GUIDE TO CORRECT PERSONAL HABITS

THE ETIQUETTE OF OCCASIONS

THE ETIQUETTE OF OCCASIONS

THE ETIQUETTE OF OCCASIONS

THE ETIQUETTE OF OCCASIONS.
Great plenty, much formality, small cheer,
And everybody out of his own sphere.—Byron.

 

 

THE ETIQUETTE OF OCCASIONS
THE ETIQUETTE OF OCCASIONS

I.—DINNER PARTIES.
Ayoung man or a young woman, unaccustomed to the settled observances of such occasions, can hardly pass through a severer ordeal than a formal dinner. Its terrors, however, are often greatly magnified. Such a knowledge of the principal points of table etiquette as you may acquire from this book, complete self-possession, habits of observation, and a fair share of practical good sense, will carry one safely if not pleasantly through it.

You may entertain the opinion that such dinners, and formal parties in general, are tiresome affairs, and that there might be quite as much real courtesy and a great deal more enjoyment with less ceremony, and we may entirely agree with you; but what is, and not what might be, is the point to be elucidated. We are to take society as we find it. You may, as a general rule, decline invitations to dinner parties without any breach of good manners, and without giving offense, if you think that neither your enjoyment nor your interests will be promoted by accepting; or you may not go into what is technically called “society” at all, and yet you are liable, at a hotel, on board a steamer, or on some extraordinary occasion, to be placed in a position in which[Pg 84] ignorance of dinner etiquette will be very mortifying and the information contained in this section be worth a hundred times the cost of the book.

We now proceed to note the common routine of a fashionable dinner, as laid down in books and practiced in polite society. On some points usage is not uniform, but varies in different countries, and even in different cities in the same country, as well as in different circles in the same place. For this reason you must not rely wholly upon this or any other manners book, but, keeping your eyes open and your wits about you, wait and see what others do, and follow the prevailing mode.

1. Invitations.
Invitations to a dinner are usually issued several days before the appointed time—the length of time being proportioned to the grandeur of the occasion. On receiving one, you should answer at once, addressing the lady of the house. You should either accept or decline unconditionally, as they will wish to know whom to expect, and make their preparations accordingly.

2. Dress.
You must go to a dinner party in “full dress.” Just what this is, is a question of time and place. Strictly interpreted, it allows gentlemen but little choice. A black dress coat and trowsers, a black or white vest and cravat, white gloves, and pumps and silk stockings were formerly rigorously insisted upon. But the freedom-loving “spirit of the age” has already made its influence felt even in the realms of fashion, and a little more latitude is now allowed in most circles. The “American Gentleman’s Guide” enumerates the essentials of a gentleman’s dress for occasions of ceremony in general, as follows:

[Pg 85]

“A stylish, well-fitting cloth coat, of some dark color and of unexceptionable quality, nether garments to correspond, or in warm weather, or under other suitable circumstances, white pants of a fashionable material and make, the finest and purest linen, embroidered in white, if at all; a cravat and vest of some dark or neutral tint, according to the physiognomical peculiarities of the wearer and the prevailing mode; an entirely fresh-looking, fashionable black hat, and carefully-fitted modish boots, white gloves, and a soft, thin, white handkerchief.”

A lady’s “full dress” is not easily defined, and fashion allows her greater scope for the exercise of her taste in the selection of materials, the choice of colors, and the style of making. Still, she must “be in the fashion.”

3. Punctuality.
Never allow yourself to be a minute behind the time. The dinner can not be served till all the guests have arrived. If it is spoiled through your tardiness, you are responsible not only to your inviter, but to his outraged guests. Better be too late for the steamer or the railway train than for a dinner!

4. Going to the Table.
When dinner is announced, the host rises and requests all to walk to the dining-room, to which he leads the way, having given his arm to the lady who, from age or any other consideration, is entitled to precedence. Each gentleman offers his arm to a lady, and all follow in order. If you are not the principal guest, you must be careful not to offer your arm to the handsomest or most distinguished lady.

5. Arrangement of Guests.
Where rank or social position are regarded (and[Pg 86] where are they not to some extent?), the two most distinguished gentlemen are placed next the mistress of the house, and the two most distinguished ladies next the master of the house. The right hand is especially the place of honor. If it is offered to you, you should not refuse it.

It is one of the first and most difficult things properly to arrange the guests, and to place them in such a manner that the conversation may always be general during the entertainment. If the number of gentlemen is nearly equal to that of the ladies, we should take care to intermingle them. We should separate husbands from their wives, and remove near relations as far from one another as possible, because being always together they ought not to converse among themselves in a general party.

6. Duties of the Host.
To perform faultlessly the honors of the table is one of the most difficult things in society; it might indeed be asserted, without much fear of contradiction, that no man has as yet ever reached exact propriety in his office as host. When he receives others, he must be content to forget himself; he must relinquish all desire to shine, and even all attempts to please his guests by conversation, and rather do all in his power to let them please one another.

Help ladies with a due appreciation of their delicacy, moderation, and fastidiousness of their appetites; and do not overload the plate of any person you serve. Never pour gravy on a plate without permission. It spoils the meat for some persons.

Do not insist upon your guests partaking of particular dishes; never ask persons more than once, and never put anything by force upon their plates. It is [Pg 87]extremely ill-bred, though extremely common, to press one to eat of anything.

The host should never recommend or eulogize any particular dish; his guests will take it for granted that anything found at his table is excellent.

The most important maxim in hospitality is to leave every one to his own choice and enjoyment, and to free him from an ever-present sense of being entertained. You should never send away your own plate until all your guests have finished.

7. Duties of the Guests.
Gentlemen must be assiduous but not officious in their attentions to the ladies. See that they lack nothing, but do not seem to watch them.

If a “grace” is to be asked, treat the observance with respect. Good manners require this, even if veneration fails to suggest it.

Soup will come first. You must not decline it; because nothing else can be served till the first course is finished, and to sit with nothing before you would be awkward. But you may eat as little of it as you choose. The host serves his left-hand neighbor first, then his right hand, and so on till all are served. Take whatever is given you, and do not offer it to your neighbor; and begin at once to eat. You must not suck soup into your month, blow it, or send for a second plate. The second course is fish, which is to be eaten with a fork, and without vegetables. The last part of this injunction does not, of course, apply to informal dinners, where fish is the principal dish. Fish, like soup, is served but once. When you have eaten what you wish, you lay your fork on your plate, and the waiter removes it. The third course brings the principal dishes—roast and[Pg 88] boiled meats, fowl, etc., which are followed by game. There are also side dishes of various kinds. At dessert, help the ladies near you to whatever they may require. Serve strawberries with a spoon, but pass cherries, grapes, or peaches for each to help himself with his fingers. You need not volunteer to pare an apple or a peach for a lady, but should do so, of course, at her request, using her fork or some other than your own to hold it.

We have said in our remarks on table manners in general, in a previous chapter, that in sending your plate for anything, you should leave your knife and fork upon it. For this injunction we have the authority of most of the books on etiquette, as well as of general usage. There seems also to be a reason for the custom in the fact, that to hold them in your hand would be awkward, and to lay them on the table-cloth might soil it; but the author of the “American Gentleman’s Guide,” whose acquaintance with the best usage is not to be questioned, says that they should be retained, and either kept together in the hand, or rested upon your bread, to avoid soiling the cloth.

Eat deliberately and decorously (there can be no harm in repeating this precept), masticate your food thoroughly, and beware of drinking too much ice-water.

If your host is not a “temperance man,” that is, one pledged to total abstinence, wine will probably be drunk. You can of course decline, but you must do so courteously, and without any reflection upon those who drink. You are not invited to deliver a temperance lecture.

Where finger-glasses are used, dip the tips of your fingers in the water and wipe them on your napkin; and wet a corner of the napkin and wipe your mouth. Snobs[Pg 89] sometimes wear gloves at table. It is not necessary that you should imitate them.

The French fashion of having the principal dishes carved on a side-table, and served by attendants, is now very generally adopted at ceremonious dinners in this country, but few gentlemen who go into company at all can safely count upon never being called upon to carve, and the art is well worth acquiring. Ignorance of it sometimes places one in an awkward position. You will find directions on this subject in almost any cook-book; you will learn more, however, by watching an accomplished carver than in any other way.

Do not allow yourself to be too much engrossed in attending to the wants of the stomach, to join in the cheerful interchange of civilities and thoughts with those near you.

We must leave a hundred little things connected with a dinner party unmentioned; but what we have said here, together with the general canons of eating laid down in Chapter VI. (Section 7, “Table Manners”), and a little observation, will soon make you a proficient in the etiquette of these occasions, in which, if you will take our advice, you will not participate very frequently. An informal dinner, at which you meet two or three friends, and find more cheer and less ceremony, is much to be preferred.

