January 26, 2020

"Those who have mastered etiquette, who are entirely, impeccably right, would seem to arrive at a point of exquisite dullness."

"The letters and the conversations of the correct, as quoted by Mrs. Post, seem scarcely worth the striving for. The rules for the finding of topics of conversation fall damply on the spirit. 'You talk of something you have been doing or thinking about—planting a garden, planning a journey, contemplating a journey, or similar safe topics. Not at all a bad plan is to ask advice: "We want to motor through the South. Do you know about the roads?" Or, "I’m thinking of buying a radio. Which make do you think is best?"' I may not dispute Mrs. Post. If she says that is the way you should talk, then, indubitably, that is the way you should talk. But though it be at the cost of that future social success I am counting on, there is no force great enough ever to make me say, 'I’m thinking of buying a radio.'"

From "MRS. POST ENLARGES ON ETIQUETTE/A book of many rules" by Dorothy Parker, published December 24, 1927 in The New Yorker (and called attention to in email sent by The New Yorker this morning).

"As one delves deeper and deeper into 'Etiquette,' disquieting thoughts come. That old Is-It-Worth-It Blues starts up again, softly, perhaps, but plainly."

62 comments:

Kevin said...

Civility is the highest form of bullshit?

Annie C. said...

Well dang it, I was actually thinking of buying a radio.

tim in vermont said...

All of those topics have been usurped by Google.

traditionalguy said...

Radios are going to be big. They are the next generation of Televisions without those large screens that are so hard to carry around with you. Think Climate Change.

Lucid-Ideas said...

Japan is an example of etiquette run amok. Rules on rules for social interaction. It's so easy to become a pariah or deplorable for the smallest infraction. It's way better in the USA. Here you only have to like Trump.or think Greta Thunberg is full of BS to be shunned by polite society.

The japs could learn a thing or two.

rhhardin said...

Elecraft KX3 is nice.

Jim in St Louis said...

"...Mr. Jones, no matter how expensively he is dressed, always gives the effect of being in his shirt-sleeves, while Mrs. Smith is so unmistakably the daughter of a hundred Elks. Let them be dismissed by somebody’s phrase (I wish to heaven it were mine)—“the sort of people who buy their silver.”

THAT is writing!

whitney said...

These are not the rules for talking to your intimates these rules for talking to acquaintances. Maybe one day the acquaintances will become intimates and then you can throw away these rules. It takes a while to suss out someone and find out if you want them in your life in a more important way. She offers a good way to go back and forth and find that out.

traditionalguy said...

As etiquette aware Melania says, " Be best." And that means smile and listen to others talk about themselves. And never mention politics or religion. Then go out and politely kill some golf balls.

rehajm said...

Think Climate Change.

The motoring is right out, too...

rhhardin said...

There's no finer etiquette column than Thurber on the split infinitive
https://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/2009/12/thurber-tonight-ladies-and-gentlemens_23.html

originally in the new yorker, probably

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

Jane Austen was always a bright and witty person--her humour could be cutting, if not dark. She often had to make an effort to be polite--to damp herself down for the sake of peace and cheerfulness among the small group she lived with. There are lots of reflections of this in her novels--a small group of people seeing each other, every day. A few had the money to travel for variety--horse and buggy, not altogether fun. Jane identified with the people who didn't have that kind of money--they were even more stuck. It makes sense in this context to be polite, to show interest in others, no matter how dull--in fact to make a special effort for the dull. It had similarities to monastic life. We tend to reject all this now--why should I not do and say what is fun?--but arguably we live with a lot of isolation and loneliness in a way that is related even if not cause and effect. The young and beautiful tend to win, the old, ugly and disabled tend to lose--perhaps even a bit more than they otherwise would.

rehajm said...

"...Mr. Jones, no matter how expensively he is dressed, always gives the effect of being in his shirt-sleeves, while Mrs. Smith is so unmistakably the daughter of a hundred Elks. Let them be dismissed by somebody’s phrase (I wish to heaven it were mine)—“the sort of people who buy their silver.”

