I bought a copy of “Etiquette” by Emily Post while visiting Half Price Books a while back. Why? Because sometimes you don’t find the book you’re looking for, but you find the book you need.

This is the 1940 printing of “Etiquette” with the original blue dust jacket mostly intact. I reached for it more or less automatically because it looked old. My hand feels compelled to take down old books and start flipping through the pages without any conscious thought from me.

When I opened “Etiquette” at some random point in the middle of the book, my eyes fell on this passage:

The well-trained high-class servant is faultlessly neat in appearance, reticent in manner, speaks in a low voice, walks and moves quickly but silently, and is unfailingly courteous and respectful. A servant always answers “Yes, madam,” or “Very good, sir,” never “Yes,” “No,” “All right,” or “Sure.” In answering a bell, she asks, “Did you ring, sir?” or if especially well-mannered she asks “Did Madam ring?”

Oh my! “Did Madam ring?” Dialogue like that right there is worth whatever price they’re asking! And they were asking for only ten bucks! Almost needless to say, then, that this particular copy of “Etiquette” went home with me.

It’s a doorstop of a book, almost 900 pages, and page after page of it is filled with seating arrangements for dinner parties, examples of engraved invitations, and so many examples of formal correspondence it’ll you yawn and fall asleep way before your bedtime. There’s a whole chapter titled “flat silver – its choice and usage – condensed table setting.” The only thing I could find in it worth quoting was this: “‘Butter spreader’ is the manufacturers’ term and is never used in best society.” I’ve been using the recommended term, ‘butter knife,’ all my life — me, a bumpkin from the farm fields of central Wisconsin! What would ‘best society’ make of that?

Chapter 41, “The Clothes of a Gentleman”

There are still quite a few of our younger men – in the small towns especially – who know no better until, finding themselves among really well dressed men, they become uncomfortably aware that their clothes are all wrong. Wrong clothes, whether new or old, are like illiteracies of speech. By which is meant that the clothes and the speech of an elderly gentleman might suggest yesterday rather than today, and both be most distinguished. But any offenses to taste in details, however small, would be much the same as saying “I seen it” or “drapes” or “pardon me.”

Apparently, I am so far removed from high society or even good taste as to not even be in the same universe with either of them, because I can’t tell what could possibly be wrong with saying “pardon me.” And getting all snobby about “drapes” is beyond my ken.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s