Seen recently in a garden in Boston's South End neighborhood:
These signs are a sad reminder that not all dog owners are equally Perfectly Proper. As the saying goes, "There are no bad dogs, only bad dog owners."
Seen recently in a garden in Boston's South End neighborhood:
These signs are a sad reminder that not all dog owners are equally Perfectly Proper. As the saying goes, "There are no bad dogs, only bad dog owners."
I'm somewhat new to working in an office environment so the subtleties of what constitutes public and private behavior may elude me. That said, I have a coworker who once a week straddles his trash container and cuts his nails. I can't stand the sound of this and warily watch for the errant clipping heading my way. I'm dumbfounded on what I could possibly say? I suppose we are all lucky he doesn't clip his toenails. Help!
Etiquetteer's first reaction on reading your query was a piercing "Eeyew!" This sort of public grooming needs to stop. Etiquetteer firmly believes that no one should have to "see the magic happen," or hear it, either.
No one should leave home without being fully dressed and fully groomed.* A nail kit of pair or nail clippers for emergencies should be kept at the office, but taken into the restroom to be used.
Most problems like this don't get resolved without actually having a conversation with the offender. Someone will have to Say Something. The goal, of course, is to stop the behavior, not to shame the offender. As a newcomer, it might be thorny for you to do so; you don't want to get a reputation as a complainer so early in your tenure. Your colleague's supervisor should be informed, discreetly, and asked to address this issue with your Clipping Colleague. An office memo reinforcing Perfectly Proper behavior might work depending on the size of your workplace. You could even send a gift card for a manicure with the heading "It's time to put the man in manicure!" (While it's dangerous to assume, Etiquetteer believes this must be a man.)
If those options aren't open to you, and you don't find it possible to step out for a coffee when your Clipping Colleague is clipping, then take a deep breath and have a quick private conversation. Apologize for raising the issue, be honest about the impact of his behavior, and ask if he could take his clippers into the restroom. Etiquetteer hopes your Clipping Colleague will take this in the spirit intended.
Best wishes for a successful outcome!
*Yes ladies, that means not applying your makeup while behind the wheel or on public transportation.
For National Book Lover's Day, August 9, Etiquetteer wants to share with you a delightful recent find, “King Lehr” and the Gilded Age, Elizabeth Drexel Lehr’s incisive, not-too-bitter tale of Harry Lehr, court jester to Mrs. Astor and the other Queens of New York - and the man with a secret who married her for her money. You will understand Edith Wharton so much more after you read it.
MARRIAGE UNDER FALSE PRETENSES
Elizabeth Drexel Lehr lived the life of a Wharton heroine: balls, parties, Opera nights, magnificent clothes and jewels, Court presentations in Europe, summer frivolities in Newport, and heartache. Her father, who died during her childhood, left her lavishly provided for. Her first husband died early in her marriage, leaving her with a young son. “Our moments of destiny steal upon us so quietly, generally so unperceived, that we are hardly aware of them until they have passed by,” she wrote. “Only in after years can we look back on them and see them from their true perspective, know that they made or marred our whole lives. Such a moment came to me when I met Harry Lehr."
Introduced to “the most amusing man in New York” on the very first night she had left off her mourning, Harry gradually began courting her, and then invited her to meet his four best friends at Sherry’s. (If one was not at Delmonico’s, one was at Sherry’s.) Expecting to be the only lady in a party of gentlemen, Elizabeth was surprised to see that Harry’s four best friends were the Queens of New York: Mrs. Astor, Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, Mrs. Oliver Belmont (née Alva Vanderbilt), and Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs, powerful matrons who could make or break anyone for anything. Elizabeth confirmed that she was up for review, "for as we rose to leave the restaurant I heard Mrs. Oelrichs say ‘I think she is delightful, Harry. We four are going to take her up. We will make her the fashion. You need have no fear . . . ‘“
Harry lost no time, proposing on the way home. And he lost no time after the wedding either, callously explaining that he married her for her money, solely to care for his mother; and that “I can school myself to be polite to you, but that is all.” Elizabeth, devastated, remained in the marriage for the sake of her mother, who, like her idol Queen Victoria, could not countenance divorced people. Thus began Elizabeth’s life at the apex of high society. “I found myself swept into the gay set to which Harry Lehr belonged, or rather of which he was the pivot. We were invited everywhere, parties were given in our honour . . . I flung myself into the gay social whirl that was to be my raison d’être. Vain substitute for the love I had longed for!”
