A Brief Meditation on How Etiquette Has Changed, Vol. 15, Issue 3

In Baby Face, one of the greatest films of her career, Barbara Stanwyck plays a beautiful blonde from the wrong side of the tracks who uses her Frankly Feminine Charms to Get to the Top of the Ladder, engorging male passions and breaking male hearts with every rung. About halfway up, she is shown reading a copy of Emily Post's Etiquette and quoting a bit to the mail boy about how butlers are supposed to hold out the chairs of ladies at a formal dinner.

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Once upon a time, to Get to the Top meant behaving the way the Upper Half did, which is why etiquette books of the period focused so heavily on exactly how the Upper Half did what they did: communicate, entertain, travel, attend church, wear clothes, court, engage, marry, bear and raise children, and, yes, divorce. Emulating Perfect Propriety was seen as the path to Upward Mobility. Etiquette books - especially those by Mrs. Post and Lilian Eichler, but also Amy Vanderbilt and Millicent Fenwick - showed the way, Gospel and road map to success.

In the intervening 80 or so years since Baby Face, what has changed? Well, Etiquetteer certainly thinks that far fewer people care about Perfect Propriety any longer, or at least about how the Upper Half Lives. (Indeed, even the Upper Half don't care to live they way they traditionally did; one has only to look at Paris Hilton to know.) Though it pains Etiquetteer to admit this, sometimes the weight of etiquette grows so great that a generation will cast it off. Louis XIV set up such rigid codes of dress and behavior at Versailles that a revolution was necessary, so everyone could start over. The custom of calling cards and weekly "at home days" grew so elaborate that, starting after World War I, people slowly stopped bothering with it. So to did the custom of delivering a calling card in person the day after a party. As early as 1948 Millicent Fenwick noted in The Vogue Book of Etiquette that the custom of the formal dinner, or "dinner of ceremony," was fading out, too.

So has, in Etiquetteer's opinion, the upper class. In its place we have the celebrity class, and with very few exceptions, celebrities are not good exemplars of Perfect Propriety. Benedict Cumberbatch is without question the Celebrity Gentleman of the 21st century. Would that others would follow suit.

RD

Photo of Etiquetteer by JWLenswerk.

But if Society at Large isn't taking its etiquette cues from the Upper Half, what kind of guidance is being sought? Etiquetteer thinks it's less about Form and Style, and more about Respect, Sincerity, and, alas, how to deal respectfully with Those Who Have No Manners. Instead of worrying about how many forks belong on the table for a multi-course dinner, we want to know how many smartphones can be kept off it without turning off the guests. One may be sure that Mrs. Post never had to write about how to get someone to turn down their iTunes on the subway!

Etiquetteer supposes this is all more helpful and refreshing, but it's decidedly less beautiful. It's so difficult to dress for dinner when one must cook it and clean up after it, too. On the other hand, extending a warm welcome to guests remains just as important as it did years before, whether you're in the drawing room in "full canonicals" or the kitchen in a novelty apron. And expressing thanks is just as important as it was before, though you'll still hear Etiquetteer sounding the call for Lovely Note over a Lovely Email or Text.*

*It should be noted that That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much hasn't even sent out his Christmas Lovely Notes of Thanks yet . . .

Etiquetteer's 2015 Holiday Gift Guide for Perfect Propriety, Vol. 14, Issue 42

It’s been a few years since Etiquetteer attempted to recommend Perfect Propriety in holiday gifts, but the time has come to make a few deft suggestions. CLOTHES

A gentleman needs to keep things pointing in the right direction, not least his collar, and the folks at Würkin Stiffs have come up with a way to do so involving magnets. They also involve "airport-friendly metal alloy," so there should be no need to fiddle with your collar before approaching the Security Theatre of the airport.

We’ve all heard that a man has two handkerchiefs: “one to show and one to blow.” How would it be if that “one to show” had another purpose that mere display? Across the pond, Pocket and Fold have created a line of pocket squares made of microfiber, ideal for polishing eyeglasses and the screens of personal devices. 15£.

Yimps are blazing the trail for the comeback of men’s short shorts with a vintage flair,” and Etiquetteer couldn’t think of anything more Perfectly Proper, especially for the beachgoer in your life. $43-48.50.

