Monday, August 25, 2014

Amy Vanderbilt on Etiquette Books

Amy Vanderbilt had style and exhibited a grace rarely seen today. The fact that she referred to herself as an "Etiquette Adviser," and not an "Etiquette Expert" (as so many people deign to do today) makes her special to those of us at Etiquipedia. Though we have all taught and studied etiquette for many years, and in some cases, many decades, the majority of us consider ourselves "Etiquette Enthusiasts." Even Amy Vanderbilt admitted that she had to  occasionally use her own book for reference, as there is just so much information one retains and she could remember, "only those details that have, or have had relevance to" her own way of living.
"Who needs a book of etiquette? Everyone does. The simplest family, if it hopes to move just a little into a wider world, needs to know at least the elementary rules. Even the most sophisticated man or woman used to a great variety of social demands cannot hope to remember every single aspect of etiquette applying to even one possible social contingency. 
The human mind is so constructed that even if a person were to read through a book such as this from cover to cover he could retain only that information that had interest for him at the time of reading. Consciously, at least, the rest would be discarded as irrelevant to his way of life. But let some new way of living open up for him a move from city to country, a trip to a new part of the world and his etiquette book becomes his reference book, ready to piece out his own store of information.  
You might imagine that the writer of an etiquette book would certainly know everything in it and therefore have no need for it as reference or guide. But even this is not the case. After ten years as an etiquette adviser, four years of writing this book four years of interviewing dozens of authorities in their own fields for material to be incorporated here I, too, can remember only those details that have or have had relevance to my own way of living. If you asked me, for example, some detail of a wedding in a faith other than my own, I might have to refer to my own book. The information is here the result of my research but in the writing of such sections I made no attempt to memorize all these details. However, in this book, I, like you, have such information in simple, complete form all in one place, and it can be readily found if needed.  
The word "etiquette" for all the things I have tried to discuss is really inadequate, yet no other will do. It covers much more than "manners," the way in which we do things. It is considerably more than a treatise on a code of social behavior, although all the traditional information still of value has, I feel, been included in a way that is simple and concise, shorn of mumbo- jumbo and clearly learnable. For we must all learn the socially acceptable ways of living with others in no matter what society we move." Amy Vanderbilt

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Moderator for Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia