Thursday, December 22, 2011

New Holiday Co-Ed, Youth Classes in Etiquette, Manners and Social Skills, at the Graber Olive House.

Ashley learns how to twirl her spaghetti

The RSVP Institute is pleased to now offer special holiday co-ed,  youth classes in etiquette, manners and social skills, at the Graber Olive House.  The special course of 3, two-hour classes will be held the week after Christmas, on December 27th, 28th & 29th.  The $65.00 per student fee covers all foods & handouts. The mixed age classes (ages 5 and up to teen) 
are from 11:30 to 1:30 p.m. 

The 3 classes will focus on:
  • The keys to making your parents smile.
  • Basic Social Graces, Posture and Image
  • Dining Skills & Table Manners (with foods to practice the dining skills taught)
  • Respect for Others
  • Deflecting Peer Pressure Gracefully
  • Phone, Text Manners & Web @ttitude© & Other E-Manners
  • Manners for Home and Abroad
  • Gero-dynamics©, “Thank you" notes & RSVPs
  • “Yes please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse Me”, & other verbal cues that open doors, build friendships, make parents & teachers smile!
Register by Dec. 26th to secure your son’s or daughter’s enrollment!
Open to ages 5 to 17. We will be offering a “teen specific” class starting on Sundays in January. Call 909 923-5650 or email for more information:
Please Print Information Below 

Checks can be mailed to: RSVP, 301 East Fourth Street, Ontario 91764    
Student’s Name___________________________Age______Grade__
Email ________________Emergency Contact__________________
Food Allergies or Restrictions___________________
Please Circle Method of Payment: check cash  card Visa/MC/AX
Paypal now accepted! Email for Paypal instructions!
Signature of Cardholder:________________________
Card Number:_________________________  Exp. Date:_______

Monday, December 19, 2011

The British Press vs Downton Abbey and Two Etiquette Sleuths; Historians or Hysterians?

As a fan of the first season of the critically acclaimed and popular Downton Abbey, I shared my DVD copy with fellow etiquette enthusiast, guest blogger and consultant, Demita Usher. She enjoyed it as thoroughly as I, and we have been waiting for the second season of the show to be broadcast in the U.S. As fans of the show, we have a few words for those making criticism in the British press.

Imagine our surprise upon seeing the following headline in The Daily Telegraph; Downton Abbey: historical inaccuracies and mistakes plaguing ITV show or this one in the U.K. Daily Mail; Downton shoots itself in the foot as gun enthusiast gives both barrels over historical inaccuracies

Historians, (or could they possibly be hysterians?), make numerous assertions regarding the historical accuracy of the series. One article quotes "historian and broadcaster, A.N. Wilson", as saying, "... the portrayal of country house life was sanitised fantasy."  Whereas Julian Fellowes, Oscar-winning creator of Downton Abbey, strongly defended the show's script by saying that he believes the "the programme is pretty accurate". Adding, "The real problem is with people who are insecure socially, and they think to show how smart they are by picking holes in the programme to promote their own poshness and to show that their knowledge is greater than your knowledge."  Indeed!

Now, we are not trying to be posh, nor do we want to show "how smart we are", we simply would like to defend Julian Fellowes, by providing a bit of historical perspective. As for those who are offering their comments and criticisms to the press regarding the authenticity of the clothing for a local hunt, the road sign, aerial attached to a house, etc... we won't quibble with you on those points.  We will simply discuss the criticism of cultural terminology and popular common phrases in use during the Edwardian period.

Hysterian Assertion #1- The word "boyfriend" was not used during this time.

Historian Actuality shows the phrase is found in the following: Official report of debates Council of Europe. Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, page 470 (1895): "... from yesterday's edition of The Times of London which states, 'A woman who joined a company run by fundamentalist Christians was required to sign an undertaking that she would not live with her boyfriend."

From Wenderholme: A story of Lancashire and Yorkshire By Philip Gilbert Hamerton, Page 301, (1876): "This cheered Edith's heart considerably, but still there was a certain moisture in her eyes as she bade farewell to her boyfriend."

From The life and remains of Douglas Jerrold By Blanchard Jerrold, Douglas William Jerrold Page 331 (1859): "My early boyfriend, Laman Blanchard, and Kenny Meadows, a dear friend too, whose names have become musical in the world's ear, were of that society — of that knot of wise and jocund men ..."

Hysterian Assertion #2- The Phrase "get shafted" was not used until the 1960's.

Historian Actuality shows the phrase is found in the following from: Debates: official report, Volume 2, Canada House of Commons (1888): "I do not know what assurance can be given that people can be guaranteed that they do not get shafted, to the favour of some other group."

Hysterian Assertion #3- Footman Thomas Barrow, played by Rob James-Collier, used the words "get knotted" in the October 9 episode

Historian Actuality shows the phrase is found in: The Westminster Review, Volume 124, Page 402 (1885): In foreign affairs, when they get knotted, a Special Commissioner is appointed to report upon the situation, and to advise as to means of unravelling the tangled skein of affairs.

