Saturday, November 18, 2017

Table Etiquette and Decor

Elise de Wolfe
“With her shrill instruction that plates should be ‘hot, hot, hot’ and centerpieces ‘low, low, low,’ decorator Elise de Wolfe came off slightly tamer than her usual avant-garde self. Never fear. Unmentioned were the details of the practices she preached, like the radical table she set in 1934: Carved chunks of rock crystal on a silver lamé tablecloth. In the history of the American centerpiece, Elise's glamorous rocks and lamé landmark was halfway between the follies of the Victorians and the equally silly indulgences of the 1960s. Every decade in this century has had its own ephemeral centerpiece style, inspired by a sometimes unlikely grab bag of sources, from clothing to window displays, from current events to cartoons.

Sturdily conservative Victorians favored variations on the formula of epergne, candlesticks, vases, and garlands. These objects were symmetrically laid out over the entire table with the precision of a golf course. Fodder for the standard flower arrangement included ferns, irises, roses, carnations, tulips, violets, and daisies. Nothing too violently colored — or strong smelling — became a table decoration before 1914, apparently with good reason. ‘I shivered through a whole meal where blue plates swore at a raw-green vase holding purple asters,’ confessed one sensitive reader to Good Housekeeping in1909.
“She suggested one need not even have a matching set of dining-room chairs, so it stands to reason she'd have been open to mis-matched plates, silver and beverage ware, as long as they too, complemented one another.” 
In The House in Good Taste, Elise de Wolfe, argued for plainer, brighter, simpler, yet more refined homes. De Wolfe liked items in a room to complement one another, but did not believe every piece had to match. She suggested one need not even have a matching set of dining-room chairs, so it stands to reason she'd have been open to mis-matched plates, silver and beverage ware, as long as they too, complemented one another.

More adventurous was the school of the fantastical centerpiece, which flourished well into the early 1900s. Although they might appear to be derivative of a kiddie birthday party, these goofy prop-laden tableaux we're for adults only — paper lanterns, fans, parasols, birchbark canoes, baskets and toy bunnies ranked as decorations. Theme centerpieces recognized timely topics, such as the flight of a dirigeable or women's suffrage. Centerpieces also celebrated the hostess's skills with flowers, scissors, and ice pick, as many of the items were handmade.

Several examples described in The Table, a 1904 decorating guide, helped the hostess create a cooling atmosphere for a summer meal. One centerpiece was built around a big block of ice, hollowed out to hold a bowl of water and live goldfish. Evergreen sprigs might be strewn on the table and newspaper clippings about blizzards pasted on the place cards. Harper's Bazaar tried to stem this ornamental rambunctiousness in 1910, scolding, ‘There is such a thing as carrying originality beyond the limits of good taste, forgetting the beautiful and the appropriate in our desire for the unusual.’

By the early 1920s the magazine had its way. Fashionable hostesses abandoned arts and crafts projects for store-bought knickknacks, which reigned over tables for decades. China birds, cupids, Pierrots and nymphs were de rigueur. In the 1930s, surrealism and Walt Disney's new cartoons triggered a fresh round of a knickknack mania. Elegant, as well as silly objects (seashells, polar bear figurines) were ‘floated’ on mirror glass as comic conversation pieces.

While a timid bouquet and Georgian silver bowls still held a hallowed place on some tables, they were regarded as unutterably dull by the truly Chic 1930s hostess. Her mission was to conjure up a centerpiece that was shockingly original. Table setting contests across the country showcased this creativity. Women had to hustle (or hallucinate) to equal the tin pan extravaganza dreamed up by a Chicago clubwoman in 1930. On a cream satin tablecloth, she topped cookie sheets with angel food cake pans filled with cattails and kitchen molds heaped with pineapples, kumquats, and silver painted boxwood. In 1936, House & Garden met her effort more than halfway, with a centerpiece of bristly coral, prickly pears, pomegranates, pineapples, and seashells. Cecil Beaton used the same type of hilariously bizarre prop juxtapositions in his fashion photographs for Vogue.

