Skip

"Avoid The Appearance Of Evil"
March 28, 2014 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Thank Goodness We Don't Have To Do That Anymore: a selection of US social customs and rituals that have mercifully passed on. Spinster Etiquette! Paying Calls! Hand Kissing! Bathing Machines! Wedding Gift Displays!
posted by The Whelk (90 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
That spinster one actually helps me put into context a lot of the Victorian/oldtimey period pieces I like.

And also why people found Ellen just so strange in Age of Innocence. I knew why, it just makes a lot more sense now.
posted by sio42 at 11:20 AM on March 28


This is really neat. It's funny how while some things have completely changed, others haven't changed at all.
posted by Melismata at 11:22 AM on March 28


"Many of our bachelor girls live together and are the happiest people imaginable"

I should think so!
posted by xingcat at 11:22 AM on March 28 [32 favorites]


I read "bathing machines" as "bathing matches", which sounds like a plausibly arcane Victorian sport.

Sunday Sunday Sunday SEE the one and only Dirtscrubberrrrrrrrr WIPE the competition clean! Kids are only FIVE CENTS and are to be seen, not hearrrrrrrrrd…
posted by Turkey Glue at 11:24 AM on March 28 [4 favorites]


I love, love, love the prospect of stopping, leaving a calling card, and going. Failing that, 15 quick minutes of conversation. LOVELY.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 11:25 AM on March 28 [24 favorites]


I get that the point of the blog posts is removing antiquated, often sexist etiquette. However as a Seattle Freezer and frequently awkward around people, a little etiquette in today's would go a long way.

Saying goodbye to a group of friends? Everyone has their own little hug or handshake. Meeting someone new or an old friend? Shake hands? Hug? Who's that weird girl who cheek kisses?

10 people responded 'going' to a Facebook invite, yet only 2 show up. Who the eff is texting me at 1am?!

On and on...
posted by arguenaut at 11:26 AM on March 28 [9 favorites]


All of this makes me ever so happy to be an introvert in the 21st century. Also, I like shorts.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:27 AM on March 28 [5 favorites]


If you go back far enough, there's generally a good reason for pretty much any item of ettiquette, even if it's just "making other people more comfortable," which was a lot more important back in the days when you never knew when you were going to need your neighbors to put out your burning house or help build your barn.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:31 AM on March 28 [3 favorites]


In the list of wedding etiquette never seen in person is:
"The groomsmen also serve as ushers and show the guests to their seats."

is this really rare? We did this at our wedding, and I've always been taught to use groomsman and usher interchangeably. I thought this was pretty standard if the wedding was big enough to make ushering a thing that made sense.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:35 AM on March 28


it was actually not uncommon to glorify old maids

Well, yeah, "spinsters" were and economic necessity for a large household because someone had to keep the family stocked with yarn and cloth and this time consuming work required someone to have the primary occupation of spinning and weaving rather than child-care, farming, cooking, or any of the myriad other chores.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:36 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


question: if all the ladies of the house are out paying calls every afternoon, how can they also be home to receive the calls paid?

Question: How deep is the servant infrastructure that props up these call events? Do the maids also pay calls?

Question: why in the blue blazes do we give a flying F what idle women with enough time to pay calls did? I want to know about the etiquette of people like me, not the queens and their cousins.
posted by rebent at 11:37 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]


if all the ladies of the house are out paying calls every afternoon, how can they also be home to receive the calls paid?

They weren't. The silver tray immediately inside the foyer of their home was receiving the guests' calling cards.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:38 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]


They were indeed an economic necessity, because it takes a village to raise a child. The only thing is, I'd be homeless before I'd move in with my loopy sister and her son.
posted by sockerpup at 11:39 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]


The hand kiss was A Big Deal in the etiquette of the Habsburg Empire, and persists in the Austrian greeting "küss die Hand," which is a very formal way for men of a certain social standing to greet women. (I believe it also used to be the appropriate way for children of a certain class to greet/show obedience to their mothers.)
posted by scody at 11:39 AM on March 28


My sister had a showing of the wedding presents when she got married in '99. She's in Aberdeen, Scotland. 30 miles north in Peterhead a few years previously my cousin displayed her dress and those of her bridesmaids on mannequins with fancy lighting.

These people are deeply strange.
posted by gnuhavenpier at 11:40 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


All of this makes me ever so happy to be an introvert in the 21st century.

