Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Recipe for the Perfect Guest on Thanksgiving Day

 Hosts and hostesses work hard to make sure special holiday celebrations are fun for all involved.  In order not to ruin a special day like Thanksgiving, there are rules that must be followed in your own home, as well as in the home or the establishment of someone else

Here are the most important rules, along with a special recipe: 

 The Recipe Ingredients

1 large cup of common sense
2 keen eyes
5 tablespoons of willingness to help out
2 pounds of the words "please" and "thank you"
5 pounds of your best behavior
3 pounds of the best table manners you can find 
1 best foot for you to put forward when mixing and using  


Recipe Instructions

Mix all ingredients inside yourself well before getting to your destination.  If you are celebrating at home, mix before any guests arrive.  This recipe works best if you mix everything a day or night beforehand.  It helps calm holiday nerves.

The keen eyes and common sense will remind you that if there is a seating chart, or seating arrangement, you must not complain about where you are asked to sit.  You must never move or switch place cards.  The willingness to help out comes in handy with that issue. People spend a lot of time planning where they would like their guests to sit.  You may not know why someone has placed you in a particular seat.  Do not ask why you are being asked to sit there. It is possible feelings will get hurt if the host or hostess explains their reasons to you. The best behavior should kick in and keep you from complaining.

The best foot you put forward will  keep you polite to everyone, not just your own friends or family.  You must be cordial to all when you put your best foot forwardIt will also ensure that you use your napkin, chew with your mouth closed and will swallow any food in your mouth before taking another bite, or drinking.  

Do not “play” with table favors or table decorations unless they are meant to be touched or played with.  Your keen eyes will help with this if you have mixed them in at the start.  The common sense also helps you to act respectful of anyone who would like to say grace prior to starting, regardless of you religious or non-religious affiliations.

Do not grab at food, drinks or anything else that might interest you. Wait until it is offered.  Do not pick at the food on the plate before it is meant to be eaten. You put in a lot of best behavior, correct?

You should be able to feel those pleases and thank yous ready to pop out of your mouth, throughout the entire celebration.  Let them. Others should be able to hear them clearly.

Copyright 1991, Maura Graber and The RSVP Institute of Etiquette

Thursday, November 15, 2012

May Van Alen Weds and Decides She is Not an American

“I have tried my best to persuade Mr. Thompson to leave New York and live in England, but so far without success,” said May Van Alen to custom officials at a hearing on October 16, 1913

May Van Alen Weds in London

Remember May Van Alen?  Continually dumping suitors and fiances, one of who committed suicide over her breaking their engagement, she was the granddaughter of the Astors and the eldest daughter of James J. Van Alen of New York and Newport Rhode Island.  In fact, the New York Times described her this way; "Miss Van Alen, as already stated, is the eldest daughter of James Van Alen.  She is a very odd, original girl, extremely clever, and with a reputation for slight eccentricity."  It goes on to say how the lives of all three Van Alen "children has not been of the happiest, not withstanding their money and their lineage."  

The article went on to remind readers of the Van Alen's mother's death shortly after giving birth to her youngest child, Sarah, and how James Van Alen took his brood overseas for an education.  In the same article, it states about May Van Alen, "She is not pretty, but is chic and dresses in a very conspicuous and Parisian manner.  She has an excited manner in talk and a fondness for saying startling things."  Not a very flattering portrait of a young society girl in America's Gilded Age.

May Van Alen finally did marry.  She married one Griswold Thompson in a private ceremony in St. George’s, Hanover Square in London, on September 24, 1913. The ceremony was conducted with the greatest level of secrecy and included a modest ten persons as guests. Never mind the fact that the wedding was actually scheduled for that coming Sunday.  Odd?  Yes.  But May Van Alen left many people in her wake, even invited guests it seems. The strict etiquette of the day, and even the much lamented relaxed etiquette of today, would more than frown on inviting one's guests to a wedding, then marrying in secrecy just days before the date one's guests have planned to attend.  Was the newspaper article their guests only notice?  Or were they sent cards or notes of explanation?

May Van Alen was one odd duck, in a small pond of wealthy socialites in America's Gilded Age.  I doubt anyone said anything public against her, though in private circles, she was probably gossiped about profusely and regularly.  
"Costumes Parisienes" Afternoon Dress for 1913

Why the secrecy and rush?  She would give no details, nor would she even give out the address in London where she's been staying, to those who wished to send gifts.  The news account says that following the private ceremony, the couple quickly left the church and headed for a tour of England.  Many speculated into the speed of the marriage and the closed-mouth handling of details for the ceremony.  The new York Times article does state that Griswold Thompson lived in England, "at one time."  It also mentioned that May's and Griswold's engagement had been announced in the Times back in June of 1913.  It gave Grisworld's bond and investment business address as "500 Fifth Avenue" in New York, and his residence as "16 East Sixtieth Street" in New York.

The Arabic was torpedoed and sunk by German u-boat U 24, on August 16, 1915

Eleven months later, Van Alen-Thompson was testifying at a hearing with custom authorities in Boston, regarding taxes due on items brought back with her to the United States on The Arabic.  According to Van Alen, she was a foreign resident and for many years had made her permanent home with her father in Northhamptonshire, England. As a result, the 25 trunks containing jewelry, furs and other fine articles, (as well as the magnificent fur and jewels worn by her maid, underneath her clothing and hidden in a belt, no less) should enter America duty free. At the conclusion of the hearing, May Van Alen begrudgingly paid the duties, although she was able to prove that some of the jewelry and wearing apparel were purchased in the United States prior to her departure from the country. Surprisingly, this was all eventually overturned on appeal! If she was a citizen of England, why all the theatrics to hide her gems, fur, etc... ? Even more surprising to me? No one has written a book or done a movie on this family. At least not a book or movie that I can find!
Surprisingly, this was all eventually overturned on appeal! If she was a citizen of England, why all the theatrics to hide her gems, fur, etc... ? Even more surprising to me? No one has written a book or done a movie on this family.  At least not one that I can find!

Remember, this series of recent blog posts on the Gilded Age in America, originally started with an article on "Miss Leary's Dinner Party" and I was curious about the guests the party was honoring.  First finding an odd article about the curious super fast marriage of Sarah Van Alen, I then stumbled onto the even more curious and baffling May Van Alen. (Above) Part of an article "Some Summer Gowns" featuring Sara Van Alen-Collier, the full column is at the bottom of this post.

On Gilded Aged Fashion and Style:

The hobble skirt below, touted as the "Latest Freak in Woman's Fashion,"caught on quickly. This style remained the height of fashion until around 1915. 

 SURE SIGN OF WOMAN’S EMANCIPATION IN THE INCREASED SIZE OF HER SHOES: Because She Swims, Walks, Plays Golf and Tennis and Works for a Living, She Can No Longer Pose as Wasp-Waisted and Tiny-Footed. So...  Larger feet caught on too, evidently!

All of these fashion articles can be found online and downloaded as PDFs from the New York Times' Archives

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Teaching Children Etiquette in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Teaching children etiquette is an art, as well as, a science.  These patented items below, are for teaching children how to eat properly and designed to instill good table manners. The patents show a historical standpoint of attempting to not only design but teach. And the rules still do matter today. Enjoy!
Oh... and for all those who have emailed me; Next post will be a continuation of the fabulously fickle, Miss May Van Alen, and her wild, Gilded Age romance saga.
These 2 forks were specifically designed to teach a child how to eat properly.  You nay be thinking, "Those are simply 'youth-sized' forks." And they are youth sized forks, but looking on the back sides of them, tells another story...

I have lightened the photo up a bit, so that you can see top one reads, "For the Left Hand".  The lower fork has a "finger guide" for a child to place his or her finger into, though the artist at the time, drew the illustration with the wrong hand using the fork.

A "child training fork" in the left hand

Eliza showing correct hands for the knife and fork, while still practicing technique.  The plate below was designed with a variety of children added to the plate as it was made.  All have marked where a child's fork and spoon would go, however the patent itself is vague.

"Etiquette spoons," a training fork and other youth utensils.

Though these spoons were not new, being marketed as "Etiquette Spoons" was new in the late 1800s.