The Posts Give Us Personal Space

The etiquette mavens tackle tricky listener questions about post-meal messes and fancy wine faux pas.

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 we usually invite a celebrity to answer them, but this week we have our resident etiquette celebrities, Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning…

Rico Gagliano: Huzzah!

Brendan Francis Newnam: …The great-great-grandkids of Emily Post. They are the host of the podcast “Awesome Etiquette,” and they make the world a more cheerful play place from their secret fortress known as the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vermont. Lizzie, Dan, welcome.

Daniel Post Senning: Huzzah!

Lizzie Post: I know! I was– there were so many great things in that intro. I don’t know where to begin!

Brendan Francis Newnam: First question: are you supposed to compliment your own introduction?

Lizzie Post: I don’t know, but I’m going for it. That was great!

Rico Gagliano: All right, folks. Let’s get down to the holidays. They are happening almost as we speak, but they also put us into a very close proximity with each other, you may have noticed. In airplanes, in store aisles, guest bedrooms at your uncle’s house. What is the exact dimension we would like to know, of the bubble of personal space that should exist around an individual?

Lizzie Post: Oh Dan’s got this. He’s got it.

Daniel Post Senning: Eighteen inches is comfortable social distance in the United States.

Rico Gagliano: Is that true? You’ve done this calculus?

Daniel Post Senning: That is true. It’s about an arm’s-length.

Rico Gagliano: We ask that facetiously and you have an answer.

Daniel Post Senning: Yeah, and test it. Don’t take my word for it! Try just reducing that space the next time you’re talking with someone. Try getting closer than 18 inches and watch what happens.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Do airlines know this? Because…

Daniel Post Senning: Oh I wish!

Rico Gagliano: Apparently not.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Maybe that’s what makes us all uncomfortable. Where does that number come from? Do you know offhand?

Daniel Post Senning: I know that it varies, that it varies culturally and that actually in America it’s on the longer end of the spectrum. We are used to a little more space here.

Lizzie Post: I do think that, in America at least, it comes from the idea of being an arm-length’s distance away from somebody.

Rico Gagliano: Ah, I see. Like you can’t be slugged. You’re just outside the slugging distance.

Lizzie Post: Quite possibly [Laughs.]

Daniel Post Senning: Just out of reach.

Rico Gagliano: It’s all about self-preservation.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, well look, clearly you’ve demonstrated that you know everything about etiquette. So let’s ask some of these questions that have been sent in for you.

Lizzie Post: I dig it.

Daniel Post Senning: Please.

What to do with the after-dinner debris

Brendan Francis Newnam: This first one comes from Eric in Oklahoma and Eric writes: “I eat out fairly often, but I never know what to do with the debris that accumulates during a meal. Empty sugar packets, you use coffee creamer containers, et cetera. Leaving them scattered on the table is messy and seems rude, but sweeping them into a corner of the table doesn’t seem right either. What’s the answer?”

Daniel Post Senning: Keep it neat is the principle that you’re trying to observe. And it can be tricky. Your bread plate is a great receptacle for a lot of that trash that starts to develop at the table, but maybe keeping it from accumulating in the first place is my tip.

Lizzie Post: What, so like, don’t use sugar?

Daniel Post Senning: No, but no need to shred up your sugar package. I mean, you can just give it a tear, pour it out and then… I don’t know, maybe I’m a little OCD. Leave it flat or fold it back in half or something like that.

Rico Gagliano: You don’t want strewn about. Let’s not scatter them to the wind.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It would be nice if the server just removed them.

Daniel Post Senning: Always the best. No need to sort it alphabetically in the meantime, but…

Brendan Francis Newnam: I do have a quick follow-up question. As someone who uses half a packet of sugar per cup of tea, sometimes when the server takes the half packet it just scatters sugar all over the place.

Lizzie Post: So fold the open end over a couple of times so that that doesn’t happen when they do that.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I do the fold, but the fold doesn’t work.

Rico Gagliano: I say bring a pocket full of hairpins!

Brendan Francis Newnam: Hairpins! There we go. That’s a good idea! Or you could just take a hairpin off your guest and.. bangs will fall on their faces, all right.

BYO(1/3 empty)B

Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from John Henry. Great name. In Napa, California…

Lizzie Post: Great name.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Real name?

Rico Gagliano: John Henry writes– it may not be a real name, but it’s a very American name.

Daniel Post Senning: My father’s name.

Rico Gagliano: Oh really?

Lizzie Post: Yup.

