Thursday, August 30, 2012

On Good Manners, Social Etiquette in Washington D.C. and RSVP Requests

"Courtesy is the flower of culture, the expression of the highest refinement, and like hospitality ennobles those who extend it." Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren

Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren
Maura Graber is the fine woman, and etiquette authority who trained my sister and me.  We were already teaching for our church groups, but we wanted some assistance, to see if we could improve our methods. When I first spoke to Graber, she told me that her company name was "a reflection of her biggest pet peeve" ; That people failed to comply with a requested RSVP on an invitation.  In a subsequent email, she wrote "It drove me nuts that I would invite people to something, but very few actually replied.  I thought it was laziness until I had the new name (The RSVP Institute of Etiquette) on my business checks and my business cards.  At least once a week someone would ask or say, 'I can never remember what RSVP stands for.  Does it mean I need to call only if I'm going to go, or call if I'm not?'  That is when I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Maura Graber's Company Logo

One can see from below, that this was not simply a problem in the 1970's, 80's or 90's.  In an excerpt of the much reprinted and discussed book, "The Social-Official Etiquette of the United States", by Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren, there was a problem with people responding to invitations in the 1870's, 80's and 90's.

 "It is not a form, but a virtue. Based upon this sentiment, which should prevail in their case, I would grant a Foreign Minister the extent of precedence which can be given with any measure of propriety or  of respect for our own institutions. Their place relatively to each other, rank being equal, is accorded to priority of residence among us. The Dean or Doyen enters upon his functions in virtue of length of stay near our Government. Yet I have witnessed very grave offence given at a dinner-table, where the host led in the wife of a Foreign Minister, the fair belligerent being the wife of a Senator who claimed the honor as her due.

Now, since it is to be presumed that the special object of every entertainment is to promote good will and not to foster ill-will, it is to be regretted that the rule that defines social-official classification is not more definite. A carefully adjusted ceremonial would be no more incompatible with republican institutions than the legal classification which now exists, and which must continue to endure. These have a fixedness coexistent with the  republic, and our social life is their complement. Let us not undervalue its importance. Daniel Webster called a well-appointed dinner "the climax of civilization." We ought to be able to reach this climax smoothly. The breakfast, the luncheon, the five-o'clock tea, the "matinee dansante," the musicale, the soirte and the assembly are all and each charming in their degree as adjuncts of social life, yet the dinner is "the climax."

Now, there are some dinner rules which are absolute, although I fear at times they are either misunderstood or at all events disregarded. It seems needless to recapitulate; and yet the very fact that mistakes are so often made must serve as an apology here. For instance, an invitation to dine must be precise, and should be couched in some such formula as the following:




On Monday, the 1st December, at 7 o'clock.
Nov. 22, 1893

When such an invitation is received, an answer should not only be given in writing, but it should be sent at the very earliest moment at all practicable.

I knew a diplomat here, renowned for courtly manners and for the incomparable dinners which he gave, whose answer to a dinner invitation came on one occasion so promptly that my own messenger, •who also returned quickly, had not reached the house when the acceptance arrived. And the fine point on this piece of good manners was that this was an acceptance, not a regret, which is considered to demand greater expedition even in the sending. This gentleman entertained his friends so constantly at dinner that he understood the importance of prompt attention. In writing an answer to a formal dinner invitation, one should be careful to make it as exact as the note one has received. Indeed, this note should be repeated. If the host has a title,—for instance, The President,—repeat his title just as he himself may indicate to you. In answer to Mr. Jones, you reply:




For Monday, the 1st December, at 7 o'clock
Nov. 22, 1893

The reason for this repetition is to show that you have perfectly comprehended the invitation, so that no error may have been committed as to time or place.

I have known awkward mistakes to occur from want of attention in this matter.

Then, again, there should be no possibility of mistake as to your acceptance or non-acceptance. Let your answer be positively "Yes" or "No." At any other entertainment we may perhaps avail ourselves of a reasonable uncertainty, but not so with the dinner.

I once knew a poor little lady, "on hospitable thoughts intent," who went to live in a small town in the West. She had been accustomed to the wellregulated dinner at home, and had been taught to consider that the highest form of compliment was to ask a friend to dinner. Wishing to be on the best terms with her new neighbors, she sent out the usual written cards of invitation to a score of guests,—a formidable undertaking in a country village,—but she was in no wise daunted, and all the preparations went on bravely. Everything bade fair to make her dinner a success, except the dreadful fact that up to the very last moment she remained uncertain as to the number of her guests. In reply to her written invitations came a score of verbal messages, such as,' "They hoped to come;" "Would come if they could ;" "Could not tell exactly if their engagements would permit;" "If well enough, would come." But in no one case was a positive response received. So the banquet had to be prepared on this score. The hour came and passed, and, after a famishing delay which spoiled everything, two tardy guests dropped straggling in, and four rueful people sat down to a superb dinner prepared for twenty covers. This actually took place.

