Shaking Hands, Vol. 15, Issue 6

Dear Etiquetteer: Does Perfect Propriety require one to remove one's glove when shaking hands with another? It is my practice, but it seems inconsistent among the public at large. Also, is gender a consideration here?

Dear Shaking:

In the play Divine Sister, the Mother Superior reportedly said "We must never forget that we are on the brink of a period of great social change - and we must do everything in our power to stop it." Public health is playing a role in how people shake hands - or don't - and Etiquetteer is still trying to consider the most Perfectly Proper Compromise.

Traditionally, a gentleman removes his glove to shake hands, but a lady does not. A lady also has the privilege of not shaking hands if she doesn't choose to. Why? Etiquetteer suspects this comes from the long-standing belief that a gentleman doesn't force his attentions on a lady. So a gentleman doesn't offer his hand to a lady first; she offers hers, or doesn't.

The Book of Good Manners: A Guide to Polite Usage for All Social Functions, by Walter Cox Green (1922), elaborates a bit on ladies and gentlemen shaking hands with gloves: "A man with hands gloved should never shake hands with a woman without an apology for so doing, unless she likewise wears gloves. A sudden meeting, etc., may make a hand-shaking in gloves unavoidable. Unless the other party is also gloved, a man should say 'Please excuse my glove.'" No wonder people gave up on gloves - which is very sad indeed.

By 1953, however, Esquire Etiquette: A Guide to Business, Sports, and Social Conduct, by the "Editors of Esquire Magazine," advised that "Excuse my glove" had become old-fashioned. "That one belongs with 'After you, Alphonse,' and there is no comfortable response to it." [Emphasis Etiquetteer's.] Etiquetteer asks now, can't we just have our manners and use them without calling attention to them while in action? Besides the fact that there are more interesting things to talk about, there is always the likelihood that someone will then be made uncomfortable by suspecting that they are behaving incorrectly.

In this century, there seems to be no "comfortable response" to the phrase "I don't shake hands." Universally accepted as a greeting of acceptance and friendliness for centuries, the relatively recent incursion from Those Who Fear Germs still leaves a lingering Aura of Rejection. Once, not accepting a hand offered by one man to another would give offense*, or at least give the impression that one's further acquaintance was not sought. When meeting strangers for the first time, it leaves an unwelcoming impression.

Etiquetteer has to wonder if the time has come for Westerners to adopt the Far Eastern custom of bowing instead of shaking hands to accommodate (Etiquetteer does not say appease) Those Who Fear Germs. Bowing is quite dignified, does not need to appear subservient, shows respect to the other party, and does not require either to touch at any point. Indeed, not long ago Etiquetteer was obliged to dine out with a group of close friends while very clearly in the early stages of a Head Cold. Fearing undue exposure of others, Etiquetteer did what was possible to limit physical contact by bowing over a martini . . .

Debate over this issue - how to show respect and not give offense while also maintaining one's microbial integrity - will surely continue, just as scientific research does about what, exactly, we communicate when shaking hands.

 

gloves

*Sometimes, of course, offense is exactly what someone wants to convey by refusing to shake hands. Etiquetteer could show you some scars from such encounters . . .

In Which Etiquetteer Splits His Pants, Vol. 15, Issue 5

The true test of etiquette is how well one reacts to the unexpected. When Life throws a curve ball, one must think both of the motto of the Boy Scouts, "Be prepared," and the words of Etiquetteer's beloved Congressional wife, Ellen Maury Slayden: "This is a test of breeding; keep cool." The other day Etiquetteer boarded the train home and took a vacant seat. First Etiquetteer heard a soft sound, rather difficult to describe, and then felt the train seat become a shade more comfortable. It was then that Etiquetteer came to the awful realization that that soft sound was really Etiquetteer's khakis giving way where they would create the most comic disadvantage: the seat.

The horror of the situation gave way to a rapid succession of thoughts: first, that Etiquetteer's stop on the train was not for some time, providing an opportunity for quiet contemplation of a solution; then, that Etiquetteer's short winter jacket would not conceal the damage done; gratitude for the daily habit of clean undergarments; and last, vain regret at not having begun a Post-Holiday Diet Regime.

