Praising Amy Vanderbilt's Etiquette

Sooner or later, everybody needs Amy Vanderbilt!

This article that I wrote, first appeared in a Southern California magazine back in 1993.  I decided it needed an update, and the following is the result.

Today's lifestyle requires a whole new set of manners. There's a book on my shelf that I've long considered my "business bible." I didn't buy it at a seminar or online.  In fact, I didn't even know I was buying the book.  It came with my "starter kit";  four cardboard suitcases of crystal, china, and a metal folding table.  That kit gave me the title of "Crystal Consultant."

I received my kit in January of 1975, while still a senior in high school.  I decided at age 17, that my future was in home-party-plan crystal sales and signed up.  The book was the sample, and I was supposed to take sales orders for it, though I can't ever recall selling one.  In fact, at one point, the book just seemed to be added weight to the rest of my kit, so I put it away on a shelf.

The book is Amy Vanderbilt's "Etiquette: The Guide to Gracious Living." it was, at the time, and probably still is today, the most complete book of etiquette ever written. Amy Vanderbilt happened to be, according to the catalog of crystal glued into the book's front cover, the company's "Special Advisor."  There was a special message from Amy, along with her photo. I was mildly impressed, and had heard the name, but that didn't stop me from trying to sell the book at garage sales over the years. No, my book really didn't mean too much to me until 1990, when it suddenly took on a new dimension in my life and simply demanded the respect it deserves.

Now I'm truly glad it's stuck with me. Not only is my book a gold mine of information that I delve into on a regular basis for my business, it is also a melancholy look at the past and how America used to behave and the rules by which one attempted to live.

The first copyright on the book was 1952 ; the last, 1972. Not so old chronologically, yet ancient in terms of social customs.

A thick book, covering babies to bidets, my favorite passage is on page 232 : "In greeting a woman friend in the street or in some public place, once she has bowed first, a man actually lifts his hat from his head, turning his head slightly towards the woman and smiling, if he wishes, but not stopping unless she stops first."

Now I have never bowed to a man that I can remember and I don't know if a situation will ever arise that I will be called to do so; however, I like the part about the man not stopping unless I stop first.

So much of our daily lives has changed since 1952 copyright, the only about half of my business bible is really usable in its current context. With our modern gadgets and hectic lifestyles, not to mention role reversal of the sexes, new rules need to be written and new manners, combined with a sense of social obligation, are in order.

So with that in mind and Amy's book back on my shelf, I have a few suggestions, 

From copyright 1993: Sunglasses
Take them off briefly, or lift them, when you are being interviewed, talking to others, etc...
When outdoors, say meeting someone on the street, after conversation has been established, casually lift or tip them, while smiling momentarily, in an attempt to establish eye contact. This should signal to the other person to do the same if he or she is also wearing sunglasses. Once eye contact has been made, readjust the glasses properly on your face.

When indoors, especially when being interviewed on TV, please remove the glasses completely, unless you have good reason to be wearing them. Blindness or other eye problems are good reasons. Celebrityhood or an over inflated ego or not.

And now, copyright 2014: 

Read the above

Copyright 2014: Google Glasses

The newest social pariah?
If you own them, congratulations. You are now part of an elite group of people - the newest social pariah. When outdoors, say meeting someone on the street, before conversation becomes established, remove the Google Glasses while you chat . Also apologize and make a quick vow not to record anything while you are talking.

From copyright 1993: Car Phones

You have an obligation to others in your car and to those sharing the road with you.

Most of us are born with two eyes, two ears and two hands. To attempt to defy Mother Nature by making three have any of these necessary is not only foolish, but risky as well. Trying to manually downshift, drink from your Big Gulp and talk on the phone all at the same time is pushing it.

You have an obligation to others in your car and to those sharing the road with you. Be polite and limit your other activities while driving to just one at a time, please.

From copyright 2014: Mobile Phones

Read the above

From copyright 1993: Fax Machines
If you must solicit business by fax, at least call in advance and ask for permission to send a fax.
Think about how you would feel if you had to pay for telemarketers' phone calls to disrupt your dinner at home, or the postage for the junk mail delivered to your mailbox. Now you have a good idea of how recipients of unsolicited faxes (hi tech junk mail) feel. They foot the bill for the paper, electricity, toner, and wear and tear on the machine itself all for the honor of receiving those faxes.

If you must solicit business by fax, at least call in advance and ask for permission to send a fax. The response others will give to such an unheard-of gesture might really surprise you. Politeness in business is rarely forgotten.

From copyright 2014: Fax Machines

If you still use fax machines in 2014, read the above.  And if you believe that fax machines are unimportant in this day and age, guess again.  Fax machines are still extremely important in Japan. Almost all resumes or CVS are faxed after they are written by hand. 

Good penmanship is valued in Japan and fax machines can successfully transmit your beautiful penmanship to the company that you are applying for a job from.

Actual "Hi Tech Junk Mail" of 2014?

Keep it to yourself! And that includes all you out there who knows some prints or some millionaire and you need my help to get his money from out of Nigeria or whatever country you are claiming to be from.

From copyright 1993: Video Cameras

Always ask before videotaping others.
Contrary to popular opinion, not everyone is dying to be videotaped simply because you have a camera in hand. Ask before videotaping others, unless you know ahead of time that they won't mind. Not only are you being polite, you are avoiding potential embarrassment, anger, or worse, lawsuits.

From copyright 2014: Video Cameras

Contrary to popular opinion, not everyone is dying to be videotaped simply because you have a camera or cell phone in hand. Ask before taping others. I know you want to be the next big thing on YouTube. Or you're angry at your neighbor, ex, teacher, coach or cop who just pulled you over. The tables are about to be turned back in another direction. People are getting fed up. Before you realize it, the taping of anyone without their approval is most likely going to be legislated. As it is, many celebrities are banning cell phones and videos from being taken in their presence. And just like anything else what celebrities do it trickles down to non celebrities and the general public. People are fed up. Get ready in advance and stop taping people without their permission.

One fun bit of trivia; Andy Warhol did artwork for Amy Vanderbilt's books. He was usually listed alongside one or two other artists, as having done the artwork for the books, however he was the only artist listed for the artwork in Amy Vanderbilt's 1950's cookbook.
From Amy's Complete Book of Etiquette:
"Who needs a book of etiquette? Everyone does. The simplest family, if it hopes to move just a little into a wider world, needs to know at least the elementary rules. Even the most sophisticated man or woman used to a great variety of social demands cannot hope to remember every single aspect of etiquette applying to even one possible social contingency. The human mind is so constructed that even if a person were to read through a book such as this from cover to cover he could retain only that information that had interest for him at the time of reading. Consciously, at least, the rest would be discarded as irrelevant to his way of life. But let some new way of living open up for him a move from city to country, a trip to a new part of the world and his etiquette book becomes his reference book, ready to piece out his own store of information.

You might imagine that the writer of an etiquette book would certainly know everything in it and therefore have no need for it as reference or guide. But even this is not the case. After ten years as an etiquette adviser, four years of writing this book four years of interviewing dozens of authorities in their own fields for material to be incorporated here I, too, can remember only those details that have or have had relevance to my own way of living. If you asked me, for example, some detail of a wedding in a faith other than my own, I might have to refer to my own book. The information is here the result of my research but in the writing of such sections I made no attempt to memorize all these details. However, in this book, I, like you, have such information in simple, complete form all in one place, and it can be readily found if needed.

The word "etiquette" for all the things I have tried to discuss is really inadequate, yet no other will do. It covers much more than "manners," the way in which we do things. It is considerably more than a treatise on a code of social behavior, although all the traditional information still of value has, I feel, been included in a way that is simple and concise, shorn of mumbo-jumbo and clearly learnable. For we must all learn the socially acceptable ways of living with others in no matter what society we move. Even in primitive societies there are such rules, some of them as complex and inexplicable as many of our own. Their original reason or purpose is lost, but their acceptance is still unquestioned."  


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