Etiquette & superstition: stoats

I believe Eartha Kitt wanted a sable for Christmas, which is a marten. But today we’re going to talk about ermine, which is a wintertime stoat, which is a short-tailed weasel. I’m not sure why there are all these different names for the same types of animal, but maybe it’s a good tactic to avoid the fur trapper if you’re a stoat. “Ermine? Oh, ha. I get that all the time. No, sorry. Short-tailed weasel here.” Let the stoat keep its own coat, please.

ETIQUETTE: (I think we’re all done with any new fur coats being made for fashion purposes, right? For the sake of argument, let’s just assume that the following fur talk relates to vintage furs. Onward.) Ermine is a dress fur, and it should typically be worn with an evening gown, though Amy Vanderbilt noted in the ’50s and ’60s that a bride could wear it over her wedding gown in the daytime. According to some, ermine is a difficult fur to pull off unless you are Parisian. If you aren’t Parisian and still want to go for it, make sure you don’t wear it in the country or while skiing.

SUPERSTITION: Stoats have souls. Specifically, they have the souls of unbaptized infants. You would think this would make them sad and helpless, but unfortunately stoat possession doesn’t work that way. A white stoat crossing your path is bad luck, like death-level bad luck, unless you tip your hat and greet him solicitously. Watch what the stoat does after this. If he runs in front of you on your left, you have enemies in your house. If he runs one way and then darts back the other way, you’re back to the death omen. If he starts zigging and zagging, though, you’ve hit the jackpot. Your enemies will be vanquished and you will have much success. Take care not to kiss that stoat to thank him for the good luck. Stoat saliva is poison.

If you don’t care about all the ways a stoat can kill you and are not fooled by all his name-changing trickery, you can actually get an ermine fur pretty easily. An ermine is so fussy about its fur staying pristine that it would rather surrender to a hunter rather than run through the mud and risk getting dirty.

Image from the Pocket Atlas Of Mammals From France, Romanesque Switzerland and Belgium via the Biodiversity Heritage Library
Published in: on December 19, 2018 at 9:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Etiquette & superstition: tomatoes

My old pal Millicent Fenwick says in my edition of Vogue’s Book of Etiquette that “toe-mah-to” is the preferred pronunciation of everyone’s favorite nightshade. Not here in Los Angle-ease it isn’t, Millie. This might be the first time we’ve ever disagreed.

ETIQUETTE: You probably figured this one out the hard way when you were a little kid, but if you didn’t, you should know that the best way to eat a cherry tomato is to put the whole thing in your mouth at one time. If it’s too big, you may cut it, but you are going to need a knife and fork to do so. This is not being overly fussy; attempting to cut a cherry tomato with the side of your fork is not going to end well for you or your dining companions. Pierce the tomato delicately with the tines of your fork to stabilize it, and then slice it in two slowly and attentively.

Raw tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator, and should be served room temperature rather than chilled for best flavor. Of course, all of this is a bit of a moot point if you are serving firm, store-bought tomatoes that have been ripened with ethylene gas. Nothing will help those sad fellows flavor-wise. Hey, but they look kind of pretty, eh?

SUPERSTITION: That old superstition about tomatoes being poisonous? Oh, that’s ridiculous. And nobody ever really thought that, anyway. They won’t kill you and they won’t turn you into a werewolf either. Superstitious posh. Tomatoes are absolutely fine to eat, really.

Just remember not to eat one fresh off the vine if you want to avoid brain fever. Also, peel it unless you want to give yourself The Cancer, and oh brother, don’t drink tomato juice unless you want to aggravate that high blood pressure of yours. Otherwise, go for it. Oh yeah. Don’t eat the seeds either, unless you’ve already had your appendix taken out. Better to put the tomato seeds in a pouch and wear them around your neck; it’s a sure-fire way to be popular with the boys.

Photo of Chole post-skunking by Brian Boucheron via Flickr; you really should check out the whole album here

Etiquette & superstition: bread crust

Today’s post was inspired by Atlas Obscura’s recent compilation of mom lies they received from readers in honor of Mother’s Day. One of the lies someone sent in was about how their mom said bread crust was full of vitamins, and it made me think about the news story a few years ago about scientists finding a cancer-fighting antioxidant called pronyl-lysine in bread crust and how happy that lying mother must have been to have her lie retconned like that. Of course, the same chemical reaction that produces pronyl-lysine in bread crust also creates acrylamide, which is a carcinogen. So it’s a bit of a wash, Lying Mom. You’re going to have to try better than that to get me to eat my bread crusts.

