Sunday, February 16, 2014

On The Minefield of Modern Manners


A dear friend sent us this article the other day and we find it entertaining and informative.  Just the type of book we like to order! So thank you for passing this on to us, Lynette!

Sandi Toksvig: 'The aperitifs are not there for you to get bladdered'

How does one eat peas politely? Which innocent gesture might offend in South America? And what was Confucius’s golden rule at dinner? In this extract from her new book, 'Peas and Queues: The Minefield of Modern manners', Sandi Toskvig reveals all

The way manners are expressed evolves on an almost daily basis. In the 12th century, it was recommended that one should cough very loudly when entering a house “for there may be something doing which you ought not to see”. These days it’s easier to ring the bell. The word “etiquette” derives from the French word for small labels or tickets attached to bags to tell you what was inside them. In the same way “protocol” comes from the Greek protokollon, which was a sheet glued to a manuscript case to show its contents. Labels or stickers attached to things proclaiming what they were and where they belonged gradually developed into written instructions for how to behave. They would be posted, for example, outside a soldier’s billet or lodging to tell him what was expected. Those who ran Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles used étiquettes (little cards) to remind courtiers to keep off the grass or whatever else was considered de rigueur in court life.
What is and isn’t generally acceptable changes all the time. There is a painting by the Dutchman Andries Both called Hunting Lice by Candlelight. It was painted in 1630 and it shows four men engaged in ridding a kneeling figure of unwanted vermin in his hair. This would not be an acceptable public practice today. Today there are rules about Twitter and Facebook which didn’t exist a decade ago because neither did Twitter or Facebook. Modes of behaviour need to be examined continuously as we decide which are worth keeping and which need updating. That doesn’t mean that some rules which have been around for a long time aren’t still worth sticking to.
TABLE MANNERS
To consume whole pieces of food at a gulp is for storks and buffoons. Erasmus, De civilitate morum puerilium (On Civility in Boys), 1530
There seem to be more rules about eating than almost anything else. Some of the earliest manuscripts in the world have sections on dining etiquette. Even Confucius, who lived back in 551-479 BC, wrote “Do not snatch (at what you want)” when he covered this topic in his Book of Rites. Table manners have been around for as long as there have been tables.
Some bog-standard rules everyone should know
Don’t say “bog” at the table No one, while eating, likes to think about other bodily functions. Some cultures even have strict rules about only using the right hand when eating or receiving food. The left hand is considered “unclean” as it is the hand used for “unhygienic” tasks.
Don’t put your elbows on the table This is a very old chestnut and I hear you cry, “Why can’t I put my elbows where I like?” The simple answer is that there’s a limited amount of space at a table and it needs to be shared. This may have been more important in medieval times when people sat packed on long benches but even at a spacious dinner table you’re still having a communal experience. The only joint on the table during a meal should be one for carving.
Sit up If you slouch, you seem less than engaged with your dining companions. The age-old rule of not tipping your chair back is just common sense. I once had a disastrous date with a young man (this is a very long time ago). We were in a restaurant that was divided into separate eating booths for each dining party. He tipped his chair back and crashed right through the divide into the next table of diners. It was not a successful evening.
Chew with your mouth closed According to an Elizabethan book of manners published in 1577 (A New Yeeres Gift: The Courte of Civill Courtesie), if you open your mouth while eating, people will see “the food rowle by – which is a foule sight and loathsome” and I don’t suppose much has changed over the years.
Never use your phone Focus on the people you are sharing a meal with, not someone who isn’t even in the room. Don’t put your phone on the table as if you’re hoping to be interrupted by something more important. Do not tweet about your meal. It’s dull for everyone including those people who have been foolish enough to “follow” you.
Use your napkin Napkins have been an essential part of eating without annoying for about 3,000 years. The first napkin was a dough used by the Spartans. It was called apomagdalie and it was kneaded at the table after a meal to clean the hands. The ancient Romans were the first to move on to cloth, with dinner guests bringing their own mappae, a fairly large sheet of material, to avoid toga and couch staining.
Reigning cats and dogs Medieval manners books asked children not to “stroke cat or dog” while eating. Nothing much has changed. Don’t encourage a creature which may shed its hair to lounge about under the table, and certainly don’t feed it. It takes genuine passion for a pet to enjoy the sound of it salivating.
Attending a banquet
Never trust a man in a ready-made bow tie. Claus Toksvig (1929-88), Danish broadcaster, my father
Formal dinners are usually held as a kind of ritual or theatre. I have a Jewish friend who describes the many festivals she and her family mark as being summed up historically as, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.”
An aperitif The word “aperitif” comes from the Latin aperitivus, meaning “opener”. Pre-dinner drinks often consist of spirits and are usually stronger than those served with the meal. They’re intended to stimulate conversation and to help the body prepare for food. They’re not there for you to get bladdered. In my native Denmark, when I was a child, people only touched their alcoholic beverage during a toast. There was, as I recall, an almost endless series of toasts.
The place setting Fewer people give formal dinners these days so you’ll probably be a guest rather than a host. The first time you attend one you may feel a little overwhelmed. You may worry that you might eat someone else’s bread by mistake or take a gulp of their wine. To help you recall which bits belong to you, all you need to know is:
Solids are on the left: liquids on the right There’s an easy way to remember – make the symbol for OK with both hands. The left hand makes a “b” for bread while the right makes a “d” for drinks. Do this in your lap. In several South American countries it suggests the person you are gesturing to is a homosexual. The person may well be a homosexual but may not want it pointed out at the dinner table.
Bread It’s quite common for a roll to already be on your bread plate when you sit down. If a basket is passed it is passed to the right by the host. (The host should offer it to the person on their immediate left first so they don’t have to wait for it to go all the way around the table but, really, let’s not get hung up on all this. It’s just bread.)
