Manners Guru Lizzie Post on Summer Etiquette

Meet modern manners expert Lizzie Post, great-great granddaughter of the famous Emily Post.


Lizzie’s also the co-author of “Emily Post’s Etiquette” 18th edition and author of “How Do You Work This Life Thing?” She’s got the lowdown on handling sticky summer situations, like how to be a great houseguest, how to tell a friend she’s showing too much skin, and the biggie—what to do with your cell phone during social events. Below are highlights from our conversation.

Summer is the time when people are frequently invited to someone’s cottage or lake home. What should we keep in mind to be good guests?

Offer to chip in on groceries. It makes it easier on the hosts and lets them know you’re aware of the impact that you’re having on their pantry. They say that fish and houseguests stink after three days. You don’t want to be a stinky fish—you want to be a houseguest that gets asked back. It is really important that you take care of your belongings and also make sure that you give both your host and yourself a little space when you’re staying there, so they don’t feel like they have to be “on” 24/7.

In the summer everyone is showing a lot more skin. How can you politely point out to a friend a wardrobe faux pas, like, I can see your underwear through your white pants?

OK, this goes right in line with spinach in the teeth or really bad breath—those uncomfortable conversations. You start out with the best line, “Listen Cathy, I know that I would want someone to tell me if I was in this situation, so I just thought you should know….” Hopefully she’s a gracious friend and appreciates you telling her.

Is it ever OK to comment on someone’s tattoos? 

Oh, I think that’s what they’re there for! I think that if you’re someone who is getting tattoos you get them because you want them to be seen. Someone who has tattoos has to understand when people are curious. You’re going to be asked, “What does that one mean?” or “What did you get that for?” It’s not rude to ask. You put it out there on your body and it’s just like wearing any kind of accessory. Anything about how we present ourselves is open to question about who we are.

This is the season of sports tryouts. Often there will be two best friends and one kid will make a team and his or her friend won’t. How can parents communicate about that with each other to make sure that the kids are okay?

Make sure the kids get together and do their sport together whenever they can. Because the one who made the team is going to have lots of wonderful things to teach the other child in hopes of perhaps making the team the next season. Getting the kids together and making sure they don’t lose the bond of loving that sport is really important.

For second weddings, is there anything that’s different when it comes to shower or wedding gifts, or is the protocol the same as a first wedding?

The protocol is 99.9 percent the same. However, when it comes to a second wedding, gifts are optional for those who were invited to the first wedding. For first weddings, even if you decide not to go to the wedding, you still are required to send a gift. But for a second wedding, if you were invited the first time, you’re not required to send a gift.

Talking about gifts, this is the time of year people put together collections for teacher and coaches’ gifts. Do you have any tips to make that process easier?

Parents need to remember that not everybody comes from the same socioeconomic background. Not everyone has the same funds or the ability to participate and volunteer and it can put a parent in a seriously awkward position. Give three options: bring something, donate your time or donate money, one of the three. That way people have somewhere to go to try to fit it into their lives.

Our readers have a lot of concerns about appropriate cell phone use and texting in social situations. Do you have any guidelines?

You want to make sure when you gather for coffee, or you’re out on a date, or you’re with your family, that your cell phone is in your pocket. Let’s say your mom is in the hospital and there’s that emergency situation that could pop up. That’s when you let people know, “Hey guys I might need to take a phone call, I’m just going to keep my phone on vibrate in my pocket.” You don’t set it on the table where it is a ticking time bomb. And you can’t use the emergency as an excuse to check every little message that might come in.

Uh-oh, I think I’m guilty of this.

Naughty you (laughs)! We never shake our finger, but I’ll shake my finger at that. You definitely want to keep that phone in the pocket. If it’s the hospital calling then yes, excuse yourself and take the call—but if it’s not, put that thing back in your pocket and don’t respond.