After responding, s’il vous plait, I had the opportunity to attend an afternoon tea the other day.
The hostess: That doyenne of the Roaring `20s, the late, great Emily Post. The topic of the event: dating in the 21st century.
She was wearing a petticoat, a peacock feather in her hat and was carrying a parasol. I was wearing skinny jeans, sneakers and carrying an iPhone.
OK, so it was an imagined tête-à-tête, but as I began thinking about what Emily Post would say were she writing her 1922 book on etiquette for the Millenials – we who text instead of talk and utilize the Facebook “poke” as a means to flirt – I stumbled upon a personal history I hadn’t expected.
Emily Post, I was surprised to read, was divorced in 1905 from her philandering husband, Edwin Post, a man taken with chorus girls and actresses, after a 13-year marriage.
She was 32. The whole thing played out in Town Topics, a tabloid that would have had a field day with the most recent Sandra Bullock shockeroo.
Instead of going into hiding, though, she wrote etiquette. Lots and lots of etiquette.
After a great re-read of her maxims, I saw some might consider her opinions a bit cobwebby, so I decided to add a few amendments of my own.
Like cucumbers in tea sandwiches, Emily Post and I got along swimmingly:
EP on privacy:
“Do not expose your private affairs, feelings or innermost thoughts in public. You are knocking down the walls of your house when you do.”
NL: Emily – can I call you Emily? – privacy doesn’t really exist anymore. I think it disappeared in 1999, around the time the Backstreet Boys were in ugly white pantsuits.
Public is the new private. We’ve knocked down the proverbial walls; we tell potential mates what we are doing at all times, on three different media platforms – all of which help the first date seem more like the third.
EP on writing:
“The letter you write, whether you realize it or not, is always a mirror which reflects your appearance, taste and character. A `sloppy’ letter with the writing all pouring into one corner of the page, badly worded, badly spelled, and with unmatched paper and envelope – even possibly a blot – proclaims the sort of person who would have unkempt hair, unclean linen and broken shoe laces.”
NL: You make a good point, though thankfully inkblots and sloppy cursive have been overrun by something called “typing.”
My typing advice is simple. Consider spell-checking text messages so as not to look illiterate as you invite potential mates to Dodjar Gamz.
Beware of the wily “predictive text” that can misconstrue “let’s get margaritas” for “let’s get married.”
In fact, consider not using words at all. When in doubt, throw in an emoticon 🙂 or a link to a hilarious YouTube video to vie for your love’s affection.
If you must use words, consider an acronym, like “LMBO” – “Laughed my butt off” – or “MTFBWY” – “May the force be with you,” if you’re the nerdy type.
EP on how to dress:
“If you are going to play golf, wear golf clothes; if tennis, wear flannels. Do not wear a yachting cap ashore unless you are living on board a yacht.”
NL: This is a toughie. Ashore or at sea, gentlemen should not, under any circumstances, rock handlebar moustaches and mullets; ladies, be judicious with shoulder pads and do not look to Amy Winehouse for style tips.
It must also be said that a particular set of the Millenial hipsters tend to rock yachting caps, golf clothes and tennis gear all at once. It’s meant to be ironic. I would bet a shiny new iPad we will look back at them and laugh in 20 years.
EP on how to enter a drawing-room:
“To know how to enter a drawing-room is supposed to be one of the supreme tests of good breeding.”
NL: What’s a drawing room?
EP on staying up late:
“It is an unforgivable breach of decorum to allow a young girl to sit up late at night with a young man – or a number of them.”
NL: Right-o. As Paris Hilton says, nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m.
EP on lunching:
“A young girl may not, even with her fianc , lunch in a road house without a chaperon, or go on a journey that can by any possibility last overnight. To go out with him in a small sail-boat sounds harmless enough, but might result in a questionable situation if they are becalmed, or if they are left helpless in a sudden fog.”
NL: EP, I find it funny that your concern in a sudden fog would be that young lovers might be caught starboard or leeward sans chaperone. I think you should commit five days to “Shark Week” and we can reassess what constitutes a “questionable situation.”
EP in conclusion:
“It is difficult to maintain that youth today is so very different from what it has been in other periods of the country’s history, especially as `the capriciousness of beauty,’ the `heartlessness’ and `carelessness’ of youth, are charges of a too suspiciously bromidic flavor to carry conviction … That they wear very few clothes is not a symptom of decline.”
NL: Amen, sister.
Originally published in the Pasadena Star News on April 25, 2010