I so wanted to appreciate this passage but couldn't overcome the notion that mom was the town pump.

Eric said...

British Manners evolved to prevent fighting at the dinner table.
French Etiquette evolved as a venue for fighting at the dinner table.

gilbar said...

rhhardin said...
There's no finer etiquette column than Thurber on the split infinitive


Thanx rhhardin, and Thank YOU Mr Thurber. I'd never known how to handle these sorts of Grammar Problems at dinner parties. Now, i know!

gilbar said...

Eric said...
British Manners evolved to prevent fighting at the dinner table.


It turns out: that most fighting at dinner tables is caused by split infinitives!

Ralph L said...

I was thinking 4-legged elks at first. Are there still Elks and Moose?

Bill Peschel said...

While researching Agatha Christie in the 1920s, I came across a full page ad in the Times flogging "The Book of Etiquette" that tried to induce anxiety among women about their social flaws. It had, for example, a multiple choice question on the best way to introduce someone, and stated baldly that if you choose wrong you're social life will be BLIGHTED. You will be SHUNNED if you don't learn this important rule.

Really, it was as over the top as Schiff's "heads on pike" assertion.

Bill Peschel said...

I should have added that that is the context Parker was railing against.

Lurker21 said...
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Lurker21 said...

That is indeed what they say about highly mannered and ritualized life in royal courts and elite societies. In Europe it led some to rebel in outrageous ways. In Japan things seemed to just get more and more refined and (to plebeian Western eyes) more and more boring.

I heard it said that in France talking about your new car or house was considered vulgar and materialistic while talking about your latest vacation was acceptable. Talking about politics - arguing about politics - was also acceptable and didn't end in hurt feelings and broken friendships.

There's much to be said for the last part - about politics - though it wouldn't work over here, but talking about vacations can be more snobbish, pretentious and consumerist than talking about cars. Car talk can be very boring, but people are more likely to feel inferior for not having been to Bali than for not having a Ferrari.

Anonymous said...

Parker is one of those writers I found wonderfully witty, wise, and sophisticated when I was in high school. In my later years she entered the class of tedious writers who impress high-schoolers with their wit, wisdom, and sophistication.

A lot of New Yorker writing from that era rubs me that way.

gilbar said...

Ralph L said... I was thinking 4-legged elks at first. Are there still Elks and Moose?

Hell YEAH!
there's even still Odd Fellows

Anonymous said...

Post was selling to one type of status-striver, Parker to another.

Fernandinande said...

We used to include excerpts of Post's Etiquette in complaint letters to bars and restaurants which had "eighty-sixed" my obnoxious friend.

John henry said...

What's a "radio"?

John Henry

Josephbleau said...

Rhardin, I still like the Collins KWM 2 A best, although a bit problematic for hard core cw. I like the ww2 bunker feel.

Phidippus said...

"Mrs. Smith is so unmistakably the daughter of a hundred Elks."

Biologically speaking, I can't believe that's literally true, but it must have been a hell of a night for the old lady.

rcocean said...

Dorothy Parker was a drunk and a Commie, but very witty. She hatred American society, which was the source of her caustic wit. Once, it got more left-wing, she had nothing to push back against. She was married to a Homosexual, which must have been interesting.

rcocean said...

People always give humorists and wits a break, and assume they're fun, nice people - even when they're not.

mockturtle said...

Radios are going to be big. They are the next generation of Televisions without those large screens that are so hard to carry around with you. Think Climate Change.

Tradguy is right! Why, I've heard there may even be radios so small they can fit in your ear! Just imagine walking down the street with music playing in your ear! What a concept!

mockturtle said...

Rcocean observes: People always give humorists and wits a break, and assume they're fun, nice people - even when they're not.

In fact, they almost never are.

tcrosse said...

A part of Officer Candidate training is a Charm School, where candidates from less fashionable backgrounds Learn the Forks.

mockturtle said...

