The Posts’ Guide to Handling Prying Pals

Etiquette royalty Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning answer listener questions on dodging baby news queries from nosy chums and what to do if you spot friend's family member's explicit online ad (yikes).

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

Rico Gagliano: Each week you send in your questions about how to behave, and here to answer them this time around are Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning. They are regular contributors to our show. They are the great-great-grandchildren to Emily Post and co-authors of “Emily Post’s Etiquette, the 18th edition.” They also host the podcast “Awesome Etiquette.” Lizzie, Dan, welcome.

Lizzie Post: Hey!

Daniel Post Senning: Gentlemen, it is an honor and a privilege.

Rico Gagliano: As for us.

Lizzie Post: Thank you for having us.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Is it a privilege at this point? You’re on all the time [Lizzie laughs]! So, Lizzie, we hear that you recently went on vacation to Italy, and so we want to know: what’s the most polite way to come back from a trip and not make everyone around you jealous?

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, especially if someone asks you about it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yes.

Lizzie Post: I don’t know. What’s the most polite way to come back from a trip? I think in good spirits. That’s the polite etiquette answer. The other answer is: screw it, make them all jealous! This is your chance. I have to listen to other people go to the Bahamas, and the Caribbean, and Mexico, and Bali.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, I hear what you’re saying, Lizzie, because people, I think, especially in America, we get… we’re nervous about taking vacation, and if you just come back and make people jealous, and tell them how good it was, then everyone will maybe take vacation.

Rico Gagliano: Oh.

Lizzie Post: Yeah!

Brendan Francis Newnam: I deserve it, too! So, maybe you’re doing them a service.

Rico Gagliano: It’s good for society.

Keeping nosy people out of your baby news

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, we don’t want to hear anymore about it, Lizzie. So we’ll turn to our first question, and it comes from Jackie in Montreal, Canada. And Jackie writes:

“I’m ten weeks pregnant. My husband and I want to keep the news a secret, but people are nosy and say stuff like, ‘I notice you’re not drinking?’ and, ‘Are you guys still going to the fertility clinic?’ etc. How can I politely say back off and mind your own business?”

Lizzie Post: Pardon me, but I do get a little bit of a kick out of this because clearly, if someone’s asking about your fertility treatments, you’ve been sharing about your fertility treatments.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah.

Lizzie Post: And now that you have news that you want to keep secret, you want people to stop automatically– to know that they shouldn’t be asking you that anymore.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, yeah.

Lizzie Post: So, yeah, I think that it’s one of those where you just say, “Oh, you know, I just haven’t been feeling like drinking lately, but thanks.” Or, “You know, we just decided not to think about it so much, so I want to hear about how your garden’s going this fall or summer or whatever.”

Daniel Post Senning: What about, “Leave a woman a little mystery.”

Lizzie Post: Yeah, there you go.

Rico Gagliano: Well, is it OK to say, like, “Hey, actually, I maybe have overshared in the past. I’m not really… I don’t want to talk about it”?

Lizzie Post: I think that sounds awesome! I think right there, say that. That’s a great line. “You know, I’ve overshared.” Or, “We’ve just talked about it too much. I’m trying to get away from the subject right now.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, and you’re like, “And pass the cranberry juice.”

Lizzie Post: Exactly.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Wink, wink!

Proper running protocol

Rico Gagliano: All right, there you go, Jackie in Montreal. Here’s something from Jason in Orinda, California. Jason writes:

“On my neighborhood streets, people run on the side facing oncoming cars.” So, the left side. “But on the running trail nearby, opinion seems to be split 50/50 as to whether to run on the right or the left. Is there a correct side, and if there isn’t, how do you know who moves for whom?”

Lizzie Post: I’d say, for the most part, you want to stick to the right, just because that is, generally, the accepted [way] on a path, like he’s talking about. But I also think that people who run on the left, they do it for a reason. If you run a lot on the same path, oftentimes, one leg will actually be on a lower side of the path if there’s any kind of angle to it. Our bike path here in Burlington, it’s higher in the middle than it is down on the sides. So, if I’m always running the same direction on the same side…

Daniel Post Senning: Son of a gun!

Lizzie Post: …I really screw up my knees. So, sometimes you need to run that opposite direction to straighten things out, but if you’re the person doing that, move over when the people running on the right side are coming at you.

Rico Gagliano: All right.

Daniel Post Senning: Know that you’re not doing the usual.

Lizzie Post: Exactly.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Lizzie, with that technical, inside information at the end there about the favoring a certain leg, you really just nipped in the bud my kind of, “Gosh darn it, it’s the right side! We’re in America!”

Lizzie Post: Ha ha!

