Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sometimes Humorous, Yet Very Real, Victorian Manners of American Society, Circa 1869

Back in June, I posted a portion of an etiquette book by Sarah Annie Frost.  As I am under the weather, so to speak, I am posting more from her 1869 book. Oftentimes funny, but supposedly strictly followed, these are rules of etiquette for "Society" in 1869...  


Frost's Laws and By-Laws of American Society 

by Sarah Annie Frost 1869

On dining in 1869-

If you make any general remark, do not look up at the waiters to see what effect it has upon them. If they are well-trained they will not move a muscle at hearing the most laughable story, nor will they give any sign whatever that they have not closed their ears like deaf adders to all that has been going on. In any case, however, you must refrain from noticing them.

If you want anything, take the occasion of a waiter being near to you, to ask for it in an undertone. To shout out "Waiter!" or
order one about, as if you were in a restaurant, is a certain mark of ill-breeding.

Unless the party is a very small one, general conversation is
impossible. In such a case, you must converse with those on either side of you, not confining your remarks exclusively to one.

Talk in a low, quiet tone, but never in a whisper.  To affect an air of mystery or secrecy at a dinner-table, is an insult to your companion and company assembled.

It is in bad taste to force the attention of the company upon
yourself by loud talking or loud laughing.

Too many jokes or anecdotes are in bad taste, but the subjects for conversation should not be too serious.

Any gentleman propounding a conundrum at the dinner-table deserves to be taken away by the police.

To use one's own knife, spoon or fingers, instead of the
butter knife, sugar-tongs or salt-spoons, is to persuade the
company that you have never seen the latter articles before, and are unacquainted with their use.

Never eat all that is on your plate, and above all never be guilty of the gaucherie of scraping your plate, or passing your bread over it as if to clean it.

Never fill your mouth so full that you cannot converse; at the
same time avoid the appearance of merely playing with your food.

Eat in small mouthfuls, and rather slowly than rapidly.

Peel fruit with a silver knife in your right. Eat it in small slices cut from the whole fruit, but never bite it, or anything else at
table. Need I say no fruit should ever be sucked at the table.

 If upon opening fruit you find it is not perfect, or there is a
worm in it, pass your plate quietly and without remark to the
waiter, who will bring you a clean one.

None but a low-bred clown will ever carry fruit or bon bons
away from the table.

Drinking wine with people is an old custom, but it will nowadays be found to exist only among the past or passing generation. 

When the hostess thinks her lady friends have taken as much
dessert as they wish, she catches the eye of the principal among them; an interchange of ocular telegraphing takes place, the hostess rises, and with her all the company rise; the gentlemen make a passage for the ladies to pass; the one who is nearest to the door opens it, and holds it open until all the ladies have passed out of the room.

As soon as the ladies have retired the gentlemen may resume their seats for more wine and conversation, but it is a very poor compliment to the lady guests to linger long in the dining-room.

The ladies upon leaving the dining-room, retire to the drawing-room, and occupy themselves until the gentlemen again join them.

It is well for the hostess to have a reserve force for this
interval, of photographic albums, stereoscopes, annuals, new
music, in fact, all the ammunition she can provide to make this often tedious interval pass pleasantly.

If you dine in the French fashion, the gentlemen rise with the
ladies, each offering his arm to the lady he escorted to dinner,
and all proceed to the drawing-room together.

If the gentlemen remain to have coffee served in the dining-room, tea may be served in the drawing-room to the ladies.

Upon returning to the drawing-room the gentlemen should never cluster round the door, but join the ladies at once, striving to repay the hospitality of the hostess by making themselves as agreeable as possible to the guests.

From two to three hours after dinner is the proper time to leave the house. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On Rituals, Initiatives, Politely Living Green and What I Learned From a Seventeen Year Old

Ritual n. Established procedure or routine.
Initiative n. The power or ability to begin or to follow through energetically with a plan or task.

When my son was 17 years old, we had a weekly ritual.  Every Thursday evening, I would politely ask him to take the garbage out to the curb for removal on Friday morning.  My son would then tell me he was busy.  I would persist.  I would tell him that I wanted it taken out “right now” as he would forget to do it later.  He then would usually give his most valid excuse.  He was "doing his homework" and asked if I wanted him to get good grades or not.  I ended this ritual each week by taking the garbage out myself. This ritual, which had gone on since he was 15, taught me three important things. 