Etiquetteer did at least Keep Calm and a Stiff Upper Lip, which helped provide enough clarity to, at last, identify a solution. Happily, Etiquetteer had some shopping in a paper shopping bag with some handles and, by holding it with both hands at the small of the back, could walk forward briskly and still conceal the Inappropriate Ventilation. While not unknown, that's still a Rare Posture, and Etiquetteer hoped to get home without exciting Unwelcome Attention. And nearly did, except for practically being tailed by a trolley of tourists for half a block, and the presence of neighbors in the foyer. But at least no one saw Anything They Oughtn't.

While the movies aren't a reliable source of etiquette advice, Etiquetteer must conclude this instructive story with the words of Igor in Young Frankenstein. When trouble comes, "Say nothing. Act casual."

smalletiquetteer

How Young Etiquetteer Was Embarrassed, Vol. 14, Issue 36

You may have heard Etiquetteer tell this story before, but it came to mind vividly again, and Etiquetteer must tell (or retell) it now for the record. Etiquetteer has always had an interest in seeing things done with Perfect Propriety and with people Behaving Well. And as a college student, Young Etiquetteer had an equal and abiding interest in Free Food. So one day many years ago Young Etiquetteer received with pleasure an invitation from an elderly lady to a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton. What could be more Perfectly Proper than a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton? Young Etiquetteer accepted the invitation with alacrity and brushed off his best suit in preparation.

Now this elderly lady - let's refer to her as Madame - who Young Etiquetteer had never really met, was a friend of Young Etiquetteer's Stern Grandmother, but there was no reason to suspect she might be any different from the legions of elderly ladies Young Etiquetteer had been entertaining since birth: full of indulgent smiles, Christian rectitude, canasta, and a dash of genealogy. Young Etiquetteer's eyes were to be opened, as Madame's principal focus was Herself and Her Reactions, as we shall see.

In those days*, the Ritz-Carlton dining room was described by many as the most beautiful room in Boston, and to a young man who hoped to be Perfectly Proper it was considered a crucible of Perfectly Propriety. From its snowy napery to its brocade draperies to its famous cobalt glass chandeliers and goblets, the room represented what Americans used to aspire to (and should continue aspire to today) as the Good Life. But almost from the beginning, Madame set a very different tone.

She was first nonplussed (but quietly) about an odd feature of 1980s restaurant etiquette: maitre d's who kissed on the mouth. Next, loudly exclaiming over the beauty of the china, Madame picked up the service plate like the latest bestseller to read the trademark. Young Etiquetteer, who had not only been taught that the first thing you did at table was put your napkin in your lap but also that you never did anything so gauche as to examine the provenance of the china, was nearly demolished by this. But more was still to come.

This occasion proved to be Young Etiquetteer's first encounter with service à la russe, which requires one to serve oneself each course from large platters offered by the waiter. Negotiating salmon with asparagus and hollandaise sauce is difficult enough for the uninitiated, but made even more so with Ceaseless Commentary on the novelty of the service from Madame, who thought it was different and charming, and didn't fail to mention this at top volume anytime a waiter - any waiter - appeared within two feet of us. She was having a wonderful time, and wanted everyone to know it!

This luncheon was not an ordinary luncheon, but a fashion luncheon featuring beautiful models in exquisite clothes (day and evening) languidly strolling among the tables. The place Young Etiquetteer was filling was originally intended for a Female Relation of Madame's who was unable to attend. Young Etiquetteer was one of perhaps three men present, somewhat ambivalently relishing the Walter Mitty role, but enjoying the setting, the (free) luncheon, and indeed the couture promenade. Madame was enjoying it, too, and assailed each model with Expressions of Delight, and also some Embarrassing Questions. She asked one model for her phone number to share with her son! Etiquetteer did not know quite where to look.

But the most embarrassing moment came after dessert. With the conclusion of the luncheon, the models were circulating with little lipsticks as favors for the ladies. Madame dearly wanted one to share with her Female Relation, but she wanted one for herself more. And when a beautiful model presented her with a lipstick, Young Etiquetteer froze in fright to hear Madame respond with Six Horrifying Words:

"Aren't you gonna give him one?"

Young Etiquetteer withered under the icy stare of the model, who asked "Do you need one?" in such a way as to question Young Etiquetteer's masculinity, upbringing, and right to exist - none of which seemed to matter to Madame, so intently was she focused on a free lipstick. "Certainly not!" replied Young Etiquetteer, whose limit had been reached, and the model passed on. Words were passed, but the mood restored, and of course Young Etiquetteer omitted any reference in the Lovely Note mailed the next day.

The morals of this tale, if there are any, would be that a) consideration of the feelings of others is an important part of daily life, b) to be distracted by trinkets indicates a lack of breeding**, and c) that there is no such thing as a free luncheon.

*The mid-1980s.

**The lyric from Chess comes to mind: "Trinkets in airports sufficient to lead them astray."

smalletiquetteer

You Can (or Cannot) Leave Your Hat On, Vol. 14, Issue 30

Even Etiquetteer needs to check on what is Perfectly Proper or not, and one mystifyingly foggy aspect of etiquette has always been when and where a gentleman may wear his hat indoors. Movies are never really a reliable guide to How to Behave Properly, and yet there are so many old films in which men are seen wearing hats indoors (around poker tables, in hotel lobbies, etc.) that the practice must have had some wider acceptance. But one gag in Auntie Mame (1958) is about a man with his hands full needing to take his hat off in an elevator. What is the final word on this? To Etiquetteer's delight, the key to unlock the mystery was found in a gem of a book called Male Manners: The Young Man's Guide to: dating, good looks, making friends, getting into schools, clubs, activities, talking easily, job hunting, traveling, cars, and more, by Kay Corinth and Mary Sargent (1969). The key is whether or not a space is public or private. In someone's home or office, hats are removed when you enter. If it's an office building, and therefore public, your hat may remain on. If you're riding on a public bus, subway, or streetcar, it's Perfectly Proper to remain hatted. Gentlemen may leave their hats on in a public elevator (for instance, in an office building or a college campus), but not if it's an elevator for a residence (like one of those tall residential towers so fashionable in New York and elsewhere these days). This was Etiquetteer's big surprise, having always thought that a gentleman removed his hat in any elevator.

Two important exceptions exist where hats are always removed on entry: churches and restaurants. Of course this relates only to secular headgear.* Etiquetteer gets enraged when seeing hipsters or other men wearing those fashionable narrow-brimmed hats - or worse, baseball caps - inside churches. Stop it at once! Several years ago, Etiquetteer joined the audience of a New Year's Eve evening concert in a church and was put off by the usher barking "Hats off!" as soon as the door opened, not even giving Etiquetteer a chance to take it off first before being disciplined. Later, seeing the rest of the audience, Etiquetteer understood, but still felt rather abused.

To summarize, a gentleman may wear his hat inside in these places: public buildings (e.g. hotel lobbies, office buildings, and their elevators). A gentleman removes his hat when he enters these places: private homes (and their elevators), restaurants, churches and other houses of worship (unless religious headgear).

Etiquetteer is relieved that the "Bad Hair Day" excuse to remain hatted seems to have been capped. After all, if people think you can't manage your hair, do you think they'll think you can manage something more important, like your career?

smalletiquetteer

* Once upon a time, it would not be necessary to state this, but with wider, and Perfectly Proper, acceptance of other cultures, it's important to specify.

Reference to Bodily Function in the Political Arena, Vol. 14, Issue 29

"Cousin Marie says politicians aren't gentlemen."

- Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile

A line has been crossed, and Etiquetteer is very unhappy about it.

Reference to Bodily Function, outside one's doctor's office, is not Perfectly Proper. Etiquetteer has said this before, and sadly will have to go on saying it. Don't think for a moment that this pleases Etiquetteer.

In the aftermath of last week's debate of Republican presidential candidates hosted by Fox News, popular (populist?) candidate Donald Trump abandoned forever any possible illusion anyone, no matter how deluded, might still cling to that he was still a viable candidate or a gentleman. Readers probably already know how he did this: by explaining that Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly was suffering from what used to be known as "female complaint" during the debate. Etiquetteer believes he made this suggestion because Ms. Kelly held him to account about previous, and very public, disparaging comments about women who had criticized him, nor would she accept his attempt to suggest that he only criticized one particular woman.

How might one feel if Mr. Trump had suggested this about Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany? How might one feel if Mr. Trump had suggested this about Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil? How might one feel if Mr. Trump had suggested this about one's mother?

Mr. Trump's behavior has always been the antithesis of presidential, and this incident confirms it for anyone who might wish to think otherwise. It is the antithesis of Perfect Propriety. It is the antithesis of Chivalry. Any man who could make such a suggestion, petty and vulgar, makes clear that he is not fit for public office, or any role in public life, and should slink in shame to his (in this case, gilded onyx) corner. Etiquetteer calls on those who might continue to support Mr. Trump as a candidate to condemn this behavior publicly.

Lovely Notes of Thanks, Vol. 13, Issue 62

Gift-Giving Holidays - Christmas being the most widely celebrated, followed closely by Hannukah and Kwanzaa - conclude with the most Perfect Propriety when gifts are acknowledged with Lovely Notes of Thanks immediately afterward. The late B.R. Johnstone made a point, the afternoon of every Christmas Day, of sequestering himself at his desk with a box of his stationery and thanking everyone who had taken the trouble to give him a gift. He remains the Perfect Example of Perfect Propriety for all of us who wish to be thought Ladies and Gentleman. (And if you don't wish to be thought a Lady or a Gentleman, Etiquetteer has grave doubts about your Character.) Who, some of you have asked, is this mysterious B.R. Johnstone? Why, it is none other than Etiquetteer's beloved godfather, seen here imparting the Spirit of Perfect Propriety to Infant Etiquetteer. Would that all children were so fortunate in their selection of godparents!

Now, let's get on with our Lovely Notes, shall we?

Man-spreading *shudder*, Vol. 13, Issue 61

A reader has encouraged Etiquetteer to speak out on the issue of men sprawling beyond the limits of their seats on public transporation, which has been given the Vulgar Appellation of "man-spreading." Indeed, this issue has become such a Menace to Public Decency that the MTA has inaugurated a campaign to curb it. A gentleman does not take up someone else's space. And that should be quite sufficient.

Really, Etiquetteer compares this Ostentatious Behavior to blaring one's car radio (or do we have to call it "sound system" now?) outside the limits of one's car, or revving one's motor to call attention.

In short, Etiquetteer considers Excessive Sprawl advertising one's shortcomings.

What a Gentleman Does, Vol. 13, Issue 55

It takes courage to own up to a mistake, especially one that has had a negative impact on others, and very especially one that has exploded on social media to mark one a Very Bad Person. But that's what a gentleman is, someone who has the courage to admit a mistake and to do what's possible to make up for it. So Etiquetteer has to salute Jeff Conklin, the resident of the South End of Boston who parked his BMW next to a fire hydrant last week, rendering it useless in fighting a house fire. Unlike the generally accepted stereotype of BMW owners as simply not caring about the consequences to others of their actions, Mr. Conklin has taken the trouble to visit the neighborhood firehouse to apologize personally to the firefighters whose essential work was jeopardized. Etiquetteer can only imagine the strength of character that took, and can only express admiration.

Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham writes "The social media that connect us also make it distressingly easy to be vicious. Emboldened by anonymity, we pounce on people, convicting them with scant evidence." Mr. Conklin may now have to find within himself the strength to forgive hundreds of complete strangers who convicted, tarred, and feathered him before. And you may be sure that Etiquetteer shared that column with That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much, well known for his bitter tongue on many subjects.

In short, Mr. Conklin, through a grievous error, has proved what a gentleman he really is through his response to it - and many others have proved what ladies and gentlemen they are not.