Cutlery Start with the cutlery furthest away from your plate and work your way in. If in doubt watch your host, who’ll silently indicate what you need to do. Anyone who makes a big deal out of you using the wrong implement is bad-mannered. Some snobs once believed that having many rows of cutlery showed off their status. This is no longer necessary and I trust we’ve established that fish knives are absurd.
Seating plan It’s still the norm for men and women to be seated in alternate seats. This probably dates back to the Crusades. In order to teach knights manners they were often paired with a lady at dinner. The females had a civilising effect as the men learnt not to lick their fingers, smack their lips or snort. Any woman sitting next to a man at a formal meal knows she’s there to keep him in check.
Cheese As a matter of course, young ladies do not eat cheese at dinner-partiesManners and Rules of Good Society by “A Member of the Aristocracy”, 1888
The anonymous aristocrat doesn’t give a reason why. Maybe it gave young ladies bad breath. There’s some fun to be had thinking of the horror one might have caused by spearing a piece of Gorgonzola with the wrong knife and handing it to a woman. Women can now help themselves but no one should take the “nose of the cheese”. As the French say, “jamais le nez” but what is that? It’s the pointed end of a triangle of cheese. Posh cheeses are usually made in a round shape and the centre will be the richest part. It’s thought to be the most delicious bit and it would be rude to take it. Slice a triangle of cheese like a cake by taking a sliver from the side.
Eating peas You’re probably wondering – what was the biggest day in pea history? Well, I am here to serve. It was January 18, 1660. A hamper including peas in their shells from Genoa was presented to King Louis XIV of France. His aide, Count de Soissons, started shelling them for him and a food craze was born. Courtiers went mad for this luxury item, while in fairy tales princesses proved their credentials by being able to feel a single pea through many mattresses. Peas are, however, a devil to eat because they are small, mobile and too brilliantly coloured for anyone to overlook should they shoot off the plate. Ideally you should hold the fork tines down and try to crush the verdant devils onto the points. The fork shouldn’t be turned into a scoop unless you are in America where it is more acceptable. The critical thing is not to fret about it. One of the easiest options is to use some potato or other soft food to help squash them on to the fork. Don’t use your fingers or your spoon.
WHO INVENTED QUEUEING?
An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one. George Mikes (1912-87), Hungarian-born British author
No race on earth seems to queue quite like the British. In his 1946 publication How to be an Alien, Mikes called it “the national passion of an otherwise dispassionate race”. The next time you have to queue, and it’s bound to come up (usually in the rain) consider its knightly origins. The word is 15th century and is not British but French for “a tail” or, more impressively, the heraldic term “tail of a beast”. This seems apt, as the first queue I can think of is when Noah managed to persuade all those animals to line up for a cruise. Hard as it may be to believe, other nations also queue. The Danes have a system of numbered tickets in chemists to ensure the fit and the poorly are treated with equanimity. Queuing is tedious but it’s dull for everyone. Winston Churchill even invented the word “Queuetopia” to warn Britain that under the Opposition they might be transformed into a socialist country in which people were required to queue for everything. Self-service counters were invented to make people feel as though they weren’t queuing. In fact, by the time you’ve called six times for assistance at a self-service till, it’s taken longer than waiting in line.
Who invented cutlery?
Forks The word fork comes from the Latin furca or “pitchfork”. It consists of the prongs, which are called “tines”, and the handle, known as the “shaft”. The European rule is to keep the tines down, unless it is the only cutlery you are using, in which case you can scoop with them up. Americans are happy to scoop up at any time. The fork was invented because some things when cooked are too hot to hold. Ancient Egyptians used large forks for cooking, as did the Greeks, and there were bone forks found in Chinese burial sites from more than 4,000 years ago. Frankly, forks are now a pest in museums.
Knives There was a time when everyone carried their own knife. It was sharp and pointed and for centuries hosts tried to stop guests picking their teeth with it after a meal. The dinner knife, a much less threatening implement with a rounded tip, is said to have been invented on May 13 1637 by the First Minister of France, Cardinal Richelieu. You’d think he had better things to do, but apparently one night at a dinner he saw a guest picking his teeth with a sharp knife and had had enough. He ordered all his knives ground down and rounded off to stop such disgusting behaviour. In 1669 King Louis XIV made it illegal for French cutlers to forge pointed dinner knives.
Spoons A camel does not drink from a spoon. Persian Proverb. That is so true yet you rarely see it written down. The spoon has been around since Palaeolithic times. Before some genius invented the spoon there is no doubt people used shells to scoop food if it was too hot to touch. The word spoon comes from Old Norse sponn, meaning “chip or splinter” so some probably used a bit of wood. After that you find the ancient Egyptians using spoons, the usual catalogue of Greeks and Romans, Indians and Muslims etc. Everyone thought the spoon was a cracking idea.
Who invented public lavatories?
When you get to my age life seems little more than one long march to and from the lavatory. Arthur Christopher Benson (1862-1925), English writer
Public lavatories have been a good idea since Roman times, when the Roman emperor Vespasian (ruled 69-79 AD) imposed a tax on urine sold from public urinals in Rome’s Cloaca Maxima (great sewer) system. Urine contains ammonia and was used by washer women to keep togas white. People have been “spending a penny” in Britain since the Great Exhibition of 1851, when engineer George Jennings installed the first public toilets at Crystal Palace. They were known as “monkey closets” and for a penny a visitor could get a clean seat, a towel, a comb and a shoe shine. My favourite loo story (oddly, I have several) concerns American actress Tallulah Bankhead (who died in 1968). She was in a cubicle in a public loo with no paper, so asked the woman next door if she had any. The woman didn’t. Tallulah then asked if she had any tissues. The woman did not. Finally Tallulah inquired, “My dear, have you two fives for a ten?”


Peas and Queues: The Minefield of Modern Manners’, by Sandi Toksvig (Profile Books, £12.99) is available to order from Telegraph Books at £11.99 + £1.35 p&p. Call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk

Monday, November 18, 2013

Victorian Etiquette; Proper Use of Utensils and Small Talk at the Table

Victorian Etiquette; Proper Use of Utensils and Small Talk at the Table


One of the fundamental rules for graceful carriage is, keep your elbows at your sides, and this rule should dominate the movement of the arms while at table. Its workings are felt rather than seen, but they are nevertheless evident in the graceful methods of those who understand the difference between dining elegantly and merely consuming food. Modern cookery is of such a high degree of excellence, modern table-implements so luxurious and varied, that elegant enjoyment and graceful ease may reasonably "be expected of those who gather round a well-appointed table. Even if the general verdict falls a little short of this, the standard is sure to grow toward it. It cannot be otherwise where the desire for improvement exists, and it would be false to assume that there are not many who feel the need and seek the means of improvement. Progress is more quickly noticeable in city than in country life for many reasons, first among them being the necessity for quick and ready adaptation to rapidly moving events.

Although the four-pronged silver fork was in use upon the continent of Europe in the first decade of the present century, it is noticeable that the use of the knife in carrying food to the mouth is by no means obsolete among some of the most advanced of the European nations. One can easily draw a mental picture in which the dogmatists of etiquette a half century ago are seated about a tempting board, all eating with their knives, but using them daintily ; and the retrospect need not go back of the times of those whose manners at table, as well as elsewhere, are defined as models of elegance. Since then the steel fork has been banished, the knife subjugated and the spoon subdued. The reason for all this is commonly supposed to be the danger of cutting the lips with the knife, but such danger is very slight, unless one be persistently stupid in handling it. It is much more sensible to assume that mankind was not slow to perceive the more agreeable sensation of putting to the lips the delicate tines of a fork, which were close enough to convey all except liquid edibles with comfort and convenience. Then, too, there are many varieties of food which deteriorate from even the slightest contact with steel, a metal still much in use for knives. There is, however, an inclination to force the use of the fork to the point of affectation, and excess in this direction is quite as deplorable as the indiscriminate use of the knife. The proper use of any table implement at a table where one is a guest is no different from what it would be at the most informal meal, except as it may be influenced by the special preparation of an edible.

In seating one's self at table a comfortable posture is not incompatible with a dignified attitude. The shoulders should not be thrown back too far, nor should they drop forward. It is the latter pose which produces the inclination of the arms suggestive of the " all elbows" idea which some people give of themselves.

When oysters on the shell are served, at the beginning of a dinner, oyster forks are provided, and in eating such shell-fish the right or left hand may be employed to carry them to the mouth. Of course, the right hand is most frequently used, because it is the best trained for such service; but those who believe it to be an oversight not to train both hands to do our bidding with equal skill are not slaves to the dictum of never raising the fork with the left hand, nor is it supposable that in such a minor matter personal opinion should cause one to relinquish a carefully considered habit or adopt a new one. Etiquette only advises that, if the fork is used in the left hand, it be carried to the mouth with the tines pointing downward. This applies to its use with all kinds of food and to all varieties of forks, but is emphasized here in its application to the oyster fork, because there are many people for whom the smallest blue-points lose their relish if the eyes are forced to rest upon them as they approach the mouth.

Rolls used to be placed in the napkin, on the plate

The bread or dinner roll is removed from the napkin on which it is found and placed at the left side, but aside from doing this and placing the napkin the diner does not interfere with the arrangement of the cover until the servant removes the plate. Fingering the glasses, etc., is evidence of a vacuous state of mind.

The servant, if well trained, omits no one in passing such condiments as the various dishes call for, or in replenishing anything of which a first supply may not suffice; consequently, a gentleman's duties in this respect are light, but, trivial as they may be, he should not neglect them.

Even though decanted wines be placed upon the table and the attendant be only a maid, do not offer any kind to a lady until she has finished her soup and do not undertake to assume the duties of the butler, if there be one, in this respect. It is one thing to see that a lady is provided for, and quite another to perform the service in such a way that it interferes with pre-arranged plans.

Soup should be lifted with an outward motion of the spoon and taken from the side of the spoon when possible, and the impossible instances are very rare. A man with a heavy moustache may be excused if he deviates somewhat from this rule, but not until after he has acquired the dexterity necessary to raise his spoon with the end toward him without thrusting his elbow out or making the movement of his arm conspicuous. Such skill can be cultivated, but not so easily as the movement of lifting the spoon sidewise to the mouth. It ought to be unnecessary to add that soup should be taken noiselessly. If the variety served is not agreeable to the palate, let it remain until the servant is ready to remove it.

It is not good form to refuse soup, even if you do not care for it, it being an easy matter to take up the time of this course with conversation. Indeed, when dinner is served a la Russe, that is, each course placed separately before the diners, it is not judicious to refuse any course unless the list is very long and a menu from which to select is provided. Superabundance in this direction, and the use of the cards as well, are, however, neither fashionable nor refined. No one is obliged to partake of a dish placed before him, and ladies especially are excusable from partaking of richly made dishes and highly seasoned compounds. They may sip their wine and partake of the bread or dinner roll, and if they desire more of this satisfying and healthful food they are entitled to express their desire at the most formal dinner. Their escorts should see that they are provided, and this can best be done by attracting the attention of the waiter in an unostentatious manner. A New Yorker, whose appearance at any dinner, private or public, gives it the cachet of success, and whose delightfully entertaining qualities are recognized both here and abroad, when asked how he preserved his digestion and kept his head clear under pressure of attendance at so many social dinners and formal banquets, replied, "By avoiding made dishes and eating bread while others are partaking of them, and by taking only one variety of wine."

As each course is ended, readiness to have your plate removed may be expressed by placing the knife and fork across it, with the handles to the right, and when the next plate is placed before you, if the knife and fork to be used for the succeeding course be upon it, remove them deftly to the table, placing them at the right side without touching the plate, even though it be the one from which you are to eat.