1. I added many more clicks on my pedometer when I took the garbage out, which was a good thing.  I could use the exercise. 


2. Even though I tried to cut back on what I was adding to the local landfills, I noticed I was still throwing away more "stuff" each week. That was not so good. 


3. Trying to persuade a 17 year old to do anything he or she does not want to do, is as pointless as trying to teach my cat how to reply to my texts, or to tweet for me.  If I had the power to do that, I would be thrilled!  My cat’s paws are much smaller than mine.

Now, I knew #1 and #3 weren’t worth me stressing over.  It was #2 that had me bothered.  I had to wonder, in such a small household; How did we accumulate so much.... well, garbage?  I have long been a "recycler". When I was a child, my mom was the only parent I knew who talked about the environment and what we needed to do to stop polluting it and changing things. As time and technology marched on however, we seemed to accumulate more “stuff”.  It was bulging out all over the place, so I started selling a lot of things on Ebay.  I felt like I was making a difference, and in the 4 years since my son was 17, I do feel a bit less overwhelmed.  I would also, in an odd way, feel more polite.

Why are so many garbage containers green?

In a 2009 company post by news organization "Asia One", the author stated, "I believe we should inculcate that its almost mandatory, natural and being good manners to be green in our processes." Later in the post, the author suggested that companies who go green with their practices will become more popular.  Now, I agree with the part on manners.  We are sharing the planet here.  It is polite to share, and polite to take care of something someone else is sharing with you.  So I do agree with that part of the company letter.  It is exhibiting good manners to live more green.  I have a problem with the idea that I should do it to be popular though.

I never enter popularity contests.

I have never really worried about being popular.  When people join a new movement or cause, simply because it is popular, it often leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  Popular people, causes, things... they usually fall out of popularity quickly.  Popular restaurants are hard to get tables at.  Popular rides at amusement parks have the longest lines.  Popular people usually fall victim to ego inflation and trends, and the people who made them popular in the first place are thrilled to see them knocked off of their pedestals and replaced by the newly crowned "popular person." Popular songs are played to death on the radio and commercials. No... I am more of an underdog lover.

I'm an Underdog fan!

I like to see the overlooked and well-deserving people get their due.  Not that I consider myself an underdog either.  No.  I am the "people watcher" who is soaking it all in as others pass by my life.  I am the one who hears a song I like, finds out who sings it, then clicks through other songs of theirs on iTunes and get a couple of them.  I avoid trends.  I look for the gems, and sometimes they appear to be junk to others.  I am totally okay with that.  So I do not like the whole "Green Movement" as a popular bandwagon to jump onto, simply because it is "the thing to do right now!" Those bandwagons run out of steam quickly.

Everything imaginable for jumping onto the Queen's Jubilee bandwagon!

I liken trying to "live green" to having a host or hostess offer me an unusual or exotic food.  I should treat them the same.  As new environmental initiatives and laws come along, I feel I should at least be polite and try them out
(Explains all of those canvas and fabric reusable bags I bought from Target and Ralph's stores) If don't care for it, then I'll be graciously civil about the matter, and politely decline the offer of more.  I do not want to be hit over the head by environmentalists though, screaming loudly and claiming they know what is best for everyone.  If there are proven facts, remain civil and polite.  Please give the facts to me.  Then I can make the informed decision and not be angry about the whole matter.

I never throw cans or bottles away. They are recycled.

Like I said, I have been aware of the environment all my life.  I have always recycled.  I used a lot of simple household trash to make crafts with my grandmother, or my mom when I was young.  I was always turning in cans and bottles I found, or that we had used at home.  My mother was way ahead of things compared to friends' parents.  She used to say things like, "You can't just bring non-native plants, swimming pools and irrigation to a dry place, and not expect some changes to occur!  Bugs and birds follow those plants and trees, changing the whole landscape and weather." or "You don't need all of this new junk! The old ones work just fine.  All of this new stuff is unnecessary!" 

Palm Springs in its beautiful and unnatural state.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, a friend was shocked that I was going to use disposable diapers. When I replied to her shock with, "Well, all of that washing and sanitizing of cloth diapers will ruin our water, not to mention the electricity and natural gas I will be using to wash and dry them.  All that energy used wouldn't be good." she was suddenly speechless. I even get bonus points for still having, and using, my original iPod mini and I still have a VCR.  Mom was right.  They work fine!  I have not needed another iPod and if I want to watch something I have on VHS tape, I can.  Yes.  I remember a lot from growing up.

The original iPod Mini


One thing I recall however, that in the 1970s we were being told that the earth was headed toward another "Ice Age".  (I guess this current "Global Warming" stuff sure showed Mother Nature she can't mess with us!) The one thing I am having the hardest time with though, is my daughter's continual nagging about my use of plastic bottles, flatware and bags.  I need them, and I use them!  Then I re-use them, over and over again.  (Well, except for the flatware.  Plastic flatware used by my etiquette class students cannot be "washed and re-used" as my daughter suggested.)  

Looks like Bella forgot proper knife and fork technique!

I refuse to give up plastic bags and it drives my daughter nuts.  I have politely explained to her that if I do not use the free ones from the market, or the local Target store, or wherever, I will have to buy them just so that I can have some to use.  I politely repeat that to her, every time she cringes when I come home with a plastic bag or two, or when she makes a snide comment. I do have lots of reusable canvas bags, mind you. I use those too.  My biggest problem with the canvas and cloth bags however, is the weight of them.  

And more popular, too?

  Those bags can hold a lot of goods, and I simply cannot carry them at times, due to physical disabilities I fight daily.  So when I do use them, it is usually to carry napkins or other lightweight items from my car to my classes.  Or boxes of tissues, etc... from the store.  If my daughter wants to not-so-politely tell me how to live my life with regard to plastic bags ("Someday there will be a landfill named after you!"), then she can do all of the shopping.  I'll still be okay.  I save all of the plastic bags that my son and his girlfriend graciously bring in from the store when they shop for themselves anyway.

This bag is more polite as some people I meet! This bag is thanking me.

Now I am not going to hold my breath, but if my daughter does truly get fed up and decides to do all of my shopping for me, I’ll have that free time I need to start teaching my cat to text and tweet for me.  I can just see the fur flying now.  After all, it took forever to teach him how to work my son's old Game Boy!


"Okay, I got it turned on, now what? I can't get past 'LOL', then it's all gibberish!"

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Maura Graber’s Simple Etiquette Guidelines for Dining at Home, While Visiting, or Abroad

“There were olives, radishes, celery and salted nuts in glass dishes; and about ten kinds of sugar-plums in ten different styles of ornate and bumpy silver dishes; and wherever a small space of tablecloth showed through, it was filled with either a big “Apostle” spoon or little Dutch ones criss-crossed.”   Emily Post on The Dinner Table of Yesterday 


Place setting by Maura Graber and Eda Bierman

  1. Place your napkin in your lap when you first sit down to the table. Work to develop the habit, and you will remember to do it all of the time.
  2. Always watch your host and hostess for “cues” or instructions, when you are unsure of what to do.
  3. Cut with your knife in your right hand and your fork in your left. When dining with utensils, sit upright and bring foods or beverages to your face, not your face to your food or drinks.
  4.  When passing something at the table, say “excuse me” or “excuse my arm” if you need to reach in front of someone to pick up or pass the item.  If asked to pass something from sets, like the salt or the pepper, pass both of them so that they do not get separated at the table.
  5. Break off only one piece of bread, scone, or other type of roll or pastry, before buttering it, putting jams or preserves on it, etc.... Only butter one piece at a time.  The piece you wish to eat, should be small enough to fit wholly into your mouth.
  6. Cut only one or two pieces of food at a time when you are dining.  Cut your salad if the pieces are too large to fit into your mouth.
  7. If dining in the U.S. or Europe: For meals of many courses, use your utensils farthest from either side of your plate.  Use utensils closer to the plate with each consecutive course.  Always use the utensils directly above your plate last, as they are for dessert. Your roll is on your upper left, your drinks are on your upper right.
  8. In situations when you are dining with chopsticks or with your fingers, eat as neatly as possible.  Again, if you are unsure how to dine, watch your host, hostess or others around you who appear to be the best mannered. Follow their lead.
  9. Never slurp your drink, loudly stir your tea, tap utensils on your plate or cup, or wave your utensils about while talking.
  10. Never text or talk on your phone while others are dining alongside you. Remove your “Bluetooth” or earpiece.  If you must take a call or text, politely excuse yourself from the table and retreat to a "cell phone friendly" area in the restaurant.