Sunday, February 4, 2018

Etiquette, Snubs and Snobs

It is believed that the word “snobbery” came into use for the first time in 1820’s England. According to Wikipedia, “‘Snob’ is a pejorative term for a person that believes there is a correlation between social status and human worth.” The word “snob” also refers to a person that feels superiority over those from lower education levels, lower “social classes,” or other social areas.

 Who is the Real Snob?

I have noticed more than once that a certain American newspaper which toadies to “the people” makes a point whenever the opportunity offers of denouncing as a “snob” our present Ambassador to France, Mr. Henry White. Within a day or two it has made an unusually vicious attack, asserting that Americans come home from Paris complaining bitterly of having been snubbed at the Embassy, the while our distinguished representative was groveling at the feet of British Lords and French of high degree; or some such nonsense. Once or twice before this I have been tempted to make comment on these charges, not as a matter of duty to Mr. White, with whom I have but the slightest acquaintance, but to the country which sent him abroad as one of its most conspicuous representatives. 


To begin with the specific charge, no man was ever less of a snob than Mr. White. He has now been in the Diplomatic Service of the United States for 26 years, and has left his record wherever he has been accredited as one of the few American gentlemen with whom Europeans could find no fault— as simple and high-bred in manner as he is magnetic, intelligent and sympathetic. With more reason to be spoiled than any American we have ever sent abroad, he has never lost his balance, his courtesy, his sincerity. I have quoted him for years, both in Europe and at home as the American Diplomatist of whom we have the greatest reason to be proud; and not only for his in comparable manners, for his warm and genuine Americanism that no amount of old world polish could hide if it would. What does the average person mean when he uses the word “snob?” This is a question which has often puzzled me, and I have a faint idea that it is a pet word with people who have been, or fancy they have been, snubbed; there being a confused sense of relationship in their minds between the two words. 

A writer of the newspaper I allude to is one of the most pitiful snobs extant, as I understand the word. While toiling at a desk, liable to discharge any moment by his imperious master, he is yet a “climber” in New York society, and even in a business conversation can not refrain from mentioning the names of certain famous leaders, hinting that they are his intimate friends. Yet at the time of the Algeciras conference, he lamented at great length in print, that we were to be represented by a “snob” like our Ambassador to Italy, as Mr. White then was, instead of being grateful that the President had appointed a gentleman, as well as an experienced Diplomatist. His own attack reeked of snobbery, for had he felt conscious that he was in the same class as its object, irreproachably born and bred, it would never have occurred to him to make it. He put himself in the class of the Americans who storm the Embassy in London, asking to be escorted to Henley, or given tickets for Royal functions, and, when politely steered to the door, anathematize the patient envoy as a “snob,” and: “no American.” 

None of our fellow countrymen has ever held (not occupied temporarily) the distinguished position in English society that the Whites have held for the last quarter of a century. And instead of this being a matter of reproach, as certain of our newspapers would have us believe, we should congratulate ourselves that there is at least one small class of foreigners who, coming in contact with few Americans, assume that we are a well bred nation. Mr. White, having been born at the top, has never lost his head, as many of our Ambassadors have done when suddenly privileged to entertain royalty and hobnob with the bearers of titles they, had hardly heard pronounced until coached by their secretaries. I do not believe that the most ingenuous of these gentlemen has ever intentionally snubbed an American who approached him properly. Not only would such an indulgence be unwise from the politicians’ standpoint, but most of them are good Americans at heart and quite ready to do their duty by their fellow citizens. – Gertrude Atherton, 1909

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