Hysterian Assertion #4- Head housemaid Anna Smith (Joanne Froggatt) told John Bates (Brendan Coyle) in last week's drama set in 1917 "So everything in the garden is rosy?"

Historian Actuality shows the phrase is found in the following from: Fraser's magazine, Volume 19 By Thomas Carlyle, page 606 (1879): He looked so rosy, so cheerful, so placid, such a picture of rewarded philosophy and virtue, surely he must be the happiest of mortals.

From: Vanity Fair: A novel without a hero, By William Makepeace Thackeray, Page 95, (1845): The honest Irish maid-servant, delighted with the change, asked leave to kiss the face that had grown all of a sudden so rosy.

From: The complete works of William Shakespeare By William Shakespeare, Johnson: Page 556, (1863): Me of my lawful pleasure she restrain'd, And pray'd me, oft, forbearance: did it with A pudenc-y so rosy, the sweet view on't Might vvelghave warm'd old Saturn; that I thought er As chaste as unsunn'd snow :—O, all the devils! (And Shakespeare actually wrote this over 200 years earlier!)
Hysterian Assertion #5- "... some viewers have baulked at the use of the word "boyfriend", as well as the concept of a "professional woman", which is used to describe a maid who wants to leave domestic service to become a secretary." We find the latter half of that statement most amusing, as there are so many, many references to the term "professional women" in newspapers and in books from the 1800s. Too many to choose from, so we picked the cream of the crop, and they are as follows...

Historian Actuality We will gladly cite all of them for any readers asking, but we feel that the article in an 1898 New York Times, referencing the spirited ongoing debate in the pages of U.K.'s The Daily Telegraph, titled "Should Wives Work?  Opinions of English Men & Women-What an American Woman Thinks About It" quite plainly spells it out, especially in the sixth paragraph in Part 1 posted here.  It quotes a British reader's comment in The Daily Telegraph, "Several professional women, talking sensibly of the subject, say that their business life will make them more careful in the choice of a husband ..."

Or then there is the article from New Zealand's The Auckland Star newspaper from 1899.  One of the paragraphs in a story by a London correspondent on the recent happenings at The International Women's Congress, London July 14 is actually titled "The Professional Woman".

So it makes us wonder what exactly qualifies contributors to be called "historians".  Demita Usher and I wouldn't dare refer to ourselves as "historians".  There is so much we do not know.  However, we are "history enthusiasts" and we certainly loved Downton Abbey here across the pond.  It is with great anticipation that we wait to watch the second season of the program, and in the meantime, comments made by your historians, or "hysterians" if you will, have kept us entertained while we wait.

But don't fret Great Britain, as I also stumbled onto this headline; Kate Middleton Named 2011's Best-Mannered Person, Kim Kardashian Slammed as "Most Ill-Mannered" Kudos to Kate!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Famous Thoughts on Forks and Dining

1860s Melon Fork by John Cox, Silversmith


On Chinese food & Chopsticks: "You do not sew with a fork, and I see no reason why you should eat with knitting needles." -Miss Piggy, in 'Miss Piggy's Guide to Life' (1981) 
“How should melon be eaten? Not with a spoon, as is usual in restaurants..... The back of the spoon anesthetizes the taste buds! In this way, it loses half of its flavor. Melon should be eaten with a fork-melon.” From 'Propos de table'  by J. De Coquet in 'Figaro' - June 1982
“They say fingers were made before forks, and hands before knives.” Jonathan Swift - “Polite and Ingenious Conversations” (1738)
"Forks are made of iron or steel: noblemen eat with silver forks. I have gone on using a fork even now that I am back in England. This has occasioned more than one joke and one of my intimate friends did not hesitate to apply to me in the middle of a dinner the adjective 'Furciferous'.” Thomas Coryate, English traveler
“The two-pronged fork is used in northern Europe.  The English are armed with steel tridents with ivory handles - three pronged forks-but in France, we have the four- pronged fork, the height of civilization.” E. Briffault, Paris a table (1846)

“No rule of etiquette is of less importance than which fork we use.” Emily Post

Mind Your Manners... A Season to Practice the Art of Etiquette

From Foothills Magazine, December 2011-
Better living | Holiday Ideas

The holidays are fraught with a minefield of etiquette challenges: who to invite to what event, how much to spend on gifts, what to do with that nasty bit of fruitcake now resting in your mouth. Some choices are not always obvious.

Thankfully, people such as etiquette authority Maura Graber of Ontario are around to help, providing valuable knowledge in the manners department. For more than two decades, Graber has taught social graces to everyone from school children to heads of major corporations. She even hosted  a dinner at her home one year for domestic diva Martha Stewart. Here, Graber offers a few helpful hints for the upcoming season.
Maura Graber transforms the "Kids’ Table" into the "No Adults Allowed Table" and makes it more welcoming to the younger set that cringes upon being placed at the "Kids' Table".  PHOTO BY THOMAS R. CORDOVA 
Holiday decorations should not go up any earlier than Thanksgiving weekend, Graber says. “Let’s celebrate one holiday at a time. It drives people nuts when they go up earlier and earlier.” And, she’d wait “at least a week into December” before getting the house all aglow on the outside.  She suggests turning any lights and sounds off by 9:00 or so every evening. “You can’t have things blaring at all hours. People need to be considerate of their neighbors.” 