THE QUEENS OF NEW YORK SHAKE UP PERFECT PROPRIETY
Etiquetteer wasn’t initially attracted to this memoir for any marital scandal of the 400, but rather to see how the Gilded Age social leaders used their position to change behavior in Society, and then in America. “Trickle-down manners,” if you will, from the Queens of New York.
From Elizabeth’s widowed mother, whose revered Queen Victoria, to Mamie Fish, who loved best jokes that could sting, Elizabeth witnessed a generational change in acceptable behavior for women, especially the super-wealthy. Then as now, Novelty ruled the day, goaded by Fear of Boredom. While Elizabeth’s mother appears to have been a modest and dignified wife and widow, the wives of Gilded Age tycoons occupied themselves with amusing parties and new ways to wear show-stopping jewels. Mrs. John Drexel wore her famous pearls as a Sam Browne belt. Mrs. Frederick Vanderbilt, inspired by the ladies of Venice, hung a big jewel from a rope of pearls at her waist. “So she always progressed to her loge at the Opera kicking a great uncut sapphire or ruby . . . "
These ladies challenged conventions in other ways, too. First, Mrs. Astor, to please Harry Lehr, actually dined in a public restaurant, a development so surprising that it made all the newspapers the next day. Shocking! Elizabeth also tells the story of years later when Mamie Fish and Frances Burke-Roche, “determined to be in the van of modernity," made it acceptable for ladies to appear in public restaurants in evening dresses with exposed necks. “Absurd that the public should be deprived of the sight of a pretty neck just because an obsolete convention decreed that nice women could appear in evening dress only in the shelter of their own and their friends’ houses,’ said Fannie Burke-Roche." And off they went to Sherry's, after many gentlemen declined to escort them (“Men are conservative creatures . . . “), creating more than a sensation. Louis Sherry, the proprietor, “turned pale with indignation, but he retained his poise . . . only from two such celebrated leaders of society could he have tolerated so scandalous an infringement of the rules of etiquette. But his disapproval was evident.” A social historian more adept than Etiquetteer could trace this humble beginning all the way to the Paris Hilton sex tapes.
Etiquetteer rather sympathizes with Mr. Sherry. His lament might be that of the stereotypical landlady of the period, “How do you expect me to run a respectable house?!” Some years later he was vanquished by another matron, Edith Gould, who deliberately took out her vanity case and used powder and lipstick at her luncheon table.* “But when Mrs. Frederick Havemeyer boldly lighted a cigarette at the table one Sunday evening and proceeded to smoke it in a leisurely fashion, she exceeded the bounds of his tolerance, for she was told politely but firmly that she must either extinguish it or leave the restaurant.”
But the most revolutionary change was the growing acceptance of divorce. If Alva Vanderbilt hadn't divorced her philandering husband "Willie K." and then married Oliver H.P. Belmont, the social acceptance of divorce would certainly have taken a lot longer. (In the 21st century it is difficult to imagine a day when divorce truly meant social ostracism. Consult Edith Wharton's short story "Autre Temps, Autre Mouers" on the subject.) Alva once confronted Elizabeth about her unhappy marriage to Harry. "'You ought to leave him. I'll help you. I don't believe in marriage anyway . . . ' It was obvious that I had gone down in her estimation when I declined . . . 'You are the old-fashioned woman, Bessie. I am the woman of the future.'" And indeed, today the stigma of divorce has been all but erased.
But what of Harry? Worthy successor of the late Ward McAllister, Mrs. Astor’s right-hand man and the one responsible for the term “the 400,” Harry Lehr came on the scene just in time to be taken up by Mrs. Astor before her health kept her from participating actively in Society. Harry then became court jester to the four “reigning queens of New York," but especially of Mamie Fish, who clearly shared his love of the irreverent and the absurd. He made the 400 laugh, and that's how he conquered them.
Elizabeth tells of several of their collaborations, but three that stand out are Harry's appearance as the Czar of Russia, the "monkey dinner," and the famous "dogs dinner" that was "denounced from pulpits" across the nation. The first came out of a little feud between Mamie Fish and Mrs. Ogden Goelet, "an enormously rich widow [who] had more suitors than she could count," over a handsome bachelor, James de Wolfe Cutting. Mrs. Fish invited Newport to a ball in honor of the Grand Duke Boris of Russia, a guest of Mrs. Goelet, and invited le tout Newport, but not Jimmy Cutting. Mrs. Goelet, the day before the party, sweetly told Mrs. Fish that no one in her house party could possibly attend the ball if Jimmy was not invited - including the Grand Duke, the guest of honor. Oops! Harry knew that the situation needed to be made laughably funny for Mrs. Fish to survive socially, and she persuaded him (it probably wasn't difficult) to impersonate the Czar at the ball. Elizabeth reports "The ladies nearest the entrance, in varying degrees of hesitancy, sank in a court curtsey, only to recover themselves with shrieks of laughter when they realized they were paying homage to Harry Lehr! The whole room rippled with merriment as . . . he made a solemn circuit on the arm of his hostess . . . in exact imitation of a stately royal progress. Mrs. Fish's party was saved!" And it earned Harry his nickname, "King Lehr."
The "monkey dinner" involved a "prince from Corsica" being invited at the last minute to a dinner at the Lehr's - "I asked him whether he was any relation of the ----------s whom we met in Rome, and he said that he certainly was. They all belong to the same family, only the Prince's is a distant branch." The "prince" turned out to be a small monkey in perfectly fitting evening clothes, who sat in the seat of honor at Elizabeth's right, with Mamie Fish (Harry's co-conspirator) on his right. "The dinner party was a great success, but somehow the story, absurdly exaggerated, got into the hands of the newspaper reporters and the result was a deluge of sarcastic comments." It cost Mrs. Fish absolute sovereignty over the 400.
The famous "dogs' dinner" was held for the dogs of friends, about 100 of them, where served " stewed liver and rice, fricassée of bones, and shredded dog biscuit" at a long table on their verandah. A young reporter managed to get into the garden with a small dog, but Harry, discovering he wasn't a guest, had him leave. The result: " . . scathing columns appeared in the newspapers next day. We were said to have fed our canine guests on wings of chicken and pâté de foie gras . . . and this in a time of trade depression. Harry Lehr was denounced by preachers throughout the States for having 'wasted on dogs food that would have fed hundreds of starving people.'"
Elizabeth illustrates the brilliance of the seasons before World War I with descriptions of rooms, parties, and especially the people who filled them - and sometimes their rudeness. Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer abandoned her escort, Lispinard Stewart - "famed for the perfection of his manners as well as his conceit" - to sit with other friends at a large dinner party at the Belmont's. He never forgave her. James Van Alen, "Newport's most eligible widower" and a man with a fetish for everything Elizabethan, held a musicale and invited le tout Newport . . . except Harry and Mamie Fish. When she confronted him, Mr. Van Alen told her they made too much noise to be invited to a musicale. Mrs. Fish, though, would win out: "Oh, so that's it! Well, let me too you, sweet pet" (her invariable expression when she intended to say something nasty), "that unless we are asked there won't be any party. Harry and I will tell everyone that your cook has developed smallpox, and we will give a rival musicale. You will see they will all come to it!" Vanquished, Mr. Van Alen invited them both to dinner as long as they promised to stay on the terrace during the musicale.
Racism and anti-Semitism are ugly, acknowledged facts of Gilded Age society, more shocking in this century than at the time of this memoir's publication in the 1930s. The author paints so vivid and lavish a picture of Society’s doing that the casual use of a racist slur to describe an orchestra is almost like slapping the reader across the face. You've been warned.
With that, you'd think that Elizabeth would have been more forthright about her husband's true character. But discretion trumps history, and at the end of the book, Elizabeth can only reveal surprise, reading his locked diaries, that ". . . he had known love, had given an emotion of which I had not believed him capable. His diary was a love story, but it was the story of David and Jonathan." The name of Harry's true love is not revealed.
