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.
- Nobody cares how you feel or what you want, so you might as well behave.
- Look respectable. Tuck in that shirttail and those bra straps. Nobody wants to know about the waistband of your underwear . . . and if they do, you might not want to know them.
- Dress appropriately to the particular situation. Just because you don't feel like putting on black tie is no excuse to go to a ball in a track suit.*
- Get out of the way.
- Be quiet, both in general and especially on your cellphone. No one cares about your "private" conversation.
- Retain your sense of humor. That's usually key to getting out of most etiquette jams.
- When responding in anger, whether in person or through correspondence, ask yourself if you want a successful resolution or just a chance to express anger.
- Travel light.
- When in doubt, send a Lovely Note.
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.
By now you've probably heard about the dramatic brouhaha over Leggings on a Plane that erupted over a week ago. And you would think that Etiquetteer would start a column concerning Proper Dress with a lament that we, as a civilization, don't dress with the same Perfect Propriety that earlier generations did. And that's coming, so don't worry.
Etiquetteer wants to point out first how this story is a lesson in the value of Minding Your Own Business and Not Going Off Half-Cocked. Because if a certain gun control activist hadn't decided to live-tweet what she was witnessing without having all the information, we wouldn't even be talking about this.
What happened was this: two teenage girls were kept from boarding a United Airlines flight by the gate agent because they were wearing leggings. This led the mother of a ten-year-old girl nearby, passengers on the same flight, to put a dress over her daughter's leggings. Gun control activist Shannon Watts, seeing all this anti-legging activity, started live-tweeting to her over 34,000 followers about the Wickedness of United Airlines.
What Ms. Watts didn't know was that the airline was entirely within its rights to do so, since the two girls in leggings were traveling on free passes issued by the airline, and one of the conditions of traveling free was following the airline's dress code. The dress code forbade tight and revealing clothing, specifying Spandex but not specifying leggings. Still, it's obvious that leggings are both tight and revealing.
Rather than meditate on her folly and then come back strong on the issue she's already championing so wonderfully, gun control, Ms. Watts has decided to deflect by speaking out on the issue of dress codes anyway. "I don't get why that's the issue here," she said. "A dress code still shouldn't be gendered and sexist. To be clear, this was happening very publicly right here in the gate." Based on that statement, Etiquetteer has to wonder if Ms. Watts believes each airline gate should have a tiny VIP room or tent for gate agents to handle such issues out of the public eye. Ms. Watts elaborates further on this issue, and her conduct, in a PR Week interview. Whatever the issues there are around a dress code, any kind of dress code, Ms. Watts shouldn't have tweeted about all this without having accurate information to begin with.
So that's the whole MYOB issue. Let's talk about the Propriety of Leggings in Public.
Etiquetteer misses the days when people cared about the impression they made on other people and dressed accordingly. There shouldn't have to be a dress code in the first place because people should already know how to dress properly before they even leave home! Etiquetteer's Dear Mother would say "If they knew better, they'd do better," but Etiquetteer fears that day has passed. Standards have been conquered by Sloth, even among those who were Brought Up Right.
Now, let's talk about how fashion innovations work their way into daily life. It's messy, and usually involves conflict, followed after a decorous amount of time with adoption. When Lily Hammersley spent an entire summer at Newport dressed entirely in white, she was shunned - only for Newport society ladies to appear next season all in white*. When Rita Lydig introduced the backless evening gown in 1913 it was nothing less than a scandal; not too long after New York matrons also adopted them.** When hemlines rose above the knee after World War I and women began bobbing their hair, worldwide outrage subsided into worldwide adoption. The long, complicated history of pant suits for women finally gathered enough steam in the early 1970s for them to become defiantly mainstream. (Remember that episode of All in the Family when Edith gets a pant suit?") Fashions change, and that changes standards. Certainly we aren't wearing codpieces, knee breeches, bustles, or corsets any more, now are we?