Meanwhile, the modern mode caused a centerpiece casualty — the bouquet lost its cachet. It was replaced by a lonely white orchid or gardenia floating in a glass bowl. An equally cold-blooded glass-and-glitter scenario was engineered by industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague in 1933: a mirrored bowl and crystal prisms deployed amid black plates on a mirrored table.

Faced with wartime privations in the forties, even decorators like Dorothy Draper, who enjoyed expensive larger-than-life effects suggested thrift shops as a source for frugal table ornaments. With a nod to the victory garden, the humble vegetable was put to work, occasionally teamed with fruit or flowers. Typical table ornaments: baby carrots on a bed of lava rocks and yellow pottery, candles mixed with cabbages and peppers, and calla lilies in a wooden chopping bowl. A charmless utilitarian item, the lazy Susan, was now dignified as a ‘centerpiece.’

Although edible decorations continued to play a starring role after the war, they lost their stagey exaggeration in the 1950s. That decade stands as the stylistic low point in the history of the centerpiece. Even House & Garden lost its courage, putting grocery-laden arrangements in the spotlight: a melon shell stuffed with berries, tiers of nuts and mints, a pedestrian bowl of salad or basket of bread.

The table was roused from its stupor in the sixties by a number of innovations. First, towering topiary-like arrangements: everything from shrimp to pea pods was toothpicked to florist's foam, which had just been introduced. Another standard was the faux naif style, resurrected in the eighties. Mushrooms and ferns were presented in a silver basket, turnips piled in a Wedgewood bowl, stalks of rhubarb found with velvet ribbon. By mid-decade personal collectibles made for self-conscious tables. The fashion designer, Arnold Scaasi philosophized that the dining table, ‘where we spend only an hour or two can better afford to be far-out-' than anything else we live with.’ True to his word, Scaasi dished up a visual feast of rare shells, ivory utensils, a bell jar of butterflies, and brass objects squeezed in with jade cups and flowered plates.

The casual lifestyle promoted by the counterculture made the dining room — as well as the table itself — passé. Guests were seated at multiple small tables or on floor cushions. Centerpieces shrank to fit — or disappeared altogether. Those that survived had a handmade, throwaway style. Society, and society's dropouts alike, created happening tables with painted plastic poppies, bread sculpture, peacock feathers, handicraft candles, and blinking lights. For those so inclined, drug paraphernalia and ashtrays were practical accoutrements.

After this flower child glory, entertaining took a conservative turn: by 1973 the stylish turned to Ultrasuede tablecloths. Despite the example of Halston — as well as minimalist art and nouvelle cuisine, - centerpieces never took on a spare elegance. Hostesses in the seventies remained enthralled with the sixties passion for clusters of esoteric objects. For its readers, Vogue showed showed tables loaded with ivory candlesticks, tortoise shell cigarette boxes, mother-of-pearl ashtrays, and lacquered Chinese boxes. The flip side was the au naturel look: flowering quince branches shoved into a copper milk can, dwarf spruce trees, and garden variety plants in terra-cotta pots spilling soil onto the table.

Persisting into the eighties was the passion for a table littered with small precious objects. However, Judith Price, owner of Avenue magazine, had a fresher take on the decade's outlook. For a power breakfast, Price plunked down three video monitors as a centerpiece. On a grander scale, were the table settings professional "events designers" concocted for lavish benefits and parties. The decorations at a masked ball for gossip columnist, Suzy, held at the Plaza Hotel in 1985, epitomized eighties excess. Each table sprouted a lamé tree trunk drooping with crystal palm fronds, silver grapevines, moss, and orchids.

While most ornaments rate only as period pieces, Coco Chanel can be credited with an innovation that transcended fashion. At a dinner party sometime in the thirties, she made an alarm clock the centerpiece to claim her fair share of talk time against another loquacious guest, Salvador Dali. Chanel's clock solved two of the hostess's perennial problems: decoration and conversation. A centerpiece has no higher mission.” –  –by Writer, Jody Shields

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A New Tea Etiquette Book

My newest children's book in the 
Wallflowers and Wildflowers 
series continues with 
"Betty Learns Tea Manners with the Wallflowers and Wildflowers"
Follow Betty, as she learns all about proper afternoon tea manners with the help of the Wallflowers, the Wildflowers and the rest of the family, pets and animals at the Martin family home in San Dimas, California. It is 1922 and little Betty has five cats at the Martin House: the Wallflowers (Daisy and Violet), who live with the family, sheltered inside the cozy home. The Wildflowers (Aster, Johnny Jump-Up, and Sweet William), all outdoor kitties living in the barn and yard, enjoying the birds and butterflies. The Wallflowers and Wildflowers are an enthusiastic group, willing to teach each other how to conduct themselves, and the good manners needed for different environments. Most of all, they teach each other how to best enjoy themselves while using the new manners they learn, with the help of Rags, the loyal family dog. 

I've included some proper tea etiquette for the parents, too!

The art of Christie Shinn, of HoraTora Studios, captures some of the very real animals and characters in this series!

Lovable, and Helpful, Rags the Dog

Rags in 1916, San Dimas
"A book written for children and animal lovers of all ages. Little Betty grew up to become Betty Graber of the historic Graber Olive House in Ontario, California. She told her son, Clifford and daughter in-law, Maura, about her childhood cats a few weeks before her passing in September of 2014. This book is lovingly dedicated to Betty."

Available now at The Graber Olive House  and on

Monday, February 6, 2017

Etiquette Classes at Graber Olive House

Team games, role playing and  prizes are used to develop vital social skills to fit into the world of today and tomorrow.
Our newest, ongoing etiquette courses, are starting again at the historic Graber Olive House
on February 12th!

Mixed-age, youth classes, ages 7 and up are from 12:30 to 2:30
Teen etiquette classes for ages 13 and up, are  from 3:00 to 5:00  

An $85.00 student fee will include foods to practice the dining skills taught each week, along with all necessary learning materials.
 Pre-registration is a must! 
Call 800 891-RSVP or 909 923-5650 
for registration and payment information.
We are pleased to introduce our new instructor, Barbara Becka
Our 3, two-hour session etiquette courses cover...
• Basic Manners
• Introductions & Responses
• Dining Skills and

   Table Manners with Foods to Practice 
• Manners for Home & Abroad 
• Cultural Diversity
• Respect for Others
• Deflecting Peer Pressure
• Writing Notes of Thanks
• Making Eye Contact
• Developing Great Posture
• Good Grooming
• Tech and Social Media Etiquette
• Texts & Cell Phone Etiquette
• Video Gaming Manners & More! 

The Graber Olive House is located at 315 East Fourth Street, Ontario, California 909 983-1761

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Etiquette and "Owning It"

A vintage picture of a 1960s high school boys' gym class in the La Habra High School pool. 

When I was a new freshman in high school, my English class was given an assignment. Each of us had to write our memoirs. We were pretty young to be writing autobiographical works of our lives up until our freshman high school year, but I suspect our teacher wanted to see how well we wrote, while at the same time learning about each one of us. We were told we had to include three major occurrences in our lives that had affected us deeply, up until that point in time. Fairly easy, I thought. I loved to write and as a typical naval-gazing, self-absorbed teenaged girl, what better subject than to write about but myself?

I knew immediately which life-jolting event was to be the first I would write about and how screwed up I had been for several years that followed. I wrote about the swimming class my mother had enrolled me in at the age of five. My older brother and sister were enrolled as well, but they were in a different class for their age group. The summer classes were at the La Habra High School pool. I lasted through less than one and a half classes.

