I, Victoria of Paper & Type, have a hankering for books when it comes to certain subjects: graphic design, architecture, home decor, Jackie O, flowers... and etiquette. During my childhood, for reasons unbeknownst to me, I was always after Emily Post's column in Good Housekeeping, or that of Miss Manners in the newspaper. Writings on etiquette reveal quite a bit about us as social beings, about how notions have changed over time, and about the authors themselves (personally, I like the authors who keep some humor about them). What follows are some notable snippets from my humble, well-mannered collection:
The Art of Civilized Conversation: A Guide to Expressing Yourself with Style and Grace
by Margaret Shepherd (2005)
From the chapter "What Conversations Are Made Of"
•A truly great human being does not commit cruelty by being uncivil to a person with lesser status. Give everyone you chance to meet at least three minutes of your time and attention. Be kind.
•A tip for when you're unable to recall someone's name: Offer the person your business card and hope he reciprocates.
•A strategy for joining a conversation: Stand by the food. It's a topic you will have in common with everyone who approaches the table.
•A line to use when making an acquaintance: My grandmother used to make baklava just like this. Do you do much cooking?
Tiffany's Table Manners For Teenagers
by Walter Hoving (1961)
From the chapter "Let's Be Seated"
•With regards to choosing the correct silverware: If you make a mistake, just continue eating. Don't put the silver back on the table. Be nonchalant.
From the chapter "The Salad Course"
•Asparagus is eaten with the fingers, unless stalks are too long. If the asparagus is long and thin, cut off the ends with your fork held in your right hand and eat with your fork. You will then avoid imitating a trained seal.
From the chapter "The Dessert Course"
•Do not leave the doily (if any) on your plate by mistake. It is not supposed to be eaten with your ice cream. This would alarm your hostess unduly.
From the chapter "Some Don'ts..."
•Don't air your views in a loud voice.
•Remember that a dinner party is not a funeral nor has your hostess invited you because she thinks you are in dire need of food... Don't be a gloom.
Amy Vanderbilt's Everyday Etiquette
by Amy Vanderbilt (1952)
From the chapter "Correspondence"
When I was a girl I was taught that a lady never used any stationery other than white, unless perhaps it was blue or gray. Now I find stationery, and inks!, in all colors of the rainbow. What do you think about this? –Mrs. W.R., Monterey, California
There are all kinds of note papers for women these days, some of them much too fancy for my taste. I like the delicate shades, with the possible exception of pink, lilac, yellow, or apple green. I definitely dislike the strong colors with vivid contrasting inks, except perhaps for school girls—if then. Delicate shades with envelopes lined with vivid shades or patterned paper are attractive and in good taste. For some correspondence, however, the old rule of pale blue, gray or white should hold (see replying to wedding invitations, page 108, letters of condolence, page 122). For a conservative correspondence, only blue or black ink should be used. For social correspondence where special papers are used, they may be used with contrasting inks, now so widely available. The use of green, brown, or violet ink is now quite acceptable for informal social correspondence. Green ink and even brown ink are used even in business if it is co-related with the letterhead. Red ink however should not be used for any correspondence. It is meant for use in ledgers.