THE OBSERVANCES OF EVERY-DAY LIFE.
Good manners are the settled medium of social, as specie is of commercial life: returns are equally expected in both; and people will no more advance their civility to a bear, than their money to a bankrupt.—Chesterfield.
I.—A PRELIMINARY REMARK.
In going out into the great world which lies outside of home we have no new principles to lay down for your guidance. Those we have set forth and illustrated in previous chapters are of universal application and meet all contingencies. We shall now essay a brief exposition of the established laws of etiquette, leaving each reader to judge for himself how far he can and ought to conform to them, and what modifications they require to adapt them to a change of time, place, and circumstances.
It is neither necessary nor desirable to introduce everybody to everybody; and the promiscuous presentations sometimes inflicted upon us are anything but agreeable. You confer no favor on us, and only a nominal one on the person presented, by making us acquainted with one whom we do not desire to know; and you may inflict a positive injury upon both. Yon also put yourself in an unpleasant position; for “an introduction is a social endorsement,” and yell become to a certain extent responsible for the person you introduce. If he disgraces himself in any way you share, in a greater or less degree, in his disgrace. Be as cautious in this matter as you would in writing your name on the back of another man’s note.
As a general rule, no gentleman should be presented to a lady without her permission being previously obtained. Between gentlemen this formality is not always necessary, but you should have good reason to believe that the acquaintance will be agreeable to both, before introducing any persons to each other. If a gentleman requests you to present him to another gentleman who is his superior in social position, or to a lady, you should either obtain permission of the latter, or decline to accede to his request, on the ground that you are not sufficiently intimate yourself to take the liberty.
If you are walking with a friend, and are met or joined by another, it is not necessary to introduce them to each other; but you may do so if you think they would be glad to become acquainted. The same rule will apply to other accidental meetings.
When two men call upon a stranger on a matter of business, each should present the other.
The inferior should be introduced to the superior—the gentleman to the lady, as, “Miss Brown, permit me to introduce Mr. Smith.” A lady may, however, be introduced to a gentleman much her superior in age or station. Gentlemen and ladies who are presumed to be equals in age and position are mutually introduced; as, “Mr. Wilson, allow me to make you acquainted with Mr. Parker; Mr. Parker, Mr. Wilson.”
In presenting persons be very careful to speak their names plainly; and on being introduced to another, if you do not catch the name, say, without hesitation or embarrassment, “I beg your pardon, I did not hear the name.”
It is the common custom in this country to shake hands on being introduced. It is better that this should be optional with the person to whom you are presented or with[Pg 68] you, if you stood in the position of the superior. If a lady or a superior in age or social position offers the hand, you of course accept it cordially. You will have too much self-respect to be the first to extend the hand in such a case. In merely formal introductions a bow is enough. Feeling should govern in this matter.
In introducing members of your own family you should always mention the name. Say, “My father Mr. Jones,” “My daughter Miss Jones,” or “Miss Mary Jones.” Your wife is simply “Mrs. Jones;” and if there happen to be another Mrs. Jones in the family, she may be “Mrs. Jones, my sister-in-law,” etc. To speak of your wife as “my lady,” or enter yourselves on a hotel register as Mr. Jones and lady, is particularly snobbish.
Introductions by letter are subject to the same general rules as verbal ones: we should, however, be still more cautious in giving them; but for directions on this point, as well as forms for letters of introduction, see “How to Write,” Chapter IX.
But may we not speak to a person without an introduction? In many cases we most certainly may and should. There is no reason in the world why two persons who may occupy the same seat in a railway car or a stage coach should remain silent during the whole journey because they have not been introduced, when conversation might be agreeable to both. The same remark will apply to many other occasions. You are not obliged, however to know these extempore acquaintances afterward.
If you are a gentleman, do not, we beg you, permit the lack of an introduction to prevent you from promptly offering your services to any unattended lady who may need them. Take off your hat and politely beg the honor of protecting, escorting, or assisting her, and when the service has been accomplished, bow and retire.
“Salutation,” a French writer says, “is the touchstone of good breeding.” Your good sense will teach you that it should vary in style with persons, times, places, and circumstances. You will meet an intimate friend with a hearty shake of the hand and an inquiry indicative of real interest, in reference to his health and that of his family. To another person you how respectfully without speaking. A slight note of recognition suffices in another case. But you should never come into the presence of any person, unless you feel at liberty to ignore their existence altogether, without some form of salutation. If you meet in company a person with whom you have a quarrel, it is better in general to bow coldly and ceremoniously than to seem not to see him.