I would have been thought of as a scandalously weird recluse, I'm sure. And I'd probably have been okay with that.
posted by Foosnark at 11:40 AM on March 28 [3 favorites]


If you go back far enough, there's generally a good reason for pretty much any item of etiquette, even if it's just "making other people more comfortable,"

Yeah, I think of etiquette as a set of formalized rules to aid in courtesy, where courtesy is making other people feel comfortable and not being effing rude. Etiquette can be really helpful here because it gives you a set of parameters for interaction like shaking hands when you meet someone, or conventions about stuff like not talking with your mouth full. Yes, these are etiquette, but they exist in the service of courtesy, of people being kind and knowing what is expected of them and not making life unpleasant for everyone else.

Unfortunately, sometimes etiquette takes on a life of its own, and you get stuff like snobbery about which fork to use or other irritating weirdnesses*, and it becomes problematic. Yes, etiquette dictates you should use the right fork, but courtesy dictates that if someone uses the wrong fork you should shut the fuck up about it and do your best to make them feel good and comfortable in what is presumably a challenging situation for them. If there is ever any doubt, courtesy should always win over etiquette.

*I come from a super WASPy New England family. We had finger bowls and stuff at holidays and I once got in trouble for handing that top plate that you aren't really supposed to use to the woman serving instead of letting her pick it up. One year, all the grandchildren (four of us) received a book of etiquette entitled Soup Should Be Seen and Not Heard for Christmas. I do know what fork to use. I still think it's irritating that I'm supposed to care.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:41 AM on March 28 [27 favorites]


question: if all the ladies of the house are out paying calls every afternoon, how can they also be home to receive the calls paid?

I actually know this! I have a fancy-ass twee cookbook all about tea and tea parties and tea party customs of the English variety, and he has a whole chapter devoted to the Inner Voodoo Of Victorian Social Etiquette.

What happened was: each woman would, as she was introducing herself to a social circle, send around a notice that said what particular day she WOULD be at home ("Mrs. Kettystone-Bunkum, At Home Wednesdays"). That was each woman's way of giving people a scheduled chance to find her at home for these calls. The rest of the week, Mrs. Kettystone-Bunkum would figure out who she'd be calling on based on their own "At Home" days on top of the other social rules ("I do owe a call to Mrs. Potnoodle-Twickham - oh, but today is Thursday, and she is not At Home until Mondays. Very well, I'll make her first on the list for Monday.")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:44 AM on March 28 [28 favorites]


I do know what fork to use. I still think it's irritating that I'm supposed to care.

That's what you say now, but I guarantee that if I eat dinner with a dessert fork you'll notice and it'll bug you, sweetheart.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:44 AM on March 28 [3 favorites]


if all the ladies of the house are out paying calls every afternoon, how can they also be home to receive the calls paid?

They weren't. The silver tray immediately inside the foyer of their home was receiving the guests' calling cards.


I should add, the little old ladies in rural Alabama that took it upon themselves to teach me etiquette in the 1980's still had these trays in teir foyers, sadly empty. Another note, a ladies calling card also serves as her "dance card" at balls which were placed in her dance partners' cummerbunds (thus his pleats must "catch crumbs") at the ball and it was "sporting" for the gentlemen to see who could get the most dance cards in the night, thus having danced with them most ladies.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:45 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]


One year, all the grandchildren (four of us) received a book of etiquette entitled Soup Should Be Seen and Not Heard for Christmas. I do know what fork to use. I still think it's irritating that I'm supposed to care.

You've reminded me of a throwaway scene from WKRP In Cincinnatti where Johnny Fever has to fill in for the person running a call-in advice show. He's taking a call from someone who is overwrought about not knowing what fork to use at a fancy dinner, and tries to walk her through the whole "start with the outermost utensil and work your way in" thing, but she keeps asking more questions and getting so flustered that he finally says "okay, look - if all else fails, throw the napkin over your head so no one can see you and eat with your hands."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:46 AM on March 28 [8 favorites]


Not to make this personal, but I'm not convinced that the person who made this post really thanks goodness that all of these rituals have passed on.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:47 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]


Question: why in the blue blazes do we give a flying F what idle women with enough time to pay calls did? I want to know about the etiquette of people like me, not the queens and their cousins.

The middle classes, and pretty much any family where the wife was a homemaker, did afternoon call-paying to some degree. They just had to balance it around their housework/farm work. The further down the socioeconomic scale you got, the less likely you were to have things like calling cards, of course.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:47 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Bulgaroktonos: I do know what fork to use. I still think it's irritating that I'm supposed to care.

Cottilion! I actually attended some of those super-formal WASPy social dance trainings for little lord and lady Fauntleroys. It was 6th grade, and for some reason, my parents signed me up. Perhaps it was an attempt to get me to diversify my group of friends, or someone said "hey, little light thief should attend this thing!" and my parents said "sure, why not?"