II.—EVENING PARTIES.
Evening parties are of various kinds, and more or less ceremonious, as they are more or less fashionable. Their object is or should be social enjoyment, and the manners of the company ought to be such as will best promote it. A few hints, therefore, in addition to the general maxims of good behavior already laid down, will suffice.

[Pg 90]

1. Invitations.
Having accepted an invitation to a party, never fail to keep your promise, and especially do not allow bad weather, of any ordinary character, to prevent your attendance. A married man should never accept an invitation from a lady in which his wife is not included.

2. Salutations.
When you enter a drawing-room where there is a party, you salute the lady of the house before speaking to any one else. Even your most intimate friends are enveloped in an opake atmosphere until you have made your bow to your entertainer.[I] You then mix with the company, salute your acquaintances, and join in the conversation. You may converse freely with any person you meet on such an occasion, without the formality of an introduction.

3. Conversation.
When conversation is not general, nor the subject sufficiently interesting to occupy the whole company, they break up into different groups. Each one converses with one or more of his neighbors on his right and left. We should, if we wish to speak to any one, avoid leaning upon the person who happens to be between. A gentleman ought not to lean upon the arm of a lady’s chair, but he may, if standing, support himself by the back of it, in order to converse with the lady partly turned toward him.[J]

The members of an invited family should never be seen conversing one with another at a party.

4. French Leave.
If you desire to withdraw before the party breaks [Pg 91]up, take “French leave”—that is, go quietly out without disturbing any one, and without saluting even the mistress of the house, unless you can do so without attracting attention. The contrary course would interrupt the rest of the company, and call for otherwise unnecessary explanations and ceremony.

5. Sports and Games.
Among young people, and particularly in the country, a variety of sports or plays, as they are called, are in vogue. Some of them are fitting only for children; but others are more intellectual, and may be made sources of improvement as well as of amusement.

Entering into the spirit of these sports, we throw off some of the restraints of a more formal intercourse; but they furnish no excuse for rudeness. You must not forget your politeness in your hilarity, or allow yourself to “take liberties,” or lose your sense of delicacy and propriety.

The selection of the games or sports belongs to the ladies, though any person may modestly propose any amusement, and ask the opinion of others in reference to it. The person who gives the party will exercise her prerogative to vary the play, that the interest may be kept up.

If this were the proper place, we should enter an earnest protest against the promiscuous kissing which sometimes forms part of the performances in some of these games, but it is not our office to proscribe or introduce observances, but to regulate them. No true gentleman will abuse the freedom which the laws of the game allows; but if required, will delicately kiss the hand, the forehead, or, at most, the cheek of the lady. A lady will offer her lips to be kissed only to a[Pg 92] lover or a husband, and not to him in company. The French code is a good one: “Give your hand to a gentleman to kiss, your cheek to a friend, but keep your lips for your lover.”

Never prescribe any forfeiture which can wound the feelings of any of the company, and “pay” those which may be adjudged to you with cheerful promptness.

6. Dancing.
An evening party is often only another name for a ball. We may have as many and as weighty objections to dancing, as conducted at these fashionable parties, as to the formal dinners and rich and late suppers which are in vogue in the same circles, but this is not the place to discuss the merits of the quadrille or the waltz, but to lay down the etiquette of the occasions on which they are practiced. We condense from the various authorities before us the following code:

1. According to the hours now in fashion in our large cities, ten o’clock is quite early enough to present yourself at a dance. You will even then find many coming after you. In the country, you should go earlier.

2. Draw on your gloves (white or yellow) in the dressing-room, and do not be for one moment with them off in the dancing-rooms. At supper take them off; nothing is more preposterous than to eat in gloves.

3. When you are sure of a place in the dance, you go up to a lady and ask her if she will do you the honor to dance with you. If she answers that she is engaged, merely request her to name the earliest dance for which she is not engaged, and when she will do you the honor of dancing with you.

4. If a gentleman offers to dance with a lady, she should not refuse, unless for some particular and valid[Pg 93] reason, in which case she can accept the next offer. But if she has no further objection than a temporary dislike or a piece of coquetry, it is a direct insult to him to refuse him and accept the next offer; besides, it shows too marked a preference for the latter.

5. When a woman is standing in a quadrille, though not engaged in dancing, a man not acquainted with her partner should not converse with her.