On the other end, she likes to have all her decorations taken down and put away by Dec. 30, to begin the new year with a clean house. “It starts getting tacky to have the lights and everything still up well after the first of the year,” she says.
Manners maven Graber says “re-gifting” is OK, but it must be done carefully.

“Make sure you’re not re-gifting in the same circle of friends as the person who gave it to you or you’re going to find out about it,” she says. Anyone who decides to re-gift should make a point of removing any original gift-giving tags and wrapping. Re-wrap it beautifully before giving the gift.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Thoughts and Notes of "Thanks"

Giving Thanks to All
Being thankful really is something most people should practice year round, however a lot of people I run into seem to be anything but thankful these last few years.  Many people seem to be drained and anxiety filled. Others I know, go into bouts of depression for months at a time.  I try to reach them to offer encouragement, but they make it very hard if they will not pick up the phone or respond to cards and emails.

I'll admit, there are brief moments when I start to feel sorry for myself, or I let depression sneak in when I am in pain or not able to conquer tasks that need to be taken care of, on any random day. However I try to overcome negative thoughts by reminding myself of a few things;

The sentiments of this vintage Thanksgiving card are especially meaningful to me.

I have food in my pantry.  Millions of people throughout the world go to sleep each night hungry. And though my health leaves so much to be desired these last few years, and I would need a miracle to be as healthy as I was even 4 years ago, I am not wheelchair bound, unable to speak or move, as is the case with my niece's new father in-law.  He has been suffering from ALS for several years now.  Seeing him at my niece's wedding a few weeks back, I was struck by the fact that he cannot be much older than me and he must feel as if he is in a prison. 

No, I have a lot to be thankful for when I see others who have so little. I have the ability to work and share a skill, though my doctor advised me to stop long ago. I am thankful for the help of all my friends these past few challenging years.  Especially the help and support of Demita and Alicia, who are willing to do the physical things for me that I can no longer do and continue working. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my medical insurance. Most importantly, I have a roof over my head, while so many people do not.

My kids are healthy and employed. Many throughout the U.S. and world are not healthy and are not employed. I am thankful that I live in the United States, where I have a bounty of freedoms and a better quality of life than in many countries around the world.  Above all, I try to remember that life is short, and in this short amount of time I have been given, I need to never forget to say, "Thank you" and really feel appreciative for all that I have been blessed with over my lifetime.

Saying "thank you" takes so little time and effort.  It means much to others, in a world in which people are more apt to complain about poor service than praise good service.  In a world where people are more likely to pass by others without giving a smile.  A world in which strangers avoid situations when help should be given, instead of offering a helping hand. In this world we share with others, saying "thanks" and showing appreciation is at the very least, a truly civil and polite thing that one can do.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Will the Real Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Please Stand Up?

Kiera Knightley as The Duchess of Devonshire

Movie review preface, by Maura Graber

Several weeks back, I asked Demita if she could do her next review on The Duchess. The whole conversation came up after Demita shared her OMG thoughts having recently watching the movie and I had just received an email from another etiquette consultant I trained, telling me that she had just watched The Duchess yet again, and that she had probably "watched it hundreds of times". She loves the movie, whereas I have watched it only once. Finding it so depressing, I have not been able to watch it again. Aside from a very few classics and favorites which end ominously, I prefer happy endings if I am going spend time watching a movie. The Duchess didn't fall into that category. In fact, as I have been helping Demita hone her sleuthing skills, we have found that Geogiana Spencer's life was a mess that would rival anything on reality television today.  The following is Demita Usher's review:

"Electioneering Duchess"... "Stolen Duchess"...  "Duchess as Portrayed by Hollywood"... The "Two Duchesses"…. Will the Real Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire, Please Stand Up?

                             By Demita Usher 
When I first embarked on this journey to write a review about the movie based on Georgiana Spencer's life, I thought it would be a simple review to write, with  a few historical notations added for good measure, to compare her real  life to the Hollywood version. I quickly discovered nothing could be further from the truth. The more I investigated (thanks for the continual push for more research, Maura) the deeper the rabbit hole became. I found the movie depiction of the Duchess of Devonshire was a bit like reading the Cliffs Notes of her life, skirting over huge amounts of information about who she really was historically.

There were many complexities that made up the life of this fascinating woman. I understand that there is only so much you can share in less than two hours without making it a "Harry Potter" movie or "Lord of the Rings", but there is so much that was either unknown or overlooked about her life, I feel the need to bring the real story of Georgiana's life to our readers.