Anyway, I was a very good dancer, as my partner and I were able to dance with the most number of (styrofoam? paper?) plates on our head. Somewhere in my archives of child-hood items is an old film camera that I picked up as a prize for "winning" this event.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:50 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]


That's what you say now, but I guarantee that if I eat dinner with a dessert fork you'll notice and it'll bug you, sweetheart.

You do it with malice aforethought and then flaunt it. Also, go to hell. I don't even understand how you can do that. Do whatever you want with your dessert, that's crazy free-for-all time, but I seriously one hundred percent do not understand how you can tolerate eating dinner with a dessert fork.

Okay, so it turns out perhaps that book and the attendant instruction was more effective than I'd believed.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:50 AM on March 28 [20 favorites]


I know you don't believe me, darling, but in the drawer they really all just look like forks.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:52 AM on March 28 [7 favorites]


Question: why in the blue blazes do we give a flying F what idle women with enough time to pay calls did? I want to know about the etiquette of people like me, not the queens and their cousins.

Well, not to get personal, but define "people like you". If you were part of a family living in a city and middle-class, then the woman of the house almost certainly didn't have a job and would participate in some sort of call-paying system, though probably not one as formal as the Edith Wharton/Emily Post Tuxedo Park set. If you were a blue-collar woman you likely worked as a servant or in a factory, and probably wouldn't have time to pay calls. Leaving a calling card wasn't the equivalent of afternoon tea with the queen, it was more like writing a note on someone's Facebook wall.
posted by Diablevert at 11:53 AM on March 28 [14 favorites]


I actually know this! I have a fancy-ass twee cookbook all about tea and tea parties and tea party customs of the English variety, and he has a whole chapter devoted to the Inner Voodoo Of Victorian Social Etiquette.

I used to have old ettiquette tomes among the used books we got in mystery boxes from the charity shop when were kids, and I'd pore over them, fascinated with this strange world. To this day, it drives me crazy if I’m watching a period piece and the hero calls the oldest daughter “Miss [FirstName].” She’s Miss [LastName], you lunkhead! Her sister’s Miss [FirstName]! Were you born in a barn or something?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:54 AM on March 28 [16 favorites]


Jinx, underpants monster.
posted by Diablevert at 11:54 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Best arcane etiquette I've heard about recently was the requirement in 18th century England that you could not drink from your wine unless you were drinking WITH someone. You had to look them in the eye, raise your glass to them, and drink up in unison. In a large dining room is was common for the nobles to send a messenger down to the other end of the table to send along a message that drink was requested. The two would catch each others' eye, and then bottoms up!

Also -- when you received a calling card because you weren't home, you were OBLIGATED to go return that call NO LATER THAN THE NEXT DAY. So many people were rushing around trying to respond to missed calls that the noon meal just got pushed later and later. It's one of the reasons we eat dinner now around 6.

Source - Bill Bryson, Home: A History of Private Life
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:58 AM on March 28 [5 favorites]


*begins hyperventilating* a ..dessert ...fork ..is ..too ..small...to eat ...dinner ...with
posted by The Whelk at 12:01 PM on March 28 [6 favorites]


A salad fork you could get away with, but a dessert fork?

No way.
posted by sio42 at 12:02 PM on March 28


i use my dinner fork for dessert because bigger bites = tastes better SO THERE!
posted by rebent at 12:03 PM on March 28


i use my dinner fork for dessert because bigger bites = tastes better SO THERE!

Why are you going to sit there trying to cut your meat while holding a tiny dessert fork and then eating your entire dessert in one mouth-stuck-together-with-cake bite?

Madness.
posted by rue72 at 12:06 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


I know plenty of people who've done the wedding gift displays within the last 5-10 years. It's usually called a Sip & See, and happens after all the bridal showers. In my experience, it's typically hosted by the bride's mother (who, as a family member, wouldn't host a shower.). But maybe it's more of a southern thing?

(Sip & Sees are also common for second/third/nth babies, since it's generally regarded [in some circles] as inappropriate to have showers after the first baby.)
posted by ThatSomething at 12:08 PM on March 28


Having a separate “bridal bouquet” and “tossing bouquet.”

Oh please -- that's NEVER going to go out of style because the florists WANT you to pay them the money for it!! Honestly, the number of things the florist told me HAD to be florally decorated . . . .
posted by JanetLand at 12:22 PM on March 28


Sometimes I get the feeling that etiquite books were written by the historic equivalent of fox news. Sure, you think we should behave like this, but does anyone actually listen?
posted by rebent at 12:24 PM on March 28




Oh please -- that's NEVER going to go out of style because the florists WANT you to pay them the money for it!!

Or if you want to keep your bridal bouquet because it's so puuuuurty.
posted by corb at 12:26 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Due to the cumulative abrasion of tipping my hat to every lady I pass, by the end of the day I need a patent ointment for my forehead.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:33 PM on March 28 [5 favorites]


Etiquette tends to be the weird confluence of both rote courtesy and social shibboleths and as such different things will fall on different parts of that spectrum.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:33 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


It must have been Hell to be an introvert a hundred years ago. I don't talk to the person in the cube next to mine let alone randomly stop by houses of people I know.
posted by tommasz at 12:53 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


I love, love, love the prospect of stopping, leaving a calling card, and going.

That's what text messages are used for -- keeping in touch without devoting an extended social visit to the task. Before that, phone calls.
posted by davejay at 1:06 PM on March 28 [4 favorites]


Or if you want to keep your bridal bouquet because it's so puuuuurty.

This is the case for a lot of the brides I've known. When I was a maid of honor, the bride threw a bouquet made of pretty homemade paper flowers instead of buying a throwing bouquet, because she still wanted to be able to make her marching bouquet into a dried centerpiece.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:07 PM on March 28


Sometimes I get the feeling that etiquite books were written by the historic equivalent of fox news. Sure, you think we should behave like this, but does anyone actually listen?

Nah. I mean, have you ever read Dorothy Parker's contemporary review of Post's Etiquitte? (You really, really should.) It's kind of the ur-example --- even back in the day, etiquette books were wholly aspirational tomes, ginned up out of thin air by self-made experts in order to help anxious social-climbing middle class folks. Post only wrote hers when she was stuck for cash after being forced to divorce her husband due to a huge scandal he was involved in --- the editor of a gossip mag found out he was going round town with a chorus girl, tried to blackmail him, and instead Mr. Post went to the DA and set the editor up in a sting operation, resulting in him getting clapped in jail. When the DA is relying on the acknowledged fact that your husband is an adulterer to get an indictment, looking the other way is no longer an option, so Post struck out on her own, eventually turning to writing to make a little of the ready.

They're all like that, really. There's no doubt the upper classes have an etiquette all their own, and doubtless Post was a loyal recorder of the mores of her tribe. But most of the stuff you learn by osmosis coming up in that environment; you can't fake U-ness as a non-U by cribbing from books. Because if you start to grok it they'll change the rules.
posted by Diablevert at 1:08 PM on March 28 [18 favorites]


Sometimes I get the feeling that etiquite books were written by the historic equivalent of fox news. Sure, you think we should behave like this, but does anyone actually listen?

But they did! And sometimes still do (see: every askme about weddings). The best etiquette books (and those that read them and heed at least some of the advice) help you figure out how not to be rude; they are not supposed to be bludgeons in the aid of being rude to other people.

You probably didn't have an etiquette book that explicitly told you to be polite to the parents of someone you're dating (for example), but you learned that somewhere, from someone, and it's not information that's just there to oppress you. I mean, ultimately, do what you will, but be willing to bear the consequences of knowingly and deliberately busting out of those rules is all.
posted by rtha at 1:08 PM on March 28


Due to the cumulative abrasion of tipping my hat to every lady I pass, by the end of the day I need a patent ointment for my forehead.

Aha! The real purpose of Macassar Oil!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:09 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


I kind of wish the custom of paying calls were still in force; fifteen minutes is about as much socializing as I can handle at one time
posted by ook at 1:09 PM on March 28 [5 favorites]


fifteen minutes is about as much socializing as I can handle at one time

God, this is so true. I somehow both desperately need to be around people I like, but then almost immediately, with a few exceptions, feel the need to get away. It's pretty much the reason why I continued to be a social smoker even though no one I hung out with smoked.

Also, I'm also pretty sure there will be tons of stuff that is assumed as "obvious" by AskMetafilter consensus that will be laughable in 2114. I don't know what it is yet, but we're kidding ourselves if we think otherwise.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:17 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


Aha! The real purpose of Macassar Oil!

