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.

Etiquette & superstition: sweaters with buttons


It’s finally sweater weather here in Los Angeles. 62 degrees right now. Don’t laugh. My blood is so thin it’s almost a mist.

ETIQUETTE: If you’re a man looking to snazz up your suit a bit, you might consider adding a cardigan under your jacket in place of a waistcoat. To make this look fashionable rather than frumpy, the Men’s Flair blog says you should follow the same rule as you would a waistcoat and leave the bottom button unbuttoned. There is also a bit of discussion on same blog about whether you should also leave the top button of the cardigan undone, eventually getting to the conclusion that “… some consider this a little too informal, even rakish as the ‘mock waistcoat’ effect is no longer being followed, and the cardigan is essentially playing by its own rules, or rather, the wanton extravagance of its wearer.” Ouch.

SUPERSTITION: If you knit a sweater for your beloved, they will leave you unless you knit a strand of your own hair into the garment. Putting your arms through the arms of a sweater before you put your head through the neckhole will protect you from drowning. This is really easy with a cardigan because a cardigan doesn’t even have a neckhole until you button it up. For even more luck, put your right arm through before the left arm.

If you have a sweater with an even number of buttons, sew an extra button on for good luck, but wait! Don’t sew that button on while you are wearing the sweater because that is very bad luck indeed.

Spring Buck by Rachel Denny; found via The Jealous Curator

Etiquette & superstition: hoarding fire

I’ve written about the etiquette & superstition surrounding a couple of fire topics before, but it’s a big topic. Today let’s talk about the good kind of fire. It’s kind of difficult to remember when many of my fellow Angelenos are facing work commutes that look straight from Dante’s Inferno, but sometimes we want fire. Sometimes we want fire so much we don’t want to share it.

ETIQUETTE: If you find yourself in a group of people warming themselves around a campfire or near a lit fireplace, do not get in between another person and the fire. If you came to the fire late and are cold, and there is absolutely no way to get a little of that hot hot fire on you without blocking someone else, ask your companions to widen the circle.

SUPERSTITION: If you have a fire burning in your hearth, don’t let anyone take any of it (not even a bit of coal or a candle lit from it) out of the house, particularly on Christmas, New Year’s Day or May Day. If you do, your children will get sick, your livestock will die, and whoever took that bit of fire will come back in the summer and take all your butter.

Fire Good poster by Amy Martin; available here from the Echo Park Time Travel Mart

Etiquette & superstition: spitting

When Benny and I were on vacation a few weeks ago, we stopped in to a motel that we weren’t sure was of the highest caliber. I stayed in the car while Benny went to check out the room, and as I looked up to the second floor balcony, some motel guest spat down onto the driveway. I grimaced. The spitter noticed and stared at me a long while. Then he went inside. We wound up staying in the room directly below his. Nothing bad happened to us that night.

ETIQUETTE: Spitting in public is no longer considered an acceptable practice anywhere in the world. Seriously. It’s not. Read the signs. Everyone everywhere is telling you not to spit in public. You can spit in public if you are tasting wine, if you have inadvertently swallowed a bug, or if you are a camel. Otherwise, keep your fluids to yourself until you can find some privacy. At the very least, spit into a tissue or handkerchief.

“But what about Greek weddings?” you may be saying. “They spit at Greek weddings.” No, they don’t. Not really. They go ftoo ftoo ftoo. Don’t actually spit at the bride. For pete’s sake.

SUPERSTITION: Spit from a fasting person will cure boils, blindness,birthmarks and ringworm. Spit from an angry dog or a weasel is poisonous, and spit from a person who has been tickled to death may be lethal. A person’s spit contains a portion of his soul, so you may or may not want to spread that stuff around, but spitting will ward off the evil eye, and will even get rid of the Devil if you spit right between his horns. Practice your aim, friends.

Photo by darwin Bell on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: eclipses, part two


It’s been a while since we talked about eclipses here, and I know I didn’t cover everything then. If I don’t get everything in this time, maybe I’ll try again in 2024.

ETIQUETTE: There are two things that most people are going to want to experience during a solar eclipse – darkness and an unimpeded view of the sky. So, if you are going to be around other people and happen to be in the path of totality,

During the total eclipse phase (a maximum of 2:40 at its area of longest duration this time around), be particularly careful about the following:

  • don’t take flash photos
  • don’t take selfies with your damn screen all lit up
  • don’t text (seriously, if you can’t keep yourself from texting for less than three minutes, I don’t even know what to tell you)

SUPERSTITION: Remember last time when we warned you about how you had to make a lot of racket to scare the giant sky dragon and make him barf up the sun? Turns out that’s not true. During an eclipse, what actually happens is this demon who got his head chopped off after the sun and moon ratted him out to Vishnu for stealing some immortality juice goes and eats the sun, but it’s okay because he’s only a head, so after he swallows the sun it just falls out of his neck hole and everything’s fine after a few minutes.

So relax and don’t worry about the eclipse, unless you’re a pregnant lady who wants to give birth to a healthy child. Aside from the cleft palate danger I mentioned in the previous post, a pregnant woman who goes out into the eclipse just might turn her unborn child into a mouse fetus.

Photo (cropped) of Sun Days Motel sign by Sam Howzit via Flickr

 

Etiquette & superstition: letters to pests

Pest: an annoying or troublesome person, animal, or thing; nuisance. Being a pest does not require intention or desire to be a pest. You may be a pest and not even know it. Wouldn’t you rather someone told you?