We have reached this same moment in fashion evolution with leggings, still very much in the conflict stage before greater acceptance. Leggings, to Etiquetteer, represent the fashion moment when Convenience trumps Good Judgment. For their purpose, exercise, they're admirable. But Etiquetteer just can't approve of them for daily wear. It doesn't matter if one's buttocks are what used to be called "shapely," absent, or the Giant Prune That Ate Brooklyn, leggings for street wear or travel just aren't Perfectly Proper.*** They are far too revealing, especially when, for whatever reason, they have achieved a "wedgie" state. In an advice mashup of Roxie Hart and Henny Youngman, "Always leave 'em wanting more - please."
Most of the airlines, however, seem to be more relaxed about this than Etiquetteer is. The Points Guy provides an excellent summary of current policies on six different airlines.
As to dress codes being "gendered" or "sexist," Etiquetteer can only point out that men and women have not dressed alike, do not dress alike****, and those differences will show up in a dress code. Indeed, it could be argued that ladies have much more freedom in dress than gentlemen do. (That would be an argument for another column.)
Etiquetteer contends that the greatest challenge for 21st-century air travel for all is to combine Perfect Propriety with Comfort. Even Etiquetteer acknowledges that the challenge of appearing as the cast of The High and the Mighty has been made near insurmountable by the airlines themselves (mercy, those seats are cramped and narrow! And they want how much to check a suitcase?!), not to mention airport security, but that's no excuse to appear as though one has just rolled out of bed or the gym.
***Etiquetteer doesn't even like to think of the dangerous possibilities leggings present by those vulgar terms "cameltoe" and "moose knuckle."
****Etiquetteer vaguely recalls attempts at a unisex dress code in the 1970s resulting in some rather hideous sweaters and his-and-hers drip-dry underwear. On the other hand, thinking of Michael York in Logan's Run, a world in which everyone wears only caftans is something worth considering. A caftan is sort of a unisex tea gown for all.
Sir, in this modern age, is it ever proper to put down the pen and resort to e-mail? When many have given to owning only a cell phone, how dare we call them just to leave a message? Being quite old and residing in an old folks home, I'm shocked at what some of my neighbors consider proper. For those in younger years, just you wait for old age waits for no one.
Dear Corresponding Regardless:
No matter one's age, Speed has overtaken Graciousness in communications, especially in the last 25 years with the universal adoption of cellphones and email. A well-turned phrase and a well-rounded period rarely appear to advantage via text message. But humans adapt to changes in technology. We aren't, for instance, still scratching with styli on clay tablets.
To answer your first question, resort to email when expedience matters. Email has become so ubiquitous that it has become Proper. (How one uses it determines whether it is Proper or Perfectly Proper.) When the speed of your communication doesn't matter, by all means write a Proper Letter.
If you are eager to communicate with someone who has only given you a phone number, then you must use the phone number to make a phone call, or discover by whatever means you have at your disposal what their mailing address is and send a Proper Letter.
You refer to living in "an old folks home," which leads Etiquetteer to observe that yes, there are many senior citizens who have not embraced the Digital Revolution of the last 25 years. Whether through Fear, Skepticism, General Cantankerousness, or even Lack of Equipment, they miss out on keeping up with family and friends. (And how many grandparents do we know who finally get on Facebook to find out what their grandchildren are doing, only for the grandkids to abandon Facebook for Instagram or Snapchat or Something-or-Other.)*
At a time when others should be making a special effort to reach out to them, these senior citizens find themselves making special efforts to reach out in the ways they know (mostly written correspondence and phone calls). Besides which, current technology is not always designed to accommodate the elderly. Large, unsteady fingers obscure closely-set buttons so that one doesn't always know what button one is pressing. Designers, take note.
With National Card and Letter-Writing Month coming next month (so designated by the United States Postal Service), Etiquetteer hopes that you will make more special efforts than usual to communicate with the written word.
*Even Etiquetteer, who has yet to achieve the age of "Get off my lawn," has had to learn to text, but it was a hard-won battle.
These Internet Holidays just pop up with no warning at all. Perhaps an invitation would be Perfectly Proper?
