Good manners, says Elizabeth Post, successor to Emily Post, America's first recognized arbiter of etiquette, are important again. Having survived the ``low-ebb 1960s,'' they have been faring very well in the 1980s, says Mrs. Post, and she is generally optimistic.
Post is the wife of William Post, Emily Post's only grandson. She has revived her grandmother-in-law's famous ``Emily Post's Etiquette'' book four times since Emily's death in 1961. She has also written almost a dozen manners books of her own as she has kept abreast of the changing social scene.
Post has appeared on all major network talk shows and writes a monthly etiquette column for Good Housekeeping. She once headed a New York City mayor's urban task force to teach basic good manners to young people in poor neighborhoods, including Harlem. And, in contrast, since 1983 she has conducted the week-long ``Emily Post Summer Camp'' etiquette classes at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla.
``Sense and sensibility are at the heart of good manners,'' Post says. ``Etiquette is partly tradition, partly good common sense, and partly common courtesy. It involves kindness and the ability to get along with people.''
What are the questions that come to her most often? They are wide-ranging, but here are a few:
How can you raise well-behaved offspring?
The best thing a parent can do is set a good example, have good manners, and show consideration. And repeat instructions to children. Once will never do the job. Emily Post replied to the same question in 1922, ``The bad manners of American children are nearly always the result of their being given `star' parts by over-fond but equally over-foolish mothers.''
We don't have a guest room, only a pull-out couch in the den. Should we give up our bedroom to guests?
No, this makes guests feel uncomfortable. But do make the den as comfortable as possible, with easy access to the bathroom, Kleenex, good reading light, and plenty of magazines and books. Children often don't mind giving up their room for a night or two, if that solution seems better.
How do you politely ask guests how long they plan to stay?
Be specific as to time when you invite people. For instance, ``Can you come from Friday evening to Sunday evening?'' But if you should give an open-ended invitation, and need to get on with other plans, simply inquire pleasantly, ``Have you decided what day you have to leave?''
How do you deal with a nosy, overly-inquisitive person?
You ask the questioner, in a whisper and with a smile, ``Can you keep a secret?'' As the questioner nods yes in anticipation, you reply, ``Well, so can I.''
Who gives the bride away at the wedding, the real father of the bride or her stepfather?
The real father, provided he has stayed close to his daughter over the years. On the other hand, if the stepfather has been closest to her for many years, he gives her away.
What about the groom's parents helping to pay for the wedding?
Years ago, this would not have been permissible. But there has been a change. Today, the groom's family often offers to help pay for certain items, such as rental of the hall, refreshments, etc., and the bride's family feels free to accept the offer. They should never ask for such help, but it is much more sensible for the expense to be shared by both.
What should you do if six months go by and you have received no acknowledgment of a wedding present?
You call or write immediately and ask, ``Did you receive my gift?'' Hopefully, they will be so embarrassed that they will learn a lesson. Gifts should be acknowledged immediately, but I consider three months the outside limit of time for brides to thank people for their wedding presents.
Can you mix and match china and glassware patterns?
Yes, you can mix and match if you do it intelligently, use imagination, and make your table as attractive as possible. Always use like-quality things with like, and never, for instance, use plastic glasses with your fine china plates.
What do I do if I can't remember names when trying to make an introduction?
You throw yourself on their mercy, saying, ``Of course, I know you, but right now I am drawing a blank on your name. Will you help me?'' Everybody understands such situations.
But I recommend that as soon as you meet someone, you announce your own name, particularly if the person introducing you doesn't do it right away. This could save a lot of embarrassment.
I would also like to impose a rule that people include last names when making introductions. This should also be followed when people are being introduced at conferences, meetings, etc.
The form should always be, ``Mary Smith will now speak to us,'' not ``Our good friend Mary will now speak to us.''
What is the order to be followed in making introductions?
It hasn't changed. Men are introduced to women, younger people to older people, and less prominent people to very prominent people. Give the name of the person being introduced to first, such as ``Mrs. Smith, I would like you to meet Mr. Jones.''