All in all, "King Lehr" and the Gilded Age is an absorbing read about a circle of enormous wealth that set the tone for American social life at least through World War I, if not World War II. We owe a debt to the author for painting the seamy shadows of this period as well as its glitter.
*So we have Edith Gould to blame for this. While making up at the table has been going on for just over a century, Etiquetteer really isn’t comfortable with it. Seeing the magic happen makes it less magical.
My boyfriend and I are getting married next year. We're on a budget, paying for the whole thing ourselves. The tradition seems to be a sit-down dinner, but one person suggested that we do a heavy hors d'oeuvres reception with everyone standing up. I'm not really comfortable with this, but because we do need to be careful I wanted to ask your thoughts. Is it OK to go against tradition like this?
Dear Bride to Be:
There are traditions and traditions. Etiquetteer grew up going to Southern weddings with punch-and-cookies receptions featuring a Gigantic Wedding Cake and no other refreshments (for the most part), regardless of whether the wedding was in the afternoon or evening. In New England the tradition is certainly for a wedding banquet of at least three courses - one of them being the Gigantic Wedding Cake.
The Perfectly Proper answer to your query will involve how many of your guests are traveling from out of state to attend your wedding. It can be ruinously expensive to travel to a wedding: airfare, taxis, accommodations (if not staying at the home of friends), new clothes, and of course a wedding gift. After all that trouble, a Perfectly Proper sit-down banquet is well-deserved. You don't have to feed them steak and lobster, but fobbing them off with a few trays of quiche cups and stuffed mushroom caps may not leave them feeling that their efforts for your happiness are appreciated. Feed your guests well, and they'll always wish you happiness on your anniversaries to come.
Have you considered having a luncheon instead of a dinner for your wedding reception? Consider also substituting something novel for your table centerpieces instead of flowers, often a hefty chunk of any wedding budget. For instance, if a lot of your wedding guests are construction-minded, a large tin of Tinker Toys on each table could lead them all to construct some outrageous concoction. Pyramids of photo cubes featuring photos of the Happy Couple and guests at Pleasant Times Gone By will also entertain.
Best wishes as you and the Gentleman of Your Choice prepare for a Long and Happy Life Together!
Etiquetteer was taken aback by yesterday's news story about the one-million-dollar judgement against a Happy Couple for destroying the professional reputation of their wedding photographer. Neely Moldovan, also known as Neelykins, a beauty blogger, and her husband Andrew initiated a news story in 2015 about photographer Andrea Polito withholding their wedding album and photos because of an additional fee for the album cover. Now that they've destroyed her business, they're going to have to pay for it.
The most charitable thing that could be said about the Moldovans is that they didn't read their photographer's contract well enough to understand what their obligations were. And that's probably the only charitable thing that could be said for them. A Perfectly Proper business dispute is handled in a meeting room, possibly with attorneys if it's Come to That. It is not handled on the evening news. The Moldovans, however, with vengeance in their hearts and publicity on their minds, brought it to the networks. The result then: Polito, her reputation unjustly shattered, had to close her business and has depleted her savings since the story broke. The result now: just look at the hashtag #neelykins to learn the extent of her public shaming. Her website is down, and her Twitter and Instagram accounts have gone private.
This entire situation could have been avoided if the Moldovans had first reviewed their paperwork and recognized that they still had a financial obligation to the photographer. Barring that, they should have tamed their unquenchable, unjust need for vengeful publicity, which is now backfiring on them. Rumors to the contrary, there is such a thing as bad publicity.
Some Perfectly Proper Tips for Working with Vendors
A final question: how beautiful a beauty blogger can you be, really, to behave this way? True Beauty, like Perfect Propriety, starts on the inside and works out.
Etiquetteer celebrates Bastille Day with Tiny Marie Antoinette by enjoying a Kir Royale.
The inconsistently-enforced dress code for the United States Congressmade news last week when several women journalists were banned from the lobby of the Speaker of the House for wearing dresses without sleeves. One woman journalist’s attempt to fashion sleeves out of notebook paper was (appropriately) rejected.