Emily Post served an important purpose. I'm sure most of us have found ourselves in situations where we weren't quite sure of an appropriate form of address toward an official or dignitary or were unsure about a certain fork or spoon [This happened to me at a dinner at Kings College, Cambridge, where I asked a fellow diner about the purpose of a certain knife placed just above the plate. It was apparently 'fish knife']. As I grew older these things became less important to me in everyday life but, as I'm going to spend a few weeks in Japan this year---and it's been decades since I was last there--- I'll be brushing up on Japanese manners so as to prevent any serious gaffes.

Like Angle-Dyne, I appreciated Parker most in my high school years. But I still think of her clever one-liners from time to time. As it's always been possible for me to cleanly separate the art from the artist, it wasn't an issue to me that she was a miserable Leftist drunk.

Mary Beth said...

They go about saying...“I want to make you acquainted with Mrs. Smith”...or “Pardon me!” or “Permit me to assist you” or even “Pleased to meet you!”... If you could allow yourself any sympathy for such white trash....

Oh, how far white trash has fallen since then.

tcrosse said...

A true gentleman is never unintentionally rude.

MikeD said...

Don't believe I've ever read anything by Emily Post. However, I was an ardent consumer of Miss. Manners (aka Judith Martin).

mockturtle said...

A true gentleman is never unintentionally rude.

Well played, tcrosse!

Phidippus said...

mockturtle: "...I'll be brushing up on Japanese manners so as to prevent any serious gaffes..."

The main thing I remember is that it's really a bad idea to leave your chopsticks sticking up in your rice when when you're drinking the soup or whatever.

It's also nice to let your friend pour you your next glass of beer or sake. If he's a little slow on the uptake, you can mutter nodo ga kawakimashita under your breath...

Ralph L said...

A part of Officer Candidate training is a Charm School, where candidates from less fashionable backgrounds Learn the Forks.

Is that still true? It sounds so racist now.

I thought Parker's husband was 6'4" and everything in proportion, but perhaps that was the one after the gay one.

Lurker21 said...

Dorothy Parker and the New Yorker writers of the Twenties might laugh at the foibles of the rich and of the Babbitts of flyover country without real malice. It was a less ideological time than today. Or at least that's my impression. Things changed somewhat with the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, but the New Yorker was more of a humor magazine than it is today.

The Thirties were a more ideological time than the Twenties - maybe even more ideological than today - at least for New York writers, artists, and intellectuals. But I wouldn't necessarily consider them "anti-American." The snobbish attitudes of the Twenties had faded somewhat, and there was even a cult of the worker and the common man. One could be "Unamerican" in the eyes of the later congressional committee and still believe that one loved the country and its people.

Parker was political and bitter in her later years. I'm not sure how much of the bitterness was political and how much was personal and deeply ingrained in her personality. I hope Dottie at least had better diction than Jennifer Jason Leigh did in Mrs. Parker. That was one American movie that definitely could have used subtitles.

Roger Sweeny said...

I'm actually looking for a radio. Just need it to pull in AM and FM signals and sound decent. Don't need a clock or an alarm or a battery. I'm beginning to think that no one makes anything between a ridiculously expensive Bose and a tinny little swiss army knife radio.

Lurker21 said...

I do appreciate the way mid-twentieth century etiquette books used to list the right ways to address lords, viscounts, earls, marquesses, dukes, kings and queens - both in correspondence and in face-to-face encounters.

Unlike so much of what I learned in school, that has certainly come in very handy over the years.

mockturtle said...

Phidippus: The one that will challenge me most is the rudeness of blowing one's nose in public, as I am prone to allergies. But I understand sniffing is entirely acceptable. ;-)

mockturtle said...

My biggest faux pas in Japan was hopping into a company vehicle thinking it was a taxi. The drivers look the same, with their white gloves and all...

tcrosse said...

There's a large body of customs and manners which fall under the category of Military Courtesy. They deal with the correct forms of address between superiors and inferiors. For instance, a superior can call an inferior's attention to something, but the inferior can only invite the superior's attention thereto.

mockturtle said...

Second biggest gaffe was offering a lower bow to a junior executive than to his senior when being introduced to them. Realizing my blunder, I quickly bowed again, lower, to the senior man, which probably looked really ridiculous. ;-D As I am earnestly studying the language now I realize also how many inappropriate things I said there in the past. When I needed a restroom, I would inquire, "Benjo?.

mockturtle said...
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rhhardin said...

Rhardin, I still like the Collins KWM 2 A best, although a bit problematic for hard core cw. I like the ww2 bunker feel.

I had a KWM2 in the early 60s. CW was okay, though it generated it with an audio oscillator and transmitted SSB of it, which is fairly circuitous. The receiver part was 75A4 quality, which was good; but doesn't compare with today's receiver filters.

Phidippus said...

mockturtle: I remember the first time I went to an after-work party the the Japanese guys. They had a catered table with lots of sushi, open bottles of beer, edamame, etc. Seeing that grand spread, I grabbed a bottle of beer, poured myself a glass (I sure needed it), and pounded it. Then I realized I was the only one drinking and that I was supposed to wait until the toast. Oh well.

They'll forgive a gaijin a lot if they sense that you like them and are trying to be respectful of their customs.

That was also the evening when I realized, too late, that you're not supposed to eat the shells that the edamame come in.

tcrosse said...

Once I, an enlisted man, had committed a breech of Military Courtesy in front of an officer to whom I did not report. It was not his place to chew me out, so he had to communicate his displeasure down the chain of command until it reached my Chief. By this time it had been considerably diluted. The Chief told me just to avoid this particular officer, as everybody else did.

Fernandinande said...

THAT is writing!

I liked the part about how to get out of being a pallbearer.

Fernandinande said...

When I needed a restroom, I would inquire, "Benjo?.

My Dad taught me something like that one, "Benjo ka-dough-ka-dosis" ...?

mockturtle said...

Phidippus, in England at formal dinners one must wait until the Queen is toasted.

eddie willers said...

I'm beginning to think that no one makes anything between a ridiculously expensive Bose and a tinny little swiss army knife radio.

Like turntables. Either over a grand or under a hundred.

tcrosse said...

Phidippus, in England at formal dinners one must wait until the Queen is toasted.

Actually, one is not permitted to smoke until after the Loyal Toast. Nothing on earth can make the British delay their drinking, especially at a Bun Fight.

mockturtle said...

Actually, one is not permitted to smoke until after the Loyal Toast.

It is my experience that one does neither.

tcrosse said...

It is my experience that one does neither.

Of course, my experience of the British is in Scotland and Northern Ireland. YMMV.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

Dorothy Parker was born during the Victorian Era. That is what she and her smart, witty friends were reacting to in the 1920's: the overblown stuffiness and formality of the Victorians.

I love her writing, but I have to wonder what she'd make of the end result of the long 20th century war on manners and mores. She might find Mrs. Post preferable to twerking and rap music lyrics.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

Parker, of course, was a chronic alcoholic and her drinking got worse as she got older. I read a bio of her many years ago and it included the following story. In the early '50's, she turned up at a party with a young male escort who was handsome but not exactly her intellectual equal, and at one point Parker and the young man started to make love - right in front of everybody. Her hosts and the other guests proceeded to take a great interest in the NYC skyline. Later on, she apologized to her hosts and said, "We must have been awfully picturesque."

tim in vermont said...

Matthew Sitman@MatthewSitman
“But a writer who carries the thought police around in his head, who always feels compelled to ask: Can I say this? Do I have a right? Is my terminology correct? Will my allies get angry? Could it get me ratioed on Twitter?—that writer’s words will soon become lifeless.”

ken in tx said...

"A part of Officer Candidate training is a Charm School, where candidates from less fashionable backgrounds Learn the Forks."

In Air Force OTS (1975), we were shown a Navy produced video of a young officer being a jackass at a dinner party, as an example of what not to do. We attended several mandatory social events which we called 'graded fun'. You were always expected to ask the commander's wife to dance.