In 1922, Emily Post published Etiquette, a guide to the mores and manners of a rapidly changing world. As the old social structures crumbled and class took on an unprecedented fluidity, Americans wanted someone to tell them how to behave – and Post became what’s now known as a brand.
This year, her great-great granddaughter Lizzie Post has published a new book of mores and manners her forebear probably never imagined. Higher Etiquette aims to help readers politely navigate a world where pot vapor is in the air, on the dinner table and, more openly than ever before, part of an evening’s recreation.
Cannabis etiquette, for as long as anyone can remember, has been surrounded in a fog of unwritten codes and rules defined largely by the drug’s illegality and widespread stigmatization. Merely suggesting a shared spliff to someone who wasn’t interested could be a fraught moment, liable to earn a sneer or contemptuous remark. Deliverymen, who had to be assiduously courted, could feel slighted if they weren’t invited in to share the product they just sold. When these encounters went well – which is to say with everyone blissfully baked – they could be the foundation of strong personal bonds.
Higher Etiquette is focused on how to share cannabis in a post-prohibition world. Etiquette is often misunderstood as a set of arcane or arbitrary behaviors governing how to sit or the right way to eat asparagus. But it’s better thought of as how to make those around you feel comfortable, and by extension feel more comfortable and confident yourself. As Lizzie Post quotes Emily: “It’s not about which fork you use, it’s that you should use a fork.” Higher Etiquette is similarly open hearted and forgiving.
“One of the tough things about this is meeting people where they’re at,” Post told me on a recent podcast. “After 100 years of negative programming, stereotyping and prohibition telling us that this is something bad, only for the young and dumb, it’s really hard sometimes to feel confident admitting that this is something you love.”
Illustration: George Wylesol/The Guardian
Much of the book is concerned with how to present cannabis to friends and guests. And cannabis etiquette, as in most etiquette, involves being considerate, communicative and transparent. It begins with the invitations. If an occasion will involve cannabis use, guests should know beforehand, Post says.
Legalization enables a host to put out elaborate cannabis buffets which can meet every consumer’s preference. In these cases hosts should remember to ensure guests know what the products are. If the edibles are especially strong, they should be labelled and there should be non-infused food and drinks options as well. Products containing CBD can be a festive alternative for those who don’t want to be high.
For guests, she says some faux pas to avoid are pinching the end of a shared joint and excessive slobbering on joints and vape pens.
Some other tips:
Passing etiquette “is very similar to what we learned both at the dinner table and in the kindergarten circle”: pass in one direction, don’t skip people and don’t forget to keep passing.
Don’t be afraid to decline whatever is offered. Hosts may want to have a variety of products to match their guest’s preferences.
Be kind when presented with someone’s homegrown herb, whether in the form of living plants or product to consume.
Talking about how high you are is “less awesome for those who are hearing it if it gets repeated over and over”.
Post has also noticed potential for awkwardness between cannabis users celebrating their newfound social acceptance and those who, regardless of their views on legalization, aren’t comfortable around cannabis or even discussing it.
“One of the things I think people get wrong is the judgement side of it,” Post says. She’ll meet people in her capacity at the Emily Post Institute who “say things like marijuana is just making people stupid”. It’s no more polite to lecture people on cannabis use than cigarette smoking or their alcohol consumption, she says. Similarly, cannabis users should be mindful of their consumption habits and whether they bother people around them with clouds of smoke. Etiquette points to how people with differences can get along with each other, even if they’re not inclined to.
As for what her forebear Emily Post would think of her book, Lizzie isn’t sure. Emily Post hated tobacco smoke and had no recorded opinion on cannabis but she was a fierce opponent of alcohol prohibition. The Post biographer Laura Claridge wrote: “Emily didn’t drink but … she was disgusted with the government’s interference with what she believed were citizen’s rights.”