So, what does Etiquetteer have to say about all this? First off, put on a jacket with sleeves over that sleeveless dress and stop complaining! No one cares how you feel or what you want (which Etiquetteer says all the time anyway). Any complaints about summer heat are drowned out by the hum of the air conditioning. It’s also worth noting that women have a lot more leeway than men about what they may and may not wear, e.g . “suit and tie” for men vs. “appropriate attire” for women. Men who forget to wear neckties are offered ties to wear so they can enter. Congress ought to provide appropriate coverups for Sleeveless Women.*
Of course in Situations Like This, it’s expected for Etiquetteer to mourn the passing of the “appropriate attire” of yore, those smart two-piece suits by Hattie Carnegie and Mainbocher, worn with a hat, crisp white gloves and Navy Red or Cherries in the Snow lipstick. And sheer stockings of silk or nylon. It hasn’t escaped Etiquetteer’s attention that over the last ten years or so the wearing of stockings has sharply declined, something that doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the Capitol Hill dress code. In Grandma’s day, ladies without stockings were thought of as slatterns or worse. Then there’s the vulgar custom of the 1920s of rolling stockings down to below the knee. Thank goodness THAT fashion died!
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has taken some heat for creating a gender-based dress code, but that’s not what happened. The Speaker was reminding everyone about the existing dress code that’s been around for 38 years, and appears to have come about thanks to then Speaker Tip O’Neill taking exception to a male Congressman on the floor of Congress without coat and tie.
Probably the most famous coat-and-tie exception in American history was the Scopes Monkey Trial. Due to the excruciating heat, men were allowed to remove their coats and ties. The intense public interest in the case cause the trial to be moved outdoors even, both to accommodate more spectators and possibly for some heat relief. But this was before air conditioning. We shouldn’t have to accommodate that now.
Lastly, it’s probably time for Congress to enforce its dress code consistently, and to publish the “unwritten rules,” though that would be likely to create another firestorm of criticism.
*Restaurants that require jackets and ties for men often provide them for diners who arrive inappropriately dressed.
There’s an old expression, “in the powder,” which means that when guests arrive too early. Last weekend a couple party guests showed up two hours early. My house was not yet ready to receive guests, I was still cooking and cleaning, I hadn’t showered yet, and all of a sudden there were people at the door I must entertain. In my case they could’ve spent time walking around my historic neighborhood. Other people must have had this happen to them and heard the excuses: light traffic, easier than expected parking, bringing perishables to the party, etc. How can I get out of this? I love having people over, but I love having them over when I’m ready more than when I’m getting ready.
No host or hostess wants their guests to see “how the magic happens,” and that’s doubly tough when they show up so very early. Sometimes that happens because guests miss the correct arrival time on the invitation.* The Perfectly Proper solution is, as you suggest, to take a walk until the party is supposed to start. That’s tough to do, though, if it’s raining or viciously cold.
You’ll be relieved to know, though, that there’s no obligation to entertain early arrivals. Just park them in the parlor with a “Don’t mind me, I’m in my prep zone," and get back to your business. Deflect any offers of assistance (if unwelcome) with "Thanks, I really appreciate it, but I have my routine already set and I just need to get things done at my own pace."
If you don't mind some extra help, however, toss them an apron and put 'em to work. This can sometimes be more trouble than it's worth if your guests then question how to do what you've asked them at every step of the process, so they can be sure it's done the way you want it. Much better, in Etiquetteer's view, to leave them in the parlor with a magazine.
You can mitigate this kind of behavior in two ways: confirm the time on the morning of your event, and plan to have everything but the cooking complete one hour before the party starts.
*Etiquetteer has had to lecture That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much about this more than once. Indeed, his ability to appear up to an hour early by mistake at one annual gathering has become almost an eye-rolling tradition.
Etiquetteer has been traveling lately, and has been amused and/or instucted by instructional signs everywhere:
Gender-neutral bathrooms are becoming quite the rage, as can be seen from these two examples:
The world of Fashion has its arbitrary side, which sometimes veers toward the silly. And any time the word "rakish" appears in a book title, you know Humor is going to rear its smiling, unruly head for a bit of fun. Which is exactly what Gonzague Dupleix (author) and Jean-Pierre Delhomme (illustrator) have given us with Suave in Every Situation: A Rakish Guide to Style for Men. This bonbon box of frivolous advice, sprinkled with History and Wisdom throughout, makes a delightful read and reinforces some Central Tenets of Perfect Propriety.
