Reporting from Burlington, Vt.——
The holidays bring out the best in people — and the worst.
Etiquette is the family business; seven Posts work full time at the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt., including Anna's father Peter, mom Trisha and sister Lizzie. But it is Anna who is the next face of Emily Post. For the last five years, she has immersed herself in the world of thank-you notes, wedding invitations and table manners, overseeing an empire that includes books, online training, advice blogs, etiquette seminars for children and clients such as Walgreens and financial services firm Raymond James, and an online etiquette encyclopedia that has been christened "Etipedia."
Interest in etiquette is on the rise, Post says. One reason? Badly behaved celebrities ( Kanye West, Serena Williams, Mel Gibson and South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson come to mind). The sputtering economy has also fueled interest in good behavior and manners.
"It's a résumé-saturated job market, and people need every skill to set them apart," Post says. This time of year, the recession is also the backdrop for questions about how to gift, tip and entertain on a budget.
Post, who also consults for companies such as Intel, Princess Cruises and 3M, envisions an Emily Post lifestyle brand with a wedding consulting service, e-learning programs and licensed products. (Emily Post Wedding stationery debuted this year.) There's even an Emily Post film in development at Warner Bros., a romantic comedy in the spirit of "Julie & Julia," she says.
That might make sense for parents and grandparents with cocktail parties and weddings in their datebooks, but what about today's kids raised in a social media swirl with "Bridezilla" and "Jersey Shore" on the DVR? Do they care?
"I think they do," Post says. "It has to do with how we think about the word etiquette. When kids first hear it, they think it's for proms and visiting Grandma. But when they find out it has to do with whether it's OK to delete a friend or ignore a friend on Facebook, it becomes real to them. And from our teen sessions, I know that boys become interested when they find out it can help them get dates."
Soft-spoken but firm, Anna has the demeanor of a kindergarten teacher. In her office, shelter magazine clippings are taped to the walls (she recently bought a New England-style cottage with her boyfriend), along with the framed slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On."
Dressed in tan trousers, a short-sleeve button-down shirt and open-toe shoes, she comes across as professional but not stuffy. (A pair of flip-flops is stashed under her desk. )
"I've heard stories that in boarding school, there were kids who didn't want to eat with me because they were worried that I would critique them," she says. "But even if I did notice someone holding a fork egregiously wrong, I would never point it out. That's the height of bad etiquette."
Post grew up in rural Charlotte, Vt. "We didn't live in any particularly different way," she says. "Hamburgers [were] not an uncommon meal, and we ate them with our hands. But if I blew too loudly on my soup, I would hear about it."
Her parents taught her by example and by correction. "Being able to look adults in the eye and talk to them and shake their hand was a big one," she says. "And we did get a notepad in our Christmas stocking every year to write down who gave us presents so we could send thank-you notes."
Emily Post, the woman who started it all, was born in 1872. The daughter of Bruce Price, a famous architect who designed the community development Tuxedo Park (birthplace of the tuxedo) in upstate New York, Emily grew up in Manhattan during the Gilded Age.
At 19, Emily married Edwin Post, a stockbroker. She took up writing as a pastime, contributing articles to Vanity Fair and Colliers, and publishing books such as the romantic novel "The Flight of the Moth" (1904) and the travelogue "By Motor to the Golden Gate" (1916).
"She was a part of New York society in a way that we are not," says her great-great-granddaughter, who adds: "I do not live like 'Gossip Girl.' I was not a debutante. I was much more interested in Birkenstocks and hiking."
After Emily divorced (her husband was a serial philanderer) in 1907, writing became a career. When Funk & Wagnall's came calling, asking her to write an etiquette book, family lore has it that Emily hung up on the publisher several times, thinking the caller was trying to sell her encyclopedias. (She hated the telephone, Post says.)