Tuesday, July 22, 2008

etiquette week, day two

We jump ahead almost 70 years with today's post, with a book published in 1952: Amy Vanderbilt's Everyday Etiquette: Answers to Today's Questions. I think I got this at a thrift store. Times have changed since 1887, and the book is clearly commenting on a world we would see as similar to ours: there are sections on Business Etiquette, and Divorce, Separation, and Widowhood. It is still quaintly out of date, however. Here's a question and answer about dining in a restaurant:

Recently, when four of us were dining out--two married couples--one of the husbands left the table for a few minutes. The remaining husband, left with his wife and the wife of the other, lit the cigarette first of his friend's wife, then of his own. His wife felt that as her escort he should have lit her cigarette first. Which is correct? (asked by Mrs. R. L. V., Columbus, Ohio)

As one woman was left alone, the husband and wife remaining are, in effect, her host and hostess for the moment. Therefore it was correct for the remaining husband to light the guest's cigarette first, then his wife's.

Can you imagine getting your panties in a twist over your husband lighting someone else's cigarette first? Although the person who wrote in for guidance carefully leaves her own identity vague, you know it must be the wife of the guy who lit her friend's cigarette first. For that matter, can you imagine smoking in a restaurant at all? Thankfully, no.

Or how about this alarming piece:

When I get taken to a nice restaurant by a date I never quite know what's expected of me once we get inside the door. I feel so lost when my date goes to check his hat. I don't know where to stand, and I don't know whether to go with the headwaiter or waitress if they arrive before my date does from the checkroom. Can you give me explicit advice on this subject? (asked by J. O. L., Jefferson City, Missouri)

Your feeling of helplessness can be a great social asset in this instance. Just allow your date to take full charge. He probably feels just as unsure as you do, but you mustn't let him know that you know it. If he doesn't escort you out of the line of traffic at the entrance while he checks his hat, you step out of it yourself although you don't follow him. You wait quietly without seeming too interested in your surroundings until he rejoins you, then together you approach the entrance to the dining room. There if the headwaiter or hostess steps forward, your escort should step back and let you follow the individual who is to direct you to your table. If no one does step forward to guide you, then your escort steps in front of you and you follow along until he has found a table and pulled out a chair for you. You allow him to seat you.

Right. Helplessness as a social asset. Moving right along, let's end with this sweet lovely vignette:

Should a man remove his hat to kiss a lady? (asked by B. R. J., Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania)

A man kissing a lady on the street--in greeting or farewell (only)--should always remove his hat, no matter what the weather. He should be careful concerning this courtesy even--or perhaps I should say especially--with his wife or daughter.


Beth said...

Well, times have certainly changed and in many instances (such as your examples) for the better. Still, I do miss some of the manners and etiquette of the past.

Lindsay said...

"Helplessness as a social asset."
Wow... I have never thought about that... But then, I'm not likely to feel helpless when left alone for a moment. I'm thinking on this, but I just keep getting stymied at being helpless by not being directed.
And her answer directs the woman to take charge in order to make the man feel like he is in charge. All the while she feels lost. Was anyone supposed to be honest?

Anonymous said...

I was struck by "You wait quietly without seeming too interested in your surroundings." So, not only are we supposed to be completely dependent, but vacuous as well? I think there is a lot to be said for common courtesy, even fairly old-fashioned things like opening doors for someone. But there are parts of so-called etiquette that are best left in history.

Tara said...

Lindsay's comment pretty much sums it up for me.

These things are fascinating, though. Thanks for posting excerpts for us to enjoy.