Written in strictly Q-and-A format, Suave in Every Situation gathers seemingly random questions under chapter headings the underscore the author's belief that one needs to know the rules in order to play with them for positive effect: "Ask Yourself the Right Questions," "Make the Ordinary Extraordinary," "Live With Your Own (Bad) Taste," etc. From berets to zentai, opinions are shared, advice offered, and rules overruled (or not) about how to behave and what to wear.
Considering a gentleman's wardrobe, biases are expressed. Briefs, the undergarment of superheroes, are the only possible choice for a suave gentleman. Fur-lined shoes are beneath consideration. Military jackets are not to be trusted. Etiquetteer got a good laugh over the ultimate advice about wearing overalls: "Women and children first." Gingham and turtlenecks are encouraged, but not gingham turtlenecks. The author advises creatively on use of color. For red, "Imagine yourself in charge of paprika in a hotel kitchen: dose it carefully." For white, suggestions of appropriate-impact whiter-than-white, clever white, and dirty white.
The fickle nature of Fashion also gets highlighted. Why should one avoid a steel blue tie with a gray suit? Why are colorful socks OK, but novelty socks not? Why are "faded" jeans back, but "bleached" still out? Why do the authors endorse floral prints in such an ambiguous way: ". . . This picnic spirit à la open house at the University of Manchester's Humanities department . . ."? But coming trends are encouraged. Etiquetteer was delighted to read that capes are making a comeback for gentlemen. Time to dig out that Venetian tabarro!
There's more to suavity than what one wears, and helpful advice is offered on how to DJ a party, how to wipe sand from your feet at the beach, what sort of accent to use when speaking a foreign language, how to get the waiter's attention without getting everyone else's attention, whether or not to take off your glasses when kissing, and even whether or not to use a chaise longue or a just a towel for reclining on the beach. Some of the answers might surprise you.
That said, Etiquetteer has no idea why some of these questions are being asked . . . .Etiquetteer's answer to all of them is CERTAINLY NOT! "Should you wear your blazer inside out?" "Is it OK to leave French cuffs* unbuttoned?" "Is it OK to put your feet up on the glove compartment?" "Can you give the finger in a photo?" Really, these questions might have been added to the book solely to taunt Etiquetteer.
But if you've ever wondered how to be suave at the supermarket or cafeteria, whether or not to button or unbutton your naval sweater, where to put your arms when your photo is taken at the beach, or how to get that nasty odor out of your clothes, this is the place. Gonzague and Delhomme have created a delightful, engaging safe space for gentlemen.
*Teenagers push the limits as far as they dare - of fashion, of style, of good taste, of bad taste - as part of their transformation into (one hopes) Perfectly Proper Ladies and Gentlemen. Teenage Etiquetteer, in the faraway land of 1981, wore to a cast party one of his Dear Father's long-neglected 100% cotton pleated tuxedo shirts, untucked, with jeans, no tie of any kind, and using safety pins for cufflinks and studs and not folding the cuffs. It had not been ironed in perhaps 20 years. The evening remains memorable for the arrival of a Young Lady of the Cast dressed to the nines in flawless white and pink linen, every hair in place, looking absolutely ravishing. Teenage Etiquetteer could only gape self-consciously in uncomfortable astonishment.
Every time we go shopping, my husband buys a carton of [Insert Brand of Thin Mint Cookies Here]. He likes sweets, but not as much as I do.
Inevitably, I'll break open the bag and eat them before he gets around to having one or two.
A week or so after buying them, he'll open the cupboard and ask, "There aren't any [Insert Brand of Thin Mint Cookies Here] left?"
A simple solution would be to buy multiple cartons but I know I'd just end up eating both of them. That would be being piggy.
Should I feel guilty for eating them all - even if I've given him a fair chance to have some? What can we do to resolve this?
Relationship are so important because they teach us about sharing. What you can do to resolve this is to share. A simpler solution than buying two cartons would be for you to offer one or more cookies to your husband the next time you dip into the bag. "Sweetums," you might say, "would you like to have some cookies with me?" Cookie Time could become so popular it evolves into afternoon tea. And even if he declines with an "Oh no, Darling, not right now," you will at least get points for having made the effort.
