Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Bread and Butter" Letter Etiquette

The letter may be as long and chatty as one pleases, or it may be only a brief note...


THE "BREAD-AND-BUTTER" LETTER

From constant usage, the term "bread-and-butter" letter has become custom. Now, upon return from a week-end or house party, it is considered necessary and, indeed, it would be a gross neglect to fail in so obvious a duty, to write a cordial note to the hostess, expressing appreciation of the “hospitality received, and informing her of your safe arrival.

The letter may be as long and chatty as one pleases, or it may be only a brief note such as the following:


Terrace Revain,
June 23, 19—
Dear Mrs. Bevans:
This is to tell you again how very much I enjoyed the week-end at Pine Rock. We got into the city at five and Morgan brought me out home in a taxi. Mother is giving a small bridge this afternoon and so I found everyone busy, for while there is not a great deal to do it is impossible to get anyone to help do it.

Tell Mr. Bevans that I am arranging for three or four tennis games next week, so that when I come again, if I don't win, I shall at least not be beaten quite so shamefully.

Let me know when you come to town on your next shopping trip. Perhaps we can arrange for lunch together somewhere.

Very sincerely yours,
Helen R. Janis.
    From Lillian Eichler's 1924, “Book of Etiquette / Volume I” 

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

Victorian Etiquette of Christmas Trees and Stockings

Two conflicting views of St. Nick on Christmas Eve: One with stockings hung for Victorian era goodies of a large-sized apple, gingerbread, candy and small toys.  In another, Santa is with a Christmas tree. "There was no lack of room on it's capacious branches, and the New England stocking, conscious of its imperfections, shrank timidly into obscurity." From "LIFE" 1883