In the use of the knife and fork, daintiness should be cultivated without impairing or interfering with the proper function of either implement. Some varieties of fish do not require the use of the knife, the fork and a piece of bread being sufficient. Others, notably those having many small bones, cannot be properly managed without one, and a small silver knife accompanies their service. Both knife and fork should be held with the handles resting in the palms of the hands when cutting or separating food, but in carrying food to the mouth the handle of the fork should not be kept against the palm, as conveying it in that position gives the effect commonly expressed as "shovelling " the food into the mouth. A firm hold upon both knife and fork does not necessitate gripping them as if they were endowed with the ability to fly. It is inelegant to appear busy with both knife and fork all the time. Such foods as require special preparation upon the plate may be prepared neatly and quickly before beginning to eat them, and while it is not desirable to cut one's portion of roast in small bits, as for a child, it may be divided into morsels as wanted without appearing to be incessantly sawing upon it. Whoever is given to "loading up'' a fork or holding upon it a quantity of food pending its deposit in the mouth, had best dine by himself until such gaucheries are overcome.
Crumbing the table
 Eating and drinking at the same time are reprehensible for more than one good reason; but the fact that the practice is contrary to good manners condemns it sufficiently in the minds of the well-bred. Hurry, the bane of our epoch and the foe of self-possession, has implanted the tendency to do everything in the shortest possible time, and the habit of hurrying clings after the necessity has sped. There should be no evidence of haste at a dinner-party, and even the suggestion of it should be guarded against. The napkin should be touched to the lips in the interval between partaking of greasy food and drinking; otherwise the rim of the glass will not be inviting to look upon. In eating or drinking, the fork, spoon, glass, or cup is carried to the mouth, but not beyond the lips. Throwing the head far back, thrusting the spoon or fork far into the mouth, turning the bowl of the spoon over in the mouth, draining the glass, emptying it at a single draught, or reversing it so that the stem is inverted, are not merely sins against the social gods—they are coarse and repulsive habits, which should be cured as speedily as possible.
It was a pleasing and proper acknowledgment when an invitation to one's table signified the most sacred form of social hospitality, but though an invitation to dine still suggests a desire for some degree of social intimacy, the giving of dinners has grown to be more of a formality since that time.
No more nonsensical statement could be made than that everything eatable should be carried to the lips with a fork. The spoon is the proper medium for conveying many varieties of semi-liquid foods; but methods of preparing certain foods differ according to locality, and to this difference is attributable much of the misunderstanding existing between the use of the fork and spoon. Tomatoes cooked without anything to absorb their liquid contain but little pulp which can be eaten with a spoon, but the delicious manner of thus preparing them, which prevails throughout New England, more than counterbalances the satisfaction that the remnant of solid matter conveyed to the mouth upon a fork would bestow; and those to whom the preparation is agreeable would merely proclaim themselves ridiculously automatic in their ideas by attempting to eat them without the aid of a spoon. On the other hand the same vegetable, prepared so that but little moisture remains, is as easily lifted upon the fork as mashed potato. We have made an every-day selection to illustrate this point, but the rule applies as practically to the daintiest viand that rejoices in a French name, and should be as faithfully adhered to at the table of a king as at the humblest board.

Many people, believing it bad manners to ask for anything not provided by their hosts, inconvenience themselves by refraining from asking for anything which the table equipment does not include. There is, however, no reason why a spoon or any similar implement should not be asked for, if needed; but never on any account should a person signal conspicuously to the waiter nor address him as " waiter." In a restaurant you may ask the usher to send a waiter to you if the service is slow or the attendant negligent, but not even in this public place does a well-bred man call out "waiter," and he who commits such a blunder beneath a private roof might as well hope for future canonization as for present social success. Primus, a dinner party pre-supposes enjoyment of the viands; secundus, it does not require that a guest shall express his pleasure by waving his napkin, gesticulating with his knife, fork, or spoon, or talking while his mouth is full of food. Fleeting as is time, there is enough of it for all things, and when conversation is in order, let eating be suspended. Exciting topics may be banished without excluding those which have an exhilarating interest.
A lady is entitled to special attention from her escort, but she should not monopolize his time
Long stories are to be avoided, and so is the habit of asking questions; but there is a subtle way of wishing, or, at least, of being willing to hear more that gives the inflection without being too interrogative; and if it be not expedient to tell all we know in response to its gentle insinuation, it does not compel an ungracious refusal or a chilling reticence. A lady is entitled to special attention from her escort, but she should not monopolize his time. Not merely the pairing but the grouping of guests is considered by an accomplished hostess, and a lady may exercise her conversational graces impartially to right and left and likewise across the table, provided its width and adornments do not interfere.; but neither in front of nor behind an intervening guest should anybody attempt to converse. When a word or sentence to one so separated suggests itself, the intervening person should be included in the conversation. In other words, the conversation becomes general to a lesser or greater extent, according as the subject under discussion may interest those present.

Architecture may be frozen music to you in the most rigid sense, and you may be seated next to some one who draws out its harmonies in grand and classic shapes, and to whose latest triumphs the company may allude in brief but pleasing terms. You feel called upon to add something to the general tribute, but can think of nothing apt. Said a young girl who was thus placed, " I could not think of anything to say that would indicate an intelligent knowledge of the subject and I did not feel privileged to lead the conversation from the channel in which it had been directed, so I could only speak of a mite of a country house which always comes to mind because of the beautiful roses that grow all about it and seem intent upon surmounting its diminutive height. I scarcely know how it happened, but in a very short time he was telling me how artistically the rose works into decorative purposes, and from that passed to other things until I felt the subject to be more interesting than I ever supposed it could become to one who knows next to nothing about architecture, and who cannot become familiar with it." Such a frank avowal is not discreditable to one who has tact enough to make up for it, and tact quite often takes the place of many qualities commonly supposed to belong to the mental equipments of bright women. It made a good listener in the instance referred to, and it gave a good talker the opportunity to air his gifts agreeably.

Worries and all disquieting subjects should not be mentioned outside the circle they affect, and even though one may have but just emerged from a sea of them, it is not permissible to seem otherwise than happy and content.

There must have been some unexplained condition attached to the circumstances which led to the question, "Is it proper to thank a servant for a service rendered," because well-bred people instinctively acknowledge the slightest service; but the question came to us as quoted and in that form we answer it. By all means thank a servant for replacing a dropped napkin, a knife or fork, for bringing you anything not at hand or for doing anything you may require; but do not assume the air or attitude of wishing the company to understand that you are punctilious in such matters. "Thank you," in a low tone, a gratified but not a familiar nod of approval or a gracious acceptance of what you desire is all that is needed. A lady is not often called upon to say " thank you " in such circumstances, because a well-bred man is always on the alert to direct attention to her wants. It is her prerogative to acknowledge both favor and service with a smile, which need not part the lips, but which expresses her appreciation as effectually and with less formality than even a simple, "thank you." .

