Three Etiquette Books, Vol. 4, Issue 35

OK, it’s True Confessions Time for Etiquetteer: Etiquetteer just loves Ebay. And in the last little while Etiquetteer has picked up quite a few unusual little etiquette books – some serious, some humorous – for different niches of American society. Etiquetteer thought you might be interested in some of these titles:COWBOY ETIQUETTE, by Texas Bix Bender (2003): Essentially a book of one-liners, Cowboy Etiquette captures kernels of truth and common sense in an ostentatiously "aw-shucks" homespun manner. But there’s advice for almost every situation, from "When served escargot, pour salt on it and forget it. It will melt while you wait for the next course" and "When you’re standing in line, and it’s a long one, take it like a man" to "Aftershave is not a marinade" and "If you have to tell someone you’re just kiddin’, maybe yer not."Cowboy Etiquette also includes an old-fashioned flip book cartoon of a rude cowboy dining with a lady that demonstrates most of the "don’ts" of cowboy manners.THE POT SMOKER’S HANDBOOK TO ETIQUETTE, by C.L. Cory (1983): Etiquetteer has always said that good manners are needed in every situation, and yet how to interact with your dealer and how to pass a joint never even entered Etiquetteer’s mind or mailbox. Crudely illustrated by Mike Price (possibly while stoned), The Pot Smoker’s Handbook to Etiquette came from the author’s observation that "The habits and traditions that have crept up the social ladder with the availability to obtain and make use of drugs, are to say the least, unpolished." Chapters of this "strictly fictional and . . . simply designed to entertain" paperback will guide the reader in Proper Purchasing Techniques, how to smoke ("Don’t eat the roach unless hungry"), and how to be the perfect guest or host.Etiquetteer was most amused by the issue of munchies, apparently an essential component in gatherings of smokers. Guests are instructed never to ask for refreshments, but only to suggest sending out for Chinese food. Hosts are instructed to use the Chinese food hints as their cue to bring out munchies, which they should prepare ahead of time. Etiquetteer thinks that the Pot Smoker’s Chinese Food Euphemism is darn near worthy of Edith Wharton Herself when it comes to the language of indirection.SYDNEY BIDDLE BARROWS MAYFLOWER MANNERS: ETIQUETTE FOR CONSENTING ADULTS, by Sydney Biddle Barrows and Ellis Weiner (1990): Here’s another book full of Perfect Propriety for Sordid Circumstances, this one directly from the Mayflower Madam Herself, Sydney Biddle Barrows. Among other things, the authors offer sage advice on how to engage an escort, correct your partner’s hygiene, decline an invitation to perform an act you aren’t comfortable with, and converse with someone you met through a dating service.The book is peppered with amusing footnotes as well as killingly funny charts contrasting old and new manners; "Curbside Comments: Suggested Good Manners for Construction Workers and Their Targets" will leave you howling. The authors treat their subject with a wit and style similar to Etiquetteer’s own; what a pity Etiquetteer isn’t modest enough not to mention it . . .What’s cute about all this is that Mayflower Mannerswas published before the Internet revolutionized dating and its attendant services. Indeed, personal answering machines were just making the scene then. References to yuppies, Filofaxes, and the "Ms. vs. Mrs." debate brought Etiquetteer back to the good parts of the 1980s.

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Reader Response, Vol. 3, Issue 8

On Pregnancy: Great advice. When my wife was pregnant, and feeling ugly and fat, she once asked me: "Did I always look this fat?" I am still, 30 years later, wondering how I could respond to that without getting in trouble. Either "yes" or "no" was wrong. "You look mah-vah-lous" probably would have worked, if I had thought of it. Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer recently spoke with a lady whose pregnancy was just beginning to show. When she expressed concern that she just looked fat and not pregnant, Etiquetteer told her "You look just the way you ought to look." In response to "Lil Mama," I can only say that her griping is insufferable. Having recently given birth myself, I know what it was like to hear all kinds of comments, including those expressing surprise that I was even pregnant. Frankly, I had bigger things to worry about -- would this, my fourth pregnancy, really go to term? Would this baby, unlike the others, be healthy? -- and was grateful for any kind comment or kindly-intended comment that came my way. The worries that Lil Mama detailed, such as, "Did I eat the wrong thing?" or, "Shouldn't my baby be kicking by now?" are universal worries, no matter if the pregnancy is the first or tenth. Having a baby is purely miraculous, even though it happens thousands of times every day. Even for women who suffer terribly to even survive the process of pregnancy and birth. Lil Mama should simply be thankful that she was able to get pregnant, carry full term, and will give birth to a baby confirmed to be in good health. Etiquetteer responds: Your letter provides proof that many ladies react to their own pregnancies with emotion, in greater or lesser degree. Etiquetteer thanks you for recognizing the good intent behind comments that came your way. 

On Private Situations: So bizarre to read about that person who is undergoing the "embarrassing surgery" as I am sure I know what it is. Well, okay, I guess it's also that I do call people to offer support (it's my other business) when they undergo surgery for colon cancer, etc., that renders them with an -ostomy of some kind. I know, it's a bit of a focused hobby, but I love it! Anyway, I recognize that sound in that person's letters, and heck, even if I'm wrong, you gave the right advice. It truly is none of their co-workers’ business, and only those you choose to tell should be the ones to know. They're obviously having a surgery that will leave them feeling more conspicuous than it really is, but to them, "whoa!" I like what you said. There are also websites to suggest for people with just about any ailment, illness, or surgery when they write with that sound of "feeling alone in the world", which of course, they never are.Just a suggestion that you tell people to search for such supporting websites under the illness or procedure they are going to have. It can save a "depressed" person's life, in many, many ways, to post a question to a message board and receive dozens of supportive, non-biased, open, responses.

On Debutante Balls: My sainted mother would muse..."Whatever happened to the days when it was not necessary to post the dress code on an invitation? People just knew what to wear." Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer could not agree more, but now hostesses run the danger of ignorant free spirits showing up in track suits instead of black tie. What’s even worse are those folks who know better but decide that they "don’t want to take the trouble" and show up in less than their best. And what’s even worse than that – the lowest of the low – are those who show up in proper dress and gradually strip off during the evening. Etiquetteer remembers being thrilled with horror to see a photo of Julian Schnabel in the once great SPY magazine at some enormous charity hoo-hah, jacket on one chair, cummerbund and tie on another, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, deep in conversation with another guest. Thank goodness he didn’t take off his shoes and put them up on the table . . .

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at query@etiquetteer.com!

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