"The very name of the Christmas stocking is now held to be improper in the most refined New England circles, and New England children, as they gaze in joy and wonder if their Christmas trees glowing with lights and blossoming with copies of Emerson's works, and bags of oatmeal and beans, would laugh in derision at the sheer idea of a stocking large enough to hold those alluring delicacies."
Santa's looks have changed a bit over the years, as this old drawing suggests. There was a time when a Christmas stocking's capacity was so far reduced that it became an insufficiently hollow mockery. It could contain only the smallest sized apple, and no toys worth having could be crowded into it's contracted body. The result was indisputable and growing juvenile dissatisfaction, and as the only possible measure of relief the Christmas tree was introduced.
Statistics concerning the prevalence of Christmas trees during the recent Christmas season show a marked increase in the number of trees used in New England and in the West, and a decrease in the number of those used in this city and in its vicinity.
The Christmas tree is conceded to be German in its origin. Why the Germans originally adopted the fashion of hanging cheap candles and inexpensive presents on small evergreen trees, does not particularly concern us. Probably the thrifty Germans perceived that the Christmas tree was more economical than the Christmas stocking; but in the absence of any trustworthy data in regard to the stockings of the fatherland, it is impossible to arrive any decision. All that we certainly know is that Germans invented and used the Christmas tree, and that it was gradually adopted to a greater or lesser extent by other nations.
The introduction of the Christmas tree into New England followed soon after the introduction of transcendental philosophy. The relation between the two was not, however, that of cause and effect. They were both results, or perhaps the incedents of a great change which had naturally altered the character of the New England stocking.
In the early days of New England the stockings were hung up on Christmas Eve-  and which as a matter of course, as a full-grown stocking- was able to contain a fair and satisfactory quantity of presents. There was room in its extremity for a large-sized apple, and the capacity of the rest of the stocking for gingerbread, candy and small toys was all that could be desired. There was a time, however, when this capacity was so far reduced that the Christmas stocking became an insufficiently hollow mockery. It could contain only the smallest sized apple, and no toys worth having could be crowded into it's contracted body. The result was indisputable and growing juvenile dissatisfaction, and as the only possible measure of relief the Christmas tree was introduced.
Etiquipedia would be thrilled to find this spoon from 1892 in its Christmas stocking!
There was no lack of room on it's capacious branches, and the New England stocking, conscious of its imperfections, shrank timidly into obscurity. The very name of the Christmas stocking is now held to be improper in the most refined New England circles, and New England children, as they gaze in joy and wonder if their Christmas trees glowing with lights and blossoming with copies of Emerson's works, and bags of oatmeal and beans, would laugh in derision at the sheer idea of a stocking large enough to hold those alluring delicacies.
While the popularity of the Christmas tree in New England is that it's easily explained, an entirely different cause has led to the introduction of the Christmas tree into the thriving cities and towns of the West. The Western people are proverbially liberal, but even liberal people, if they are wise stop short of bankruptcy. The Western mother or sister who undertook to fill her personal stockings with Christmas presents, found the task a laborious and costly one. It is said- on the irreproachable authority of the Chicago press- that in Cincinnati and St. Louis, the pumpkin entirely superseded the traditional apple as the proper article with which to begin the storing of a stocking; and St. Louis papers have pictured with much pathos the Chicago matron in the act of employing pound after pound of candy, and a vast succession of bulky toys, into the insatiate maw of a stocking that no effort could fill. 
Moreover, when the Western Christmas stocking was partially filled, it required the muscular energy of a strong man to move it, and was it was necessary to place it on the floor under the bed of the child for whom it was intended, for the reason that it was unsafe to suspend such a heavyweight to any article of furniture. Accidents of a really serious character often occurred in connection with these overgrown Christmas stockings, and even when they were emptied they were still sources of danger, as was shown by the miserable fate of the small boy, aged twelve years, who crept into the empty Chicago stocking on Christmas morning, in the year 1865, and having failed to find his way out was not released for three days, at the expiration of which he was fortunately discovered by washer-woman, and saved from an untimely death by starvation.
LIFE 1883... When the "liberal West" area of the United States was Chicago and St. Louis. "The Christmas tree is now almost universal in all the leading Western cities, and it is only when a fond husband desires to give his wife a sewing-machine, or his daughter a sealskin dolman, that he suggests the hanging of a Christmas stocking."
That the Western people should, in the interest of humanity and economy, have substituted the Christmas tree for the Christmas stocking, in what might've been expected in view of the intelligence and enterprise of the West, the Christmas tree is now almost universal in all the leading Western cities, and it is only when a fond husband desires to give his wife a sewing-machine, or his daughter a sealskin dolman, that he suggests the hanging of a Christmas stocking. 
Thus, for reasons utterly dissimilar, the Christmas tree has virtually driven out the Christmas stocking both in New England and in the West, and there is little probability that in either locality the stockings will ever again come into favor.
On the other hand New York has never had any need of Christmas trees. To some extent the Christmas tree has been used in families, where the custom was adopted solely on the ground but it was a German custom, but it has never become really popular, and of late years has been steadily dying out. 
The stocking in which the Christmas treasures of our small boys and little girls are placed is capacious enough to satisfy any reasonable child, while it is not so large as to overtax the pockets or energies of parents. Could the same sort of stocking be imported and acclimated in New England and the West, Christmas trees would no longer have any excuse for being, and the stocking would be universally accepted as precisely the thing needed to fill every household with juvenile happiness on Christmas morning.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

More of Amy Vanderbilt's Dining Etiquette

A knife and fork are always preferable to fingers when one is in good company, but the following rules will help in dining situations requiring them.

Artichokes

"The inedible part of the leaf is then placed at the side of the plate so that by the time the choke (the fuzzy center) is reached there is a neat pile of leaves..." 
A finger food. The leaves are pulled off, one at a time, the fleshy base dipped in the accompanying sauce, then dexterously pulled through the teeth to extract the tender part. The inedible part of the leaf is then placed at the side of the plate so that by the time the choke (the fuzzy center) is reached there is a neat pile of leaves which, if the artichoke is very big, may be transferred in part at least to the butter plate, for greater convenience. When the choke appears, it is held with the fork or fingers and the tip of the knife neatly excises this inedible portion. Then the reward of all the labor comes the delicate fond or bottom of the artichoke, which, if large, is cut in manageable bits, then dipped in sauce and enjoyed thoroughly.

Asparagus

Asparagus without sauce is a finger food. "Do not chew up and then discard, however delicately, the tougher ends."
It is not taboo to eat this in the fingers, but it is messy, so a fork is better. Use the fork to separate the tender part from the tougher end of the stem, then, again with the fork, reduce the edible part to manageable lengths to be dipped in sauce. Do not chew up and then discard, however delicately, the tougher ends, though you may bite off anything edible that remains on the ends by holding them in your fingers, not with the fork but this is an informal procedure.

Bacon

Traditional American breakfast fare for those who aren't counting calories.
Very crisp bacon may be eaten in the fingers if breaking it with a fork would scatter bits over the table. Bacon with any vestige of fat must be cut with fork or knife and eaten with the fork.

