Friday, November 16, 2007

So much for Etiquette

Wouldn't life be easier if we always knew the appropriate words to say or the proper articles of clothing to wear? I think that would be nice. Sometimes I struggle with words, and I have a difficult time deciding what to wear to semi-formal events. Etiquette books have been around for centuries, and they delve into these topics at length.

One of my favorite things to read about is "traditional" women's customs, specifically etiquette of the Antebellum and Victorian Eras. That is not to say I fancy being so proper, or that I, in any way, attempt to live that lifestyle. I'm entirely too forward and stumbling to pass for a real woman. Reading about the customs, though, is fun. The early 1900's idea of Eugenics is also intriguing, if only for it's unrealistic viewpoints of childhood.

The ideas about food mealtimes astound me! All the rules about what goes where, how to eat, how to chew, and even how to stifle a burp--oy, I just laugh. Menu cards, place settings, and what the waitress should wear... a waitress or butler. Because every home had a maid or two, a nanny, a butler, a footman, and a cook. I can't fathom allowing someone else to clean my house. Yes, I'm a bit picky about how my house is cleaned, but besides that, I believe it is a matter of pride to clean up after myself. No one else should have to do it even if I compensate them.

I recently found myself pouring over the items with which I must furnish a house properly. Each subsection had a title, "Glass," "Wood," "Silver," "China," and so on. I read through it thinking to myself, "China? I'm supposed to have china!? I can't even afford plastic." There was a detailed section about candelabras and candle placement around the home. I doubt there is a part in the books about how I should display my DVD collection...

A section I quite like of Vogue's Book of Etiquette, 1948, covers "A Girl on Her Own:"
"It has been estimated that young girls, no matter how seriously they may be working, spend at least half their free time thinking about men. And how right they are! A job may not last a lifetime, but it is always to be hoped that a marriage will. What could be more important, or more worthy of the deepest concentration?"
Now I think about men quite a bit, but 50%? I'm sorry, I don't have that kind of time. I have family concerns, work stuff, and a host of other things that take up my thoughts. Maybe 45% on a good day. ;) A list follows on the next page for "A Lenient Set of Rules" a girl should always follow:
"-Never dine repeatedly with the same married man.
-Never drink enough alcohol to be even slightly affected by it.
-Never allow a man to come into your apartment if you are alone in it...
-Never go to a man's apartment after the dinner hour if he is alone.
-Never go alone with a man to his hotel room.
-Never allow a male guest to stay in your apartment after other guests have left.
-Never stay in a man's apartment after other guests have left.
-Never accept a valuable present from a man or possible beau."
Um, I broke all but three of those this week. Whoops.

I wonder what a proper woman of 1890 would think of me today: pants-wearing, swing dancing, spending time alone with boys, driving a car, eating off paper towels (or worse, with my fingers), handling money, swearing, voting, college-educated, and capable of swinging a hammer with grace. How different the times are, sure... and I have the ability to be a perfectly good woman when I set my mind to it. Still, I wonder about these things.

If only there was an Emily Post article about instant or text messaging etiquette... I know a few people who could use a course or two in that!

1 comment:

David said...

Honestly, I don't know which time period I prefer: the simpler one of the past with its refined elegance or the modern age of convenience. On the one hand the past seems more honorable (on the surface), there is the lack of such a depressing media, and hell, even their writing looks better. On the other, we do have cars today. And more violence. And nuclear weapons. And a code of honor which leaves much to be desired. For all the social injustices which we pride ourselves in eradicating, it hardly seems like we've made much headway in treating each other kindly in our society. We hardly get a smile or "hello how are you." Instead we live in the age of the bumper sticker: I have no time to speak to you (we say as a culture) but kindly read the ass of my car, which invariably condemns your beliefs in favor of my own.

We claim to be so far removed from the problems of the past but I truly feel we've made little headway: our inadequacies have merely evolved from the more easily obvious ones of the past. We point the finger to those who have tread before and say "dead, white male fools" with hardly a notice of our own personal evils. How much easier to point the finger to the past in hindsight than envision a more trustworthy and compassionate posterity for ourselves.

There are endless evils to point to in the past but, if we continue to look back and only blame, what have we really accomplished for ourselves. There are positive things to learn from which would greatly benefit our society today. Something as simple as a modern sense of etiquette or at least a sense of proper behavior may not be a bad thing for a people so far removed from common courtesy and common sense. There is much to be desired in out non-traditional age.


(I'm not trying to argue against anything you said...I read your blog and thought hey, I should write something satirical in response. After writing a sentence or two I got into what I was writing. It's not meant to be totally serious but I do lament some things lost to out modern age.)

Well Jaggy, it has been a long time since I have shared some political thoughts with you. Forgive the rushed nature of my comments and the obvious holes in its logic but tell me: what do you think?

David Meek