Friday, 4 May 2012

Manners Maketh Man (And Woman!) - Vintage Lessons On Etiquette

Some of my most treasured possessions belonged to my Great-Aunt Liz, an elegant lady who lived in New York City for most of her life. They include a 1937 copy of Gone With The Wind, black evening gloves and a book published in 1930 called ‘Good Manners - Reliable Advice on Etiquette Clearly Told’. I often open up this little volume and read the outdated passages for sheer amusement though there are times when I wish I lived in a more courteous era  - preferably where Don Draper look-a-likes roamed the streets doffing their hats  and holding open doors.

However, without getting into a lengthy discussion on impolite modern society I believe manners still matter. I’m not insisting men give up their seats on public transport or you should know which fork to eat your salad with; I’m talking about simple niceties such as introductions. A few months ago I was walking through town with a friend who was stopped by someone she knew. She proceeded to chat animatedly to this person for ten minutes while I stood beside her; no introductions were made and I was shocked by friend’s rudeness. I wasn’t expecting a Bridget Jones  ’introduce people with thoughtful details’ type introduction, ‘here you, this is me mate Eimear’ would have sufficed nicely!

                                                                            ‘Ah Perpetua’

Even more recently I was chatted up at an event by a man who had a friend in tow. It was quite clear that the friend didn’t want to play trusty wingman; he had a surly expression on his face and kept rolling his eyes. I tried to include him in the conversation by asking him a question however all I received in reply was a grunt.  According to my Great-Aunt's book - ‘you can never tell when good manners may mean money, or when some slight slip may spoil your chances in business or your social life'. Well this boorish clown certainly spoiled his friend's chances with me!

Here are some of my favourite pieces from 'Good Manners - Reliable Advice on Etiquette Clearly Told’. Warning: contains rampant sexism (naturally!).

How to introduce:

A mother should never introduce her daughter to a young man by her first name, as this puts them on a too familiar footing, which may prove embarrassing to the young lady.

Table manners:

Toothpicks have gone out of date. It is impolite to pick your teeth. Some people try to cover up the operation with their napkins. This makes matters worse because it calls attention to what is going on. If you must pick your teeth, be excused from the table or retire to another room.

Manners when dancing:

A girl should never dance with her arms around a man’s neck. The man should never hold the girl too tightly. There must always be room enough between them to allow plenty of freedom. “Hugging” while dancing is extremely poor taste.

                                                 Leaving room for that all important 'freedom'

The etiquette of gifts:
A girl should never send a man a gift unless engaged and then only at Christmas and on his birthday. On these occasions it is best not to have the gift too personal. A book or cigarettes is sufficient.

       'A box of smokes for my birthday, oh dearest you shouldn't have. You do spoil me so!'

Manners in public:

A woman should not stop a man on the street, unless of course, she knows him very well. He may be hurrying to some business engagement and she may be delaying him…a fact which, as a gentleman, he cannot tell her.

A man should offer to carry any bundles a woman may be carrying. If the bundles are small, she should decline with thanks. A man loaded down with small bundles looks awkward.

In the office:

Women in business should be ready to start their work the moment they arrive at the office. The habit of many girls arriving just before the opening hour and then spending several minutes powdering, rouging, and so on, it is not fair to the firm. It wastes the time for which they are being paid.
'But with all my stenography completed what else is there to do but catch the eye of that dish in Accounts?'

Ehh ok, maybe living in this day and age isn’t too bad after all! But perhaps bear this in mind from time to time - ‘Treat people as you would like to be treated.  Karma's only a bitch if you are’.

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