This grand collapse is just what may be expected where no one knows his own intentions, and society would receive its final doom did such conditions widely exist. Yet very disagreeable complications have arisen, even in Washington, from not paying due attention to the importance of a definite answer. Suppose, for example, there are fourteen covers at your dinner; and fourteen forms a pleasant and favorite number, suiting very well the size of the home dining-room ordinarily. Let fourteen be all counted, and suppose one guest disappoints! He leaves thirteen miserable souls to tell ghost-stories and wonder if the dinner will poison them, which very likely it may do, since they were all so "blue" in the discussing of it. It must be remembered that the guests at a dinner-table must be properly placed in advance, each plate marked with the name of the expected guest written on a card, or on the menu, or bill of fare, and the dinner chart mapped out, as if by line and compass, so as to avoid all these sunken rocks and breakers I have been considering, so as to place people who will like each other in proximity, so as to give "honor where honor is due," so as to keep husband and wife from treading on each other's toes, so as to please those you entertain by giving widows and marriageable young ladies desirable "partis" to captivate, so as to put the decanter of old Madeira near the bon-vivant, so as to leave the ends of your table open and unoccupied and the central places filled with your most distinguished guests. Now, how is all this, and more too, to be done—pleasure to reign, confusion to be avoided, exact distribution of this cornucopia of blessings to be showered on your blissful guests—unless there is certainty? Is  not life miserable because of the uncertainty of all its enjoyments, and are we thus ever to be cheated of even momentary happiness? A thousand times, say yes or no, and let the pleasure of this supreme social gratification be unimpaired!"

From "The Social-Official Etiquette of the United States, 
by Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren. 6th Edition Copyright, 1894
1st Edition, 1873

On Dahlgren; She was born 'Sarah Madeleine Vinton' on July 13, 1825. Her father was Samuel Finley Vinton (1792-1862), a congressman and leading figure in the national Whig party.
 Dahlgren was educated at Picot's boarding school in Philadelphia and at the 'Convent of the Visitation' in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. 
In June 1846, she married her first husband, Daniel Convers Goddard, a lawyer. However, he died 5 years later, leaving his wife and 2 children, Vinton Augustine and Romaine (who married the Baron de Overbeck of Germany).
In August of 1865, she married Admiral John Adolph Dahlgren (1809-1870), the famous naval officer and inventor of the Dahlgren gun. They had 3 children.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Call for Some Old-Fashioned Civility, Just Like Washington's

Soap Ad from 1895

   Not Washington D.C., mind you... but George Washington.  He wrote a book with numerous "Rules of Civility" before the age of 16.  These rules are based on a set composed in 1595, by French Jesuits. The first English translation of the French rules appeared in 1640.  Those are ascribed to a 12 year old, Francis Hawkins, who was the son of a doctor.

  It is presumed that they were copied out by Washington, as part of a school exercise.  The spelling is his own, but these are some of the 110 "Rules":

"Wherein wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than Precepts."  George Washington

George Washington as Depicted at 19 Years Old
1st Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.

2d When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usualy Discovered.

4th In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.

5th If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkercheif or Hand before your face and turn aside.

6th Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.

12th Shake not the head, Feet, or Legs rowl not the Eys lift not one eyebrow higher than the other wry not the mouth, and bedew no mans face with your Spittle, by approaching too near him when you Speak.

16th Do not Puff up the Cheeks, Loll not out the tongue rub the Hands, or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them or keep the Lips too open or too Close.

22d Shew not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

23d When you see a Crime punished, you may be inwardly Pleased; but always shew Pity to the Suffering Offender.

24th Do not laugh too loud or too much at any Publick Spectacle.

25th Superfluous Complements and all Affectation of Ceremonie are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be Neglected.

33d They that are in Dignity or in office have in all places Preceedency but whilst they are Young they ought to respect those that are their equals in Birth or other Qualitys, though they have no Publick charge.

38th In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the Physicion if you be not Knowing therein.

39th In writing or Speaking, give to every Person his due Title According to his Degree & the Custom of the Place.

