Rico Gagliano: Mild profanity, like “hell.”
Brendan Francis Newnam: But also, the New York Times wrote a piece about, you know, Chris Christie and Donald Trump and other folks who’ve been using even stronger language. And it got us wondering when, if at all, is it acceptable to use bad language in public?
Daniel Post Senning: One of the great themes of etiquette is that you gotta know all your rules so you know when and how to break them. And one of the things that’s great about that offensive language is that it’s offensive because it’s against the rules. You’re not supposed to say it. Particularly, you’re supposed to avoid it in public discourse.
It can be really powerful language. You can use it for effect. And I’m not saying it should never be used in public speech, but it starts to lose its power if you use it all the time. It becomes trivialized. It becomes less effective.
Lizzie Post: And even though they might be even well placed, this is a time that all Americans, young and old, should be able to participate and listen. You know, people do find that language offensive. There’s a reason people don’t use it, and I think they should be playing to as many people as possible as opposed to swearing and alienating some of those groups.
Rico Gagliano: Very well said. Have you guys ever thought about running for office?
Lizzie Post: No, but my resolution this year was to not swear so much [laughs].
Rico Gagliano: See, there you go.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So what you’re saying is [beep] that [beep].
Daniel Post Senning: Exactly!
Lizzie Post: Fudgesicles that schnitzel stuff!
Rico Gagliano: All right, let’s move quickly to some G-rated non-profane questions from our listeners. You ready for these?
Lizzie Post: I like it.
Does my mother-in-law get the bed or the air mattress?
Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from Beth, in Toronto, Canada, where I think the political discourse is far less coarse. Beth says, “My mother-in-law is staying with me for a few days. Do I have to offer her my bed, or can I set up the air mattress for her? Some context: it’s a nice air mattress; I slept on it for three months.”
Daniel Post Senning: That matters.
Lizzie Post: Totally.
Daniel Post Senning: The general rule about etiquette here is that you don’t have to give up your bed, or the master bedroom when you have house guests. The thinking is that sometimes that could make someone feel uncomfortable that they’re putting you out.
So the general rule is you stay in your usual sleeping place, and you do your absolute best to make your guests as comfortable as possible in another room of the house.
Brendan Francis Newnam: The air mattress issue is that it’s so low to the ground, some folks who aren’t as agile — older folks — it doesn’t matter that it’s a comfy place to sleep. It’s tough for them to get up and down.
Daniel Post Senning: The thought that we’re getting here is that it’s their comfort that matters. And the thinking behind the original rule is it makes people uncomfortable to put you out. But if you can somehow assuage them that you’re more concerned about their comfort, then you can go for it.
Brendan Francis Newnam: And there’s never been an instance when a mother-in-law is hurt by putting out their daughter-in-law.
Rico Gagliano: That’s right. It shouldn’t be too hard is what you’re saying.
Lizzie Post: Right.
Don’t BYO-anything. Really.
Brendan Francis Newnam: This next question comes from Peachy in West Lake Village, California. The question is: “How do I ask people to a dinner party and nicely indicate to them that they do not need to bring anything? Really, nothing. I recently wanted to offer a dinner to my guests as a gift, so I wanted to control the wine and food. One person said point blank, ‘If you don’t give me something to bring, I’m bringing wine whether you want it or not.'”
Lizzie Post: You know, I love the fact that you want to entertain and have your guests not have to bring anything. If someone insists on bringing a bottle of wine, hey, guess what? You don’t have to serve it. So you just scored a bottle of wine.
Rico Gagliano: We should sort of claim some culpability for this. We do often say that if you’re invited to a dinner party, you are bringing a bottle of wine whether anybody has asked you to or not.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Each guest over 21.
Rico Gagliano: Don’t bring one for the infants. That is definitely not our policy.
Lizzie Post: Well, you guys can make your own rules. We’ll stick to ours [laughs].
Daniel Post Senning: I think the interesting — the key word in this question is “control.” You know, Peachy says, “I wanted to control the wine and food.” You can still remain in control, Peachy.
You don’t even have to serve food if it’s brought. You can put it in the refrigerator behind you and say, “Thanks so much for bringing that.”
Rico Gagliano: “Oops, forgot about it.”
Lizzie Post: And then you can blame us Post kids if someone gets mad.
Rico Gagliano: Yes, blame it on the Posts is always a fine policy.
Getting out of second dates without “ghosting”
Brendan Francis Newnam: This next question comes from Jackie in Sommerville, Massachusetts, and Jackie writes, “I’m back in the online dating scene and have become familiar with the term ghosting, which is the idea of just disappearing after interacting with someone instead of making a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ kind of gesture. It makes sense, but I just feel so weird about it in practice. What would you say is a healthy solution to getting out of second dates? Is a quote ‘no thank you’ still the best way to go?”
Lizzie Post: From an etiquette standpoint, it’s always better to have confidence in spelling it out and making it clear. As Dan always tells me, “It may be a really good thing, but it doesn’t always happen.”
Rico Gagliano: Is it realistic? That’s the question.
Daniel Post Senning: I’ll tell you that the scenario that I like to keep in mind is the one where maybe things haven’t been that serious, and by making it an official break you almost overdo the parting.
Rico Gagliano: Exactly.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So ghosting is a tool in your toolkit.
Lizzie Post: Here’s the difference for me: if ya’ll get together and you say, “OK, we had a nice time.” But neither one of you reaches out to the other person, I think that’s a mutual ghosting that happens and that’s OK. If someone reaches out to you — and I don’t care if it’s a friend, I don’t care if it’s a date, I don’t care if it’s a family member — and you just don’t respond, that’s rude.
Rico Gagliano: So if you both decide to ghost, that’s one thing, but if somebody says, “Hey, how about a second date?” you need to acknowledge that?
Lizzie Post: I think so. I think we need to be better at allowing rejection to happen and experiencing it.
Brendan Francis Newnam: I have to admit that when I was single, I had a template in my Google Documents for emails.
Rico Gagliano: Oh my God, dude [laughs]. That’s amazing.
Lizzie Post: You had a breakup email template?
Brendan Francis Newnam: It was like second or third or fourth date situation, and basically it said, “If you are cool with being friends, I am cool with being friends. But I don’t really see this going…”
Lizzie Post: But what I love is you communicated that. You did exactly what Dan and I are saying. And I don’t even care if you used it 50 times over….
Brendan Francis Newnam: Well the problem was occasionally sending it without the name filled in. That never went over very well.
Lizzie Post: [Laughs.] “This is your form letter!”
Rico Gagliano: “Dear Ms. Blank I would like to be friends.”
Lizzie Post: That’s so great.
Daniel Post Senning: Less respectful.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, whatever your names are, thanks so much for telling our audience how to behave.
Daniel Post Senning: You’re most welcome.
Lizzie Post: Thanks so much for having us.