6. When an unpracticed dancer makes a mistake, we may apprize him of his error; but it would be very impolite to have the air of giving him a lesson.

7. Unless a man has a very graceful figure, and can use it with great elegance, it is better for him to walk through the quadrilles, or invent some gliding movement for the occasion.

8. At the end of the dance, the gentleman re-conducts the lady to her place, bows, and thanks her for the honor which she has conferred. She also bows in silence.

9. The master of the house should see that all the ladies dance. He should take notice particularly of those who seem to serve as drapery to the walls of the ball-room (or wall flowers, as the familiar expression is), and should see that they are invited to dance.

10. Ladies who dance much should be very careful not to boast before those who dance but little or not at all, of the great number of dances for which they are engaged in advance. They should also, without being perceived, recommend these less fortunate ladies to gentlemen of their acquaintance.

11. For any of the members, either sons or daughters, of the family at whose house the ball is given, to dance frequently or constantly, denotes decided ill-breeding; the ladies should not occupy those places in[Pg 94] a quadrille which others may wish to fill, and they should, moreover, be at leisure to attend to the rest of the company; and the gentlemen should be entertaining the married women and those who do not dance.

12. Never hazard taking part in a quadrille, unless you know how to dance tolerably; for if you are a novice, or but little skilled, you would bring disorder into the midst of pleasure.

13. If you accompany your wife to a dance, be careful not to dance with her, except perhaps the first set.

14. When that long and anxiously desiderated hour, the hour of supper, has arrived, you hand the lady you attend up or down to the supper-table. You remain with her while she is at the table, seeing that she has all that she desires, and then conduct her back to the dancing-rooms.

15. A gentleman attending a lady should invariably dance the first set with her, and may afterward introduce her to a friend for the purpose of dancing.

16. Ball-room introductions cease with the object—viz.: dancing; nor subsequently anywhere else can a gentleman approach the lady by salutation or in any other mode without a re-introduction of a formal character.

This code must be understood as applying in full only to fashionable dancing parties in the city, though most of the rules should be adhered to in any place. The good sense of the reader will enable him to modify them to suit any particular occasion.

III.—ANNUAL FESTIVALS.

1. Christmas.
At Christmas people give parties and make presents. In Europe, and in some portions of our own country,[Pg 95] it is the most important festive occasion in the year. Beyond the religious observances of the Catholics, Episcopalians, and some other sects, and the universal custom of making presents to all our relatives and intimate friends, and especially to the children, there is no matter of etiquette peculiar to Christmas which it is necessary for us to note. We have already spoken of presents; and religious ceremonies will find a place in another chapter.

2. The New Year.
In New York, and some other cities and towns which have adopted its customs, every gentleman is expected to call on all his lady acquaintances on New Year’s day; and each lady on her part must be prepared properly to do the honors of her house. Refreshments are usually provided in great profusion. The etiquette of these occasions does not differ materially from that of ceremonious morning calls, except that the entire day is devoted to them, and they may be extended beyond the limits of one’s ordinary visiting list. The ladies may make their calls on the next day, or any time within the week.

3. Thanksgiving.
This is the great family festival of New England—the season of home gatherings. Sons and daughters, scattered far and wide, then turn instinctively toward the old homestead, and the fireside of their childhood is again made glad by their presence and that of their little ones. Etiquette requires fat turkeys, well roasted, a plenty of pumpkin pies, unbounded hospitality, genuine friendliness, and cheerful and thankful hearts.

4. Birthdays.
Birthdays are sometimes made family festivals at which parties are given, and presents made to the one[Pg 96] whose anniversary is celebrated. In France, these occasions are observed with great merry making and many felicitations and gifts.

IV.—EXCURSIONS AND PICNICS.
Picnic excursions into the country are not occasions of ceremony, but call for the exercise of all one’s real good nature and good breeding. On leaving the carriage, cars, or steamboat, gentlemen should of course relieve the ladies they attend of the shawls, baskets, etc., with which they may have provided themselves, and give them all necessary assistance in reaching the spot selected for the festivities. It is also their duty and their happiness to accompany them in their rambles, when it is the pleasure of the fair ones to require their attendance, but not to be obtrusive. They may sometimes wish to be alone.