41st Undertake not to Teach your equal in the art himself Proffesses; it Savours of arrogancy.

42d Let thy ceremonies in Courtesie be proper to the Dignity of his place with whom thou conversest for it is absurd to act the same with a Clown and a Prince.

48th Wherein wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than Precepts.

54th Play not the Peacock, looking every where about you, to See if you be well Deck't, if your Shoes fit well if your Stokings sit neatly, and Cloths handsomely.

56th Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for 'tis better to be alone than in bad Company.

67th Detract not from others neither be excessive in Commanding.

81st Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private.

82d undertake not what you cannot perform but be carefull to keep your promise.

97th Put not another bit into your Mouth til the former be Swallowed let not your Morsels be too big for the Gowls.

98th Drink not nor talk with your mouth full neither Gaze about you while you are a Drinking.

99th Drink not too leisurely nor yet too hastily. Before and after Drinking wipe your Lips breath not then or Ever with too Great a Noise, for its uncivil.

100th Cleanse not your teeth with the Table Cloth Napkin Fork or Knife but if Others do it let it be done wt. a Pick Tooth.

101st Rince not your Mouth in the Presence of Others.

108th When you Speak of God or his Atributes, let it be Seriously & wt. Reverence. Honour & Obey your Natural Parents altho they be Poor.

My favorite is this last;
110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Did Queen Victoria's Loathing of Her Son, the Future King Edward VII, Drive Him To A Life of Debauchery?

"A very libidinous king: Letters released by the Palace reveal how Queen Victoria's loathing for her son, the future Edward VII, drove him into a life of debauchery"

"'Prince of pleasure': The indiscretions of a young Edward VII, detailed in a new book from biographer Jane Ridley, were said to have scandalised his parents"

The first photo of Victoria and 'Bertie, in 1844
I was online earlier today and came across that headline, and the article accompanying it, in the Daily Mail, a UK newspaper.  As I do a lot of reading on the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, I was curious as to what Victoria's son had done to deserve such cruel feelings from his mother in the first place.  I had heard, and read, that Queen Victoria wasn't a very motherly figure to her offspring, but "loathing"?

As one of the women in my small etiquette circle said to me the other day, "My kids didn't come with instruction booklets, and most likely yours didn't either." when we were discussing the highs and lows of raising kids to adults and then having to deal with all of the things we thought we'd be relieved of when they reached a certain age; Worry over their finances, Worry over their relationships, Worry about their futures, Etc... She was right, my kids came with no such books, helpful as they might have been.
Could have come in handy for this boy's parents
Reading further into the article, it sounds as if Edward's (originally Albert or 'Bertie') biggest crime that garnered such loathing, was a combination of being born at an inopportune time, and having parents who were more concerned with the bumps on his head and the shapes of his nose and chin, as opposed to loving their children unconditionally.  Victoria it seems, according to the author Jane Ridley, "thought Bertie was ugly — ‘too frightful’ and also ‘sadly backward’."

"The first two years of her married life, complained Queen Victoria, were ruined by the arrival of a son and daughter. Most of all, she resented the fact that the pregnancies interrupted her sex life with her ‘Angel’ Albert."

A Christmastime Cartoon of the Royal Family 1843 - Toddlers clothes were 'unisex' in the 1800s. Both boys and girls wore dresses. Those with money or social position had their toddlers in the fanciest of dresses, usually of silk.
One can only imagine that this child was brought up to feel unloved and unwanted.  He threw tantrums and played the part of a typical sibling who has an older brother or sister who seem to excel at everything, including being born better looking!  Ridley goes into detail of Victoria's sentiments and her son's life as a toddler, from historical records and letters exchanged at the time.

"For a long time, she referred to him merely as ‘the Boy’, explaining: ‘I do not think him worthy of being called Albert yet.’ He never was.  Bertie’s second misfortune was to have an exceptionally clever elder sister. Barely a year older, Princess Vicky was a paragon who could already read and speak French at age three. By four, she was learning Latin, and reading Shakespeare for relaxation."

"Albert doted on Vicky, making no attempt to conceal his preference. As for Bertie, it was soon clear that he was struggling to learn anything at all. Unable to compete with his sister, he resorted to stamping his feet and having tantrums. By three, he’d developed a stammer. At three-and-a-half, he refused to do his lessons, threw his books in the air and sulked under a table."