Small Birds or Frogs' Legs

Crispy frog legs are a delicacy in many countries ~ "... the bones of frogs' legs may be eaten in part with the fingers when the legs... are so small as to defy all but the most expert trencherman." 
 Tiny birds, such as squab and quail, and the bones of frogs' legs may be eaten in part with the fingers when the legs or wings are so small as to defy all but the most expert trencherman. Such small bones are held in the fingers by one end while the other end is placed directly in the mouth. The impression of gnawing the bone must be avoided. It is no shame, by the way, for a lady confronted with a squab or half a broiled chicken to ask assistance from the gentleman with her in dissecting it unless perhaps she's at a formal dinner. This is better than running the risk of having the meat land in her lap or, on the other hand, going hungry, if she is really inept.
Cake
This chocolate cake would be eaten with a fork.
Sticky cake is eaten with a fork. Dry cake, such as pound cake or fruit cake, is broken and eaten in small pieces. Tiny confection cakes (served at wedding receptions, etc...) are eaten in the fingers. Cream puffs, Napoleons, and eclairs, all treacherous as to filling, are eaten with a fork.

Celery and Olives       

Ornate servers for olives, like this example by Gorham, are highly collectable and very valuable.
Celery and olives are on the table when guests are seated if there is no service; or they are passed by a servant during the soup course. They are no longer considered essential even at formal dinner. They are taken in the fingers, placed on the side of the plate or on the butter plate (and see "Salt"). Olives, if small and stuffed, are put all at once in the mouth otherwise they are bitten in large bites and the stone put aside but not cleaned in mouth. 

Chicken (Broiled and Fried)

Bones are not put into the mouth but are stripped with the knife while being held firmly by the fork.
Chicken must be eaten with fork and knife except at picnics. Bones are not put into the mouth but are stripped with the knife while being held firmly by the fork. Joints are cut if one's knife is sharp enough and it can be done without lifting the elbows from the normal eating position. Chicken croquettes should be cut with the fork only, as are all croquettes and fish cakes, then conveyed to the mouth in manageable pieces.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Pre-Eminent Etiquette Book of the 19th C. and Dining Don'ts

Professor Thomas E. Hill, author of "Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms," (regarded as the pre-eminent etiquette book of the late Victorian Era in America) had been a teacher, newspaper publisher and served two terms as mayor of Aurora, Illinois.

MIND YOUR MANNERS


Many Americans in the 19th Century were concerned with how to establish order and authority in a society which was becoming increasingly industrialized and urban. Etiquette, in the broad sense of correctness in many facets of both business and personal life, was one way to address this problem. "Hill’s Manual," first published in 1873, presented proper letter-writing, penmanship, legal forms, family records, and “speaking and acting in various relations of life.” 

The section of this popular, comprehensive volume entitled, “The Laws of Etiquette: What to Say and How to Do,” included helpful advice on improving one's manners, the proper use of calling cards, conduct when shopping, how to engage in conversation, traveling, proper behavior in church and school, rules of parties and dances, courtship, marriage, etc...
“Never allow butter, soup or other food to remain on your whiskers. Use the napkin frequently.” Thomas E. Hill
Dining was a popular social pastime, and a meal could be twelve courses or more. "Etiquette of the Table” was prominently featured in "Hill's Manual." Politeness at the table was to be cultivated; ways to achieve it were outlined on one page and illustrated with properly dressed and well-behaved diners.
       
“Errors to be Avoided” were presented, along with a comical, numbered depiction of “Bad Manners at the Table,” including:
  1. Tips back his chair.
  2. Eats with his mouth to full.
  3. Feeds a dog at the table.
  4. Holds his knife improperly.
  5. Engages in violent argument at the meal-time.
  6. Lounges upon the table.
  7. Brings a cross child to the table.
  8. Drinks from the saucer, and laps with his tongue the last drop from the plate.
  9. Comes to the table in his shirt-sleeves, and puts his feet beside his chair.
  10. Picks his teeth with his fingers.
  11. Scratches her head and is frequently unnecessarily getting up from the table.

Some of Thomas Hill’s advice may seem overly fussy or ridiculous to the modern reader. However, one must consider that many people in the Victorian Era, both in the U.S. and abroad, were seriously concerned with promoting civility in all aspects of their lives. In an updated "Hill’s Manual," one writer suggests that "Perhaps we would add: Do not talk on your cell phone or text at the table."


