Etiquette, Tact and the Plumber

     This broken fountain wasn’t outside the high society, Washington home, but as a decoration on the elaborate dining table, on which the dinner was served… “Before the plumber knew what was happening, the guests had entered the dining room, chairs were drawn up. and he suddenly found himself hemmed in by a wall in which trousers alternated with skirts. It was a big round table, so be was safe from discovery from any shifting foot.” 
 

Every once in a while, when doing nightly etiquette history and research for my books and Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia, I find something really amusing. Last night I found a perfect story to share. After reading so much about employees and others signing and or/breaking NDA’s in recent news, I wondered if the $10.00 for this plumber had been enough. Imagine the gossip he heard while attending this dinner, regardless of the fact that he was under the table!



Masterly Inactivity at a Banquet in High Society

Not so very long ago there was a dinner given in exclusive Washington society at which the most tactful person was undoubtedly a plumber in overalls. It was an elaborate dinner. The central feature of the table decorations was a playing fountain, but just before the dinner was to be served the fountain refused to play.

A plumber was hastily called. He crawled under the table and soon had the fountain sending a delicate spray into the air. He was busy tightening the couplings of the temporary pipes under the table when the head butler, his mind relieved of a load of care when he saw the fountain playing, announced in the drawing room: “Dinner is served.” 

Before the plumber knew what was happening, the guests had entered the dining room, chairs were drawn up. and he suddenly found himself hemmed in by a wall in which trousers alternated with skirts. It was a big round table, so be was safe from discovery from any shifting foot. 

He scratched his head and wondered what he should do. He looked carefully around. Neither to the right nor to the left, nor between any pair of feet, was there sufficient space for him to wiggle through. The only way to get out would be to tap on some knee and say, “Pardon me, please.”

He didn't know much about the etiquette of formal dinner parties, but he had a hunch that that wouldn't make a hit. He decided that there was just one thing to do– stay where he was, until the trousers and skirt wall departed. So there he sat while course after course was served, coffee sipped, cigarettes and cigars smoked, nothing to entertain him but a ground floor view of High Society.

When the dinner was at last over and the guests had returned to the drawing room the plumber crawled forth. The hostess had tarried for a moment to give a few directions to the head butler. She gasped with astonishment.. The plumber explained. “Sir,” said she, “you are a gentleman.” Then to the head butler. “James, give this man $10 for himself.” Then to the plumber, “And please say nothing.” –New York Times, 1914

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