I probably would have reacted the same way to my parents.  Who could compete in that situation?  His life's fate was determined by some pretty ridiculous expectations on the part of his mother. Adding to his treatment when just a baby, by his mother and father, it seems he was handed over to a wet-nurse, Mrs Brough, who later murdered her own six offspring "in a fit of madness."  She may, or may not, have been playing with a full-deck at the time she was feeding the royal baby.  Then again, as a 'wet-nurse' I suppose there could have been some hormonal issues at play, later in her life.

"When Bertie was two-and-a-half, Dr Andrew Combe, a leading practitioner of the quack science of phrenology — which linked the shape of a person’s skull to their mental capacity — measured the bumps on his head. ‘The development of the brain was in some respects defective,’ he reported. The best therapy, it was decided, was regular, systematic exercise of his mind."

Worst of all, and the biggest disappointment for his parents, came when the heir to the throne was 19 years old and was attending a military camp.  One night, as many teenaged boys have done before him, and many will again, he was able to sneak out a window to lose his virginity.  He saw an opportunity to pay a visit to the camp prostitute, and even went back a few times to see "Nellie Clifden" or simply 'NC'. Once word got out, his parents were informed. Horrified by the news, Victoria and Albert were convinced their son was 'damaged goods' and was bringing shame to the royal family.

"‘Bertie’s fall’, as this incident was always referred to in the family, was considered a transgression of Biblical proportions. That much was evident from the many thousands of private royal letters and papers that I was granted unrestricted access to by the present Queen — the first biographer to see them for almost 50 years."

"Many were from Victoria herself, whose anger towards her eldest son leaped from the page — startling in its urgency, even today.
  Yet Bertie was hardly the first to go astray: in upper-class circles of the 1860s, it was accepted that young men occasionally consorted with prostitutes."

Most telling for me, out of this wonderful article, was this bit of information.  With his parents on a visit to France, the young boy and future king was given special attention by Napoleon III, and this is the result for the King who once is quoted as saying, "I had no boyhood.";

"The high point for him was a trip to Paris with his family, to visit Napoleon III and his empress Eugénie. The emperor made a point of paying attention to Bertie, driving him around Paris in his curricle. ‘You have a nice country — I would like to be your son,’ said the prince. When it was time to go home, Bertie asked Eugénie if they could stay longer. ‘Your parents can’t do without you,’ she replied. ‘Not do without us!’ exclaimed Bertie. ‘Don’t fancy that, for there are six more of us at home, and they don’t want us.’"

It is a sad life when one feels unwanted from birth.  What a cruel fate for a baby, and what a window into a much respected, revered, and at times reviled, Queen Victoria.  I imagine her loss of not being able to enjoy her children and love them for who they were, was not as great as her second child's sadness, but it indeed was a loss.
King Edward VII
Jane Ridley is a historian at Buckingham University where she teaches a course on biography. She lives in London and is working on a biography of Edward VII. For the full text of the article, click on the link below;

Read more:

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Welcome Campaign to Put an End to Rudeness in France

It seems even the French tired of the rude reputation that has been their calling card of sorts, for so many years.  

Oui, we are rude"

One British newspaper article even pegged the French as being "renowned for their lack of manners," adding that "not just tourists" were annoyed by  the snooty "attitude of the French."  

RATP, Paris's transport authority, has launched a campaign against rudeness this summer.  The posters, which feature human bodies with the heads of animals, show a sense of humor along with a dash of reality.  French teacher and author, Cécile Ernst, said that rules of civility were thrown out the window, when strict social conventions were contested in the 1960s.  Adding, “People do not feel nostalgia for the social codes themselves, but for the rules marking respect for others and the desire to live together.”                                               

Don't think it is simply the tourists who are annoyed by the selfish or snooty behavior of the French.  A "top 10" list of the "most annoying behaviors" of a study done by the RATP, had French commuters with "loud, mobile phone chatter" topping that list.  The study was done merely 2 years after foreigners visiting Paris had voted Parisians "the rudest people in Europe."
 Parisian sunbathers are now warned 'no breasts, no private parts'  too, so it is not just commuters in hot water over behavior. French authorities have issued new "sun bathing rules" that come with a hefty price tag if one decides to ignore the rules.  Of the warnings to the French who wish to sunbathe, this makes things pretty clear; “But please note that bathing suits should not be worn in official city parks and that dress should be decent and in accordance with good morals and public order.” Anyone caught wearing “inappropriate dress” faces a maximum 3750 euro fine ($4385) and 2 years in jail, if it is suspected one is soliciting sex.