Thursday, March 2, 2017

An Agony Aunt's Etiquette

In the spring of 1898, Marie Manning was sitting in the "hen coop" (slang for 'women's department') of the New York Evening Journal when her editor walked in with three letters from readers seeking personal advice. Would Ms. Manning have any use for such letters on the women's page? Ms. Manning would, and she started an advice column, under the nom de plume, " Miss Fairfax." 

The Girl Who Drinks And Smokes? "This Question Is Not One of Propriety," Says Miss Fairfax, but "One of Common Sense"

LIZETTE writes me: "Do you think it is proper or if it displays courtesy and kindness on the part of a young lady to light a gentleman's cigarette and pour out beer from a bottle into his glass at a public place?" 

It is not a matter of propriety, my dear Lizette. Like many young girls, you do not observe the different shade in the meaning of a word. If this is a question of propriety, then suicide becomes solely a matter of etiquette, and a query if it is "good form" for a girl to pour kerosene over her clothes and set them on fire is not a misuse of the English language. 

Neither will you find in any authority on the origin, derivation and meaning of words sanction for the words "courtesy" and "kindness" as you use them. They are gentle, well bred words and to apply them to such acts as lighting a man's cigarette and pouring out his beer in public places is like planting a violet in a bed of poison ivy. Neither would a "lady" show such attention to a "gentleman" in any place, public or private. But these words have been so universally abused that they have sunk to a low rank, and your use of them is not a misuse. 

Let me write your question as it should be written: "Do you think it is vulgar or if it displays recklessness and a spirit of indecency on the part of a woman to light a man's cigarette and pour out beer from a bottle Into his glass when at a public place?" I certainly do! I think she lights more than a cigarette and she pours out more than beer. She applies a match to her good name. She is starting a fire that will consume her future, leave little of the past which should have spoken well for her and that will die with nothing to show for her life but the cold ashes of shame and regret. She is pouring out humiliation, despair, sin, poverty, loneliness, grief, isolation from all that respectability holds dear, and a bitterness that will eat out her heart and soul. She is committing moral suicide, a crime too serious to be guised as "courtesy" and "kindness." 

My dear Lizette, any young woman who drinks intoxicating liquors with a man at public places demeans herself, and this is just as true if the drink is taken in a public place reeking with wealth or a cheap corner saloon reeking with the ill odors of tobacco and filth. The costly champagne glass has no higher moral tone than the poorest beer glass. 

There is no aristocracy of place that will sanction such an act. No man with brains in his head smokes cigarettes, for if he has the brains and smokes cigarettes, he will not have the brains long. No man with respect for a young woman will drink beer and smoke cigarettes at a public table in her presence. It may be the custom in some countries, but it will never be a custom here with those who reverence the decencies.

A woman who will do that which you ask, is "proper" encourages a man to be disrespectful of all women, a disrespect that will grow in a very short time into contempt for the woman who inspired it. She sanctions his ill breeding, and slips down into something worse In doing it. 

Such a situation as you picture will never be the experience of the girl who respects herself. For never, under any circumstances, would she sit at a table in a public place with a man who drinks beer and smokes cigarettes, and consequently she never would meet the problem in "etiquette" that you submit for solution. – San Francisco Call, 1913

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