Brendan Francis Newnam: But it’s still a pain when people are running on the wrong side, got to tell you.

Lizzie Post: It is. It’s still a pain in the neck. It is, yeah.

Rico Gagliano: I’m sorry, Brendan, but you’re going to have to show some sympathy for somebody.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, I’m sorry. I’m going to attempt to.

Spotting a nephew’s salacious ad

Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from Ron in Broomall, Pennsylvania. Ron writes:

“My friend raised her nephew, who is now 21 years old. I know them both very well. I recently came across a personal ad online that was posted by the nephew. He posted a photo, so I know it was him. It was explicit in content and eyebrow-raising coming from someone his age, and knowing him personally. My question is: should I tell my friend who is his aunt? Should I contact the nephew and offer advice, or should I let this 21-year-old alone?”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Interesting question.

Daniel Post Senning: That is. That’s kind of a serious etiquette question.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It certainly is.

Lizzie Post: That is a serious…

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s a very special episode of “Dinner Party Download” [laughs].

Rico Gagliano: Yes.

Daniel Post Senning: It seems like a very personal topic, but yet, it’s been encountered in a very public way. And the person who put this information out there is an adult. They’re 21 years old, so there’s no reason you can’t talk to them about it if you feel you should or if you feel compelled to do so.

Lizzie Post: And they’re putting it out there publicly, so they are aware– I’m hoping they’re aware of the fact that, truly, even the aunt, you know, who raised him, could come across that, depending on…

Rico Gagliano: But as long as that’s the topic of conversation. “Are you sure you want people to publicly stumble across this?” Because otherwise, a 21-year-old is allowed to post explicit things online, whether we like it or not, right?

Lizzie Post: Yeah.

Daniel Post Senning: So, you want to approach them like an adult and with some respect, recognizing that you’re treading into territory that’s very personal to them.

Lizzie Post: And I don’t think you need to go to the aunt about it.

Daniel Post Senning: Yeah.

Lizzie Post: I think you deal with the person directly.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, because, I mean, in this instance, it’s eyebrow-raising. It doesn’t seem like he’s… there’s harm that could come from him, maybe?

Daniel Post Senning: Yeah, safety trumps etiquette, but also, it’s important to keep in mind: different people have different ideas about what is harm.

Lizzie Post: Exactly.

Daniel Post Senning: And sometimes there’s a generational difference in terms of that perspective, also.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And also, Ron has to be prepared to answer why he saw that ad [laughs]. Sorry to put that out there, but if you’re going to…

Rico Gagliano: Get ready for that conversation, Ron!

Lizzie Post: No, it’s a good… it’s a good thing.

How to inquire about someone’s job without sounding opportunistic

Rico Gagliano: All right, here’s something from Amy in Silver Spring, Maryland. Amy writes:

“I live and work near Washington, D.C., and frequently attend functions where I’m meeting new people. Is there a way to inquire about someone’s line of work in a way that conveys my genuine interest and doesn’t just come off as a way to size them up?”

Oh, please, tell us how to do this, Lizzie.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah.

Lizzie Post: What? How did I all of a sudden become the one to do this?

Daniel Post Senning: You’re just back from Europe, where it’s not so usual to ask someone what they do.

Lizzie Post: Oh, this is your favorite thing to say.

Daniel Post Senning: It’s something that happens all the time here in the States. People ask each other very early on in a relationship or first encounter… what the other person’s occupation is, and some people view it as a boorish question. Some people definitely think that it’s uninspired.

Lizzie Post: This is one of Dan’s favorite points when it comes to this. He loves saying, “In Europe, it’s considered not as appropriate.”

But I… truthfully, yeah, if you work in the kind of town where everybody’s always trying to use everybody else to get up on the next, you know, step of the ladder, I think that you need to just recognize that that’s the truth of it, and if you want to show genuine interest, be the person who doesn’t then try to say, “Oh, so how could we get together and make this work for this benefit?”

You know, actually, just be interested in them, and don’t ask anything of them, and that is a good way to start building that rapport with someone that — no, no, they’re just genuinely interested.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Because it can be a shortcut to having a good conversation, right?

Lizzie Post: Absolutely!

Daniel Post Senning: Sure can.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Say, “What do you do when you do?” It opens up a topic. It’s interesting. Rico and I have been doing this for years. I have no idea what Rico does. I’ve never asked him, because I’m not rude.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah. Yeah, right. It’s not clear, day-to-day, what it is that I’m doing, frankly, even to myself [laughs].

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s right. Lizzie and Dan, I don’t want to know what you guys do either, but thanks so much for telling our audience how to behave.

Lizzie Post: Oh, thank you, guys! It’s always so much fun.

Daniel Post Senning: You’re most welcome.