The first class was spent holding on to the side of the pool, kicking our legs and blowing bubbles into the water, with all of the moms looking on. I was more fixated on the girl next to me in class, whose bathing cap had what appeared to be a rubber ducky of some kind, attached to the top of the cap. I wasn't sure if it was the dorkiest thing I had ever seen, or the coolest. We only had plain, white bathing caps. They were tight, they pinched, and to this day, I remember how they smelled.
My mom never ordered anything this cool looking for herself.
On the second day of swim class, we were lined up alphabetically and told to "jump into the pool." Wait... What? I didn't know how to swim yet, and I knew better at five years of age than to jump into a pool on my own. No way! I froze. My instructors, a young man and young woman, gave me the order a second time, by shouting, "Jump into the pool!" I heard a whistle. I started to cry and shake. The next thing I knew, the female instructor had picked me up and thrown me into the pool. 

I don't remember how I got out of that pool, but it was incredibly fast. I remember the crying, the panicking, the embarrassment of that swim class fail, but more than that, I remember being called "Chicken of the Sea" by my family for the next several years, until I taught myself how to swim in 5th grade. And there I sat, nearly ten years later, while my freshman English teacher quietly proof read my paper. 

My teacher had stopped making comments on how well a sentence worked, or how one may have been written better. She clammed up when she read of my harrowing experience as a small child, being carelessly tossed into the shallow end of that high school pool. The simple fact that her facial expression had suddenly become one of such concern and shock, validated everything I had felt until the day I taught myself to swim.

Then, she looked up at me and asked, "How old are you now? What summer was this?" I told her I was turning 15 in a few months and didn't realize I needed to put dates in the paper, but she stopped me and said, "I am so sorry. I am pretty sure I am the woman that threw you into the pool. I really am just so sorry." 

Floored by her declaration and apology, I think I mumbled something like, "Oh. Um... Wow. That's okay..." Then she explained how she and another English teacher at my school had taught summer swim classes for extra money during college, years before the high school we were sitting in was built. "She taught the older students that summer. I was with the younger students."
I didn't shake the "Chicken of the Sea" nickname my siblings and cousins had given me until 1991. My husband and I had brought back amazing videotape of our nearly 1,000 foot dive down the Cayman Wall in a tiny research submarine, and photos from Stingray City. Swimming with black tipped reef sharks the summer before, wasn't quite enough to lose that nickname of shame, but the submarine was enough.
I told my mother about it that evening while she was making dinner, and she told me that a few years earlier, my older siblings had figured out that the English teacher both of them had during their sophomore years was also their swim teacher. "So you got the woman who threw you kicking and screaming into that pool, huh?" 

Yes I did. And I got a very sincere apology and admittance of guilt from her, too. Two things I had never received from an adult before. I was used to receiving excuses, not apologies, from adults. So yes, I still remember being thrown into the pool, and I don't recommend it as a teaching method. What I do recommend, however, is owning up to one's mistakes. The way my freshman English teacher owned up to hers. With sincerity, honesty, and humility. 

My English teacher didn't have to do anything, but give me tips on my writing. I would have never known her secret. I could have even made my English grade an easy A, by throwing guilt her way, all freshman year long. But I wasn't made like that and neither was she. 

To this day, her honesty and sincerity have stuck with me as testament to the proper way of dealing with our own mistakes, big and small. It is refreshing to remember her candor, after  years of watching our politicians and world leaders, on all sides of the aisles, throw accusations around at one another like spoiled toddlers, rarely admitting mistakes and misdeeds. 

With my English teacher's confession and subsequent apology in mind, I have a few etiquette tips for "owning" one's mistakes, misdeeds, faux pas, and fibs.

Some polite way ways of owning up to one's mistakes, missteps, flat-out lies or social blunders:
  1. Admitting the lie by saying something along the lines of, "I am sorry. I was not truthful." or "I knew what I was saying was a lie and I take full responsibility. I am sorry. Please forgive me." or even, "I'm so sorry. I should have told you the truth."
  2. Never shooting the messenger, even if the messenger is there only to reveal your blunder, mistake, misstep, or lie.
  3. Never drawing attention to other people's mistakes or blunders. Acknowledging your own mistake or blunder, and adding a sincere apology, helps put you in a better light.
Some impolite ways of owning up to one's mistakes, and worst reactions to missteps, flat-out lies or blunders:
  1. Trying to get out of a lie by saying something along the lines of, "I misspoke." or "I misunderstood what I was saying." or even, "I should have been more careful with my words."
  2. Quibbling over one's definition of a simple word like "is."
  3. Drawing attention to other people's mistakes or blunders, without even acknowledging your own mistake or blunder.
  4. Completely ignoring the issue, people hurt or those affected by your actions. 
Many people are still trying to come up with their New Year's resolutions for 2017. I am recommending "Owning it" be on the top of the politicians' lists!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Mixing Etiquette with Humor

