Etiquette & superstition: sunburn

lobster

Benny and I went to a public swimming pool this afternoon to cool off, and while we were in the water we saw a little kid near our towels applying an alarming amount of sunscreen to his upper arms and a diagonal stripe across his back. His arms and that one back stripe were like a Van Gogh painting, if Van Gogh only painted in optical while. Every once in a while the kid would very thoroughly wipe his hands off and go to the side of the pool for a minute, but his main activity was blorting out sunscreen onto his upper arms and a small portion of his back.

At one point we thought he was applying sunscreen to his feet, but then we saw that he had merely moved on to his calves. Blotchy knee socks made of sunscreen. When I got out of the pool and came back to my towel, I got a closer look at him and noticed that he was getting a bad sunburn on his shoulders. I didn’t say anything because I don’t think adults are supposed to talk to strange children at public pools. Anyway, after less than an hour at the pool, the lifeguards told everybody to get out of the water because they had to close the pool. The filtration system was backed up. Benny figured it must have been clogged up with sunscreen, but I didn’t see that kid even go in the pool.

ETIQUETTE: While it is not rude and in fact possibly helpful to point out to an adult stranger (or familiar child) that they are starting to get a sunburn, it is quite rude to point out the situation after the fact. Unlike spinach in the teeth or an unzipped fly, there is nothing the person can do to fix the situation at this point.

Or is there? According to the 1909 book Household Companion: The Home Book of Etiquette, a sunburn can be cured by the application of green grape juice prepared with alum, or cucumber-infused milk, or buttermilk with tansy. Polly Bergen used to recommend applying lumps from milk of magnesia. I’ve also read that equal parts baby oil and blue Listerine will work. I don’t know; these all sound like superstitions to me.

SUPERSTITION: If you get a sunburn, go quickly and find yourself one of those people that can talk the fire out. All they have to do is mumble something (possibly Ezekiel 19:9, but it’s hard to tell because they’re mumbling), maybe wave their hands over the burn, and for a second you feel terrible but then suddenly ta-da, you feel better. There aren’t many of these people around, because they’re only supposed to train one other person in their lifetime the secret of sunburn soothing.

Photo by tuppus on Flickr

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  1. […] (posture, makeup, walking and talking), and 2) in an earlier Polly Bergen post here on Fancy Notions I completely mischaracterized her remedy for sunburn. I must make […]


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