Etiquetteer has just learned that March 21 is National Common Courtesy Day. While (perhaps tartly) observing that every day is a day for common courtesy, Etiquetteer notes the website's stated goal: "This day brings awareness to how important common courtesy is in our lives." And indeed, the Magic Words "Please" and "Thank you," the Friendly Greetings, and Acts of Quiet Assistance like holding a door make daily life that much more endurable.
Etiquetteer is especially aware of how Service Personnel are treated - drivers, deliverymen, cashiers, waiters and waitresses, customer service representatives over the phone, custodians - and how casually, even cruelly, they can be passed over. If anything, today is an opportunity for everyone to consider how often they do (or don't) greet and acknowledge Service Personnel in their daily lives. Etiquetteer, for instance, makes a point of greeting the bus driver, and then saying "Thank you" when exiting past him/her. In a Nation were All are Created Equal, this is an important acknowledgement of our common humanity.
Another Very Bad Thing is to approach the cash register while carrying on a phone conversation. The person you're with is more important than the person on your device. Show respect!
Track yourself over the next couple days and see how you're doing.
And with that, Etiquetteer is pleased to wish you a Happy National Common Courtesy Day.
Food has been much on Etiquetteer's mind lately, perhaps after having had that pie heaved into his face on Pi Day. So you can imagine how happy Etiquetteer was when a scrapbook containing menu cards from the 1910s was heaved over the transom. As was the custom in those more leisurely days, the Technology* Club of New Bedford held an annual dinner that appears lavish by 21st-century standards. How did these compare to what was actually recommended in the etiquette books of the period?
The Victorians loved eating! Let’s start with the number of courses, which started big, and could only get smaller. No less an authority than Judith Martin, Miss Manners herself, recorded this list in her Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior:
1. Oysters or clams on the half shell, or fruit or caviar.
2. Soup, one clear soup and one thick soup.
3. Radishes, celery, olives, and salted almonds.
4. Fish, served with fancifully shaped potatoes and cucumbers with oil and vinegar.
5. Sweetbreads or mushrooms.
6. Artichokes, asparagus, or spinach in pastry.
7. A roast or joint, with a green vegetable.
8. Frozen Roman punch
9. Game, such as wild duck or quail or ptarmigan, served with salad.
10. Heavy pudding or another creamed sweet.
11. A frozen sweet.
12. Cheese, or a hot savory of cheese.
13. Fresh, crystallized, and stuffed dried fruits, served with bonbons.
14. Coffee, liqueurs, and sparkling wines.
Now it’s important to note that some of these courses aren’t served one to a person, but are actually just placed about the table in little dishes between every place or two. The non-sweet early accompaniments to a formal dinner - those radishes, celery, olives, and salted almonds - would have been so. And later in the meal, the crystallized fruits and bonbons. Etiquetteer's beloved Ellen Maury Slayden described a dinner at the Taft White House this way: “Little silver dishes of salted nuts and green and brown candies broke out everywhere just as they do on all tables nowadays, and in every way it was a comfortable, unpretentious meal, not as handsome as several I have seen in the houses of the merely rich . . . Senator Tawney on my other side . . . consumed a whole dish of large soft caramels, taking one or tmore after each course from caviar to ice cream."
How does this 1910 menu differ?
First off, there's a reference to "Martini Cocktail," which seems odd to Etiquetteer since a cocktail was only to be consumed before one went to table**. It also implies that only martinis would be offered before dinner, and you'd either take it and like it, or go without a cocktail. Then, the number of courses is greatly reduced. And last, the heartiness of the menu, particularly that prominent "Sirloin of Steak" indicates that this is decidedly a "stag" dinner at which ladies would not be present.
The 1911 menu is much the same.
By 1914, it's clear a humorist worked his way onto the dinner committee, with references chemical and jocular appearing, "Coffee, Cigars, and Some Talk" being the principal feature of any stag dinner - and, at least for the Club of New Bedford, sirloin steak.