Evidently the photographer was still hanging around when Shelley Winters showed up at the police station to claim her man.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have a slew of etiquette books. I have old, collectable books, vintage books, antiquarian books, and even a few new ones hanging around. My favorites are the vintage etiquette books. I especially love any original tomes by Amy Vanderbilt, Letitia Baldrige and Miss Manners. Those are true gems.

Every once in awhile, I come across an article or blog post referencing new manners or the "new etiquette" for modern living. In reality, the manners and etiquette needed aren't new, but how we spend our daily lives is changing at such a rapid pace, the "old etiquette" just needs a bit of tweaking to adapt. In some cases, the old etiquette still fits just fine.

Anyone who knows me well, also knows I edit and moderate the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia blog. Whenever I am looking for new things to post, or reading submitted articles, I find things that are well written, funny and honestly helpful with regard to "new etiquette." This one is a gem! In our celebrity obsessed culture, this plea for new etiquette, from 1957, was a refreshing reminder of just how innocent the 1950s seemed.

New Book Needed

"MY GOOD deed for this day is a gratis presentation of a million dollar idea to Amy Vanderbilt and her host of imitators. The etiquette authorities, in their eagerness to transform us into a nation of Fauntleroys and Miss Prisses have somehow overlooked a virgin territory ripe for their ministrations. The ladies have prescribed the ground rules for every social contingency (rum apple bobbing to zebra hunting), but they have let their public down woefully on a 'Book of Etiquette As She Is Practiced in Hollywood.'

THERE IS a crying well, maybe, a screaming need for such a tome. Such a volume, if written by Mme. Fearless Fairless, would clear up the justifiable confusions that assail the civilian or non-Hollywood mind when Miss Shelley Winters (the inflammable Bernhardt of the screen), and her fiance, Anthony Franciosa, who is incadescent on his own, became entangled with (1) a news photographer and (2) with the law. The nuances of Hollywood social usage and the delicate shadings of custom in the cinema capital are splendidly illustrated by this fracas and also the necessity of a book that will explain these tribal taboos to outlanders.

TO BEGIN WITH Miss Winters and Franciosa have made no secret of their betrothal in any Broadway or theatre gossip column which would print the word. Nor has the phrase "Festively Top Secret" been stamped on the news that they would be wedded once the fiance was divorced by his wife. Furthermore, Miss Winters has never shown any more repugnance to being photographed by the press than, say, Jayne Mansfield. So when Miss Winters and her fiance went publicly and together to the Superior Court Building in Los Angeles to make an open and public bid on a home in Beverly Hills, a news photographer started to take a routine picture of the pair.

THIS IS WHERE the plot thickens and confusion reigns for us barbarians beyond the hills of Hollywood. The attempt to take a picture of Miss Winters and Franciosa together obviously fractured a strictly cinema social taboo. It caused Franciosa to fall upon the photographer and aim a placekick at his groin. And caused the law to jail Franciosa. "We can't have our pictures taken! He is still getting a divorce!" screamed Miss Winters. "He doesn’t want to be photographed because he doesn't want any scandal!” Sure enough, Franciosa was getting a divorce, on that very day. (Or rather, his wife received such a decree in Reno.)