The Hollywood version presents viewers with a fresh faced Georgiana, enjoying a life of privilege with her young friends at her parents’ home. She is summoned by her mother who informs her that her marriage to the Duke of Devonshire has been arranged, and she soon will be the Duchess of Devonshire. She expresses a joyful excitement at her future royal position. After her wedding, she discovers the Duke to be cold, distant, and lacking in the affection that would assist in developing a loving bond with his new wife. She shares her concerns with her mother who assures her that once she produces a male heir, her husband’s cold approach to  intimacy will no longer be a problem as those encounters will lessen over time.

As she prepares to produce a male heir for her husband, the Duke presents her with the first of her royal duties, stepmother to his young daughter who is a product of a liaison with his maid. She is uncertain how to be a mother to the child and if she expresses any opposition, it is clear that there will be no negotiation. Her husband expects her to raise this child as her own. It is during this time her husband’s infidelity comes to the forefront and she is confronted with yet another situation that she must adjust to and accept.

The movie fast forwards to a few years later, and we find the Duchess has given birth to three daughters, but alas no male heir. In addition to her duties as a wife and mother, she is also a member of an elite sisterhood of women who were known as “Political Hostesses”.  Hannah Greig,  historical advisor for the film, stated that, “Aristocratic women in the 18th century were responsible for the political life of the nation.”  This group of women were wives of royalty and aristocrats and wielded much influence and had the power to sway elections in the favor of certain candidates through the elaborate dinner parties and social gatherings they hosted. It seems that good food, drink and stimulating conversation could almost buy an election. These women knew the power they held.

During this time Georgiana befriended Lady Elizabeth Foster who was estranged from her husband and children. After inviting Lady Foster to stay at the manor she shares with the Duke and their children, Georgiana experiences a very painful betrayal. The Duke and Elizabeth have an affair. With careless disregard for his wife's feelings, not only does the Duke refuse to make Elizabeth leave, but they continue the affair. With Lady Foster's three sons also living in the home, a polygamist lifestyle is suddenly the new normal in Georgiana's life.  

In the midst of all this chaos, Georgiana eventually bears the Duke a son and begins an affair with politician Charles Grey. She becomes pregnant by Grey, is forced into exile until the child is born and then commanded to give the child to Charles’ family to raise. It was made clear that she had to end the affair with Grey, or face divorce and permanent separation from her other children. She complied, settled back into her role at the manor, and somehow made peace with Elizabeth. The movie ends with the two women and their children playing happily on the manor grounds. This saga defies all logic, and would have a long run as a daily soap opera or popular reality show. Where are the cameras when you need them?!?
Indiana County Gazette, 1892

In reality, the Duchess was truly a fashion trendsetter for her time. So much so, that women’s fans had her likeness printed on them. In the movie she was called “The Empress of Fashion”, though I have not located any historical evidence to support this moniker. In fact, there were times when her fashion statements caused her to be publicly censured because she wore garments that had such a masculine influence, it sent the upper crust of society into a real tizzy.

Quizzically, after her death in 1806 and throughout the 1800s, Georgiana was referred to as the “Electioneering Duchess” in newspapers and periodicals. Why she was given this name in the political arena, above all of the other political hostesses of her time, is a bit of a mystery. Though she was charming and influential, her actions many times got her into hot water. She was accused of overstepping her bounds to get votes. She was accused of trading  kisses for votes. Some went so far as to accuse her of having slept with men to sway their votes. Whatever her methods, the results spoke for themselves and I am not certain if the title given to her as the “Electioneering Duchess” was a compliment or an insult. If the caricatures of her at the time were any indication, it seems more like a slap in the face, so to speak. By the end of the 1800s, a portrait of the Duchess, painted by Gainsborough, had been stolen.  For the better part of the early 1900s, Georgiana was referred to as the "Stolen Duchess", referencing the painting.
The real woman who went from being a “rock star” of her day to a missing relic in the form of a painting in the 20th century was a lot more diverse and complex than any movie could accurately articulate. What I enjoyed most about  the movie was  beautiful costuming and the opportunity to view intimate snapshots into 18th century life. I found the undertone of the movie to be more bitter than sweet, because the social norms of the time greatly restricted Geogiana's freedoms to make healthy and happy decisions for herself, something my 21st century mind could not live with if I were in the same position today.  The movie also  gave me a profound appreciation that I do have the freedom to choose who I love and who I marry. I highly recommend viewing the commentaries that accompany the movie. Ralph Fiennes, as well as the historians who worked on the film, provide some very helpful insights with regard to the attitudes and mindsets that shaped that time in history.
As I reflected on what I thought to be injustices that could have easily been resolved if she had just divorced her husband, taken her kids and sued for alimony and child support, I discovered that in order to understand her story, you have to put yourself the frame of mind of the 18th century, the protocol of the time. The expectations, the roles of men and women as they truly were, and not how Hollywood spoon feeds it to us, nice and neatly package with just enough tension to keep us watching while omitting the harsh reality of what is was really like to live in a world where privilege could be a prison and true freedom was a fantasy.

The etiquette for the time dictated to men and women so differently. When it came to infidelity and child custody for example, it clearly benefited the men.  Though it was a known fact that men and women took on lovers though married, women were judged more harshly in the court of public opinion when it came to such matters and were not as easily forgiven. If a woman took a lover before producing an heir for her husband, it could land her in a world of trouble. The Duke kept the Duchess in exile for two years after she gave birth to her lover's child, while he was able to freely continue to have an adulterous relationship with her best friend and father children with her. 

After Geogianna returned from exile, she resumed her life, which included continuing to accommodate her best friend sleeping with her husband. These types of arrangements must have been accepted as normal by those in society. Even Napoleon, when writing to the Devonshire manor, addressed both Georgiana and Elizabeth by the term the “two Duchesses”. It seemed to be common knowledge that there were two women there, both living as the Duke's wives.

When it came to financial rights, the women had a lot more to lose. If divorce was eminent, custody of the children was given to the man automatically, something our 21st century minds cannot comprehend in this era where women seem to get the kids, the house, the car, the dog, and even the cat 99% of the time. During that period, if a man divorced you,  the poorhouse could be your next residence.   

Before she produced a male heir, Georgiana had written to her sister that though she loved living at Devonshire, she did not feel as it was really “her” home too. The tone of the letter made it clear that technically she did not  have a “claim” to her home until she bore her husband a son, despite the fact she had borne him three daughters. 

When it came to politics, women were not taken seriously and had no right to vote so they wielded their voting power through their feminine influence which proved to be a powerful force to be reckoned with because again due to the protocol of the time, opportunities for women were limited so they had to get creative to make their voices heard.

The more I read, the more I see that in many ways  her story could read like the life of any woman in a influential but limited position in the 21st century; Georgiana had a drug problem and was addicted to laudanum, she battled infertility, she had a cheating husband, she developed a gambling problem, she had affairs, she bore an illegitimate child and was heavily involved in politics. She was indeed a walking reality show waiting to happen. The Real-Housewives-of-Name- Your-Favorite city or state, have nothing on her. 

After her death, her name was not  mentioned in popular conversation for close to 60 years. When her name did resurface, it was in reference to a painting of her that had gone missing for many years and resurfaced. No mention of who she really was, what she contributed in her lifetime was even really discussed, just a painted portrait of her that people fought and /or debated about.
Gainsborough's famous portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire
  During this excavation, I discovered that Georgiana was more than a pretty lady in pretty clothes. She was also a songwriter, a poet and a published author.  She was a lady of many talents and many sorrows who died blind and in debt, but despite her difficulties, she lived her life despite the boundaries that the social graces of the time that surrounded her, but her life was far from perfect and there was no Hollywood ending with a round of tag on the manor grounds.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How Sense of Smell and Common Scents Can Affect Common Courtesies

File this under "Nasal Sway":
Can one manipulate good behavior just by the scent of the room? It turns out you can, according to an assistant professor at Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management! 

According to a 2009 TIME Magazine sidebar article, "Call It Nasal Sway", an experiment was conducted to test people's propensity toward charity, ethical behavior and good manners by using common household scents. Ninety-nine participants were assigned to either a Windex-scented room or a neutral-smelling room and given a list of tasks to complete. Included in the list was a request for volunteers and donations for "Habitat for Humanity".
Results revealed that people in the Windex scented room (citrus scented Windex to be exact) were more likely to give money and help others than those in the room that was not scented with Windex.  According to co-author and social psychologist Adam Galinsky, from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, "Economists and even psychologists haven't been paying much attention to the fact that small changes in our environment can have dramatic effects on behavior. We under emphasize these subtle environmental cues," he says.

Researchers on morality and scientists agree that people do strongly associate physical cleanliness with "purity of conscience". It is the thought at the heart of old sayings like "cleanliness is next to godliness" and "as evidenced by the widespread use of cleansing ceremonies to wash away sins in various religions around the world".

Arab men displaying traditional form of greeting.

Another study, published in a 2008 "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin" showed that people are more critical and judgmental about certain moral issues when exposed to the vapors of a commercially available, "fart" (their term, not mine) scented spray. I'll stick with the Windex, thank you.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Perfect Hat for When One Wants to Look Like a Rose Bush

     I still haven't found a hat to wear to the bridal shower that I am attending tomorrow.  This one pictured above won't do, even if it is reasonably priced.  It would look great though, if I ever wanted to dress in all green and attend a costume party dressed as a rose bush.
     Happy Halloween Weekend!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Etiquette and Funny Hats

What hat am I going to wear?! I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.
My daughter and I have received invitations to a bridal shower.  Invitations requesting that everyone arrive wearing a "funny hat" in the "spirit of Halloween" though I have found that "funny" is often determined by the eyes of the beholder.

Princess Beatrice with furry friend
My daughter is balking, and I am not exactly thrilled myself.  The outfit I planned to wear does not scream, "Hey!  A goofy looking  headdress would really complete this ensemble!" So my choices are to either buy said hat, or doctor one of my own hats to make it work.  

As I told my daughter, etiquette dictates that we at least make a sincere attempt to comply with the dress code request, even if it means feeling as though we look a bit odd.  We can always put the hats on prior to entering the home, then take them off after the bride-to-be, hostess and a few of the guests have seen us in the hats.  We do not have to let the hats ruin our day, nor ruin the bride-to-be's shower, as I have a hunch the funny hats were her idea in the first place. 

Demita Usher, my friend and frequent guest blogger, flew over to London for hat making classes a few years back, and I can see I will need her help.  I am considering a "Bergère hat" (French meaning "shepherdess"), as I have a few straw hats that might somehow be converted into the popular look.  Oh yes... and I am sure we can somehow make it look funny as well. 
Glenn Close in "Dangerous Liasons"... Scary!
Bergère hats were worn by the stylish throughout the 18th century.  Made of coiled straw, many featured a low crown, with a flat brim. The Bergère hat could be worn with the brim either turned down, or folded back. Wide ribbons were often attached to the sides.  Tied prettily into a bow under one's chin, the ribbons would keep many of the hats sitting upon heads securely. Flowers  and ostrich feathers adorned many brims of the hats, so I am thinking I can go "goofy" with whatever we add to mine. 

Keira Knightley portraying The Duchess of Devonshire
Though not ever as fashionable since their heyday, the very versatile hats have made brief comebacks, off and on for the past few hundred years, including the Edwardian Era. At that time, the hat was called a"Gainsborough hat" after Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, had her portrait done by the celebrated artist.
Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of Lady Georgiana 

And while I am on the subject of the Duchess of Devonshire, I can tell my followers and readers that the next guest blog will be about the Duchess herself, the movie "The Duchess" and how history often is "photo-shopped" to suit the mood of the times.  

So stay tuned! Oh yes... and wear a funny hat in the spirit of Halloween.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Who Needs Halloween? Social Networking Sites... The New Frights

Halloween 1984

Who needs Halloween for tricks, treats & frights when we have Facebook and LinkedIn?  Worldwide, security breached, plagues of portals, for your past to come back to haunt you 365 days a year.  They suck more out of one's life than anything from Twilight or True Blood, and have more surprises at every turn than well crafted, amusement park haunted houses.  

They also, rather nonchalantly, heist email addresses from your computer with a simple question like, "Want to see if any of your contacts are also on (whatever site one is on)?"  One click and every person I have ever sold things to on Ebay, or whose email address was sent to me because only a small portion of the population seems to know what "Bcc" stands for, then pops up.  I closed my Facebook account 2 years ago, and just recently discovered LinkedIn had become just as intrusive.  

I was getting requests from people I may have exchanged one or two emails with, or parents whose kids I taught 10 years ago, and so on.  I only have my company name, phone number, etc... now, and I no longer accept invitations to connect with others.

I tried Facebook at the requests of friends, not realizing that the requests were from the portal itself, not really from my friends.  After signing up, I was bombarded daily with long lists of people that, yes I did know, but possibly didn't want to share anything other than a business connection.  I wondered, How did Facebook know I knew these people? I looked at the list and got it. Facebook pulled them from your email account, you big dumb bunny! 

With several email addresses, I knew why Facebook wanted to be in my email account and I was none too happy. However I figured that as I was finally connecting with some old friends who I rarely get to see, I would just ignore the pleas to add them as my Facebook friends. Common sense took a back seat for those few weeks.

I posted some photos, a little bit of a bio on myself, listed my favorite things... the usual nonsense.  About 2 weeks in to my Facebook foray, an old high school chum left a message on my Facebook wall.  It read, "Remember the time we went to the nude beach?"  Yes, I did remember we had stumbled on to a private beach in Laguna, back in the mid-seventies.  As we laid out our towels and got our tanning lotion on, we noticed that though we had our bikinis on, no one else at the sparsely populated beach was clothed. We had driven around for so long looking for a beach with no kids running around and screaming, we decided to stay, not to pay attention to anyone else, act natural (not au naturale) and work on our tans.  

Knowing that people Google my name to check my business out, I tried in vain for 3 days to get that remark off my wall.  What would parents or corporations looking to hire me make of it?  My past was haunting me.  Now I was a teen in the 1970s, and that one event was pretty tame, but after reading some of the delusional, misogynistic, destructive, bigoted, character assassinating comments people leave on websites, I didn't want anything more left on my wall to haunt me.  Real or imagined.  Again, I was a teen in the 1970s.  A crazy age in a crazy era, when .... well, let's just say I would rather forget a lot of the 1970s.  In fact, if I could, there are many parts of the 1980s I would like to claim amnesia on as well.  Even better, now I would like to forget Facebook.

There is a bigger, scarier bogeyman out there, besides social networking sites, in our world wide web.  Our younger generations are losing out on learning vital interpersonal skills.  Being more globally connected, sadly has affected social skills needed to navigate one's way through life. Awareness of posture, eye contact and observing non-verbal cues from others, is a skill that is being lost to our younger generations.  Family communication suffers as well.  I closed my Facebook account and am rarely on LinkedIn any longer.  If I ever do want to be haunted, I can just look through my old high school and junior high school yearbooks.  They are scary enough for me!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Who'd You Rather? The Cary or Cathy Dilemma

                   In Living Color 
                 Black and White?