The habit of clipping words perhaps explains why "thanks," passes current for the finer and more gracious "thank you." The intimacy of "chums" permits the use of the abbreviated form, but the general adoption of such scant verbiage is as objectionable as verbosity; and if the question, "should one say 'thanks' to servants" were asked, the answer would be emphatically, no, unless you wish to suggest that all social difference between you and them is removed.

In taking leave of your entertainers, be gracious but not effusive in expressing your pleasure. It is to your hostess that you will make acknowledgment in a few words. Just what they shall be, no pen can write and few people need be told; but they will give the impression that you have enjoyed your evening. Beware—this to the young —that your words do not savor of the fact that your enjoyment has been a surprise to yourself. To youth is also addressed this injunction: do not attempt to compliment your hostess upon her menage. Verbally expressed compliments of any kind are rarely the prerogative of the young. If the hostess be your dearest school-friend, tell her privately, when you are admitted to a boudoir chat, how much you admire her qualities as housewife and hostess; but do not allow your appreciation to effervesce when she is doing her best to bear her blushing honors with meekness and dignity, for it is a hard combination for a young hostess to sustain. "Although I have remained late, the evening has seemed very short," says one; "Time is very unkind, and so I must say 'good evening,' " says another. A matron who has enjoyed years of complete social success extends her hand to a younger entertainer and says, "Before saying adieu, let me thank you for a most delightful evening;" but she does not prolong her leave-taking further than to add a brief good-night.

There was a time when appreciation of the dinner was expressed in the leave-taking, but the custom does not prevail among men and women of the younger generation. It was a pleasing and proper acknowledgment when an invitation to one's table signified the most sacred form of social hospitality, but though an invitation to dine still suggests a desire for some degree of social intimacy, the giving of dinners has grown to be more of a formality since that time.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Emily Post's Etiquette for Social Registers in Her Day

A friend alerted us to an article by William Norwich, from nymag.com. Let us say from the get-go, we have nothing against Emily Post. We are just not big fans of her book "Etiquette."  Sure, it does list the social rules of the time quite sufficiently. Many other less known writers did as well though. It is the tone in which she writes that bothers us.  She fell victim to the social class structure of the day, and as such, she comes off in her book as a snob. That aspect of her book we do not care for, which is why any time we are asked if we want to be just like Emily Post, we cringe. Not visibly, we hope.  But we do cringe a bit inside.  

Blue Blood Marries “Colored Girl” 

Emily Post Frowns - Judge Orders “Nipple” Check        

by William Norwich

Domestic worker, Alice Beatrice Jones
IN 1921, WHILE OUT motoring, society’s Leonard Kip Rhinelander met Alice Beatrice Jones, a domestic worker who lived near Stamford, Connecticut’s Orchard School, an inpatient clinic where young Leonard was seeking the cure for a variety of “nervous conditions” including stammering and extreme shyness.
Leonard Kip Rhinelander, right, in court
While Alice had a curative effect on Leonard, his family hoped it was just an upstairs-down- stairs dalliance. They hoped wrong. In 1924, shortly after Mr. Rhinelander turned 21, the couple married. Unbeknownst to all, Mrs. L. Kip Rhinelander became the first black woman in the New York Social Register—but not for long. 

A reporter discovered that she was the daughter of “a colored man,” a former taxi driver who was almost unrecognizably mixed-race. Newspapers ran with headlines like “Blue Blood Weds Colored Girl.” For a few weeks, Leonard defended his wife, but his family won, urging the couple to separate “because of the Ku Klux Klan,” reported the New York Times. His lawyers filed for an annulment, claiming that Alice had hidden her race from Leonard.


Artist's depiction of Alice Beatrice Jones in the judge's chambers
 In the judge’s chambers, Alice, crying and holding on to her mother, was forced to remove various articles of clothing so the all-male and all-white jury could see, by the appearance of her nipples, back, and legs, that Leonard must have known prior to the marriage that she was not entirely of white blood. To the jury’s credit, the annulment was denied, the marriage up- held. Under a subsequent agreement, Alice received a sum of $32,500 plus $3,600 annually for life. (She and Leonard never reunited.)
 
The annulment was denied.  Even worse?  Mrs. L. Kip
Rhinelander became the first black woman in the New York Social Register. But not for long, as Emily Post was on the case!

It was Emily Post, otherwise the champion of kindness and courtesy, who pushed the Social Register to drop Alice. Personalities over principles: Her people in Tuxedo Park were related by marriage to the Rhinelanders, you see. Mrs. Post got more than she bargained for. She sought only Alice’s ouster, but with it came Leonard’s as well.

Now Emily Post was human. She made errors in her life.  This particular error in judgement however, was a rather big one, so we shared it with a few friends.  As we neglected the blog to vacation with our families and finish planning a wedding this past summer, we thought we should share it on the blog now.  Maybe this way, people will realize we do not wish to be "just like Emily Post" as people gushingly say when Sis or I mention teaching etiquette.  Emily rubbed salt into the wounds of a young woman necessarily. We hope not to ever make the same type of error. We want to be ourselves. And we want to teach etiquette.  So please, just don't ask if we want to be "just like Emily Post?"

Thursday, June 6, 2013

First Lady Diplomacy and Etiquette are "No-Shows" for both the Chinese and Japanese

When I turned on the news earlier this evening, I heard something that sounded vaguely familiar; Michelle Obama will be a no show when her husband attends the China-U.S. Summit in California this weekend, a slap in the face to the Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan.
  
I then found this article below, along with a slew of others;

Michelle Obama snubs stylish Chinese first lady by staying home in D.C. with Sasha and Malia

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan

 The First Lady's decision to remain at home was expected to "not go down very well" with her Chinese counterpart, one Chinese diplomacy expert said. "According to normal diplomatic etiquette, this is very strange. It shouldn't be like this," Zhang Ming, a political scientist from China's Renmin University, told the UK's Daily Telegraph. "First Lady diplomacy is also very important, and the U.S. side has failed to cooperate," he added.