Since the hostess aprons of the 1950s, things have only gotten worse for the middle class hostess, who has even less help in the kitchen than before. Indeed, so often the whole party ends up in the kitchen rather than anyplace else. To help retain some Perfectly Proper glamor, Etiquetteer recommends the Bombshell Apron from Jessie Steele, which would be gorgeous over a short-sleeved white blouse and velvet hostess pants. $35.

Speaking of aprons, there’s no reason not to design one of your own at Zazzle.

Big scarves are in this year, but scarves have always been Perfectly Proper. Fraser Knitwear offers some stunning wool scarves. Prices vary.

Your favorite traveler may enjoy the new Geography bow tie from Beau Ties Ltd., long Etiquetteer's preferred vendor. Beau Ties Ltd. has a colorful and Perfectly Proper selection of other new designs, too.

BOOKS

Amy Alkon is an etiquette writer who takes no prisoners, and her Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck answers the cries of many. Paperback, $10.80. Read Etiquetteer's review here.

For the literate gardener in your life, Etiquetteer highly recommends Henry Beston’s magically evocative little book about growing herbs, Herbs and the Earth. $16.95.

For the young man who needs Perfect Propriety, Etiquetteer suggests Becoming the Perfect Gentleman, by Zach Falconer-Barfield and Nic Wing. Paperback $18.95.

Fans of the British monarchy may also enjoy a little-known Christmas story, here beautifully realized by Jacob Gariepy at Dapper and Dreamy, A Christmas with Queen Mary. paperback, $10.00.

STATIONERY

Dapper and Dreamy cards, illustrated by Jacob Gariepy, include not only traditional Christmas themes, but also the wardrobe of Jacqueline Kennedy, White House windows, and the brides of Downton Abbey. Prices vary; $10 minimum order required.

Crane, of course, remains the most deluxe Perfectly Proper American stationer. Boxed note cards make a Perfectly Proper gift, especially for children in whom you wish to inculcate the practice of handwritten gratitude. Prices vary.

For those who know that "high tea" really means it's high time for a big feed, consider these teakettle notecards from Mercantile for invitations. $16 for a pack of five. They have many other delightful cards, too.

OTHER

Alfred Lane has been producing some fine solid colognes for men. A great stocking stuffer, and much easier to tote about day to day than a bottle cologne. Choose from Bravado or Brio ($17.95) and limited-edition Enigma ($29.95). Alfred Lane's Vanguard is available at Fine and Dandy.

While Etiquetteer can't ever be said to be a fan of gift certificates - they sometimes give the impression that one has given up - Etiquetteer does know that ladies like to be pampered. (So do some gentlemen.) Consider a gift certificate to a spa or salon in your community for a day of beauty, massage, or a special beauty treatment. The resulting good feelings can only enhance the Perfect Propriety in the world.

For the stylish card player in your life, Misc. Goods offers stylishly redesigned decks of playing cards. Choose black, red, ivory, green, or blue. $15.

Etiquetteer has always had a weakness for paper lanterns, once so indispensible to the al fresco entertainments of the upper classes. Blue Q offers some charming - and some not quite Perfectly Proper - versions. $9.99 each

For those who don’t want an app for everything, Thinkgeek offers a 50-Year Calendar Keyring that Etiquetteer finds charming.

For those you know you like a bit of honey in their tea - or who don't yet know that it's not Perfectly Proper to have a jar on the table - one can find a lovely ceramic honey pot at Sur le Table. $9.56.

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Repeal Day at the Gibson House Museum is coming soon! Get your tickets for Friday, December 4. Hotcha!

Etiquetteer Reviews Amy Alkon's "Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck," Vol. 14, Issue 9

The closest Etiquetteer has ever thought about the intersection of Etiquette and Science has been what to wear when accepting a Nobel Prize. So it was first with mounting surprise that Etiquetteer read Amy Alkon's bracing Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck, and then with the excitement that comes with Received Wisdom So Obvious One Wonders Why One Hadn't Already Known It. This colorful volume may be the perfect etiquette book for nerds, because Alkon refers frequently to scientific research that explains why humans behave the way they do, and the steps we need to take, individually and as a community, to live together harmoniously.* For instance, everyone is irritated by intrusive cell phone conversations. Alkon tells her readers why, citing research from Cornell about "halfalogues." Turns out a different part of our brain gets engaged listening to someone on the phone; we're all trying to figure out what the other half of the conversation is, whether we want to or not! And this is only one example. Her "science-based theory that we're experiencing more rudeness than ever because we recently lost the constraints on our behavior that were in place for millions of years" is thoroughly researched and piquantly presented. Just for the term "inconsiderado" alone this book is worth reading.

It's interesting to consider how this volume differs from the etiquette books of the last century. When one reads the works of Emily Post, Lillian Eichler, Millicent Fenwick, Amy Vanderbilt, etc., one is more likely to be reading about formal dinners, country house weekends, weddings at home, and behavior with and toward servants. Etiquetteer attributes this to Americans who cared about manners reading about the manners of those one or more rungs above them on the social scale, as well as to a more general feeling of respect toward Refinement and Gracious Living. (Nowadays, we see a more defensive respect of Comfort and Casualness. Etiquetteer says "defensive" because the most zealous defenders of those qualities use them to justify Sloppiness and Selfishness.)

These writers wrote about the rules and how to follow them, but much less so about how to interact with those who would not follow them - beyond, of course, excluding them from one's society. Reading these books, we forget that rudeness still took place in the past. (It should surprise no one that there has always been rudeness. This is the true reason why etiquette books came into being.) Alkon writes feelingly about issues all of us without servants have to face in daily life: double parking, intrusive cell phone conversations, inconsiderate neighbors, litterbugs, and combat driving.

Etiquetteer was especially impressed with Alkon's addressing of issues most of those early 20th-century etiquette writers never had to face: air travel. Security requirements - how Etiquetteer deplores the "security theatre" of having to remove garments and be X-rayed! - and the reduction of personal space and addition of baggage fees by the airlines have created even more challenges to Perfect Propriety. Alkon calls these out, and also calls on air travelers to show some needed respect for flight attendants: "Flight attendants are supposed to provide food and beverage service, not servitude."

Etiquetteer will admit to smiling with delight reading Alkon's owning of the "etiquette aunties," a group into which Etiquetteer could likely be lumped: ". . . quite a bit of the the advice given by traditional etiquette aunties is rather arbitrary, which is why one etiquette auntie advises that a lady may apply lipstick at the dinner table and another considers it an act only somewhat less taboo than squatting and taking a pee in the rosebushes." Alkon may be the perfect etiquette auntie for the 21st century: less likely to be pouring tea for the D.A.R. at home, more likely to be in coffee shops politely letting the oblivious know that their headphones are leaking. Read this book.

*Of course Etiquetteer immediately remembered Rose Sayer, Katharine Hepburn's character in The African Queen, saying "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put on this earth rise above."

The Etiquette of Prohibition, Vol. 13, Issue 57

Etiquetteer delivered these remarks at the 2013 Repeal Day Celebration at the Gibson House Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Among other things, the madness of Prohibition created a Culture of Alcohol Concealment, leading people to find ingenious ways to secrete liquor in their homes or on their persons. Images survive of hollow canes, fake books, and even shot vials concealed in high-heeled shoes so that people could travel with their tipple unrevealed. In the 21st century, already awash with alcohol, similar devices are used to get around outrageous liquor prices at sports and concert venues. These include hollow flip flops, a necktie flask, and even a “wine rack,” which is a sports bra with tubing.

Prohibition left a permanent mark on American manners, illustrated uncompromisingly in a little etiquette book called No Nice Girl Swears by Alice-Leone Moats, first published in 1933, the final year of Prohibition. The last chapter, headed "Our Plastered Friends," begins "When our mothers came out, learning to handle a drunk was not an essential part of a debutante's education. Now every girl has to be capable not only of shifting for herself, but, more often than not, of looking out for her escort as well." Can you imagine?! This is not the way Best Society is supposed to conduct itself. But Miss Moats goes on to detail the ten different types of drunks and how to make the best of their bad situations (often using one's mad money to abandon them and take a taxi home. Miss Moats paints a worst-case scenario from the beginning. "If you're going out very often, you might as well be prepared to think quickly and be ready to exercise your ingenuity at any time. You may be called upon to do anything form catching the bottles that your escort, in his exuberance, may chance to throw, to burrowing in the sawdust for him." (You must remember that often the floors of gin joints and other dives were sprinkled with sawdust.)

And going out was what people did. Prohibition saw entertaining at home decline (though of course it still went on) in favor of the jazzy rise of café society. Willa Cather famously described the phenomenon in 1924, saying "Nobody stays at home any more." And that meant men and women drinking together in public, whereas before Prohibition, saloons were for men only. At home, one was less likely to be entertained at a traditional seated dinner of several courses as at that brand-new gathering, the cocktail party. Ladies and gentlemen just standing around drinking liquor without a meal, or perhaps any food at all, being offered -- revolutionary!

Miss Moats makes it sound easy: "Cocktail parties have become the line of least resistance in entertaining. They are convenient for the person who must get 50 or 60 people off the list of obligations and prefers to do it at one fell swoop, saving money at the same time. It certainly isn't much trouble; all you need is a case of synthetic gin and a tin of anchovy paste. The greater the number of the guests, the smaller and more airless the room, the stronger the gin, the more successful the party. But if you give one, you must be prepared to have your friends on your hands until two in the morning, as they will invariably forget their dinner engagements and stay on until the last shakerful is emptied."

One of the places they went in Boston was the famous Cocoanut Grove on Piedmont Street, which opened in October, 1927. But in spite of some shady connections, the Grove was on the up and up. They didn't serve hard liquor, but would provide setups, trays of siphons and glasses, so you could discreetly add your own booze from your flask under the table. It was often better to bring your own to some places. In The Greeks Had a Word For Them, a gentleman at a speak asks "Well, what do you have that won't kill us, blind us, or burn holes in our clothes?" The brutal Dinah Brand in Dashiell Hammett's equally brutal Red Harvest said that someone's liquor tasted like it was drained off a corpse. Other places would get around the law by serving booze in teacups.

Tolerance for drunken behavior became more accepted, too. Again, we hear from Miss Moats: "There was once a time when a man who got drunk in a lady's drawing room was never invited to that house again. If he showed the same lack of control in another home, he ran the risk of having every door closed to him. Now a hostess who insists that all her guests remain sober would find that she was giving parties to a chosen few, and very dull ones at that. She takes it for granted that the majority of her guests will be wavering before the evening is over." A Paul Cadmus painting of 1939, “Seeing the New Year In,” shows just such an occasion, with drunken, careless intellectuals coming apart at the seams. It’s a mean and tawdry descent.

One of the most astonishing ways that Prohibition changed America was the sudden appearance and acceptance of young women drinking in public. And it was this that led Pauline Morton Sabin, an aristocratic heiress to the Morton Salt fortune, to begin to campaign for Repeal. She said "Girls of a generation ago would not have ventured into a saloon. Girls did not drink; it was not considered 'nice.' But today girls and boys drink, at parties and everywhere, then stop casually at a speakeasy on the way home." And indeed, a Topeka police chief observed "The girls simply won't go out with the boys who haven't got flasks to offer." But a girl still had to hang on to her reputation, as Miss Moats makes clear in No Nice Girl Swears. "A great many people have come to believe in the single moral standard, but few have been converted to a single drinking standard. A drunken woman is still looked upon with disgust and she is certainly more objectionable than a drunken man. Liquor generally hits her in one of three ways: she gets boisterous and wants to play games, or she gets maudlin, or, more often, she grows desperately amorous. Whatever the effect, she is dangerous."

To which Etiquetteer can only conclude, "Hotcha!"

George Washington 2.0, Vol. 11, Issue 5

In honor of Presidents Day, and the Father of our Country's birthday on February 22, Etiquetteer is going to update parts of George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation. Etiquetteer bets you didn't even know George Washington wrote an etiquette book! He copied 110 maxims when he was only 14. Several of these have to do with precedence and are, shall we say, overly exaggerated for the 21st century. But others remain classic at the core, and need to be restated. For instance:

GW 1.0: "7th, Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out of your chamber half-dressed.

GW 2.0: The idea is, you show respect for others by looking put together in public. Don't leave the house until you're completely dressed; for ladies this means completely made up, too. No one should have to see these things in action: mascara wands, buttons, belts, and especially underwear. Say no to the fashion of sagging! Say no to gaposis! And, as Etiquetteer mentioned earlier this year, don't wear your pajamas in public!

GW 1.0: "18th, Read no letters, books, or papers in company; but when there is necessity for the doing of it, you must ask leave."

GW 2.0: George's essential truth is still sound, that the person with you in person is more important than the person with you through another medium. Do not text or take or make phone calls in the presence of others, especially at the table, unless you ask permission first. This is especially difficult at table, or in a car, when your prisoners - um, Etiquetteer means companions - might be unable to continue talking themselves while waiting on you.

GW 1.0: "22nd, Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy" and "23rd, When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased, but always show pity to the suffering offender."

GW 2.0: Refrain from flaming on online comment boards, especially anonymously. It's no surprise that people give in to their baser instincts when their identities are concealed. Such behavior does, however, brand one a coward.This is only one reason you'll never see a comment board here at etiquetteer.com (not that readers of Etiquetteer behave that way, of course.)

GW 1.0: "48th, Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precept."

GW 2.0: Simply put, "Practice what you preach." It is very bad form, for instance, to advocate for the sanctity of marriage when one has been divorced, and certainly when one has been divorced more than once.

GW 1.0: "50th, Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any" and "79th, Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof."

GW 2.0: Don't trust what you read on the Internet and do your own research. Sad to say, partisans on every side of the political spectrum, in their eagerness to paint as dark a picture as possible of their opponents, do not adhere as zealously to Truth as they ought. Inflammatory email that gets circulated and recirculated, charts and graphs that appear on social media such as Facebook, more often than not contain errors of fact, bald or nuanced. All this has led Etiquetteer to take refuge in the pages of The Economist.

GW 1.0: "110th, Labour to keep alive in your breast the little celestial fire called conscience."

GW 2.0: No change needed for GW 2.0. This little phrase still summarizes the entire book perfectly.

George Washington's Perfect Propriety, Vol. 7, Issue 6

When most people think of George Washington, the Father of Our Country, they think of the story of him cutting down the cherry tree and then confessing to his father “I cannot tell a lie. I did it with my little hatchet.” Ironically, this story of the First President’

s unshakeable honesty has turned out to be a complete fabrication by an author named Mason Lock Weems. More on this story may be found here: http://americanhistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/washingtonscherrytree

 Certainly it is a cautionary tale to approach all political biographies with a shaker of salt.What most people do not realize is that George Washington Himself wrote an etiquette book at the not-as-tender-as-it-is-now* age of 14. George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation puts forward no fewer than 110 instructions for Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer doubts that Washington ever intended them to be published – it appears he copied them from another book – and yet what he chose to copy must represent what he felt was most important in the behavior of a gentleman. Several of these instructions no longer apply, for instance 27th: “Tis ill manners to bid one more eminent than yourself be covered as well as not to do it to whom it’s due . . .” or 57th: “In walking up and down in a house, only with one in company if he be greater than yourself, at the first give him give him the right hand and stop not till he does . . .” Issues of precedence like these make Etiquetteer awfully glad that Washington won the war. Still, Etiquetteer wishes that more citizens than just churchgoing African-American ladies, for instance, would keep alive the tradition of Perfect Proper Hats and How to Wear Them. But many of Washington’s maxims remain fresh and accurate, especially those concerning table manners and what used to be referred to as “deportment,” the way one presents oneself in public. It’s sort of sad when you think that Americans still have to be told not to talk with their mouths full (98th and 107th) or to take only one bite at a time (97th). But Washington put these forward as essential table manners, and much more. At least now we don’t have to worry about anyone cleaning their teeth with the tablecloth (100th). In public 18th now applies to electronic devices as well as anything on paper: “Read no letters, books, or papers in company; but when there is a necessiry for the doing of it, you must ask leave. (Emphases Etiquetteer’s.)And while the grunge look of the 1990s seems at last to be over, too many people could heed 51st: “Wear not your clothes foul, ripped, or dusty . . .” as well as 52nd: “In your apparel be modest and endeavor to accommodate nature,” which Etiquetteer translates as “No one wants to see your underwear.” But Etiquetteer has to Wag an Admonitory Digit at That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much over 24th: “Do not laugh too much or too loud in public.” Reviewing all 110 of Washington’s instructions (which Etiquetteer hopes you will do) one sees that he felt it important to make a good impression on others by showing them respect and consideration. One did this through taking pride and care in one’s appearance, paying attention to the feelings of others regardless of rank, and personal modesty. In other words, Washington sought to shape his behavior with self-control.And speaking of shape, Etiquetteer doesn’t like to think of etiquette as a corset so much as a girdle. The first deforms the figure, restricts one’s movement, squeezes the internal organs, and leads to all sorts of debilitating health problems. A girdle, on the other hand, may be tight, but it molds one’s figure into something more pleasing without disguising one’s true self. So let us all use Washington as our guide and “ . . . bedew no man’s face with your spittle by approaching too near him when you speak.” *What Etiquetteer means by this is that one had to behave like a grown-up much sooner than one does now. Alas, many Americans now put off behaving like adults until they are old enough to earn graduate degrees.

 

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.

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify@etiquetteer.com.

 

Reader Response, Vol. 2, Issue 13

On Condolences: Maybe my upbringing was rigid, but I was always trained that one never, ever sent a commercial sympathy card; the handwritten letter was mandatory. As you know, people think they need to be creative, and this need really needs to be extirpated when it comes to this arena. Personal anecdotes aside -- which are wonderful if you have them, but often are unavailable because you are comforting someone you know over a loss of someone you don't know -- there is a good reason why expressions of sympathy in writing and in person are ritualistic and formulaic: because it is all really quite beyond words. That is precisely why rituals and formulas were invented: as code to express the inexpressible, the unfathomable. Now, if we could only bring back some form of mourning clothing to warn innocents that someone in grief is in their midst. Since black is the new black, and is politically incorrect as mourning, I nominate good old gray, white and lavender/dull purple. Once indicating half mourning, it’s now a color combination one rarely sees (therefore hard to be confused with anything else) and actually looks good on most people, regardless of their "season." 

On Call Waiting: I take exception to the your answer regarding Call Waiting. Although I agree that one must do one’s best not to interrupt the conversation at hand, there are always exceptions. As the mother of small children I occasionally need medical advice. Call Waiting allows me to rest assured that the return call from their pediatrician is not missed. That said, when awaiting such a call, I always preface any personal conversation with the caveat that another call may come in and I will have to take it. I also never initiate a call. So I suppose I both agree and disagree with you!

On Bad Toys for Good Children: My husband adamantly disagrees with your advice! He thinks since our child is only four, if we don't want a certain toy, we should go ahead and say so! We kind of did when he was a baby and we have an [Evil Toy I] free home. Now if we could just get rid of [Evil Toy II]! Ugh! Even his babysitter gave him a one for Christmas. Now she is so sick of the boys fighting with them she doesn't want our son to bring his when he goes to her house. It's a fine line parents have to walk when it comes to appropriate toys! Etiquetteer responds: That’s true, but your husband needs to remember that nobody cares what you want or how you feel.

On Etiquette Books: I suppose for some of us (and I daresay we are a particular crew), one is loyal to one's "first" etiquette book. For me, Amy Vanderbilt's Etiquette will always have pride of place. (I speak only of the editions published before her death, of course.) I have read and re-read it over the years. It was my favorite high school graduation gift, though I had of course been aware of it for years as it had a prominent perch in our home library. Miss Vanderbilt had her own way of creating characters. I have never forgotten such ruffians as "the hatless and gloveless man" and "the tieless man." I must confess that Miss Manners is a siren, but in her way, Miss Vanderbilt remains my muse.

On Cummerbunds: NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Heaven forfend!!!! A cummerbund’s pleats go up!!!! They are for opera tickets and as our ancestors used to say tongue-in-cheek: "Up to catch the soup."Etiquetteer responds: With a certain amount of horror, Etiquetteer is forced to concede. If our sainted ancestors were using their cummerbunds as bibs and file cabinets, one can see why the Brahmins don’t run things any more. All the more reason to forego it for a Proper Waistcoat.

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Etiquetteer's next regular column will appear on the weekend of May 3. Whether something additional appears between now and then, Etiquetteer hopes that you'll spend a Perfectly Proper Religious Holiday of Your Choice.

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