Etiquetteer must be feeling a bit bossy today. What are the central tenets, really, of what Etiquetteer believes? It could be summed up in this way: consider the impact you have on other people.
Now that's out of the way, Etiquetteer is going to spend the rest of the day bringing his summer whites out of storage since Memorial Day (observed) is tomorrow.
*Once upon a time, if one didn't have the correct clothes for a particular function, one did not attend said function. (Consider the plight of Judy Garland's beau in Meet Me in St. Louis, who suddenly couldn't take her to a Christmas ball because his father's dress suit was locked up at a tailor's.) Nowadays this sort of Perfect Propriety is considered fussy and exclusive by far too many people - but not Etiquetteer.
The month of May includes several Days of Observance; today, May 14, 2017, there are two, and tomorrow another. In Boston today is Lilac Sunday, so it’s Perfectly Proper to sport a bit of lilac in your buttonhole. But remember, gentlemen, to keep your boutonniere small enough that no one mistakes it for a corsage.
Today is also Mother’s Day, and Etiquetteer encourages you to take a moment to remember those lessons of Perfect Propriety you were taught at your mother’s knee. Etiquetteer’s Dear Mother taught many important things, but the one that’s top of mind today is always having a napkin in one's lap at the dinner table.
Finally, May 15 is Straw Hat Day, so you can retire your fedora or your Homburg or whatever other felt hat that took you through the winter, and sport your boater, your skimmer, or a Perfectly Proper panama hat instead. But don’t get too excited and whip out those white shoes yet! It’s not time for those until Memorial Day.
Sometimes there's nothing like a new bow tie to brighten up one's day, and this spring has been an exceptionally gray one. Etiquetteer is delighted with "Apo Reef" from Beau Ties Ltd., which is bringing some necessary color to a Gray May!
This is really one of Etiquetteer's pet peeves, so pay attention.
Last weekend Etiquetteer was neatly and innocently waiting at the corner for the light to change when a man trundled alongside about five feet away and asked no one in particular where a local hotel was. Except he thought he was asking someone in particular: Etiquetteer! And Etiquetteer had no idea this was the case. This man was not exhibiting any of the characteristics of actually addressing someone, such as standing at a reasonably close (but not too close) distance, facing them, eye contact, unmistakably audible tone of voice, and the Very Important Introduction of "Excuse me, please . . . " How on earth is anyone supposed to know they're being spoken to by a stranger?
Once Etiquetteer fully understood what was happening, directions could be provided ("That way.") But it also brought to mind a much more unpleasant version of this common problem from about 25 years ago.* Intent on reaching a subway entrance, Young Etiquetteer missed hearing a question being hog-called by some Dreadful Woman** standing ten feet away. And missing the question - and why should Etiquetteer even think it was personally directed in the first place? - this Dreadful Woman started shouting about these Rude Bostonians and how horrible Etiquetteer was not instantly to come to her aid. She clearly thought just standing in the middle of a busy corner made her perfectly noticeable and comprehensible!
If you're in a strange city and you need directions, for heaven's sake, make yourself known to the people whose aid you seek by saying "Excuse me please," facing them, and looking them in the eye. Nobody at a busy intersection is thinking about you to begin with. Help them help you by asking for help in a recognizable, unambiguous manner. That's not just Perfect Propriety, it's common sense.
*Do you ever wake up screaming about things in your past? This is the sort of thing that wakes Etiquetteer up screaming.
**No doubt the British etiquette writer would describe her as Not Our Sort. The American writer Paul Fussell would peg her as a prole.
This question popped into my mind at a professional exposition recently: is it polite to bring a drink into and out of a public restroom? It doesn't seem very sanitary somehow.
This certainly seems like the type of question that hasn't already been covered in a book of etiquette. If you ever do find a reference to this, please alert Etiquetteer.
Etiquetteer supposes it's one thing for a "bro" to bring a bottle of beer into a pub men's room, but quite another, at a big professional function like you describe, or a big public charity event, to tote a drink back and forth to the restroom. As a practical matter, where on earth might one put it while inside the restroom? Don't answer that! Etiquetteer doesn't even want to consider the options.
