Friday, October 23, 2015

Etiquette and French Civilitiés

Swallowing wine too rapidly, one may choke himself, "which is impolite and inconvenient." 
In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in France there were books which gave the rules of conduct. These books of etiquette were known as the Civilitiés. They are occupied to a great extent with the civilities of the table, and one may see in them precisely how Paris dined in the 17th and 18th centuries.

At the close of the 17th century it still seemed necessary to remind the host he must not chastise his servants at table, and the guest that if he swallows his wine too rapidly he may choke himself, "which is impolite and inconvenient." According to the Civilités you sat down to table with your hat on, removing it only if your health is toasted "by a person of quality." And how, we wonder, did they judge these "persons of quality"? 

Every Civilité of the 17th and 18th centuries enjoins you to go to dinner with your hands clean. Apparently there is only one towel, for the Civilité requests that "a dry corner be left for the person who is to use it afterward." 

Furthermore the Civilité extorts the man of polish not to scratch himself in company, not to snuff the candle with his fingers, not to blow in his soup, not to return the meat to the dish after smelling it, not to talk with his mouthful, not to pocket the fruit at dessert. These rules of conduct give us an excellent insight into what social life must have been like in the 17th century. Civilités warned the people only against those things they actually did, those habits and customs which actually existed. — Lillian Eichler 



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