If a lady chooses to seat herself upon the ground, you are not at liberty to follow her example unless she invites you to be seated. She must not have occasion to think of the possibility of any impropriety on your part. You are her servant, protector, and guard of honor. You will of course give her your hand to assist her in rising. When the sylvan repast is served, you will see that the ladies whose cavalier you have the honor to be, lack nothing. The ladies, social queens though they be, should not forget that every favor or act of courtesy and deference, by whoever shown, demands some acknowledgment on their part—a word, a bow, a smile, or at least a kind look.

V.—WEDDINGS.
We copy from one of the numerous manners books before us the following condensed account of the usual ceremonies of a formal wedding. A simpler, less [Pg 97]ceremonious, and more private mode of giving legal sanction to an already existing union of hearts would be more to our taste; but, as the French proverb has it, Chacun à son goût.[K]

For a stylish wedding, the lady requires a bridegroom, two bridesmaids, two groomsmen, and a parson or magistrate, her relatives and whatever friends of both parties they may choose to invite. For a formal wedding in the evening, a week’s notice is requisite. The lady fixes the day. Her mother or nearest female relation invites the guests. The evening hour is 8 o’clock; but if the ceremony is private, and the happy couple to start immediately and alone, the ceremony usually takes place in the morning at eleven or twelve o’clock.

If there is an evening party, the refreshments must be as usual on such occasions, with the addition of wedding cake, commonly a pound cake with rich frosting, and a fruit cake.

The dress of the bride is of the purest white; her head is commonly dressed with orange flowers, natural or artificial, and white roses. She wears few ornaments, and none but such as are given her for the occasion. A white lace vail is often worn on the head. White long gloves and white satin slippers complete the costume.

The dress of the bridegroom is simply the full dress of a gentleman, of unusual richness and elegance.

The bridesmaids are dressed also in white, but more simply than the bride.

At the hour appointed for the ceremony, the second bridesmaid and groomsman, when there are two, enter the room; then, first bridesmaid and groomsman; and lastly the bride and bridegroom. They enter, the ladies taking the arms of the gentlemen, and take seats [Pg 98]appointed, so that the bride is at the right of the bridegroom, and each supported by their respective attendants.

A chair is then placed for the clergyman or magistrate in front of the happy pair. When he comes forward to perform the ceremony, the bridal party rises. The first bridesmaid, at the proper time, removes the glove from the left hand of the bride; or, what seems to us more proper, both bride and bridegroom have their gloves removed at the beginning of the ceremony. In joining hands they take each other’s right hand, the bride and groom partially turning toward each other. The wedding ring, of plain fine gold, provided beforehand by the groom, is sometimes given to the clergyman, who presents it. It is placed upon the third finger of the left hand.

When the ceremony is ended, and the twain are pronounced one flesh, the company present their congratulations—the clergyman first, then the mother, the father of the bride, and the relations; then the company, the groomsmen acting as masters of ceremonies, bringing forward and introducing the ladies, who wish the happy couple joy, happiness, prosperity; but not exactly “many happy returns.”

The bridegroom takes an early occasion to thank the clergyman, and to put in his hand, at the same time, nicely enveloped, a piece of gold, according to his ability and generosity. The gentleman who dropped two half dollars into the minister’s hands, as they were held out, in the prayer, was a little confused by the occasion.

When a dance follows the ceremony and congratulations, the bride dances, first, with the first groomsman, taking the head of the room and the quadrille, and the bridegroom with the first bridesmaid; afterwards as[Pg 99] they please. The party breaks up early—certainly by twelve o’clock.[L]

The cards of the newly married couple are sent to those only whose acquaintance they wish to continue. No offense should be taken by those whom they may choose to exclude. Send your card, therefore, with the lady’s, to all whom you desire to include in the circle of your future acquaintances. The lady’s card will have engraved upon it, below her name, “At home, ——evening, at—o’clock.” They should be sent a week previous to the evening indicated.

VI.—FUNERALS.
When any member of a family is dead, it is customary to send intelligence of the misfortune to all who have been connected with the deceased in relations of business or friendship. The letters which are sent contain a special invitation to assist at the funeral. Such a letter requires no answer.

At an interment or funeral service, the members of the family are entitled to the first places. They are nearest to the coffin, whether in the procession or in the church. The nearest relations go in a full mourning dress.

We are excused from accompanying the body to the burying-ground, unless the deceased be a relation or an intimate friend. If we go as far as the burying-ground, we should give the first carriage to the relations or most intimate friends of the deceased. We should walk with the head uncovered, silently, and with such a mien as the occasion naturally suggests.

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