Effusive Politeness Found in Cuban Society
Use of Certain Initials on a Letter Envelope – An Effusive Form of Correspondence — Extravagantly Polite Speech – Gallantry on the Street
I received a letter a few days ago from a Cuban. On the upper left hand corner of the outside of the envelope were the initials B.L.P. Now, any one who has studied Spanish knows that B.L.M., or B.L.P., in a letter of extreme politeness and etiquette, are used at the close of a letter; but the use of these initials on the envelope I hardly think is so familiar to the general student of Spanish.
This is very usual, both here in Cuba and in Spain, on letters of some ceremony, and it is de rigueur on the envelopes of ceremonious notes, invitations, etc... ladies writing to gentlemen, or to each other, or gentlemen writing to each other, use B. L. M. —“Beso las manos” (I kiss the hands). Gentlemen writing to ladies use B.L.P. —“Beso los pies” (I kiss the feet). The compliment, of course, for the hands and feet of the party written to.
The many expressions of friendship, respect, etc., used at the close of the Spanish letter are not sufficient without the usual B.L.M. or B.L.P. The following exclusive form is much used in writing to a person even of very slight acquaintance: “With the sincerest professions of sympathy and friendship from her affectionate servant, who B.L.P.” (kisses her feet), etc. To use one set of initials for the other shows a great ignorance of the etiquettes and conveniences of society. A Cuban lady of my acquaintance received on her fete day the usual compliment of a visiting card under cover from a gentleman. On looking at the envelope, she threw up her head with a jerk and remarked that “one could easily see that that man did not know anything, or he never would have put B.L.M., instead of B.L.P., on an envelope sent to a lady.”
I must acknowledge that I could not appreciate the nice difference. But after all on reflection, there certainly is some difference between B.L.M. and B.L.P., and it is only a matter of Spanish language taste, which is the most agreeable proceeding. This is only one of the very little polite nothings of this very polite people. On being presented to a stranger—if a lady—instead of the usual bow, more or less gracious of our country, there is a cordial shake of the hand, accompanied by an extravagantly polite speech expressing the very great happiness this meeting has caused, ending with an offer to you from the lady of her house. Which is, in other words, an invitation for you to visit her.
A single man goes through the same style of complimental speech and concludes by telling you that he lives at such a number on such a street, and begs that if you need his services, you will call on him. Whether sincere or not, these little polite forms are the flowery adornments of speech, and help to make up the refinements and illusions of life, more or less agreeable, according to the view one takes of them.
What would be received by an American woman as an impertinence, is received by a Cuban with a gracious smile and a “gracias,” said in a most pleasant tone of voice, as, for instance, on being helped into her carriage by a man who is a complete stranger to her. If a gentleman is passing on the street when a lady is about to enter her carriage—if no gentleman is with her—he hands her into her carriage. This is considered here only what a man who is a gentleman would do under such circumstances. Compliments are sometimes paid by gentlemen to ladies on the street, but are considered “bad style.”—Cuban Correspondent, New Orleans Times Democrat, 1887
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia