Etiquette & superstition: handkerchiefs

We’ve discussed handkerchiefs tangentially while explaining snot and spitting before, but maybe it’s a good time right now to discuss them more directly.

ETIQUETTE: Decorative silk and chiffon handkerchiefs are just that – decorative. Do not blow your nose with them. They can be used for gesturing and perhaps picking up an injured baby bird, and that’s about it.

More substantial handkerchiefs can also serve a somewhat decorative purpose as worn in the breast pocket of a suit jacket. Feel free to choose one with a colored border that matches your socks and tie, or shoes and purse. Colored-border handkerchiefs should not be used in a formal outfit, however.

Once you’ve used the handkerchief from your breast pocket, you should not stuff it back into that pocket because it’s going to look gross (if it’s visible) or lumpy (if it’s been stuffed all the way down and is no longer visible). You can put it in your pants/skirt pocket or your purse, or if you’re going for an old-timey boiled English gentleman aesthetic, you can shove it up your sleeve.

SUPERSTITION: It’s bad luck to carry a newly pressed and folded handkerchief; you need to unfold it first. You can refold it if that makes things more convenient for you. It’s also bad luck to pick up your own handkerchief if you drop it. And as we may have pointed out before, it’s not nice to give a handkerchief as a gift, as it will provide the recipient with much to use it for in the way of tears or sweat or illness. It will also ruin your relationship with them. How about a bandana, face buff, or kicky face mask instead?

Etiquette & superstition: solitary activities

I’m sure this Catch-22 was debated at some length by the more responsible powers-that-be before shelter in place orders were issued, but I’m finding it a little distressing: according to a study done a few years ago, belief in superstitions and conspiracy theories can be tied to feelings of isolation and social exclusion. I’d need to read the original paper to get a better handle on this, obviously, but needing to isolate people while knowing that isolating them may make them start to believe there are only nefarious reasons for their isolation sounds like a scary task. Keep doing those Zoom calls so you don’t start demonizing epidemiologists, everyone?

ETIQUETTE: Etiquette seems like a silly thing to be discussing right now, but I came across a passage in the beginning of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Book Of Common Sense Etiquette that I found quite relevant to our current situation. I condensed this somewhat but I think it retains her meaning.

Unless we are able to find a relatively satisfactory adjustment within ourselves, so that we may look into the mirror with composure and close our eyes at night in reasonable peace, unless we make of ourselves persons whom we like, with whom, when occasion demands, we can live pleasantly in solitude, we are poorly equipped for social life in any community.” … “Your attitude toward the human race as a whole must include your concept of yourself, for you are a human being.” … “The one who … learns how to be honest to others by being honest with himself, not only will find the basic rules of courtesy to others natural and simple, but will also render perhaps the greatest of all courtesies to those with whom he has daily contact – that of being the kind of human being with whom it is a privilege to associate.”

SUPERSTITION: If you sing while you’re alone riding your horse or bike at night, you’ll get into an accident. If you’re a lady and you trip and fall while in an unfamiliar town, you will soon have a new beau. If you have a stye in your eye, go alone to a crossroads at midnight during a waning moon and yell: “Sty, sty, leave my eye, go to the next feller passin’ by!” If you want to spend the rest of your days wandering hungry and alone, just waste some corn.

A crow flying alone is an omen of impending disappointment, as is a lone cow mooing at night. Sandstorms are caused by bored and lonely desert demons.

Etiquette & superstition: sleep aids and impediments

I subscribed to a five-part “improve your sleep” newsletter this week, and while there were some helpful tips (don’t consume wine, a burrito, and American Horror Story just before bedtime), most of it seemed like stuff I’m already doing and I’m still having trouble sleeping. I guess I still need to work on a couple of things.

ETIQUETTE: Oh, will you look at that? The summary from the sleep newsletter brought up some things that I don’t remember reading about, and now I see that I did not receive Day 4 of the newsletter. Apparently it said some stuff about sheets and pillows. I wish I knew what that said.

According to a recent “sleep etiquette survey,” 11.5% of houseguests said their hosts did not provide enough pillows for them to sleep comfortably at night. Of course, this sleep etiquette survey was conducted by a company that sells mattresses and pillows, so perhaps they are not the most reliable source.

On the other hand, Miss Manners points to the problem of hosts putting too many pillows on the bed, particularly decorative pillows and bolts and shams that are not meant to be slept on. “The first rule is that guests should be able to find the bed under the pile of pillows. Miss Manners considers it the responsibility of the host to make it possible for them to go to sleep without first redecorating the room.”

She then explains that the only pillows that one is actually supposed to put one’s head upon are the ones with pillowcases on them, and the others should be removed from the bed. If there is no chair to place the decorative pillows on, it is perfectly fine for the guest to put them on the floor as long as one puts them back on the bed in the morning.

SUPERSTITION: A good night’s sleep will be had if the sleeper’s head faces the church. If that doesn’t work, some fresh steaming sheep’s lungs applied to both sides of the head might help. If you’re still tossing and turning, just bring a corpse’s hand into your room and put a candle in it – preferably a candle made out of the fat of an executed prisoner and some horse dung. As long as the hand is holding the candle, not just you but everybody in the house will stay fast asleep. Good luck getting up in the morning.

Etiquette & superstition: messes on New Year’s Eve and Day

I did a lot of things wrong this New Year’s Day. I spent money on new bacon for the black eyed peas because the other bacon had boar taint, I washed clothes and dishes, and I may have even taken things out of the house before bringing something in. On the other hand, I spent New Year’s Eve with a few people I love and I enjoyed myself. We’ll see how this year goes.

  • ETIQUETTE: Unlike some other etiquette sources, I am not going to tell you not to get drunk and make too much noise and throw confetti on New Year’s Eve if you feel like it. New Year’s Eve is about reflecting on what was accumulated through the year, whether that is spiritual and/or material riches or bad energy. Enjoy the good stuff, banish the bad stuff; either activity can make a mess. It’s different than a normal party. Anybody throwing a New Year’s Eve party should bear this in mind.

    That being said, if you make a mess, clean it up. And don’t make a mess you can’t clean up. That’s all.

  • SUPERSTITION: If you get the last drink out of the bottle on New Year’s Eve, you’ll have exceptional luck in upcoming days. To extend that luck, however, it’s probably best to take it easy the next day. Don’t take out the garbage or sweep dust out of the house on the first of the year, unless you want to sweep out all of your luck with it. If you wash clothes on New Year’s Day, the person whose clothes you washed will be dead within the year.  If you cry on New Year’s Day, you’ll cry all year.

Etiquette & superstition: aquatic activities on Friday

Here we are, the high holy day of Western superstition. I have covered 13 previously, so let’s move to the Friday part of the equation. Particularly doing stuff in or with water on Fridays.

ETIQUETTE: If you’re on a long cruise, you should do your tipping to the various stewards on Friday evenings, except for the bartender, who should be tipped as per your normal bar custom.

SUPERSTITION: Never set sail on a Friday. One of the reasons given is that Noah’s ark set sail on Friday, but that doesn’t make any sense. The only humans who survived were those that set sail that Friday, right? And all this is assuming that there were Fridays back then. Go ahead and sail on a Friday, I guess.

But don’t wash anything on Friday, including yourself. Taking a bath on Friday will make you sick. Washing clothes? Jesus himself put a curse on anybody who washed their clothes on Friday, because apparently some washerwoman waved a wet rag in his face on his way to the cross, and that got him really mad. And don’t wash blankets on Friday either, because they will dry too quickly and that’s a bad thing for some reason. Also you will have either sleeplessness or bad dreams.

One thing you can do on a Friday is go fishing, at least on Good Friday. It’s a very good day for fishing. And if you want to make sure you don’t get in a shipwreck, bring onboard a roll or bun that was baked on Good Friday. Maybe Noah and his family brought Good Friday rolls onto the ark and that’s why they survived the bad luck Friday sailing omen. Wait – that doesn’t make any sense. Is it me, or is the Bible confusing?

Cropped image of TGI Friday’s by Mike Mozart on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: birthdays

My father was an engineer and my mother was a schoolteacher, and they really liked making and sticking to plans. Their plan was to have two children, born four years apart. Preferably the boy first. My brother’s birthday is four years and six days ahead of mine. They screwed that one up by six days, I guess.

ETIQUETTE: Wow, this is one I completely missed until now. It seems obvious, but I just never thought of it. Apparently it used to be considered terrible to throw yourself a birthday party as an adult. The worst. So gauche. So “look at me and tell me I’m wonderful.” Miss Manners is still not in favor of it. I have to admit that I am a bit of a “look at me and tell me I’m wonderful” sort of person at times and have thrown myself a ton of birthday parties. I’m so embarrassed.

But the good thing is the etiquette monsters have changed their mind about this one, even Miss Manners (albeit grudgingly), and it’s now all right to throw your own birthday, provided that you make it clear that no gifts are expected. If you are throwing your own birthday party at a restaurant, don’t expect your friends to pay for your meal; making people pay for not only their own refreshments but your own is not good host behavior.

And be careful with the phrasing of your invitation if you’re not prepared to pay for everyone’s meal. The Uncommon Courtesy folks suggest something along the lines of “I’m celebrating at xxxx restaurant and would love to see you if you could make it” rather than “please join me for dinner…”. Gauge this wording according to your friends’ comfort and perspicacity level. You can do it! You’re all grown up now!

SUPERSTITION: If you’re Russian or German, it’s bad luck to wish someone a happy birthday early. In China, it’s bad luck to wish someone a happy birthday late. Cross-time zone birthday wishes can be difficult sometimes.

Certain birthdays in general are also not great in China. Forget about the 30th, 40th, and 60th birthday. Ignore them. They’re dead to you. For a woman’s 33rd birthday, she needs to prepare for it by buying a piece of meat, hiding it behind the kitchen door, chopping it up 33 times*, and throwing the meat away. That’s the only way to get rid of the evil spirits associated with the number. When she turns 66, she has to find a female relative to do the meat chopping. Sixty-six times for this birthday. Phew. I don’t want to know what happens at 99.

Photo from the Wilton Pictorial Encyclopedia of Modern Cake Decorating. It really is a treasure trove, this book.
*I have tried and tried to find out if she needs to be behind the door while chopping the meat, but have not been successful in finding an answer.



Was that a dream or was it true?

There is a new dove preparing to lay eggs in a hanging pot on our porch and a spider keeps rebuilding his web even though I keep accidentally crashing through it, so I kind of feel like I’m living in this short film this week. And that seems kind of nice.

I am probably not going to think it’s so nice if the bird turns in a rat however, no matter how briefly. As long as I don’t try to trap anybody, I think I’ll be fine.

Etiquette & superstition: hovering

The longer I look at the word “hovering,” the weirder it looks. I may tackle the etiquette & superstition of hoovering at a future date, as that is what I keep typing, but right now I have to get this topic done so I never have to type the word “hovering” again.

ETIQUETTE: In the West, humans with vaginas frequently sit on a toilet while urinating. Some do not choose to sit, however, and prefer to hover over the toilet so as to not touch the toilet seat. Sigh. Look, if there is no toilet paper or seat protector available in a public washroom, or the toilet facilities are absolutely filthy, I get it. Go ahead and hover. But leave the place the way you found it. Don’t pee on the toilet seat. Seriously, after you’re done, check to make sure you haven’t peed on the toilet seat. Did you check? I’ll bet you a nickel you peed on the toilet seat. Clean that up.

The best way to avoid peeing on the toilet seat if you need to hover is to lift the toilet seat up. Just ask humans with penises. They have a thing that can aim and they still lift the toilet seat up. You don’t have a thing that can aim, human with a vagina. Lift that toilet seat up. Oh, the toilet seat is too disgusting to raise with your hand? Use your foot. Your shoe has dealt with worse.

SUPERSTITION: If a money miller moth hovers over you, you are going to be rich very soon. If a magpie hovers over you, you are going to die very soon. A hovering mysterious light at night either leads the way to treasure or marks the path of an impending funeral. If a butterfly hovers over a corpse, that dead person’s soul is going to be happy in the afterlife.

Hoverdog photo by Soggydan Benenovitch on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: mourning gloves


When I was in marching band in high school, we had to wear white gloves as part of our uniform but they were not provided by the school. Our band director talked to a local funeral parlor director about it, and the latter agreed to provide white pallbearer gloves to anybody who needed them. All we had to do was pick them up. For some reason this was a really scary thing for us teenagers to do – go to a funeral parlor to ask for gloves – and my friend and I had to go do it together. They really didn’t think it was that big of a deal at the funeral parlor, and we got our gloves. That’s about it. I noticed while doing an image search for this post that pallbearers don’t seem to wear gloves anymore. I wonder where kids in high school marching bands get their gloves now.

ETIQUETTE: If you go back in time to the mid-1800s and find yourself at a funeral, you are going to need some gloves to wear. Wear white gloves if the funeral is for an unmarried person, particularly a child, and wear black gloves at the funeral of a married person (including a widow or widower).

SUPERSTITION: If you touch an occupied casket with your bare hands, the soul of the deceased will enter your body. Wearing gloves will protect you from said occupation.

When a baptized unmarried woman dies, it is understood that she will be wedded to God in the afterlife. You need to make a maiden’s garland for the funeral/wedding, and that garland will consist of a white paper crown, white gloves (real or made of paper), and other ornaments such as ribbons, eggshells, and poems written on slips of paper. Maiden’s garlands are not only for dead young ladies, but older unmarried gentlewomen as well, and in some parishes unmarried fellows get them too.

Photo of Miro‘s The White Glove by John Weiss on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: open door policy

Today’s post was inspired by a comment I was annoyed by on a community website today: “A man wants to rush up from behind and jump in front of you to open the door when your fingers are millimeters away from the handle ‘to be a gentleman’? He gets to whether you want it or not. And when you call them out on it you’re labeled as a crazy bitch.” 

This particular site can be the social media version of Lisa Simpson at times (i.e. woker than thou, humorless), so there was no way I was going to tell this crazy bitch to calm down and accept a kindness even if it came from some wannabe chevalier expecting a big pat on the back. At least not there.

ETIQUETTE: If you are physically able to do so, hold the door open for others when you are the first to approach a door. This is a gender-neutral rule. If the door pushes open, go through first. If the door pulls open, let others enter first as you are holding it.

Don’t be weird about it, though. Don’t hold the door open for a person if they are so far away that they will feel compelled to hurry up in order to not make you wait. Give extra consideration for those burdened with children, packages or mobility issues.

If you are the recipient of a held-open door, thank the person holding the door. If a stranger has unwittingly held the door open for what is turning into a steady stream of people, be good and take over for them.

SUPERSTITION: Don’t leave doors open when leaving the house, the exception being the door of a bride’s home while she is at the church. Doors should be opened if a woman is giving birth in the home, in order to give the baby easy passage into the world. Doors should also be opened in the house of a dying person to give them easy passage into the next world. A church doorknob rattling at night portends an imminent death.

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