Now, by way of comparison, let's look at this 1915 menu for the annual dinner of the entire MIT Alumni Association held in Boston. This would be a larger and more formal affair than that held in New Bedford, but still likely a stag dinner. The mock turtle soup is a nod to the importance of the occasion, as terrapin, or turtle soup, was one of the two courses that signified one was at a true Occasion for the Victorians.*** Its vogue did not begin to fade until after World War I. And yet there is no Roman punch in the middle of menu as a chance to rest before consuming even more food. Note also the item "Cafe Noir." Those who like clouds in their coffee need not apply
The amount of food served per person seems astonishing in this century, but it occurs to Etiquetteer that the Way We Eat Today, this same menu could be offered almost as is for any public or charity dinner, with dinner guests checking off their entrée choices in advance.
And let's also notice how none of these menus are engraved on white or cream bristol board with gilt edges. And how small they are! They are there to be part of the table appointments, not book-sized annual reports or Advertisement Delivery Systems.
Etiquetteer, like many people, enjoys speculating about menus such as these, but they can only really be executed flawlessly when one has staff. Emily Post used to write about Mrs. Three-in-One who was simultaneously hostess, cook, and waitress, but Etiquetteer knows from experience how near-impossible it is to do that. So if you happen to know a good cook, do send him or her Etiquetteer's way.
*At this time, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was popularly referred to as "Technology" or "Tech." Since World War II, "MIT" is preferred.
**It's actually still Bad Form to do so, and Etiquetteer has to remonstrate with That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much occasionally.
***The other was canvasback duck. Etiquetteer has not been able to figure out why the Victorians put such an emphasis on it and, later Long Island duckling.
Certainly Etiquetteer has covered some Matters of Manners that haven't been covered by other writers, like what to wear to a "protest chic" wedding, the etiquette of activism, Straw Hat Day, and how to decline a marriage proposal in public. On Pi Day, March 14, it's timely to talk about how to take a pie in the face with Perfect Propriety. Life is challenging enough without being pelted by Deliberately Aimed Pastry while going about one’s business.
The pie in the face is as American as . . . well, Etiquetteer bets you were thinking "apple pie," but Etiquetteer was going to say basketball, because they were both invented in America. In the famous Keystone Comedies produced by Mack Sennett, an actor named Ben Turpin took the first pie in the face. Alas, there's some dispute about in just which film this took place. The 1909 comedy of sexual harassment Mr. Flip certainly shows Turpin taking a dark berry pie in the face at a lunch counter. Skip past all that sexual harassment to 03:34 to see the pieing.
Politically, the most famous pie in the face remains the Unforgettable Pieing of Anita Bryant in 1977. Ms. Bryant at first maintained her composure enough to quip tartly that "Well, at least it's a fruit pie" before dissolving in prayer and tears.
And maintaining one's composure is the most important aspect of what is really an Unexpected Assault. Should you suddenly find yourself Blinded by Pie, the very first thing to do is to follow the advice of Ellen Maury Slayden: "Keep cool; this is a test of breeding." Poor dear Mrs. Slayden never had to deal with a pie in the face, but she did have to deal with putting menthol in her eyes once by mistake, and that was torture enough.
Next, restore your vision by wiping your eyes clear. Use that Nice Clean Handkerchief that of course you have with you - ahem - but you may have to resort to your bare hands if the volume of pie is too great. Once your vision is restored, establish whether or not you're Under Attack. If so, Etiquetteer will allow your Fight or Flight mechanism to take control. If not, proceed to the nearest bathroom to clean up, and then directly home for fresh clothing.
Etiquetteer imagines it might be tempting to eat some of that pie, but having been attacked with it, you have no reason to believe that its ingredients are friendly*. Use caution. Showing too much enthusiasm for a delicious pie that has been thrown in your face could also create an impression of Gluttony.
Of course Etiquetteer hopes you never need this advice, but it's reassuring, isn't it, to know what to do just in case.
Etiquetteer is also proud to support the MIT 24-Hour Challenge on Pi Day!
*Etiquetteer is certainly not going to refer to that scene from The Help.