Friday, April 22, 2016

A Presumption of Confidentiality

As a general rule, a lady treats all personal information an individual shares with her with a presumption of confidentiality, and does not repeat it to others.  Even when the news does not appear to be of a secretive nature, a lady always gives the person concerned the right to tell whomever he or she pleases, and to deliver the news firsthand.  To take it upon herself to tell another's personal news would be a violation of her code.

Principle:  A lady does not repeat personal information about others.

Photo: Karen Radkai, Vogue, August 1953

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Excuse Me, Madam, Your Extraneous Prepositions are Dangling

A preposition is a word you musn't end a sentence with.
Berton Braley, American poet

A lady does not tack unnecessary prepositions to the end of her questions.

She asks, "Where are you going?" not "Where are you going to?" and "Where is it?" not "Where's it at?"  In cases where prepositions are extraneous to a complete thought, they should be dropped altogether.

Photo: Fiona Campbell Walter and Anne Gunning, 1953

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How a Lady Uses a Table Napkin

A lady observes the following guidelines for proper use of a table napkin:

  • Leave the napkin on the table until the hostess signals the start of the meal by picking up her napkin.  If there is no host, wait until two or three others are seated at the table to remove your napkin from its place.
  • Don't unfold the napkin above the table; bring it under the table and open it just above your lap. If it is a larger cloth napkin, fold it in half and place it in your lap with the fold side closest to the waist. Smaller cloth napkins and paper napkins are unfolded completely.
  • With two fingers extended behind your napkin, use it to blot your lips, first on one side of the mouth and then on the other, creating an invisible "V" over your mouth. This is done whenever you feel you might have something on your mouth and every time you are about to take a sip of your drink, to prevent smudging the rim of your glass with your lips.
  • Raise your napkin to cover your mouth and nose if you suddenly cough or sneeze. Think of the napkin as a screen behind which you are coughing or sneezing, not as a handkerchief to wipe or blow your nose.  
  • Should you need to excuse yourself from the table during the meal, the napkin is laid in loose folds to the left of your dinner plate.  Be careful that any soiling on your napkin is turned under and not in view of other diners. 
  • Never spit unwanted food into the napkin.  Anything that cannot be swallowed should be discreetly removed with your fork and tucked under some other food or garnish on the plate.
  • Keep your napkin in your lap until the hostess signals the end of the meal by removing hers from her lap.  When there is no host, wait until everyone at the table is finished eating before placing your napkin, loosely folded, to the left of your plate.

Photo: appearing on Pinterest

Monday, March 28, 2016

How a Lady Eats a Hamburger

When a lady eats a hamburger, she first considers its size.  If it's quite small, as in the photo above, she eats it as is.  If it is larger, however, she first cuts the hamburger into more manageable halves, and if it is very big or has condiments that are likely to get messy, into fourths. Then, picking up one piece, she takes a bite about the size of a quarter (twenty-five cent piece) which can be neatly and comfortably chewed with her mouth closed.  If there are toppings that threaten to spill, a lady removes them with her fork to the side of her plate and then uses her fork and knife to eat them.

Although in very casual settings it is acceptable to put condiments directly onto a hamburger, in business or more formal surroundings, it is proper to first pour a small amount of the sauce on the edge of the plate and then spread it on the hamburger with a knife.  

Illustration: 1950s USA Eating Hamburgers by The Advertising Archives found on Fine Art America, 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

That's All Well and Good

When a lady is asked, "How are you?", she replies, "I am well, thank you! How are you?"  

She does not say, "I'm good," because she correctly understands that to be a statement either about her virtue (I'm good, as opposed to evil) or about her ability (I'm talented, as opposed to incompetent.)  

Likewise, a lady does not use "I'm good" as a substitute for "No, thank you" in response to an offer for more of something. When asked, "Would you like more tea?" a lady doesn't say, "No, I'm good," when she means, "No, thank you."

Principle:  A lady knows the difference between well and good, and uses them correctly.

Art:  Anemones by Renoir

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Handling Unwanted Questions

Thoughtful reader AHHa recently asked for help in answering questions that make her uncomfortable.

Thank you, AHHa, for an excellent question.  A lady's code does not require her to answer every question she is asked.  Some questions are better left unanswered.  So when the occasion arises, a lady doesn't feel compelled to give information when she'd rather not. Instead, she preserves her personal boundaries without being disagreeable. She might smile and say good-naturedly, "Oh, I'm afraid that's top-secret information..." or simply, "I really couldn't say."  No explanation or apology is owed for not answering the question.  A simple response, said in a pleasant, but confident way is enough.

Photo:  Gitta Schilling with Hat by Laroche,  photographed by Regina Relang

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A Secret to Refinement

Lack of repose of manner -- that is a key to so much that is amiss in decorum among us.
Rev. C.W. De L. Nichols, Correct Social Usage

While reading a book defining correct social behavior from my great-grandmother's day (1906), I came upon a small section addressing "repose of manner."  The phrase seems quaint in our modern vernacular, yet it beautifully describes the essence of refinement lost to many in our twenty-first century.

What is repose of manner?   It is a calm dignity in the way a person conducts herself.  Here are four specific ways to develop repose of manner:

  1. Slow down.  Hurry and refinement do not go together.  Rushing is inconsistent with the calm, measured actions of a reposed manner.  Slowing down allows you to speak and act thoughtfully, and makes your presence soothing to others.
  2. Develop savoir faire.  Know what to do and say.  This is accomplished by study and observation.  Search out books and articles on etiquette and feminine charm.  Read the biographies of true ladies and gentlemen.  Learn from previous generations who knew more about gentility.  Knowing the proper thing to do and say gives confidence to act with calm dignity.
  3. Be Unflappable.  Retain your composure in upsetting circumstances.  Respond to rudeness with finesse.  Keep a sense of humor when things go haywire.  
  4. Maintain a degree of personal mystique.  Repose of manner requires more reserve than is demonstrated by the average woman in our society.  Nothing is refined about giving out too much personal information. Practice quiet restraint by listening and observing more than speaking.  Keep a discerning sense of privacy.

Principle:  A lady demonstrates repose of manner.

Photo: by Regina Relang, Paris 1950s