ETIQUETTE: Sandwiches with the crusts cut off are not the preferred and “most proper” way to serve sandwiches unless you are talking about little finger sandwiches you serve at a daytime party or tea. A normal sandwich served as a meal for an adult should have its bread crusts intact. Anything else is overly precious and fussy, which I believe we have previously noted is the opposite of true etiquette.

Also contrary to what you may have been told, you may in fact use your bread crust to sop up a particularly nice bit of sauce on your plate, provided you are not in a formal setting and you do the sopping with a modicum of restraint. Take a bite-sized bit of bread/crust, drop it on the plate, and direct it with your fork into the sauce. Fork that bread bit up into your mouth and be happy.

One last tip for time travelers only: If you find yourself in the early to mid-19th century being served a plate of fish, go ahead and use your bread crust in lieu of a knife as a sort of aid to your fork. The steel knives they have right now carry a metallic taste that overpowers the fish, and it’s going to be a few years yet before they start making fish utensils out of silver.

SUPERSTITION: Bread crusts! They make your hair curly. They help you learn how to whistle. They make your teeth whiter. They make your boobs grow, and they attract kisses. Eat your bread crusts, kids!

Photo by anyjazz65 on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: leftovers

If you are an American of a certain age and from a certain region, you may recall restaurant takeout bags referred to as “doggie bags.” A current Google image search, however, will reveal that most items these days referred to as doggie bags either carry doggies or something made by doggies. This is one more reason you should keep up with your vernacular terms.

ETIQUETTE: Long ago in the US, it was considered gauche for a diner in a restaurant to ask for their uneaten food to be wrapped up so they could finish it later at home. Sometime around the early to mid-20th century, a workaround was devised in the form of “I’m quite finished, thank you, but if it’s all right I’d like to take the rest of this steak home for my pet to consume,” and the “doggie bag” was born.

This desire to not seem overly greedy has now turned around completely, and in the States it is completely normal to ask for one’s uneaten food to be wrapped up for later consumption; the “this isn’t for me; it’s for my dog” cover story is considered to be a bit absurd, and pretty much nobody calls it a doggie bag anymore. You can go to some rather well-respected dining establishments and they will not bat an eyelash if you ask them to box up the uneaten portion of your meal. A really fun place may even give you your food wrapped in a foil swan.

However, this way of thinking is not very common in the rest of the world. In Canada, go for it. In the UK and Vienna and South Africa, it seems to be fine in places that offer takeaway food. But in Australia, depending on what state you’re in, it’s either a normal practice or illegal. In most of Europe and in Japan, you are going to get a look from the waitperson at the very least, you will embarrass your dining companions, and the restaurant will probably not accommodate your request. Eat up at the table, doggie.

SUPERSTITION: In Spain, if it’s Ash Wednesday and you’re at a feast you can ask someone to box up your food. They’ll be happy to do it, but you’re going to have to carry it in a procession and then bury it with a whole lot of fanfare and I’m not sure that’s what you intended when you asked them to box your food.

But Ash Wednesday was a while ago. Let’s talk about food from this week. I sure hope you didn’t bring home any leftovers from your Walpurgisnacht feast. If you did, you should throw them out because they aren’t really leftovers anymore. Some fairies came and ate the leftovers and made some fake food out of sod and left that in place of the leftovers. I’m serious. That’s what they do. Jerks.

Photo (greaseproof!) by julia k via Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: pearls

When I was in high school in the ’80s I asked my dad if I could wear his old Air Force overcoat, and he said, “Sure.” I took a string of fake pearls and looped it around the epaulet strap in place of decorative braid, and I wore the hell out of that coat for a while. My dad was much slower with his “sure”s after that.

ETIQUETTE: Geez. You look up “pearl etiquette” on the internet, and you have people asking, “Can I wear pearls after 5?” “Can I wear pearls before 5?” “Can I wear pearls at work?” “Can young people wear pearls?” What is with all the pearl anxiety? I have a feeling someone’s parents or significant other didn’t want to or couldn’t buy pearls for a young lady who wanted them, made up some story about how they were inappropriate for the young lady, and then all the other parents or significant others saw how well this worked and they ran with the concept, tailored for their own situations.

Look. You can wear pearls at any time of day, at any time of your life, and for any occasion. Even the fuddiest duddiest etiquette book says you can even wear them for funerals. They are the most versatile, non-flashy, elegant balls of irritant in the world. If someone gives you pearls, wear them happily and often. And don’t rub them across your teeth to see if they are real… at least not in front of anyone.

