Etiquette Isn't for Dummies: How Manners and Ministry Relate
Don't tell my husband: As soon as I saw that the new Emily Post's Etiquette (18th ed.) released in October, I thought, I know what I'm getting Rafi for Christmas!
If you know my husband, this will surprise you. Rafi doesn't exactly seem the fussy manner sort, the type who would enjoy this book. He's definitely not a stern Captain Von Trapp at the table, reminding our kids of their place, of their do's and don'ts. And because he's been married to a feminist long enough, he knows better than to pull off any mindless gallantry.
But still, Emily Post has a special place in our relationship. While we initially bonded (and probably fell in love) over our shared love of dogs, my own love for him deepened the day I saw a copy of Emily Post's 14th edition on his bookshelf. I particularly liked the red-tassel gradeschool bookmark that hung across the top of the huge volume.
"You've read that?" I asked.
"A good chunk of it."
His aunt had given it to him for Christmas when he was 14—just after he started prep school, and before launching into the world of dating and then college and then job and family, where, his aunt had rightly assumed, good manners were important.
My husband—not a huge reader—read the book over a "slow weekend," not because he was so interested in manners per se, but because he liked the order and logic of it all. He's a cut-and-dry kind of guy, and he liked knowing the right and wrong of how to act.
I paid attention to etiquette for similar reasons. My natural social bent is awkward. I am shy and introverted, and my mind tends to blank out when it comes time for making small talk. Walking into a room or sitting at a table full of people I don't know is the stuff my nightmares are made of.
So understanding the rules of etiquette became a safety net. Knowing which fork to use, where to put my coffee cup, along with some tips on creating nifty small talk takes the pressure off.
Indeed, Peggy Post, Emily's great-granddaughter in-law and director of the Emily Post Institute, recently told the Daily Beast, "Etiquette gives people the blueprints to deal with times of stress."
In the article, Jennie Yabroff writes that Post became popular during the Depression because "[a]n anxious nation wanted reassurance about how to sit at the table, even if it had no guarantee of where the food on it would come from."
It's that sense of certainty in uncertainty, order in chaos that I've long believed is one of the main reasons I count Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence as one of my favorite books. With all that was wrong (and there was a lot!) with life in the Gilded Age, and as much as I probably would've struggled in any strata of society back then, the idea of such an ordered life appeals. I've always subscribed to the "free to be you and me" philosophy of the 1970s I grew up with, but on the days when this is hard (and freedom is always hard), I start yearning for a bit of Victorian rigidity.