Monday, September 5, 2011

Mind Your Manners

You know, I've always thought of myself as a polite person.  I say "please" and "thank you" (and am constantly telling my kids that it isn't "yeah," it's Yes, please; and it isn't "no," it's No, thank you; oh, and the biggie: it is NOT "I want milk!" it's May I have some milk, please?  I swear to you I chant that phrase in my sleep).  I hold the door open for other people in public places (and tried not to snarkily mutter "You're welcome" under my breath when the masses back East couldn't be bothered to say "Thank you"). 

I do my level best not to commit any major social gaffes, and I think that good manners make society as a whole easier to tolerate. 

To reiterate:  I am a polite person.

Or I thought I was. 

Over the weekend, I went to the Brass Armadillo, a local antique mall (which I love and really deserves a post all it's own where I can gush unbecomingly about the maze of awesome stuff that makes up that store), and purchased a book.  It was from a series of books first published in the 1920's called the What Every Child Should Know Library.  This one is a reprint from 1939, entitled Etiquette:  What Every Child Should Know

This is the front cover:

This photo is displayed again on one of the first pages of the book, and it's caption reads

Gracious Hospitality Is An Art Youth Should Grow Up With
When Betty brings out mother's best china and invites Bob in for a cup of tea, she is not only setting tea to swing time in the modern American manner, she is also taking the first step towards her future poise and popularity as a hostess.

First of all, what does "swing time" mean?  Is "swing" a verb, as in Betty is swinging time, or is "swing time" an actual time of day, or what? 

The first text of the book, and I'm already out of my depth. 

I was taken by surprise again and again as I opened the book at random to peruse it's contents. 

Never blow on spoonfuls of food. (Apparently you are supposed to test the food or drink ONCE and ONCE ONLY to see if it's too hot- after that you just have to be patient or scald your tongue.)

Cut spaghetti with your fork and eat it as if it were a vegetable.

A boy is taken over to a girl, to be introduced; the girl is never brought to the boy.

Even in very small towns, the "drug store gang" is not in good repute.  (This makes me think of the ladies I worked with at my hometown drug store, and I laugh.  Hard.)

Don't talk "baby-talk," even to babies.  Murder is almost justified in the case of the "baby-talker."  (I did not make that up.  It seriously says that.)

No girl with good manners combs her bobbed hair at table over the plates or arranges her hair in any way.  As hats are always worn by girls at restaurants, one wonders why this statement is made.  Ask the waiter.  He sees strange sights. 

And on and on and on.

Evidently these were things that children were all supposed to be aware of in 1930's America.  I'd like to see most American adults try to follow a quarter of the guidelines proposed in this book. 

I did feel slightly vindicated upon finding, on page 182, the following.passage:

"Please" and "Thank you" are small civilities indeed, but they are the hall mark of the well bred and the naturally courteous.

Ha!  You see, our little family is, um, "well bred" (oh, that one really makes me snigger, picturing certain relatives glimpsed at childhood family reunions whom I swear were more in- than well-bred), and "naturally courteous" (those "pleases" and "thank you's" uttered by my children are genetic manifestations, it's not due to hours and weeks and years of harping by their mother).  I feel better.

I do enjoy reading this book; it gives me fodder for conversations with my children about etiquette and manners.  I don't, however, think I will be instructing them not to use first names in public and on the street, nor will I shriek at Adelaide, "Blots are inexcusable!  This book says so!" when reviewing her work from school. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go ponder the statement, Don't leave rubbers outside the door, a la the Mohammedan, or umbrellas.  What's a Mohammedan, and what precisely do they mean by rubbers...?


  1. Since I live in the East, I am pretty sure NO ONE here has read that book - well except for my MIL b/c she often tells me that she was raised with so much etiquette that the "way we do things in the Midwest is strange..."

  2. Rubbers are mudboots. I almost slapped a man in East Texas once for asking me where my rubbers were. Weirdos...


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