From a variety of sources and Thomas E. Hill's, "The New Revised Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms: A Guide to Correct Writing," 1893

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Italian Dining Etiquette

If you're in Italy, most likely a large amount of your time will be spent eating. Make sure you do it right and read the do's and don'ts of the Italian dining table. 

Since Italian writer, Monsignor Giovanni Della Casa, published his 1558 treatise "The Galateo of Giovanni della Casa" (the word for "etiquette" in Italian is still "il galateo") on polite behavior in the 16th century, etiquette has become an important part of Italian society. It was the first of the modern books on etiquette that was not written for a special class of people. Centuries later, Alberto Presutti is convinced that etiquette still holds the key to "an effective communication between each one of us".  
Alberto Presutti, a Florence-based etiquette instructor who offers courses on anything from dining to business etiquette, gave The Local his tips on Italian dining.
Don't arrive early or on time. Fashionably late is the norm, as Italians are not famed for their punctuality. It pays to remember this fact when you’re invited to a dinner party. “Always arrive a few minutes after the appointed time – never before,” advises Presutti. “Take for granted that your host will still be preparing the food.”
"Buon Appetito" is likely one of the first expressions you learn in Italian. It's also one of the first you should forget.
One of the first phrases you may have learned in Italian is “buon appetito”; it’s also the first one you should forget. “Wishing someone ‘buon appetito’ in Italy is impolite,” says Presutti. “This is because in Italian courts in medieval times, the prince would sometimes offer banquets to his best servants and wish them “buon appetito” – meaning: ‘eat as much as you can because you may not be invited to another feast if you don’t behave yourselves.” Coincidentally, Etiquipedia has heard that this is the case in France as well. So forget the French phrase "bon appétit" if visiting there.
Place napkins on your lap only after the food has been brought to the table.
Hands should be seen. “Wrists should be on the table, but never your elbows. And don’t cross your hands,” warns Presutti. “That’s considered rude - it may look to others as if you’re hiding something," or even - God forbid - "touching yourself".

Regarding napkins, says Presutti, “These should be placed on your lap only after the food has been brought to the table. Use one by all means to wipe your mouth, but take care that the dirty part of your napkin is hidden.”

Regarding bread, rolls or breadsticks, Presutti advises “In Italy, we are big bread-eaters,” says Presutti. “It must always be served on a small plate to the left of your main plate, and broken off rather than cut with a knife – it’s the Christian way.” Stuffing yourself with bread before the meal arrives should be avoided. Presutti suggests nibbling on some grissini (breadsticks), which looks more elegant, if you really can’t wait to eat.
This knife and fork set, while unusual, is obviously for the fish course.

Always try to reach for the right fork. “In Italy, fish must be served with a special three-pronged fork and a knife similar to a butter knife,” says Presutti. However, he warns, don’t whatever you do use the knife to cut the fish. “The purpose of the knife is to remove the skin of the fish – you can use the fork to cut the flesh.”

Most people know that food and wine in Italy are like yin and yang. Don’t expect to have one at a meal without the other. “You’ll find that the wine will only be brought out with the food. This is because each wine is designed to go with a specific dish. Red wine will always be served with meat, whereas white wine will always be produced for fish –because it has a more delicate taste.”
Forget about your diet. “Being on a diet and having a meal are considered a contradiction in terms - so avoid mentioning to the host that you’re trying to lose weight,” says Presutti. Having said that, you will be forgiven for declining dessert. If you’re a vegetarian, you may be happier visiting a different country altogether: “In Italy, vegetarians are regarded as aliens from another planet.” And take note that a gathering with Italians can tend to be a bit noisy, with several people all speaking at the same time and talking over one another. Culturally, this is normal Italian social interaction and should not be mistaken for rudeness.
As with dining in any other country, watch your host. “You should only pick up your cutlery when the most important person in the room starts eating,” recommends Presutti. “At a private dinner party, this could be the hostess or simply the oldest guest at the table. At a business lunch, it would be the boss.” However, he adds, “in a restaurant, it’s fine to start first if your meal arrives before the others.”

With regard to the head of the table; “In Britain, hosts will nearly always sit at the far ends of a table - but in Italy, they sit in the middle of the longer sides of the table,” says Presutti. What if it’s a round table? “Imagine that there’s an invisible line going through the centre: the hosts will sit at either end.”


The main article referenced for this post appeared in Italy's, "The Local"