ETIQUETTE: If you are in a work situation or living environment and you do not know who is stealing everyone’s lunch or leaving junk mail on the lobby floor, it is perfectly fine to post a directly-worded but calm note at the area of offense and not sign your name to it. It’s more of a sign than a note in this case. If you know who the offender is, however, it’s a completely different matter.

If you don’t feel comfortable confronting the offender and their offense is something that is actually interfering with your ability to work or to live comfortably, direct communication is preferred but if you must, find an intermediary. A boss is the appropriate person to talk to if a co-worker’s habits are harassing, unprofessional or intrusive, and an apartment manager is the appropriate person to talk to if a fellow tenant has ignored your previous requests to stop rollerskating in the hallway at 3 a.m. or is leaving his discarded shotgun shells on the floor of the elevator.

A very important point to bring up on this topic, courtesy of Charles Purdy in his quite enjoyable book Urban Etiquette: “… anonymous notes are at best cowardly and at worst threatening: If you can’t attach your name to it, perhaps it shouldn’t be said at all. An unsigned note addressed to a specific person is appropriate only for secret admirers, credit card companies, and kidnappers demanding ransom.”

SUPERSTITION: If you have a rat problem, you should leave a note for the rats. The ancient Greeks recommend a more threatening tone (“… if I ever catch you here again by the Mother of God I will rend you in seven pieces”) than do the countryfolk of the Ardennes or England (more of a “my neighbor has a lot more grain than I do” tack), but the people of New England are particularly New England-y about it. “The letter should indicate precisely the habitation to which they are assigned, and the road to be taken, and should contain such representations of the advantages of the change as may be supposed to affect the intelligence of the animal in question. A sample:


The Greeks say the note should be placed on a rock writing-side up, the Scots think it should be nailed to the wall or placed under the door one expects the rats to exit by, and the Yanks feel it should be folded up neatly and put into the rats’ hole. The Welsh say you should not bother with a request to vacate but instead write out some sort of mysterious “r.a.t.s. a.t.s.r.” acrostic puzzle and shove it into the King Rat’s mouth. I’m not so sure about that last one.

Photo via Boston Public Library feed on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: Midsummer

Phew. That was a thing. Was the summer solstice yesterday, or the day before? The argument got so heated that I decided not to touch it in favor of Midsummer. Midsummer is Saturday, and Midsummer’s Eve is Friday. Wanna fight about it?

ETIQUETTE: If you’re going to have a Midsummer party, you need to have a few things on the menu. You can mess around with a few options, but don’t mess around with the basics. You need to serve new potatoes, pickled herring, and the season’s first strawberries. Beer and schnapps to drink. Seriously. Don’t mess around.

SUPERSTITION: Oh geez. Midsummer. Such a busy time. On Midsummer’s Eve:

  • Pick a rose, and it will stay fresh until Christmas
  • Pick seven different kinds of flowers and put them under your pillow, and you’ll dream of your future mate
  • Light a bonfire on Midsummer’s Eve so the apple crop won’t spoil
  • Stuff a wheel with straw, light it on fire, and roll it down the hill. If the wheel stays lit all the way down, you’ll have a good harvest this year
  • Pen up the cattle and walk around the pen three times while carrying a torch if you want to avoid them getting diseased or visited by evil forces
  • Hope it doesn’t rain because if it does, your filberts are going to be spoiled.
Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Edwin Landseer

Etiquette & superstition: bananas

Don’t give me tomatoes, can’t stand ice cream cones. I like bananas because they have no bones.

ETIQUETTE: Usually I respect my etiquette elders, but I recently came across a “rule” on Etiquette Scholar that I cannot agree with – namely, that at a formal meal you should eat a banana with a fork. No. No, and let’s just take this apart right now. Primarily, this supposed rule breaks one of the basic tenets of modern etiquette: don’t be overly precious or fussy. Putting on airs is the opposite of etiquette.

Secondarily, you are not going to be served a whole, uncut raw banana at a formal meal. (I know ES is talking about a whole, uncut raw banana because they also recommend that you place the peel on the side of your plate.) For the sake of argument, however, let’s suppose that someone is hatching up a new cuisine right now that involves very fancy raw banana eating. How do you handle it? I say you partially peel the fruit starting from the stem end (don’t tell me I’m doing it wrong; there’s a reason for this), keeping the banana in your hand, and break a piece off for eating with your other hand. Don’t just peel the fruit and take a bite from the entire banana as a monkey would. That’s just asking to be snickered at.

SUPERSTITION: If you bring a banana on a boat, it’s bad luck and at the very least nobody on the boat will catch any fish. Some fishing boat captains will go so far as to ban Banana Boat sunscreen, Banana Republic clothing and even Fruit of the Loom underwear (the label of which doesn’t happen to have a banana, but whatever). If you happen to find yourself on a fishing boat with any of the aforementioned banana items, and you want to actually catch a fish, toss them overboard and try praying to the Hindu crocodile god Kompira/Konpira:

Oh great Konpira
please, hear my plea
I am sorry for my mistake
A banana I brought to sea

it was an honest gesture
a noble means of nutrition
I had no ill intent
I brought fruit of my own volition

Please forgive my idiocy
I meant my friends no harm
We just want to go fishing
and go home with a sore arm

We beg of you to release the curse
upon which I have brought
In your honor I consume these bananas
a sacrifice all for nought

Photo by Julian Burgess on Flickr
%d bloggers like this: