Etiquette for the male set

Emily Post's great-grandson reminds men of their manners

May 16, 2004|By Kay Harvey | Kay Harvey,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Don't hog the remote. Be discreet about scratching. And always put the toilet seat down.

Why? That's the considerate way of doing things, Peter Post tells the men of America.

And that's not the only reason.

"There's a big payoff for good manners," says Post, great-grandson of the late Emily Post, the matriarch of etiquette. "You'll be more successful."

Not just successful at work -- but in social situations and relationships, on a date or at home, he says in his new book, Essential Manners for Men: What to Do, When to Do It, and Why (Emily Post Institute, $19.95).

For men who share a bathroom with a woman, take the toilet-seat scenario. "With two seconds of effort, you can save yourself lots of trouble down the road," he says.

Most women would call that a no-brainer. But what about most men?

"With guys, there's sometimes a certain degree of cluelessness," he says. "Take spitting. Most boys grow up doing it. As a kid, we had spitting contests."

As he got older, he figured out -- as most men do -- he needed to appeal to common sense to figure out the right thing to do.

But confusion remains about what's proper and what's not, Post said in an interview during a recent stop in Minneapolis-St. Paul to promote his book. Fast-paced lifestyles and casual trends have cut the chances children will learn good manners around the dinner table, as they did in his great-grandmother's day.

And those who learn from television programming can get the wrong ideas about what manners-conscious people might consider appropriate.

"On TV, people can do something revolting, and what do you hear? A laugh track," he says.

Confused no more

His book intends to provide an antidote to confusion, evidenced in growing numbers of queries to the Vermont-based Emily Post Institute, where he is a director.

The book covers about 10 percent of manners, he says. But they apply to about 90 percent of situations people encounter in a lifetime.

"Etiquette is actually the opposite of confusion," he says. "It gives you the skills to be confident about what to do."

Here are some examples to fit various scenarios:

* Dinner-date success. Some women don't mind a man showing up with two days' worth of Don Johnson stubble. But if he chews with his mouth open or talks with his mouth full, that's sure to turn off a date.

* Dining at home. Ditto the above. Plus, it is good manners to clean up before appearing at the table. "You can't be a slob, even at home," Post says. "It's a time when people socialize with each other." That means everyone at the table is expected to participate.

* Kitchen cleanup. Even if a man doesn't help with cooking, he's not excused from helping to clean up after a meal. When he makes a snack, it's his job to clean up the mess. In either case, that means putting dishes in the dishwasher, not just stacking them in the sink.

* Laundry. Do it. "Men who help with laundry have better sex lives," Post says.

* Crude behaviors. It gets personal in this category of flatulence, scratching one's private areas and burping. The right move is to take care of these things privately. If that means finding a bathroom, politely excuse yourself. The same goes for severe coughing and sneezing attacks.

* On the job. Professional skills get a man the job, but it's the way he interacts with people that gets him the promotion.

* On the road. "Just back off." Acting out anger can be life-threatening.

* Paying the dinner tab. The person who extends the invitation always pays the bill. But after multiple invitations, it is mannerly for a guest to return the favor. Or to offer to take a turn at paying the tab. The time for that offer is when the invitation is extended, not when the check arrives at the table.

* Baseball-cap etiquette. It's pretty much the same as hat-wearing protocol always has been. Wearing a cap is OK in stores and fast-food restaurants, but ditch the cap at fine-dining establishments, churches, upscale events and people's homes. Especially Grandma's house, when you know she holds fast to more traditional rules.

The best way to teach manners to boys is for parents -- particularly fathers -- to model them, Post says. That means both at home and out in the community.

Who's buying the book? Both men and women. "Women buy it and give it to men," Post says. Some couples tell him they're reading it together. It's a way they can have a conversation, they say, about behaviors that are difficult to discuss.

Etiquette isn't a list of rules, he says. It's being considerate of the people around you. Men want to use good manners, he says.

"They just don't want to be criticized."

Top 5 mistakes men make

1. Poor table manners. Eat like a slob, and people will think of you as a slob. To be a good meal companion, focus on the people you're eating with. Think about making their experience with you the very best possible.

2. Leaving the seat up. Raise the toilet seat to do your business and then put it back down. Look at that rim. Would you want to sit on it? Neither does she.

3. Putting a loved one down. Do the little things that build her up and make her smile when she thinks of you, such as helping in the kitchen and opening the car door for her.

4. Staring at another woman. It's OK to notice, but keep the attention on the one you're with.

5. Not saying "please" and "thank you." Saying "please" turns a demand into a request. "Thank you" shows your appreciation, rather than a message that what you receive is merely expected.

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