Good heavens, a glass of white wine could become the subject of Vulgar Speculation about a urine sample. A glass of red wine might involve a hazmat team after Vulgar Speculation about a urine sample!
No, Etiquetteer thinks it best to leave glassware and the drinks in them out of the restroom.
April is both National Card and Letter Writing Month and National Fresh Celery Month. Time to wield both pen and stalk, but not at the same time!
Over the years Etiquetteer has collected a few examples of what might be called Stationery of Bitterness, greeting cards designed to send a negative message. The image above will give you an idea. The screw is a favorite of Etiquetteer's; inside the reader will find engraved the rebus "U 2." Others on the market today are not shy about using profanity.
Products are created to fill a need, and it will surprise no one to learn that people need an outlet for bitter, vengeful feelings. This April, during National Card and Letter Writing Month (so designated by the US Postal Service), Etiquetteer intended to say a few words here and there about the continuing value of handwritten communication, without expecting to discuss what should not be communicated. Bitter and vengeful communication cannot claim the protection of Perfect Propriety. As Etiquetteer has said so often, no one cares how you feel or what you want.
Yet often these feelings must be expressed somehow, expelled from one's person, in order to Move On. Earnest Prayer is sometimes Not Enough. Stationery of Bitterness could help fulfill that role, being used for a Bitter Letter that is then not sent. Abraham Lincoln became well known for "hot letters" he never sent that expressed his anger and helped him cool down to focus on the task at hand. It's not a bad strategy.
While seeing the humor in Stationery of Bitterness ("Can you imagine sending that?!"), Etiquetteer rather wishes such greeting cards were not on the market. Still, if the need arises, find yourself one, "Let there be gall enough in thy ink," as the late William Shakespeare said, and then burn it in the fireplace, dispelling all that negativity into the ether. It will be better for you, for the Object of your Just Wrath, and for Perfect Propriety.
Occasionally Etiquetteer likes to report on instructional signs to see how well we're doing with Perfect Propriety in Public.
Etiquetteer was delighted to see that the Arnold Arboretum is getting serious about negligent dog owners who allow their dogs to run and scratch around without a leash. These four signs appear to be a new campaign. As they correctly note, "Dogs are not the problem. Dog owners who violate leash laws are the problem."
Let's hope this has what used to be called a salutary effect on Perfect Propriety in the arboretum.
At times, when on vacation, I meet friends while there (sometimes I know in advance I will see them and other times I just run in to people). The suggestions of plans are made. Of course, these interactions are wonderful and just what vacation should be: spontaneity and fun. The headiness of vacation time is magnified by the shared experience with friends. Nonetheless, I sometimes find that my relaxing vacation is being over planned and much of the relaxing I was planning on doesn’t happen. I return from vacation not exactly refreshed.
I don’t begrudge my friends and their interest in seeing me socially. I live for that and feel lucky. But I’d gladly swap a dinner out in, say, January or February when such invitations are so scarce then try to jam in all the various invitations in July on vacation. Any suggestions?
A change of destination might help. Reading your query, Etiquetteer couldn't help but remember how interested Newland Archer was in summering in Mount Desert Isle, while his in-laws insisted on the social pleasures of Newport*. Perhaps you need to find your Mount Desert Isle, where you're sure not to run into friends and acquaintances.
Etiquetteer finds nothing wrong in standing up for relaxation on a vacation. When plans are suggested, just stretch yourself languorously by the pool and say "Oh, I couldn't move a limb. You all go off and have a nice time, and we'll catch up tomorrow." A spontaneous suggestion can just as spontaneously be declined as accepted, but once you've announced a decision, stick to it. Or, you could suggest spontaneously that everyone simply "hang out" without careering off to a restaurant, bar, beach, mountain, sideshow, or other local attraction.
Etiquetteer feels deeply your conundrum of an Absence of Sociability during the Cruel Winter Months. Worn out by the weather, and perhaps the Heady Whirl of the Holiday Season, too many people hibernate socially when they should at least make some effort. The freedom of being on vacation releases that Hospitable Urge. But like you, Etiquetteer would prefer more balance. You may have to lead the charge by issuing some January invitations.
*From Edith Wharton's remarkable novel The Age of Innocence.