Behind Door #1:
Imagine you are Cary Scott, a wealthy, forty-something widow, with two college age children. Now that your children have gone off to college, the last thing you would want to do is spend your evenings with the "widow's best friend", a television set.  It's an item you do not even own.  Your social calendar is full with activities, including getting together with your friends at the local country club, despite  occasional unsolicited advances of the tipsy husband of one of your friends.  As you are enjoying your life, you discover over the course of time a growing attraction between yourself and your hot, young gardener.  Your kids are encouraged that you have the attentions of an older distinguished gentleman, one that their late father would approve of as suitable replacement.  Sadly, though you find this gentleman's company enjoyable, and he is well established in your social circle, he has the sex drive of a cantaloupe. You find the company of the gardener and his social circle much more entertaining. Your friends get involved and try to discourage the relationship with the gardener. Your children accuse you of humiliating them, ruining their lives and try to convince you to end what they consider to be a foolish affair. What would you do?

Behind Door #2:
Imagine you are Cathy Whitaker, a married woman with a successful husband and two beautiful children. Your family held in such high esteem in your elite circle, that a glossy magazine features your brood as the ideal to aspire to. You are the hostess of some of the grandest parties in the community and are in the know with all the goings on in your wealthy affluent town. Unbeknownst to you, your husband is having "encounters" with random men he meets in bars and is prone to taking his dissatisfaction with his life out on you verbally, and on the rare occasions physically.  You also have a hot gardener that befriends you, he is a handsome African American man who treats you with kindness and compassion. You find yourself drawn to his attention like a moth to a flame. Your husband (who has already filed for a divorce from you to be with his lover) gets wind of your innocent interaction, gets angry and accuses you of ruining the family you built together your while your friends also express the same  disapproval of your platonic interaction with this man because he is black. How do you handle such a situation?

While you may be thinking these are pitches for a new television show or actual t.v story lines a'la desperate housewives, think again. Cary Scott is the main character in the 1956 social commentary film "All That Heaven Allows" so uncomfortable in its suggestion of an older woman and a younger man finding love, that it was not as well received in the U.S. as it was in Europe. A color film that one reviewer is quoted as saying "screams black and white and is really a film that I would have rather seen without color", watched present day is reminiscent of watching Father Knows Best reruns. The film suggested something so scandalous for its time, watching it in the present day, the fill still packs a wallop, as opposed to Cathy Whitaker's predicament in the 2002 film "Far From Heaven". The 2002 film set in 1957 Connecticut does not offer the same emotional shock to the system that "All That Heaven Allows" does, due to the fact that by 2002, interracial relationships and homosexuality are more part of the norm.

While both movies are similar as far as story line goes, the common thread that really connects them is how the strength of the era's acceptable social norms affect the life-altering decisions of these two women. The pressures of meddling children, or well meaning close friends and associates, tempt the women to forsake relationships with men they deeply care about. The irony of such loyalty to “proper conduct” and the “acceptable” behavior of the time emulated by the people that surround them is that there seems to be a blind side to this dedication. The social set that disapproved the of the behavior between Cathy and her gardener (which was platonic, yet evolving) were completely tolerant of her husband’s sexual trysts with a man and his abuse of her behind closed doors. They seem to accept his peccadilloes, with the attitude that they "went with the territory" of being in such high social standing. 

With Cary, it seems that her children were more content for her to be alone and comforted by the companionship of a television set, than allowing her to enjoy the affections of a younger man that truly loved her. They emotionally blackmailed her into isolation using the social norms of the time to keep her in her so-called place. The glue they kept her bound to a lonely existence with, is  citing ridicule of their own social standing  because of her involvement with a younger man who was supposedly socially inferior, as well.

Both movies, "All That Heaven Allows" and "Far From Heaven" are recommended as beautifully watchable, well made vehicles, that give a glimpse into the lives of 1950's America's mannerisms, etiquette, and a reminder of how much women's lives have changed since then and men's lives as well, for that matter.

*Memo from Maura-  Look for the most unintentionally hysterical verbal exchange ever on film with Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, regarding whether he'd like her to be more like a man. A real gem of a joke that the Hollywood crowd had to have been in on. How did they keep straight faces during filming of that scene?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Staycation, Part 1 and Why Demita Usher Will be Guest Blogging

A week or so ago, some of you noticed that Demita Usher, a "guest blogger" was announced on my blog.  To those of you who asked; Yes, I am still recovering. and No, I am still not throwing in the towel on my health just yet. Do let me explain...

Many of you know I have had a challenging summer that has continued on into fall. Each of the past few years has been a doozy, however this past summer was particularly strange (hosting a birthday party and having to go to bed just as the guests were arriving? Yes, that was a fun evening! Missed the whole party. The next day I heard everyone had a great time though, and I didn't wind up in the ER.) All that being said, this past summer was particularly wonderful too! That is what I am going to focus on.  In three parts.  Let Part One begin...
Demita Usher of Demita's School of Social Graces and Savoir Faire

It all actually started one evening in late May. Most everyone had left from a family birthday dinner for my son when my phone rang. We were all settling in to watch a movie downstairs, but I took the call upstairs, saying I'd only be on the phone a few minutes.  

Three hours later, (yes three!) I came back downstairs. The first thing my son said was, "Mom... You were on the phone for three hours!" I agreed, yes, I certainly had been. Then I went on to tell him that I had just had an incredible conversation with someone exactly like me. "She thinks exactly like me! It was so strange to talk with someone and feel an instant connection. We could finish each others' sentences." Cliff asked if she was an etiquette instructor. I told him no, that she wasn't, but wants to be and that she had acquired an amazing collection of etiquette books over the years and even had the Wendy Ward Charm School record albums! I didn't even know they had made albums! My big sister only had the book. I was impressed.

Training and getting to know Demita has been an incredible delight. She is like the identical twin sister I never had, if that identical twin sister was 3 inches taller, black and about 16 years younger than me. Oh yes, and if my twin was engaged to be married and moving to Europe next year, which grieves me to no end. Friends who have moved only one or two states away are hard enough to see, but another continent? I am guessing we will have to curtail the 3 hour phone conversations.

For weeks we have been having one or two marathon 14 hour days together, during which we work, discuss etiquette, discuss history, she picks my brain and I make suggestions on films and books, etc...  She has been with me on doctor appointments, medication runs, physical therapy appointments, helps me with grocery shopping, etc... We eat, watch movies and t.v. shows pertinent to etiquette (yes... there was that one Grey's Anatomy episode that I slipped in, but she enjoyed it just the same). We did go to see "The Help", the first movie I had seen in a theater in four years. I had been wanting her to meet my daughter, and as she is here so little of the time lately, I jumped at the opportunity to put the three of us together when my daughter had the odd afternoon off.

After a long discussion of the movie, and with Demita so understanding of my health situation, along with wanting to immerse herself in etiquette and the whole surrounding culture as much as possible, I asked and she agreed to guest blog on all of the movies, books and other reading material I have been recommending. The first movie and book Demita thought of covering was "The Help"

And while I am on the subject please allow me to thank Monica, the substitute teacher I met by chance at Gebhart International, who offered me her hard copy of the book as I had not yet read it.  Said she cheerfully, "I have the book in my car and was going to drop it off as a donation somewhere. Would you like it?  It is really good." So many, many thanks to Monica!

But it was the discussion of another movie that Demita asked me about which led to her first review, comparing two different films portraying similar social issues and the pressures that social forces and "the accepted norm" place on women and men in society. I will be posting her review tomorrow. In the meantime, you can enjoy Demita's humor regarding something from Emily Post's first book. 

She has a copy, as do I, of the well-known blue book on etiquette. She hadn't read a lot of it though, which started a discussion of my favorite authors on etiquette (Amy Vanderbilt and Letitia Baldridge... the real stuff, not the revised-by-someone-else stuff) and I shared with her one of the many funny bits I had found in Emily's well known work.  This line nearly always bring me to tears with laughter. In a section on dinner table etiquette, Emily in her first book gave this admonishment, "Saucers for vegetables are contrary to all etiquette." "Huh?!?", was my first response upon reading the missive. Seriously?  Saucers for vegetables are contrary to all etiquette? That makes no sense whatsoever.

I can see if one is hosting a dinner party, that throwing food at one's guests would be contrary to all etiquette. Or insulting one's guests would be contrary to all etiquette.  In fact, I can think of at least a hundred and one other things that would be "contrary to all etiquette." Dishes for the vegetables don't come to mind as being something so heinous. Demita sent me this later that evening when she had gotten home-
"Saucers for vegetables are contrary to all things etiquette." I can see it now...........
Circa 1920's
Mrs. Noseintheair: Did you hear about the Kelly's girl? 
Mrs. Oneupmanship: No! What happened? 
Mrs. Noseintheair: Her mother served vegetables on saucers now no man will court her much less marry her.
Mrs. Oneupmanship: Heavens to Betsy! I hope it passes, otherwise future generations will never live it down.
Present Day 
Muffy: OMG did you hear about Tiffany?
Binky: Nooooo! What happend?
Muffy: Her dad tried to join the local country club but they denied him admission, something about his great grandmother and some vegetable saucers or something.
Binky: The nerve of SOME people. Well thank God they caught him before our good clubs name was ruined. By the way does this thong bikini make my behind look big? I don't want to look like a tramp sitting by the pool at the club. 
I loved it! I believe you will enjoy her guest blogging.

Next up... Part Two, with training my first instructor to teach etiquette in Saudi Arabia, the charming Rola Yassine.
Maura Graber & Rola Yassine