Monday, June 4, 2007

So, turns out I'm not crazy

Well, I still may be, but not in a way I had previously thought I was. A commenter to Asymmetrical Information's post on pornography (I'm not the adrian in the comments, fyi; I do have a ridiculously long essay on women and pornography that I may be posting soon, though, so brace yourselves) leads me to this great post by Kim du Toit, which in turn leads me to this insightful contribution, by Mrs. du Toit. This post, however, isn't about any of that war of the sexes discussion at all. It's about a story Mrs. du Toit tells in the comments to her post (comment 20, no link, sorry). She talks about a rule of etiquette which stipulates that "you’d never take a bite of something because your teeth would show. You always had to break it or cut it so that it fit in your mouth without having your teeth show." Specifically, that you never butter a whole roll, that you butter it piece by mouth-manageable piece.

I cannot tell you how relieved I am to read that. My mother drilled that rule into me from infancy, and I have literally never met anyone outside of my family who has ever heard of it. I have never, ever seen anyone besides her or myself ever adhere to it. I was beginning to suspect that she may be nuts, or perhaps the incredibly gullible victim of some mischievous manners maven many a year ago. Now I know, thanks to Mrs. du Toit, that the rule does exist, and that I've just been living among swine all these years. What a relief! (well, maybe not, come to think of it...)

I swear I'm not really a snob about these things. My favorite etiquette story, an old standard of my father's, is about a dinner held by the Queen (no, I don't know which Queen), in honor of an exotic, faraway ruler. This man was, quite understandably, completely unschooled in the ways of the English upper classes. So, faced with an unfamiliar little bowl of water placed before him, he did not know he was meant to wash his fingers in it; instead, he drank it. The whole table, full of nobility and other dignitaries, gasped and smirked at this primitive display. The whole table, that is, except for the Queen. For he was her guest, and she knew that, while it may be rude to drink from a finger bowl, it is infinitely more rude to belittle one's guests. So, she took her own finger bowl, brought it to her lips, and drank it.

Manners are important, but sometimes a blatant violation of etiquette can be the classiest act in the room.

UPDATE: A quick googling (I should really try doing those before I write my posts!) reveals that the monarch in question was Queen Victoria.

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