Rico Gagliano: I think you better look into that. I think he might be mythological [Dan and Lizzie laugh.].

John writes: “A few weeks ago, a friend brought a bottle of wine to my dinner party that had already been opened and was a 1/3 empty…”

Lizzie Post: Gasp!

Brendan Francis Newnam: What?

Rico Gagliano: OK, but the plot thickens!

“…Later, other friends told me the wine sells for over $300 a bottle and that it’s hard to get a full bottle at that price. I felt and still feel that the bottle price is no excuse. Either bring a full bottle to share or bring flowers instead. Thoughts?”

Lizzie Post: That is kind of an awkward thing to– it’s just like you wouldn’t bring a half-eaten box of chocolates and say, “Hey I wanted to share!”

Daniel Post Senning: [Laughs.] A pie with two pieces!

Lizzie Post: …A pie with two pieces. You don’t do that!

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, but if you had a special chocolate bar from like Switzerland that you brought back…

Lizzie Post: That you ate half of? No.

Brendan Francis Newnam: No, you say that it has teeth marks. but you could elegantly break off half of a chocolate bar. I’m just saying.

Lizzie Post: “These teeth marks are now trendy.”

I think that the way to go here is that if you’re the person bringing this kind of a really big deal bottle of wine. When you present it to your host, that’s when you let them know what’s going on. “Hey, I know this looks a little silly that it’s 3/4 full, but here’s the deal with this wine. It’s really hard to find and you actually almost can’t get a full bottle of it anywhere.”

Rico Gagliano: Yeah. In a way, you can break manners as long as you’re aware you’re breaking them and you let others kind of know gently that you know.

Daniel Post Senning: Ding ding ding.

Lizzie Post: Welcome to the golden rule of regifting, yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re like, “I’m going to punch you in the face and I know that that’s not right but I’m letting you know that I’m going to hit you.” How does that work? That’s not true!

Daniel Post Senning: Knowing the rules, so you know how and when to break them. It’s an important part of sportsmanship.

Rico Gagliano: I think that goes for everything.

Brendan Francis Newnam: “Hey I know this isn’t right, but I’m telling you all to shut up!”

Rico Gagliano: All right.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Honestly, it still feels weird to me. But, hey I like it. I like this new thing.

Conversing with conspiracy theorists

Next question. This comes from Lucas in Miami, Florida. And Lucas writes: “This has been happening to me sort of frequently. What do you do when you’re making small talk with an acquaintance or a co-worker and they start espousing really strange conspiracy theories? I don’t want to alienate anyone by arguing, but at the same time, I feel really weird just sitting there and nodding my head.”

Daniel Post Senning: I find a spirit of curiosity can sometimes help navigate that territory of…

Lizzie Post: Yeah. Just so you know, that can get really long winded.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, that’s true.

Lizzie Post: But no, I like where Dan’s going with this. Rather than be, “This is my opinion! This is how it is!” When someone is bringing up things that might not resonate with you, ask them questions about it. Get curious about it. It does allow a conversation to happen without you having to all of a sudden take ownership of a side or an agenda.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But I have a question. What if you’re in this situation and you’re there with, say, your nephew or with a new partner or something like that. Maybe they look to you for knowledge. Maybe if it’s a partner, they’re just learning about you. What do you do then?

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, you don’t want to seem like a pushover or that you’re sort of quietly, tacitly agreeing with this person.

Lizzie Post: I don’t think you are doing that by questioning or furthering the conversation. I think you’re not saying, “Oh! you’re right about that.” You’re saying, “Huh, that’s interesting.”

Rico Gagliano: And then we do the all-American thing, and afterwards you say to your nephew, when you’re out of earshot of that person, “By the way that guy is a nut case!”

Lizzie Post: Bingo!

Brendan Francis Newnam: Exactly. Exactly. You talk behind their back!

Rico Gagliano: Absolutely. That’s what we do in this country.

Lizzie Post: Exactly! We are promoting jerk-ism on our show today.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well before you leave that person, you say, “Look, I’m going to talk behind your back in a moment.” [Everyone laughs.]

Rico Gagliano: Yes. “But you go right ahead for the time being.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: And that makes it OK. Thank you, Posts!

Lizzie Post: So just so you know, I love this conversation. I’m going to tell everyone else you are wrong later on.

Rico Gagliano: Great. Lizzie Post, Daniel Post Senning, thank you so much for telling our audience how to behave as usual.

Lizzie Post: Aw, thank you so much.

Daniel Post Senning: So long gentlemen. Happy holidays.