It is a great rudeness not to return a salutation, no matter how humble the person who salutes you. “A bow,” La Fontaine says, “is a note drawn at sight. If you acknowledge it, you must pay the full amount.” The two best bred men in England, Charles the Second and George the Fourth, never failed to take off their hats to the meanest of their subjects. A greater man than either, and a true “gentleman of the old school,” George Washington, was wont to lift his hat even to the poor negro slave, who took off his as that great man passed.
The duty of receiving visitors usually devolves upon the mistress of the house, and should be performed in an easy, quiet, and self possessed manner, and without any unnecessary ceremony. In this way you will put your guests at their ease, and make their call or visit pleasant both to them and to yourself. From a little book before us[Pg 70] entitled “Etiquette for Ladies,” we condense a few useful hints on this subject:
“When any one enters, whether announced or not, rise immediately, advance toward him, and request him to sit down. If it is a young man, offer him an arm-chair, or a stuffed one; if an elderly man, insist upon his accepting the arm-chair; if a lady, beg her to be seated upon the sofa. If the master of the house receives the visitors, he will take a chair and place himself at a little distance from them; if, on the contrary, it is the mistress of the house, and if she is intimate with the lady who visits her, she will place herself near her. If several ladies come at once, we give the most honorable place to the one who, from age or other considerations, is most entitled to respect. In winter, the most honorable places are those at the corners of the fireplace.
“If the visitor is a stranger, the master or mistress of the house rises, and any persons who may be already in the room should do the same. If some of them then withdraw, the master or mistress of the house should conduct them as far as the door. But whoever the person may be who departs, if we have other company, we may dispense with conducting farther than the door of the room.”
Quiet self-possession and unaffected courtesy will enable you to make even a ceremonious morning call tolerable, if not absolutely pleasant to both the caller and yourself.
V.—VISITS AND CALLS.
Visits are of various kinds, each of which has its own terms and observances. There are visits of ceremony, visits of congratulation, visits of condolence, visits of friendship.
Visits of ceremony, though they take up a large share[Pg 71] of the time of the fashionable lady, are very stupid affairs as a general thing, and have little to recommend them except—Fashion. The best thing about them is that they may and should be short.
You pay visits of congratulation to your friends on the occurrence of any particularly auspicious event in his family, or on his appointment to any office or dignity.
Visits of condolence should be made within the week after the event which calls for them.
Let visits of friendship be governed by friendship’s own laws, and the universal principles of good manners. We shall give no particular rules for the regulation of their time or their length.
“Morning calls,” the “Illustrated Manners Book” says “are the small change of social commerce; parties and assemblies are the heavy drafts. A call is not less than ten nor more than twenty minutes in the city; in the country a little longer. The time for a morning call is between eleven and two o’clock, unless your friends are so fashionable as to dine at five or six, in which case you can call from twelve to three. Morning, in fashionable parlance, means any time before dinner.”
In a morning call or visit of ceremony, the gentleman takes his hat and cane, if he carries one, into the room. The lady does not take off her bonnet and shawl. In attending ladies who are making morning calls, a gentleman assists them up the steps, rings the bell, follows them into the room, and waits till they have finished their salutations, unless he has a part to perform in presenting them. Ladies should always be the first to rise in terminating a visa, and when they have made their adieux their cavaliers repeat the ceremony, and follow them out.
Soiled overshoes or wet garments should not be worn into any room devoted to the use of ladies. Gentlemen[Pg 72] must never remain seated in the company of ladies with whom he is ceremoniously associated, while they are standing. Always relieve ladies of their parcels, parasols, shawls, etc. whenever this will conduce to their convenience.[B]
If you call on a person who is “engaged,” or “not at home,” leave your card. If there are several persons you desire to see, leave a card for each, or desire a servant to present your compliments to them severally. All visits should be returned, personally or by card, just as one should speak when spoken to, or answer a respectful letter.
In visiting at a hotel, do not enter your friend’s room till your card has announced you. If not at home, send your card to his room with your address written upon it as well as the name of the person for whom it is intended, to avoid mistakes.[C]
When you are going abroad, intending to be absent for some time, you inclose your card in an envelope, having first, written T. T. L. [to take leave], or P. P. C. [pour prendre congé] upon it—for a man the former is better—and direct it outside to the person for whom it is intended. In taking leave of a family, you send as many cards as you would if you were paying an ordinary visit. When you return from your voyage, all the persons to whom, before going, you have sent cards, will pay you the first visit. If, previously to a voyage or his marriage, any one should not send his card to another, it is to be understood that he wishes the acquaintance to cease. The person, therefore, who is thus discarded, should never again visit the other.[D]
Visiting cards should be engraved or handsomely written. Those printed on type are considered vulgar, simply, no doubt, because they are cheap. A gentleman’s card should be of medium size, unglazed, ungilt, and perfectly plain. A lady’s card may be larger and finer, and should be carried in a card-case.
If you should happen to be paying an evening visit at a house, where, unknown to you, there is a small party assembled, you should enter and present yourself precisely as you would have done had you been invited. To retire precipitately with an apology for the intrusion would create a scene, and be extremely awkward. Go in, therefore, converse with ease for a few moments, and then retire.
In making morning calls, usage allows a gentleman to wear a frock coat, or a sack coat, if the latter happen to be in fashion. The frock coat is now, in this country, tolerated at dinner-parties, and even at a ball, but is not considered in good ton or style.
“Ladies,” according to the authority of a writer of their own sex, “should make morning calls in an elegant and simple négligé, all the details of which we can not give, on account of their multiplicity and the numerous modifications of fashion. It is necessary for them, when visiting at this time, to arrange their toilet with great care.”
Be exact in keeping all appointments. It is better never to avail yourself of even the quarter of an hour’s grace sometimes allowed.
If you make an appointment with another at your own house, you should be invisible to the rest of the world, and consecrate your time solely to him.
If you accept an appointment at the house of a public[Pg 74] officer or a man of business, be very punctual, transact the affair with dispatch, and retire the moment it is finished.
At a dinner or supper to which you have accepted an invitation, be absolutely punctual. It is very annoying to arrive an hour before the rest, and still worse to be too late. If you find yourself in the latter predicament on an occasion where ceremony is required, send in your card, with an apology, and retire.
We shall speak in another place of the ceremonious observances requisite at formal dinner parties. Our observations here will be of a more general character, and of universal application.
Take your seat quietly at the table. Sit firmly in your chair, without lolling, leaning back, drumming, or any other uncouth action. Unfold your napkin and lay it in your lap, eat soup delicately with a spoon, holding a piece of bread in your left hand. Be careful to make no noise in chewing or swallowing your food.
Cut your food with your knife; but the fork is to be used to convey it to your mouth. A spoon is employed for food that can not be eaten with a fork. Take your fork or spoon in the right hand. Never use both hands to convey anything to your month. Break your bread, not cut or bite it. Your cup was made to drink from, and your saucer to hold the cup. It is not well to drink anything hot; but you can wait till your tea or coffee cools. Eggs should be eaten from the shell (chipping off a little of the larger end), with or without an egg-cup. The egg-cup is to hold the shell, and not its contents.
Be attentive to the wants of any lady who may be[Pg 75] seated next to you, especially where there are no servants, and pass anything that may be needful to others.
When you send up your plate for anything, your knife and fork should go with it. When you have finished the course, lay your knife and fork on your plate, parallel to each other, with the handles toward your right hand. Of course, you should never put your knife into the butter or the salt, or your spoon into the sugar-bowl. Eat moderately and slowly, for your health’s sake; but rapid, gross, and immoderate eating is as vulgar as it is unwholesome. Never say or do anything at table that is liable to produce disgust. Wipe your nose, if needful, but never blow it. If it is necessary to do this, or to spit, leave the table.
It is almost unnecessary to mention that the table-cloth is not the place to put your salt. Bread is the only comestible which the custom of well-bred people permits to be laid off your plate.
It is well not to seem too much in haste to commence, as if you are famishing, but neither is it necessary to wait till everybody is served before you commence.
It is perfectly proper to “take the last piece,” if you want it, always presuming that there is more of the same in reserve.
As conversation is the principal business in company, we can not well pay too much attention to it; but having devoted another work to the subject, we shall make this section briefer than would otherwise be allowable, and refer our readers for complete instructions in this important art to “How to Talk.”[E] The maxims which follow are mostly compiled from other works now before us.
The wit of conversation consists more in finding it in others than in showing a great deal yourself. He who goes from your conversation pleased with himself and his own wit, is perfectly well pleased with you. The most delicate pleasure is to please another.[F]
Men of all sorts of occupations meet in society. As they go there to unbend their minds and escape from the fetters of business, you should never, in an evening, speak to a man about his profession. Do not talk of politics to a journalist, of fevers to a physician, of stocks to a broker. Talk to a mother about her children. Women are never tired of hearing of themselves and their children.[G]
In promiscuous companies you should vary your address agreeably to the different ages of the persons to whom you speak. It would be rude and absurd to talk of your courtships or your pleasures to men of certain dignity and gravity, to clergymen, or men in years. To women you should always address yourself with great respect and attention; their sex is entitled to it, and it is among the duties of good manners; at the same time, that respect is very properly and very agreeably mixed with a degree of gayety, if you have it.
In relating anything, avoid repetitions, or very hackneyed expressions, such as, says he, or says she. Some people will use these so often as to take off the hearer’s attention from the story; as, in an organ out of tune, one pipe shall perhaps sound the whole time we are playing, and confuse the piece so as not to be understood.
Carefully avoid talking either of your own or other people’s domestic concerns. By doing the one, you will be thought vain; by entering into the other, you will [Pg 77]be considered officious. Talking of yourself is an impertinence to the company; your affairs are nothing to them; besides, they can not be kept too secret. As to the affairs of others, what are they to you?
You should never help out or forestall the slow speaker, as if you alone were rich in expressions, and he were poor. You may take it for granted that every one is vain enough to think he can talk well, though he may modestly deny it. [There is an exception to this rule. In speaking with foreigners, who understand our language imperfectly, and may be unable to find the right word, it is sometimes polite to assist them by suggesting the word they require.]
Giving advice unasked is another piece of rudeness. It is, in effect, declaring ourselves wiser than those to whom we give it; reproaching them with ignorance and inexperience. It is a freedom that ought not to be taken with any common acquaintance.
Those who contradict others upon all occasions, and make every assertion a matter of dispute, betray, by this behavior, a want of acquaintance with good breeding.
Vulgarism in language is the next and distinguishing characteristic of bad company and a bad education. A man of fashion avoids nothing with more care than that. Proverbial expressions and trite sayings are the flowers of the rhetoric of a vulgar man.[H]
Never descend to flattery; but deserved compliments should never be withheld. Be attentive to any person who may be speaking to you, and be equally ready to speak or to listen, as the case may require. Never dispute. As a general rule, do not ride your own hobbies in a mixed company, nor allow yourself to be “trotted out” for their amusement.
When music commences, conversation should cease. It is very rude to talk while another person is singing or playing.
A lady should never exhibit any anxiety to sing or play; but if she intends to do so, she should not affect to refuse when asked, but obligingly accede at once. If you can not sing, or do not choose to, say so with seriousness and gravity, and put an end to the expectation promptly. After singing once or twice, cease and give place to others. The complaint is as old as the days of Horace, that a singer can with the greatest difficulty be set agoing, and when agoing, can not be stopped.
In playing an accompaniment for another, do not forget that it is intended to aid, and not to interrupt, and that the instrument is subordinate to the singer.
When a lady is playing, it is desirable that some one should turn the leaves for her. Some gentleman will be generally at hand to do this, but unless he be able to read music, his services may as well be dispensed with.
X.—LETTERS AND NOTES.
Few accomplishments are more important than letter writing—in fact, it is absolutely indispensable to every man or woman who desires to fill a respectable position it society. But good letter-writers are rare. Too little attention is paid to the subject in our systems of education; and the lack of the ability to write a decent letter, or even a note of invitation, acceptance, or regret, is often the cause of great mortification, to say nothing of the delays, misunderstandings, and losses resulting in business affairs from bungling and incorrectly written letters.
The impossibility of doing justice to the subject in the very limited space that we could devote to it in this work, compels us to refer the reader to our little manual of Composition and Letter-Writing, entitled “How to Write,” in which the whole subject is thoroughly explained and illustrated.
1. Which goes First?
In ascending or descending stairs with a lady, it is proper to offer your arm, provided the stair-case is sufficiently wide to permit two to go up or down abreast.
But if it is not, which should go first? Authorities disagree. Usage is not settled. It is a general rule of etiquette to give ladies the precedence everywhere. Is there a sufficient reason for making this an exception? One says that if you follow a lady in going down stairs, you are liable to tread on her dress, and that if she precedes you in going up, she might display a large foot or a thick ankle which were better concealed. He thinks the gentleman should go first. Another calls this a maxim of prudery and the legacy of a maiden aunt. Colonel Lunettes, our oft-quoted friend of the old régime, speaks very positively on this point. “Nothing is more absurd,” he says, “than the habit of preceding ladies in ascending stairs, adopted by some men—as if by following just behind them, as one should if the arm be disengaged, there can be any impropriety. Soiled frills and unmended hose must have originated this vulgarity.” Let the ladies decide.
2. An American Habit.
There is a habit peculiar to the United States, and from which even some females, who class themselves as[Pg 80] ladies, are not entirely free—that of lolling back, balanced upon the two hind legs of a chair. Such a breach of good breeding is rarely committed in Europe. Lolling is carried even so for in America, that it is not uncommon to see the attorneys lay their feet upon the council table; and the clerks and judges theirs also upon their desks in open court.
3. Gloved or Ungloved?
In shaking hands it is more respectful to offer an ungloved hand; but if two gentlemen are both gloved, it is very foolish to keep each other waiting to take them off. You should not, however, offer a gloved hand to a lady or a superior who is ungloved. Foreigners are sometimes very sensitive in this matter, and might deem the glove an insult. It is well for a gentleman to carry his right-hand glove in his hand where he is likely to have occasion to shake hands. At a ball or a party the gloves should not be taken off.
In company, though none are free, yet all are equal. All, therefore, whom you meet should be treated with equal respect, although interest may dictate toward each different degrees of attention. It is disrespectful to the inviter to shun any of her guests.
5. False Shame.
In a letter to his son, Lord Chesterfield makes the following confession: “I have often wished an obscure acquaintance absent, for meeting and taking notice of me when I was in what I thought and called fine company. I have returned his notice shyly, awkwardly, and consequently offensively, for fear of a momentary joker not considering, as I ought to have done, that[Pg 81] the very people who would have joked upon me at first, would have esteemed me the more for it afterward.”
A good hint for us all.
6. Pulling out one’s Watch.
Pulling out your watch in company, unasked, either at home or abroad, is a mark of ill-breeding. If at home, it appears as if you were tired of your company, and wished them to be gone; if abroad, as if the hours dragged heavily, and you wished to be gone yourself. If you want to know the time, withdraw; besides, as the taking what is called French leave was introduced, that, on one person’s leaving the company, the rest might not be disturbed, looking at your watch does what that piece of politeness was designed to prevent.
7. Husband and Wife.
A gentleman speaks of his wife in a mixed company as Mrs. ——, and a lady of her husband as Mr. ——. So one does not say in speaking to another, “your wife,” or “your husband,” but Mrs. or Mr. ——. Among intimates, however, to say “my wife,” or “my husband,” is better, because less formal. Let there be a fitness in everything, whatever conventional rules you may violate.
8. Bowing vs. Curtseying.
Curtseying is obsolete. Ladies now universally bow instead. The latter is certainly a more convenient, if not a more graceful form of salutation, particularly on the street.
Among friends, presents ought to be made of things of small value; or, if valuable, their worth should be derived from the style of the workmanship, or from[Pg 82] some accidental circumstance, rather than from the inherent and solid richness. Especially never offer to a lady a gift of great cost; it is in the highest degree indelicate, and looks as if you were desirous of placing her under an obligation to you, and of buying her good-will.
The gifts made by ladies to gentlemen are of the most refined nature possible; they should be little articles not purchased, but deriving a priceless value as being the offspring of their gentle skill; a little picture from their pencil or a trifle from their needle.
A present should be made with as little parade and ceremony as possible. If it is a small matter, a gold pencil-case, a thimble to a lady, or an affair of that sort, it should not be offered formally, but in an indirect way.
Emerson says: “Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, his corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing.”
When you hear a man insisting upon points of etiquette and fashion; wondering, for instance, how people can eat with steel forks and survive it, or what charms existence has for persons who dine at three without soup and fish, be sure that that individual is a snob.
Show, but do not show off, your children to strangers. Recollect, in the matter of children, how many are born every hour, each are almost as remarkable as yours in the eyes of its papa and mamma.
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