You just blew my mind, man. I never put together antimacassars with Macassar oil, which I'd vaguely heard of. I cannot believe the same issue Eddie Murphy was cracking on with Jheri Curls in Coming To America was such a huge problem in the 19th century they developed a dedicated furniture adornment to combat it.
posted by Diablevert at 1:19 PM on March 28 [7 favorites]


furthermore if you're presenting service à la russe and thus serving things that require specialized cutlery and multiple courses to consider and if you're doing it fucking CORRECTLY than the dessert tools and brought out AT DESSERT cause YOU'VE CLEARED THE FUCKING TABLE and given everyone time to relax and digest a bit and clear away all the DIRTY KNIFES AND FORKS PREVIOUSLY USED and MAYBE you confuse the dessert fork with the oyster fork but IT WOULDN'T MATTER CAUSE YOU'D BE GIVEN A NEW FUCKING FORK WHEN THE DESSERT IS FUCKING BROUGHT TO THE TABLE WHY IS THIS CONFUSING

*breathes into paper bag*
posted by The Whelk at 1:21 PM on March 28 [19 favorites]


See, I told you so.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:26 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


To be clear, when Mrs. Pterodactyl and I are discussing my fork use, we're not talking about service à la russe, we're talking about chicken and rice at the coffee table while watching TV.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:27 PM on March 28 [3 favorites]


rebent: "question: if all the ladies of the house are out paying calls every afternoon, how can they also be home to receive the calls paid?"

They generally had one day a week that they were known as being "at home," for people who actually wanted to see them. This is referenced a couple times in, off the top of my head, Little Women.

filthy light thief: "Cottilion! I actually attended some of those super-formal WASPy social dance trainings for little lord and lady Fauntleroys."

My public junior high school had cotillion. In 1993. They still do, in fact, and 95+% of the student body participates, and they have PTA scholarships for kids who can't afford it. I am not even kidding. White gloves, skirts below the knee, no heels above 1.5" high, and SHOULDERS MUST BE COVERED. Skorts, which were super-trendy, were absolutely forbidden. Boys must wear jackets, ties, slacks, belts, and dress shoes -- NO SNEAKERS.

The funny thing is, it's not a particularly WASPy place and there's no debutante ball tradition anywhere in the area or anything, it's just something that got weirdly popular decades ago and has become this gigantic tradition in my hometown, so everyone does it just because everyone's always done it! Which I guess is an excellent metaphor for some parts of etiquette. :)

However. If you are going to make adolescents participate in cotillion, white cotton gloves are a very good idea because 13-year-old boys have sweaty hands.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:28 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


* blink *

Holy crap, this whole talk of tossing-bouquets-at-weddings has just given me an awesome idea for the "if I ever do have a wedding in my life" file:

Rather than tossing a bouquet that's all tightly bound up so the whole bundle stays together, I am going to toss an unbound bouquet, so all the flowers scatter wide and a whole bunch of people can catch a couple flowers each because for the love of god there should not be a damn race to see who gets married first
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:30 PM on March 28 [18 favorites]


*breathes into paper bag*

If sir will pardon me for mentioning it, sir, I believe sir will find sir is breathing into sir's fish bag, sir. Sir's salad bag is slightly to the left. sir. Would sir care for a fresh bag, sir?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:30 PM on March 28 [29 favorites]


I would also clarify that I do know which fork to use from a place setting, I just can't recognize them when they're all in a jumble in the drawer. This is really about a conflict between Mrs. Pterodactyl's upbringing and the middle class squalor into which she has descended since marrying so far beneath her station.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:32 PM on March 28 [8 favorites]


This is my favorite part of 1922 Emily Post, where she describes a bungled dinner party -- go down to How a Dinner Can Be Bungled, about 2 page-down pushes -- and, oh, this poor girl! Her servants are incompetent, her fireplace doesn't draw, and her hollandaise broke! SHE IS SOCIALLY RUINED! NOBODY WILL EVER COME TO HER DINNERS AGAIN! It's such a dire tale of woe that it's ceaselessly amusing to me.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:33 PM on March 28 [7 favorites]


Cottilion!

I remember sitting behind two young men on the bus who were taking about a Star Trek: TNG episode and kept saying " Q Cotillion" instead of "Q Continuum."

"May I have the next waltz, Q?"
"Why, certainly, Q, but only if you'll stand up with me for the Scotch Reel. Ahahahaha!"
"Oh, what a character you are, Q! Shall we go in to supper?"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:38 PM on March 28 [3 favorites]


> but I guarantee that if I eat dinner with a dessert fork you'll notice and it'll bug you, sweetheart.

Episcopalians go to Hell for eating oysters with the dinner fork. (And Unitarians, but only in Boston.)

I was given child-sized cards that said "Master _____" by an aunt when I was born. Those I used up because it was acceptable to stick them to birthday presents when carrying one to a children's party. The same aunt gave me adult-sized cards that said "Mr. ______" when I turned eighteen. I still have all but two of them, those two having been expended after random encounters, followed by amusing conversations, with very elderly professors in Cambridge (Massachusetts.) On the bus, because elderly professors can be found on the bus in Cambridge. Each of these gents rose on approaching his stop and offered me his card. I silently thanked my long-dead aunt for my having one to offer in return.