SUPERSTITION: Be careful with pearls. It’s unlucky to get pearls as a gift unless you are a baby. If you wear pearls and they turn white, everybody will know you are evil. If you wear pearls on your wedding day, your marriage will be full of tears. But on the other hand, a pearl under a pillow will help a couple conceive a child. Pearls protect the wearer against fire and shark attacks, and powder made of burnt pearl will cure insanity, jaundice, and snake bites.

Photo by antinea…hereandzere on Flickr

Foiled again

Well, here we are. As of today (or maybe tomorrow; that first post wasn’t much), I’ve been writing Fancy Notions for ten years. A ten year anniversary is typically celebrated with tin or aluminum, but I had really wanted to make myself an elaborate smorgastarta, which is

a savory sandwich cake, frequently made with shrimp and eggs but mainly just whatever you feel like would be good in a sandwich cake. Ham slices, radishes, chickpeas and beets… with frosting made of cream cheese and maybe some ranch dressing. Yes.

But it’s Wednesday, and I’m tired. And it’s also Pi Day. A pie tin would work with both aspects of the day, but there’s no way I can bake a pie right now. If only there was one of those pecan pie vending machines nearby. Who’s in Austin and can ship me a celebratory pecan pie? I’ll owe you a smorgastarta.

And don’t worry. I may be tired, and I may not be able to go on forever like pi, but I will keep this blog going for as long as I can possibly handle it. Thank you very much for your support through the years!

Photo by Pomax on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: hiccups

Benny had a health scare recently, namely a 24-hour bout of singultus. Also known as yox, hickot, hickock, hitchcock, and hiccough. He has since recovered, despite his refusal to drink water upside-down, which is a tried and trusted cure in my family. I think he just doesn’t know how to drink water upside-down and he’s embarrassed to admit it.

ETIQUETTE: As far as I have been able to determine, there is no culture that has any sort of reflexive “bless you” or similar response to the hiccups, but here in the West there does seem to be an automatic response of “Oh hey! You know what cures hiccups?” One of the hardest things to do if somebody around you has the hiccups is to refrain from offering unsolicited advice about a tried and trusted cure. But refrain you must, and ignore the hiccups as best you can.

If you have the hiccups and you don’t have a tried and trusted cure for them, it is recommended that you leave the room and get yourself a little privacy for a few minutes until the bout (hopefully) takes its course. You will be helping the person who so desperately wants to give you their tried and trusted cure and knows they shouldn’t, and you will be helping yourself, because you will eventually want to sock the person who won’t take no for an answer about their cure, and if you’re in a public place you’re likely to get in trouble for being publicly intoxicated if you’re hiccuping and throwing punches and all.

SUPERSTITION: Oh hey! You know what cures hiccups? Holding your left thumb with your right hand. No, wait. Hold your chin with your right hand while somebody sings a church hymn. No? Think about where you put that horseshoe that you found. You don’t have to get it or anything, just think about where you put it. Wait, wait. Tie a key to a piece of red string, tie it around your neck, and throw the key over your shoulder. Okay, but hold on. This one really works. Spit in your right hand, make a cross on the toe of your left shoe three times, and then say the Lord’s Prayer. Backwards. Tried and trusted.

Photo by Smokey Combs on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: Valentine’s Day birds and flowers

Ugh. Maybe this day isn’t hard for some people. It sure seems hard for adults in relationships, adults not in relationships, adults maybe in relationships, kids that are popular, kids that aren’t popular, misanthropes, optimists, waitstaff, teachers. Maybe it’s a good day for pets or something.

It should be a nice holiday celebrating a really important thing that everybody needs in some form or other, but it sure gets hung up on a lot of stuff. Take a deep breath. Love yourself. Eat some candy and watch a slasher movie or something.

ETIQUETTE: Flowers are nice. If you work in an office and you receive a gift of flowers, don’t march around the office with them as if you were some New Year’s Day parade. You already got flowers. Why do you need everybody to know you got flowers?

If you work in an office and you have not received any flowers, don’t audibly grumble about corporate guiltmongers creating an environment of conspicuous consumption. Gee, I wonder why you didn’t get any flowers, Sunshine?

SUPERSTITION: If you see a squirrel first thing Valentine’s Day morning, you’re going to marry a cheapskate. If the first bird you see on Valentine’s Day is a woodpecker, you will never marry. If you see an owl first, you will marry but your spouse will die soon afterwards. Keep your eye out early in the day for a bluebird, a dove, or a sparrow if you want a happy life with a good-hearted person.

Scan of vintage valentine by RoniJJ on Flickr

Word of the day for Tuesday, January 9th

I don’t know where you are, but where I am we had a lovely

sunshower today, after quite a bit of normal dark and stormy-type rain. It was quite nice. “But I know the word ‘sunshower’,” you might be saying. “Everyone knows that a sunshower is a rain shower that occurs while the sun is shining.” Well, smarty, you might know, but apparently not everyone does.

In some parts of the United States, a sunshower is known as a pineapple shower… and even more frequently, it is known as “the devil is beating his wife” or “the wolf is giving birth.”  Apparently the devil is beating is his wife because he’s mad that God made such a beautiful day and he has to take it out on someone. I don’t know why the wolf is giving birth.

Turns out, most of the world has pretty interesting names and meanings for the phenomenon of rain falling while the sun is shining. To wit:

  • it’s the wolf’s wedding in Algeria, France and Morocco
  • it’s the fox’s wedding in Bangladesh, Galicia, Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and parts of India
  • it’s the jackal’s wedding in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • it’s the monkey’s wedding in parts of South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Zimbabwe, parts of India and the Sudan
  • species are intermarrying in other parts of South Africa (jackal and wolf), Korea (tiger and fox), Sudan (monkey and donkey), parts of India (crow and fox)
  • gypsies are getting married in Croatia, Macedonia and Albania
  • witches are either getting married (Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic), combing their hair (Catalonia) or making butter (Poland)
  • ghosts are either getting married (parts of India) or just making the rain (Hawaii)
  • a zombie is trying to get his wife to give him some salty food in Haiti
  • Hell is having a carnival according to the people in Netherlands and Belgium
  • It’s a glitter waterfall in Canada
  • It’s a vitterväder in Sweden (if anyone who knows Swedish can explain what “vitterväder” means, I will update this post. I have to say I am intrigued, as Wikipedia sends me to a post about Vittra/Vittror, which are apparently trolls with cows? Please tell me more)

Wow. I grew up in a boring place. We just knew it as a sunshower. I guess that’s what I get for growing up in Sunnyvale.

Birth of a notion

Well, it looks like my first post of 2018 is going to break some of my rules here. One rule is that I shouldn’t just repost a cute Twitter meme, the second rule is that I shouldn’t give undue attention to a tweet that doesn’t give a link to its original source clearly, and the third rule is that I shouldn’t just regurgitate another article that has been on another site that you, faithful Notioner, may already be a fan of. But I’m going to break these rules because I don’t feel like I’ve seen other people in my social media feeds posting about these special little guys, the tweet brought this to a whole new level, and I feel like the article about these special little guys points to a timeframe when a superstition may have been cooked up. “What special little guys?” you may ask. “LUCKY LEMON PIGLETS,” I roar thunderously in response.

Yeah, I had to make a screenshot of the image in question because embedding a tweet with an image is not working here. And that’s also a rule I don’t like to break but I figure we’re so far down the copyright/attribution rabbit hole that it’s easier to explain with words rather than links at this point. So, the blog Grannie Pantries found this delightful creature in an Alcoa corporate-sponsored party booklet, Twitter user 70s Dinner Party reposted it, 70s Dinner Party followers responded with their own special little guys adorable and terrifying, and now if you go into a particular corner of Twitter you will be stampeded with Lemon Pigs.

Then Atlas Obscura stepped in, did some excellent research, and found that lemon pigs are some weird thing that cropped up in the late 1800s and then sort of disappeared (I mean, not really; they just lost popularity, apparently, though how this could happen, I do not know). They were a thing that kids made to amuse themselves, “like ‘walnut witches’ and cornhusk dolls.” And this was the point where I started to feel a little ripped off as a kid, because I was made aware of cornhusk dolls but not of walnut witches and certainly the only 1800s citrus/clove craft I was ever taught was the “make your mother a lovely orange sachet that she will love!” bullshit that we all fell for.

And then Atlas Obscura brought up something more – the fact that the old lemon pigs didn’t have pennies in their mouths, nor were they designated as lucky. AO posits that the Alcoa folks made the lucky part up, and that this is a fake superstition, but… maybe not? Maybe something happened in that short period when they stopped appearing in children’s craft books and the party book? A desperate former copywriter turned stay-at-home mom jammed a penny into her child’s toy’s mouth so the kid wouldn’t cram it up her own nose, and then she immediately got a call from the Alcoa Aluminum Company offering her a $25,000 advance on a party book? I don’t know. All I know is that I look at that pig and I know his luck isn’t fake. That is a magic special little guy.

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