ANYWAY, there you have the epitome of the delicate social usages that make Hollywood a trap for the unwary and a book of etiquette a necessity. Apparently, one of the basic rules says that if one is engaged to a man in the process of getting a divorce, it is all right to say it in print but not in pictures. That would constitute scandal. Of course, any book of etiquette is one-tenth politesse and nine-tenths anthropology. So my nominee as the author to tackle Hollywood's etiquette problems is Anthropologist Margaret Mead. Her study of the natives of Samoa made her world famous and ought to prepare her handsomely for research among the Holly-woodenheads." — Inez Robb for The Dessert Sun, May 4, 1957

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is generally annoyed by pleas for "new etiquette." Oh yes, and she edits the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia blog that you can read

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Restaurant Table Manners and Tykes

When these rules were first written...

Cellphones in restaurants? "Hang on... Grandma's talking." "Yes, Grandma? What? It's not good manners to talk on my cellphone in the restaurant? Okay. I'll just text instead."

This was not only inconceivable, but unthinkable...

Friday, March 25, 2016

Etiquette and No Chicken Salad, Please

Unless, of course, the Cesar Salad is better!

When I saw the advertisement above for the first time, featuring a newly published, two-volume book of etiquette from the early 1900s, I smiled. I often use a story that involves my grandmother and chicken salad when talking about restaurant etiquette with my students. I share the story with kids, young adults and adults alike. I use it to illustrate a point about good manners when invited out to eat, and how to look for cues and clues of what to do in different situations when one is a guest.

Years ago my mother called to say that my grandmother, her mother, wanted to take all of the ladies in the family to lunch in celebration of the upcoming Mother's Day. When I was growing up, we frequently had seasonal "Ladies' Lunches" at one of my aunts' homes, or in our home. I even hosted a few after getting married and starting my new family. This was the first time a restaurant was suggested, and my mother said that grandma was insisting on paying for everyone's lunch.

My grandmother was on a fixed income after my grandfather passed away. It was very small, so I immediately questioned the generous offer.  My mother told me that she and her sisters had both pointed that fact out to their mother, but grandma was insistent. She also chose the restaurant she wanted to take us to, and it was not known for its low prices.

When we arrived at the restaurant and were seated at our table, we were handed our menus. Within a nano-second, one of our party (either oblivious to grandma's financial situation or just sharing her enthusiasm for her favorite dish) said, "Ooooh.... they have the best prime rib here!" while opening her menu. 

Before I could nudge her under the table and give her a look usually reserved for my children and students, my grandmother quickly closed her menu, the faux leather menu holder practically snapping everyone to attention. "I think we should all have the Chicken Salad," she said. The guest itching for the prime rib seemed to deflate right before my eyes and closed her menu along with everyone else at the table. Everyone at the table except for me.
Third from right, standing next to my grandmother, in a 1980 snap after one of our seasonal lunches.
I was never a fan of Chicken Salad, but I certainly knew a cue from a hostess when I heard one.  I just happened to have the menu open to the page with the featured luncheon salads. I quickly looked down at the price of the Chicken Salad. Way back then it was $6.95, so I needed to work within that "price point." I spotted a Cesar Salad for $5.95, and said, "You know... I think I'd like the Cesar Salad instead. As I recall it is fairly good here." 

Grandma's eyes got big and looking a bit ruffled, she quickly reopened her menu. She spotted the salad's lower price, and said very enthusiastically, "That is a good choice!" Everyone else was reopening their menus, and perusing the salads, while I quietly closed mine.

The luncheon turned out to be a fun affair, with all of us enjoying our salads and chatting away about how we needed to get together more often. I am not sure how many in our party wound up with the suggested Chicken Salad, but the bill was rather low and we convinced grandma to at least allow us to each chip in a small amount for the tip. There was also a surprise dessert that arrived at the table for each of us. No one confessed to ordering it, but I have always had my suspicions.

We haven't had a "Ladies Luncheon" in several years now, what with grandma gone since 1999, all of us spread out in several states, and some of us younger ladies even becoming grandmas ourselves. I will always have sweet memories of the luncheons though, and even have a great instructional tale for my etiquette students and future generations to learn from, about reading and following a host's or hostess' cues.