Monday, September 24, 2007

on living graciously

Doing a little warm up in preparation for appropriating the voice of someone who went to charm school. I had to borrow a book on etiquette. Went right for the top: Amy Vanderbilt. Her 1952 Guide to Gracious Living.

Here’s a few things I never learned about appropriate dress for active sports:
1. Tennis: Unless she’s playing on her own court at home, a woman wears white for tennis or badminton to keep from distracting other players on adjoining courts with bright colors.
2. Duckshooting: This is no time for glamour, and warm underpinnings are most important.
3. Swimming: Any woman less bony than a shad looks ridiculous in a bra-top bathing suit and one that doesn’t at least partly cover her thighs.

And here are some tips for the fastidious and well-mannered woman:
1. Dressing for Dinner: Every woman should change for dinner, if only into a clean house dress. Dinner is the high point of the day, the forerunner—it is to be hoped—of a free evening. Fresh grooming for evening is one of the criteria of gentility.
2. Sitting in a chair: Be sure to look at the chair before bending your knees. The back of your leg should actually come in contact with the chair. When you have received this indication of the chair’s position, you should bend your knees, lean forward slightly and go gently into the chair, maintaining careful contact with the floor. Beware of crossing your legs if they are not slender, as it creates unattractive bulges on the leg and thigh crossed over.
3. Women in business: The brusque, unwomanly woman is anything but attractive in or out of business. Women have their place, and men have theirs. However competent she may be in business, no woman should conduct herself in any but a dignified feminine manner.

The domestic affairs section of the etiquette book is especially fascinating:
1. Greeting servants: If you are a familiar of the house you are visiting you may say, “Good afternoon, Perkins,” to the butler or houseman who opens the door. Butlers are addressed by surnames, but maids and cooks are typically called by their given names, such as “Ella,” or “Kate.” Keep in mind that Chinese houseservants switch the order of sur and given name. A man who tells you his name is Fu Wang expects to be called Fu, his last name.
2. Maidless entertaining: Avoid the tension and trouble of extra preparations for company entertaining by living, daily, approximately the way you do when guests are present. However, there is absolutely no use, in a servantless household, in trying to duplicate at the table the kind of service one would have with a trained staff. Instead, serve meals English-style, with all the food for the course on the table or on adjacent serving tables within reach of host and hostess.
3. Cleaning routines: At minimum, daily housework should consist of meal-getting, dishwashing, bedmaking, bathroom cleaning and room-tidying, with at least one room chosen for complete overhaul. The room chosen for thorough cleaning, whether by a day-worker or the mistress, is first diassembled as much as is practicable. Furniture is pulled away from the walls, scatter rugs or carpets rolled up, ornaments removed from shelves, pictures taken down, draperies folded back or removed. Dust, vacuum, scrub and polish, in that order. In corners and inaccessible spots the floor should be lightly scraped with a paint scraper, steel wool, or a dull knife.

The very idea of presiding over one’s life like Vanderbilt instructs sets goosebumps into my skin. No wonder those gals all developed alcoholism, vapors and the need for perpetual rest cures!

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