> go down to How a Dinner Can Be Bungled

Miss Manners (Judith Martin) once answered a what-should-we-do question from a hapless couple who had managed to forget a small dinner party given in their honor. Her answer was "Change your names, move to another town, and devote the rest of your lives to others."
posted by jfuller at 1:49 PM on March 28 [12 favorites]


where she describes a bungled dinner party

Terrifying subhead of an entire section: HAVE SILVER THAT SHINES, OR NONE!
posted by scody at 1:53 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Let's not pretend we're much more sophisticated nowadays. I remember a "Shoes off or shoes on in the house?" AskMe a few months back that came to metaphorical fistfighting in the aisles with both sides convinced the other side was a bunch of subhuman heathens.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:55 PM on March 28 [12 favorites]


no it lead to the best line in the history of the site

"because inside shoes ....are feet."
posted by The Whelk at 1:56 PM on March 28 [3 favorites]


I would also clarify that I do know which fork to use from a place setting, I just can't recognize them when they're all in a jumble in the drawer.

longer and/or skinnier tines = meal
shorter and/or fatter, rounded tines = dessert

I don't think that salad forks as a type of fork distinct from main dish forks are really a "thing" anymore (if they ever were?), because you never see them in home silverware sets, and in all of the restaurants I've ever worked in, including "fine dining," we've always used the same type of fork as we give people for the main dish. I could just be clueless, though?

We always were supposed to clear the entire table and then bring out new silverware between each course but they weren't necessarily always different *kinds* of silverware. To be honest, I think the biggest variation is between spoons, because there are all kinds of weird spoons for weird foods we don't even eat anymore.

Best arcane etiquette I've heard about recently was the requirement in 18th century England that you could not drink from your wine unless you were drinking WITH someone. You had to look them in the eye, raise your glass to them, and drink up in unison. In a large dining room is was common for the nobles to send a messenger down to the other end of the table to send along a message that drink was requested. The two would catch each others' eye, and then bottoms up!

Aren't there still places where you're still supposed to do something like this? I forget where I was (I think maybe Russia? or maybe at one of the Armenian parties that were always going on in my old building?) where I was told that after saying cheers to the other person and raising the glass to them I was supposed to keep looking at them while I drank. It wasn't a big deal thing, it was just one of those tips that people give when they know you won't know the right etiquette and they don't want you to look dumb. It felt like a strange sort of trust exercise.

It kind of reminds me of the elaborate wine presentation that waiters are supposed to give now. Or maybe always have, I don't know. That presentation was clearly created with either smaller bottles or burly male waiters in mind, I think, because there are all these things about it that require what I think are inordinately large hands and arm strength -- like not popping the cork at all while taking it out of the bottle with just one hand and not jerking the bottle around at all with the other hand, and pouring the wine delicately while holding the bottle from the base without covering the label, and then gently spinning the bottle to keep the wine from dripping while the bottle's still at that weird angle. Fizzy drinks are a real nightmare, I try my best but every time I have to twist out one of those corks "effortlessly" and then pour without the champagne spurting everywhere, my life flashes before my eyes.
posted by rue72 at 2:04 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Years ago when I worked at the chocolate counter in Fortnum and Mason we got a letter from a woman in Kent whom we had apparently socially ruined by selling her broken mints. Not kidding: it went on for about a page about the shame she felt and how hers guest tried to make the best of it but, clearly, they were all deeply embarrassed for her, and she was never going to be able to show her face amongst this circle again. She didn't seem to want anything from us, just to let us know of her Kentish shame.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:21 PM on March 28 [17 favorites]




A salad fork is shorter than the dinner fork and may have less tines.

They are indeed sold home sets. Just not the cheap plastic handled sets.

See for yourself at target or tjmaxx.
posted by sio42 at 2:58 PM on March 28


I don't talk to the person in the cube next to mine let alone randomly stop by houses of people I know.

I hate it when people drop-in. Call first. Call first because I don't actually want you here.

I don't like it when the phone rings either.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:20 PM on March 28 [11 favorites]


question: if all the ladies of the house are out paying calls every afternoon, how can they also be home to receive the calls paid?

You would set aside days when you would be "at home" to receive calls and this would be circulated amongst your friends. They, in turn would have their own days and you would visit them on one of those. The scheduling must have been phenomenal - I understand why some society ladies employed social secretaries.

ManyBooks.net has a nice selection of turn-of-the-century etiquette books if anyone's interested.
posted by ninazer0 at 3:20 PM on March 28


Each of these gents rose on approaching his stop and offered me his card. I silently thanked my long-dead aunt for my having one to offer in return.

My yuppie stroller came with "Playdate cards" which I think were pure genius and should be a standard gift at every baby shower.