 While the President heads to California, First Lady Michelle Obama will hang back to be with daughters Sasha, 12, and 14-year-old Malia, right, who finish school this week.

Michelle Obama's office revealed Tuesday that she would not be joining her husband at Sunnylands, the Annenberg estate near Palm Springs that will provide the picturesque setting for the political talks.

She wanted to stay in Washington with their children, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 12, who finish school this week, according to the New York Times. 


Xi, 59, will arrive Friday in California. His popular wife, 50, has been dubbed the "Kate Middleton of China" for her glamorous attire and energy in her public appearances. She is also a renowned singer and has taken on a more public role than previous political wives in the Communist nation.

The Chinese president and his wife have a 20-year-old daughter, Xi Mingze, who is a student at Harvard.


But it all sounded vaguely familiar... Then I remembered reading this a few months back.  In February to be exact;  

Japan's First Lady skips D.C., cites Mrs. Obama's schedule

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe, Japan's lively and ubiquitous first lady
 "Many in Japan were surprised-and disappointed-to see Prime Minister Shinzo Abe disembark from his special government plane at Washington's Andrews Air Force Base Thursday without his wife on his arm. It is well known that Akie Abe, Japan's lively and ubiquitous first lady, loves to travel with her husband. She doesn't shy away from the spotlight, like many of her predecessors did.

When she came to Washington during her husband's first short stint as prime minister in 2007, Mrs. Abe - known as Akky among her many fans in Japan - laid a wreath at the Arlington Cemetery and chatted with then-First Lady Laura Bush at a dinner party. Last month, she accompanied her husband on his first overseas trip after his return to power in December, visiting a school in Vietnam and showing off her new hairstyle - short cut with bangs.

So why didn't she travel to Washington this week? The answer came from Mrs. Abe herself, in a short Facebook entry. 'My husband left for the U.S. I wanted to go too, but I wasn't able to because of Mrs. Obama's schedule,' she wrote.
"


In global diplomatic circles, this is a serious lapse in etiquette, as our President's wife always seems to find time for television appearances, meeting with pop stars, and even handing out an Oscar. If she wasn't seen on talk shows and making so many other appearances, one would not question her reticence for the spotlight.  But that simply isn't the case. It makes us wonder, who is guiding her in these decisions?



Saturday, April 27, 2013

Victorian Era Breaches of Etiquette


When calling, assume an easy, genteel attitude, be self-possessed, cultivate an easy flow of language and happy expression of thought, study of cultured society, and the general laws of etiquette.

It is a breach of etiquette to stare round the room when you are making a call.

It is a breach of etiquette to remove the gloves when making a formal call.

It is a breach of etiquette to take a dog with you when calling, however "dear or interesting," as no dog can be admitted to the drawing-room.

A breach of etiquette to bring either of them when calling.
 It is a breach of etiquette to take a child with you when paying calls.

It is a breach of etiquette for a caller who is waiting the entrance of the hostess to open the piano, or to touch it if it is open.

It is a breach of etiquette to go to the room of an invalid unless invited.

It is a breach of etiquette to look at your watch when calling.

It is a breach of etiquette to walk around the room when waiting for your hostess, examining the furniture or pictures.

It is a breach of etiquette for a caller to open or shut a door, raise or lower a window curtain, or in any way alter the arrangement of a room.


It is a breach of etiquette to turn your chair so as to bring your back to some one seated near you.

It is a breach of etiquette when making a call, to play with any ornament in the room, or seem to be aware of anything but the company present.

It is a breach of etiquette during a call, to draw near the fire to warm your hands or feet, unless you are invited by the mistress of the house to do so.

It is a breach of etiquette to remain when you find the host or hostess dressed to go out.


 
Dressed for calling. A breach of etiquette to fool with that you are holding.

It is a breach of etiquette to fidget with the hat, cane, or parasol during a call.

It is a breach of etiquette for a caller to preface his or her departure by remarking "Now I must go," or insinuating that the hostess is weary of the visitor.

It is a breach of etiquette to resume your seat after having once left it to say adieu.

 
Ignoring one in your company is a breach of etiquette.


It is a breach of etiquette for a lady receiving several callers to engage in a tete-a-tete conversation with one.

It is a breach of etiquette to make remarks upon a caller who has just left the room, whether made by the hostess or other visitors.

It is a breach of etiquette and a positive unkindness to call upon a friend in reduced circumstances, with any parade of wealth in equipage or dress.

It is a breach of etiquette for the hostess to leave the room when visitors are present.
Many breaches of etiquette in this gathering.

 It is a breach of etiquette to assume any ungraceful or uncouth positions, such as standing with the arms akimbo, sitting astride a chair, smoking in the presence of ladies, wearing the hat, leaning back in the chair, standing with legs crossed or feet on the chairs, leaning forward in the chair with elbows on the knees,— all these acts stamp you as ill-bred and unpolished.



Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Etiquette of Teas, High Teas, and Calls in America





From the 1884 book "Etiquette, the American Code of Manners" By Mary Elizabeth Wilson Sherwood
 
 "The original 5 o'clock tea arose in England, from the fact that gentlemen and ladies, before they dressed for dinner, met to take the slight refreshment of a cup of tea, and to perhaps indulge in a little chat. Like everything informal, it became very popular, and came over to America as an English fashion of entertaining."





July of 1929 -The Duke and Duchess of York have tea party with Princess Elizabeth
AFTER an invitation to a formal breakfast or luncheon, a call is quite as much de rigueur as after a dinner, but is not required after a " tea at five o'clock."

That is a form of entertainment which means to dispense with formal etiquette and to save time. A lady or gentleman who chooses to accept the invitation thus tendered has made his call; he need not make another. Nor need a lady do more than leave her card on the day of the tea; her duties are then over for the season, unless a dinner invitation follows. Dinner invitations demand a speedy call.

But life would be a sorry burden did every five o'clock tea involve a call afterward, as well as the original visit.

Five o'clock teas should be marked by the absence of any other refreshment than tea, thin sandwiches and cake. If even chocolate and punch are added, there is no longer an excuse for calling it a "five o'clock tea." It has become a reception.

The original five o'clock tea arose in England, from the fact that gentlemen and ladies, before they dressed for dinner, met to take the slight refreshment of a cup of tea, and to perhaps indulge in a little chat. Like everything informal, it became very popular, and came over to America as an English fashion of entertaining. The teakettle, here, however, became a floral decoration, and the five o'clock tea a party.

This has confused people as to the etiquette of leaving a card afterward, but we assure the doubtful, that neither the invited guest required to call again, nor is the lady of the house required to call on those who come to her five o'clock tea. Her card inviting them has entirely served the purpose.

There are entertainments, known as "high teas," which do necessitate a call. These are usually given on Sunday evenings in cities; but at watering-places, or at country places, or in rural cities, they take the place of dinners. They are very pretty entertainments, and great favorites in Philadelphia. It is an opportunity for the hostess to show her beautiful cut-glass, to get out her preserves, to offer her hot rolls, scalloped oysters and delicate fried chicken. Berries and cream, and all sorts of delicate dishes, appear at the high tea, which would be lost at dinner. The hostess sits behind her silver server and pours the coffee, tea or chocolate herself. It is only fair to say, that this meal is a greater favorite with ladies than with gentlemen, the partridges, mushrooms on toast, pate de foie gras, and delicately-sliced cold ham, belonging, in the masculine mind, either to breakfast or lunch, and needing wine to wash them down. But young ladies who drink no wine are devoted to high teas. The invitations are always written as to a dinner, as only a limited number can to asked.

In the country these high teas are delightful, and, coming after a long drive or a picnic, with the solid accompaniments of a beefsteak and a baked potato, are very popular. Waffles and hot cakes, honey and maple molasses, all the American dishes, are popular at this meal, which has its prototype in England or on the Continent.

It is doubtful whether the high tea will ever be popular in New York, where it conflicts with the custom of seven o'clock dinners. People find them antagonistic to digestion—it is a violent change of living. Tea and coffee taken in tho evening keep many people awake, a single little cup of black coffee, which helps digestion, being the only stimulant that most Americans can endure of the " beverages which we infuse."

Some ladies, who give three hour receptions, choose to have a "buffet " entertainment. Frozen coffee (a delicious refreshment), cold birds, meat pies, salads, salmon, various kinds of punch, biscuits, and, perhaps, jellies, ices and Charlotte's standing where the guest can go and help himself. One or two servants can serve such a table , it is less trouble than the hot oyster style of thing, and even the serving of tea is more onerous. It has the advantage, too, of being scentless; while hot oysters, served in the house, invariably fill tho house with odor. Perhaps as elegant a table as is needed is one where iced tea and coffee, cold game and salad, and punch, with pate de foie sandwiches, stand invitingly ready through the three hours' reception.

On very cold days, hot tea and bouillon are, however, eagerly sought for by the shivering ladies who go from house to house.



Edwardian Era Afternoon Tea, Royal Poinciana, Palm Beach, Florida

No formal calls are made in America on Sunday. A gentleman must have a lady's permission to call on that day. In Europe it is very different. The opera is never so fashionable as on Sunday evening; dinners are always given, and Sunday is especially a fete day. But in America, all dinners and teas are informal on that day, and generally confined to the members of one's family.

Now, all books of etiquette have a chapter on "Cards " and card leaving, but no two of them agree. Young men—who, in America, are extremely remiss in social duties—are told in one, that, if they send their cards by post, they have requited the hospitality of the lady who invites them. This is far from being the opinion of the best  ladies in society. If a lady has time to invite a gentleman to dinner, and he comes, he should certainly find time, either to call, in person, on her reception day, or on some evening. It is not enough that he should send a card by post. The only person who is excused for sending a card by post is he who is suddenly called on to leave town, or someone who is, by the death of a relative, thrown into mourning.

Afternoon tea party circa 1890-1891
A modern writer on etiquette has the following rather plain talk:

"The properly-trained youth does not annoy those next to whom he sits by fidgeting in Ills chair, moving his feet, playing with his bread or with the table equipage. Neither does he chew his food with his mouth open, or talk with it in his mouth. His food is not conveyed in too largo or in too small quantities to his mouth. He neither holds his head as erect as a ramrod, nor does he bury his face in his plate. He handles his knife and fork properly, and not 'overhand' as a clown would. He removes them from the plate as soon as it is placed before him, and he crosses them, side by side, when he has finished" (Here we differ. The modern youth lets his knife and fork alone, except when he is conveying food to his mouth with them, or should do so), "and not before, as this is a sign which a well-drilled butler observes for returning the plate. He does not leave his coffee or tea spoon in the cup. He avoids using his handkerchief unnecessarily, or disgusting those near him by trumpet-like performances with it. He does not converse in a loud tone, nor indulge in uproarious laughter. If he breaks an article, he is not profuse in apologies, but shows his regret in his face and his manner rather than in words. Tittlebat Titmouse, when he broke a glass dish, assured his hostess that he would replace it with the best in London."

This is good, strong writing, and undoubtedly would have been useful to the Roger Chawbacons of the fifteenth century. But we can hardly suppose that many young men would, in the present day, need these very practical hints. The age is beyond them.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Etiquette and Entertaining


A few words from

"Etiquette: An Answer to the Riddle When? Where? How?"

By Agnes H. Morton 1899



On Entertaining;


Hospitality shares what it has. It does not attempt to give what it has not. The finest hospitality is that which welcomes you to the fireside and permits you to look upon the picture of a home-life so little disturbed by your coming that you are at once made to feel yourself a part of the little symphony— the rare bit of color just needed to complete the harmonic combination. With this flattering fact impressed upon your glowing memory you will hardly be able to recall the material adjuncts of the occasion. It is a sign of a gross nature to measure hospitality by the loaves and fishes, forgetting the miracle that goes with them. And it is equally a mistake for a host to be afraid to offer humble entertainment when richer offers are beyond his means. To a refined perception "the life is more than the meat," and the personality of the host, not the condition of his larder, decides whether or not it is an honor to be his guest. 

Delightful though it be to be able to afford one's guest a rare and beautiful entertainment, one must dismiss the idea that a graceful and acceptable hosepitality depends on material things. Sir Launfal, sharing his crust with the beggar at the gate, was still Sir Launfal. The impoverished hostess may preside at her frugal board with the spirit and the manner of a queen, whereas the coarse-fibred vulgarian vainly heaps his platters with choicest game and rarest fruit, the while he serves the banquet like the churl that he is.

Whatever your entertainment, rich or poor, remember, first of all, to give yourself to your guest; then, if he is appreciative, he will not criticise your simple dinner, nor grumble at the flavor of your wine. One of the wits of the day has gravely reported that at a banquet in the Athens of America, "the menu consisted of two baked beans and readings from Emerson." Despite its grotesque exaggeration, the mot contains the kernel of a dignified truth: that material things are of secondary importance on all social occasions worthy of the name.

The most expensive entertainment given by any one should be merely an incidental illustration of his already recognized financial means. It should never be so beyond his usual ability as to arouse among his neighbors the wonder, how he could afford it? When people who are known to have only a moderate income give "spreads" disproportionate to their daily mode of living, the thoughtful observer instinctively questions their taste and good sense. Usually such ostentatious display brings more or less derision on the ones who are foolish enough to spend more money to make their neighbors stare for a day than they use to make themselves comfortable for a year. No matter how elaborate the entertainment the guests should not be allowed to suspect that their host has exhausted his resources, or that he might not be able to do this same thing at any time that he chose.

As already suggested, the character of the entertainment in a private house should never be such as to involve a total departure from the habitual customs of the household. It is granted that provision must be made on a grander scale for larger numbers; the quantity of things will necessarily be augmented, and mere bulk wears a certain air of the imposing, and when to this is added the vital element—the magnetism of a brilliant company—the participant will seem to breathe a rarified atmosphere, and to an extent to be exalted above the level of everyday life. Yet that level should not be lost to sight nor cease to be the basis of measurement. The quality of elegant serving and mannerly eating should be just what is every day observed at the family dinner of the same household. The guest should get a correct idea of
the home atmosphere of the house, even though it be slightly congealed by the formality and reserve which the presence of strangers naturally inspires.

When people assume to entertain socially they should not give a false showing of themselves or of their means. The proudest spirit acknowledges the limitations of poverty with dignified truthfulness; it is the moral coward who seeks to hide these limitations by a greater display than his circumstances warrant. And he reaps as he sows. His " entertainments" fill an idle hour for the class of visitors who gravitate mainly to the supper-room, while the giver of the feast, under the tension of this social effort, suffers a weariness of the spirit as well as of the flesh, and gives a sigh of relief when the door closes upon the last guest, and the pitiful farce is declared "over." We wonder " Why do they thus spend their strength for that which profiteth not?" Surely, few things in the course of a misspent life are less profitable than such over-strained efforts at showy entertainment. The "banquet hall deserted " presents on the following day a grim reminder of the petty economies that for weeks hence must secretly be contrived in order to restore the balance of an overdrawn bank account. The folly of living beyond one's means may have this extenuating feature, that it is often an error due to generous, though indiscreet impulse, or to inexperi. ence; but the folly of spending money lavishly on a few ostentatious " spreads" that are "beyond one's means" has no redeeming points. The deception seldom long deceives. It is a social blunder, the effect of which is to depreciate rather than to enhance the social importance of the family thus entertaining.

It will be understood that this refers to cases when the motive of extravagance is to gratify vanity. It does not mean to imply that the Christmas dinner, or the birthday party, or the wedding anniversary may not be a time when all the energies of a poor and usually frugal household may be concentrated to prepare for one occasion of feasting and rejoicing. The Cratchetts may have their roast goose; even the Micawbers may be indulged in their occasional banquet. And the carefully planned birthday party may be all the more gratefully appreciated by the honored one when it is known that every choice provision for the occasion represents some thoughtful contriving and some self-sacrifice prompted by affection. Such occasions are "red-letter days" in the homes of people of limited means; and pathos is never more delicately suggested than when the poor man forgets his poverty in the wealth of a home gathering and a feast of remembrance. "Let not a stranger intermeddle with their joy."

In the two cases the financial conditions may seem to be parallel, but in essential spirit there is no resemblance. What is done from sentiment and affection is above commercial measurement. What is done for the sake of ostentation is, by its own act, made a legitimate object of popular criticism.

Another point of good taste in entertaining is that one who is wealthier than others of his social circle should not conspicuously outshine his neighbors by giving them a kind and degree of entertainment which will make their return of civilities seem poor and mean by comparison. Unless the rich man is so greatly beyond others in the scale of wealth that comparisons cease to be odious, it is more considerate for him to keep within the degree of expense and display possible to the average of his associates.
There is still another reason why the very rich should be chary of giving magnificent entertainments.

The dazzled community, gazing spell-bound upon the spectacle of a flower-decked mansion, brilliant with colored lights and echoing to bewildering strains of music, is apt to forget, in this aggregation of the energies of florist, caterer, and band-master, the one man who is supposed to be, but is not, the author of this occasion.

George (descanting on the glories of the " crush of the season") — "The music — the champagne— the"
Montague—"Ah ! yes; and how did 'mine host: bear himself?"
George—" The host! (ruefully). B'Jove! I forgot to hunt him up!"
Unfortunately, mine host had allowed his surroundings to belittle himself. 

Many a brilliant "social event" might properly be chronicled under the head-line: "Total Eclipse of the Host!" so insignificant does the man become when he carries his standards of social entertaining in his pocket-book instead of in his brains.

However, one need not be very rich in order to make this same mistake. It is made every time that social life ceases to be social, and becomes merely a contest of rival displays. This folly is observed in small villages quite as often as in the metropolis. In contrast, how refreshing it is to cross the threshold of a refined and cultivated home, and find awaiting us a cordial welcome and a genuine hospitality, so true to its author's personality and environment that whether water or wine be offered we know not, grateful that our host gives us his best, whatever it is and, best of all, gives himself.