They had a fill in section for your name, the child's name, a telephone and email address.

Have a nice chat with a parent at the park, when you leave, just reach into the convenient stroller pocket, pull out a pre-filled card, hand it over and be on your way.
No worrying about finding a pen or remembering how to add a contact.

Worked great.
(minus the SAHD awkwardness)
posted by madajb at 3:29 PM on March 28


Bulgaroktonos: "To be clear, when Mrs. Pterodactyl and I are discussing my fork use, we're not talking about service à la russe, we're talking about chicken and rice at the coffee table while watching TV."

For the record, I would read an entire book of you two having this conversation because it is delightful.
posted by Dr. Zira at 3:35 PM on March 28 [13 favorites]


Display Wedding Gifts


Huh. I was under the impression that they still do this sort of thing in the Deep South (Atlanta, Charleston, Mobile, etc.). Do people not hold sip-and-see's anymore? I know I haven't been to one in years.
posted by magstheaxe at 4:20 PM on March 28


Speaking of displaying the wedding gifts, realizing that people did this, I now understand parts of The Philadelphia Story -- or more so, the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" part of High Society so much more. (I just always thought it was a plot contrivance.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:32 PM on March 28


I forget where I was (I think maybe Russia? or maybe at one of the Armenian parties that were always going on in my old building?) where I was told that after saying cheers to the other person and raising the glass to them I was supposed to keep looking at them while I drank. It wasn't a big deal thing, it was just one of those tips that people give when they know you won't know the right etiquette and they don't want you to look dumb. It felt like a strange sort of trust exercise.

The rule I've heard about toasting is: after you clink glasses, you have to drink. You can't just clink, and then set your glass down, or you're indicating that you do not, in fact, wish good things towards the subject of the toast.

Is this an actual rule, or have I been getting irritated at people for no reason?
posted by Bill_Roundy at 4:52 PM on March 28


When I was a wee thing reading Emily Post in the 70s, I was SO GRATEFUL that gloves were a dead letter and I didn't have to know glove etiquette. But I was fascinated by the details of buttons (not mentioned in the post): apparently they were a measurement and had nothing to do with the actual fasteners on the glove.
posted by immlass at 5:25 PM on March 28


Lightsaber down until you find someone to duel with. If there's an official duel going on, then you may have an unofficial duel, indicating your interest by bowing. You must bow before the duel, official or not. No third parties may interfere with the duel. No force powers during the duel. If there are guns, DON'T USE THEM AT ALL even in random melees. Kicking is the highest possible insult to someone's skill, and only gun-users to shall kicked to death. Duel interrupters are dealt with by the dueling parties going lightsaber down and staring at the interrupter until they feel bad.
posted by Joe Chip at 8:10 PM on March 28 [3 favorites]


Dueling Etiquette
posted by homunculus at 8:30 PM on March 28


Wow, paying calls. The socially-savvy may have survived the collapse of these etiquette systems, but could the awkward benefit from this amount of structure? I think some of us need a watered-down system of paying calls. How often am I obliged to see so-and-so, while not appearing hopelessly needy or coldly aloof? When do I get to leave? All the answers are provided. No more puzzling and self-doubt.
posted by Bachelor of Attendance at 11:04 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


arrg speaking of etiquette, someone help me with this - my dad insists that it is an insult to the cook if you use a knife to cut a potato - you are inferring that the potato isn't properly prepared. Has anyone else heard of this? I have asked around, and when I told my dad that no-one else knows of this odd bit of manners, he brushed it off with a snide remark about "the sort of people I associate with" Is this a thing?

(also, Pteroktonos, you guys are so cute)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:12 AM on March 29


"It must have been Hell to be an introvert a hundred years ago"

"could the awkward benefit from this amount of structure? I think some of us need a watered-down system of paying calls. How often am I obliged to see so-and-so, while not appearing hopelessly needy or coldly aloof? When do I get to leave? All the answers are provided. No more puzzling and self-doubt."


Growing up within a system of similarly structured social etiquette, I think I can say it's quite easy to be shy within the rules. You just have to sit there, you don't have to say anything. You do the structured greetings and the structured goodbyes and in-between you can breathe gently or maybe accept a drink.

When you think about how good conversationalists were lauded in Victorian times that might just indicate they were exceptional. Everybody else was probably acceptably dull.
posted by glasseyes at 6:51 AM on March 29 [2 favorites]


my dad insists that it is an insult to the cook if you use a knife to cut a potato - you are inferring that the potato isn't properly prepared. Has anyone else heard of this?

...is he German or from a Germanish background cause using a knife to cut meat is a fussy, old fashioned German faux pas cause you're implying the meat isn't tender enough ( you use the edge of your fork to cut it)
posted by The Whelk at 7:50 AM on March 29


As far as hand-kissing, this is a tradition that only David Letterman seems to actively keep alive. But after much careful viewing, I noticed that it is only the really beautiful women that get a hand-kiss from Dave. The "lesser attractive" ones just get a handshake. Watch for a few weeks, you'll see what I mean...
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 10:23 AM on March 29


cause using a knife to cut meat is a fussy, old fashioned German faux pas

yes! both my parents grew up in Germany. I guess he's gotten his meat and potatoes mixed up? There does seem to be a tendency with their more old-fashioned recipes to have the meat boiled into oblivion. And the vegetables.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:56 AM on March 29


What? No! My German-ish background indicates a faux pas using knives on potatoes, while making no mention of meat. (What heathen tears at a slab of meat with a fork?!)
My husband says the potato thing is only because a fork-parted potato piece soaks up gravy more easily than a smoothly cut one.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:24 PM on March 29


Well, my dad does take his gravy very seriously.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:10 PM on March 29


In regard to "spinsters"-- I was doing some quick web research on my thesis that the generation following a war is often marked by unmarried women. I found out that I was wrong!

The Effect of the Civil War on Southern Marriage Patterns reviewed US census data for the decades after the Civil war and concluded
unmarried southern white women in their twenties at the outbreak of the war faced an acute shortage of available men after the war. Unsurprisingly, a small number of women in this cohort delayed marriage or compromised on marriage partners. The vast majority eventually married, however, and the war did not create a large cohort of lifelong spinsters or so-called maiden aunts. ... The results of this study are remarkably consistent with the results of Louis Henry’s classic study of the effect of World War I on marriage patterns in France. Like the Confederate South, France lost between 15 and 20 percent of its young men in a few years of war. But, despite the severe marriage squeeze experienced by French women after the war, the vast majority of them eventually married.
Louis Henry's 1966 research indicates that numeric inequality leads surplus populations to marry outside of the preferred age cohort or social class.

This research brought up the topic of widows, facing greater freedom than spinsters because they did not need to pretend virginity, and also more vulnerable, because they often had children to support.

Among things that we used to have but don't have anymore-- rooming houses or boarding houses.
posted by ohshenandoah at 6:06 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]


Bill Roundy: The rule I've heard about toasting is: after you clink glasses, you have to drink. You can't just clink, and then set your glass down, or you're indicating that you do not, in fact, wish good things towards the subject of the toast.

Is this an actual rule, or have I been getting irritated at people for no reason?


You are not the only one! I'm not sure where I picked it up, but it is an actual rule, and its flouters annoy me too.

I was another wee tyke fascinated by all the outdated etiquette books I could get my hands on. I loved books on such things as body language and international business manners, too — I think it was an autistic-spectrum thing. As an adult living in Switzerland, which has its own host of social niceties, I've picked those up too. (Beyond Chocolate is a nice primer for people moving here.) The unfortunate result is that I now get irritated when British friends don't wish one another a good appetite before meals, or when they toast 'wrongly', despite being in a different cultural setting than the one where those rules operate. (I'm only irritating myself, of course — I'd never complain about it to them, because that would be rude and wouldn't make sense.)

Ivan Fyodorovich summed up a lot of my feelings about both language use and manners in the MetaTalk typo thread this morning when he said,

Although I think that my core personality is to be generous about other people, I can still be judgmental about some things and it's sort of a long, slow process in my life to train myself to let go of these things. Stuff I don't like about other people's language usage is an active internal battleground — I'm an outspoken descriptivist because, deep inside, there yet lives within me a diehard prescriptivist.
posted by daisyk at 6:29 AM on March 30 [2 favorites]


Why would you toast and then not drink?!? What would be the point?!?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:33 AM on March 30


Yeah, to be fair, this behaviour is uncommon among my friends and family, because we are all so keen to get to the wine. :)

An example I remember seeing in film is this scene in Re-Animator, where I can kind of rationalise it by asking who would want to toast to creepy Dr. Hill's success, but surely the dean of Miskatonic U would have brought his daughter up more properly?
posted by daisyk at 6:42 AM on March 30


I don't remember the explanation, but I do remember that "take a sip after you toast" is definitely a thing because someone in the family had to call my mother on that. She didn't like to get into the wine at family events until later, so she'd just clink glasses and then put her glass down after the toasts, and one evening on the drive home after Grandma's birthday or whatever Dad finally told her that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 AM on March 30


« Older David A. Trampier, 1954-2014   |   Another view of Kitty Genovese Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post