Etiquette & superstition: unwanted fires around the domicile

Fancy Notioners, I must beg your forgiveness for being absent this past week and a half. I am tempted to lay the blame on this little eight-acre fire


that broke out on Sunday in the lot next door to us


(yes, that is our garden hose trickle and yes, I have titled that photo “Impotence”) and melted all wifi and cable connections to the residents of our fair hill,


said wifi connectivity only returning to us today. But the truth is that I had already been quite tardy in posting by the time that fire broke out, so I really have no excuse. Please do forgive me.

ETIQUETTE: A reader wrote in to Miss Manners some time ago inquiring about the proper attire for fleeing an unexpected trash fire in or around one’s domicile, seeing as how said reader noted that such occurrences happened with some regularity in his apartment building, and invariably required interactions with his neighbors.

Miss Manners replied that events of this sort should be considered “come as you are”-type affairs, and I must say this is a relief. I now know that the neighbor in our driveway on Sunday exhorting Benny to put on a shirt and me to get something on my feet was merely speaking out of concern for our safety and not from disgust at our loathsome conflagration outfits.

SUPERSTITION: Making sure your household electrical wiring is up to date and that all dry brush is cleared from within 200 feet of your home is all well and good, but if you really want to protect your domicile, take the proper steps: place an adders skin in the rafters, put some dry seaweed in a frame on the mantel, and hang an egg laid on Ascension Day from the roof and you should be all set.

First photo above via ABC7; second photo by Benny while he was protecting our property; third photo of the shed on the empty lot that the creepy neighbor kids can’t smoke pot in anymore by me

Etiquette & superstition: Oxford University academic dress

I really wanted to make a post about fringe today, because this weekend I saw the most incredible academic cap:


Oh gosh, that doesn’t do it justice. Here is a close-up of one in light blue:


Nope; still doesn’t do it. You have to see one of these things in motion. It is wonderful. And if you ever want to get a PhD, maybe you should pursue it in Spain, because if you do wind up getting that degree, you will also get this cap.

But I digress. I was unable to find any etiquette and superstition about fringe that was even half as good as this cap, so I am going to talk about academic dress at the University of Oxford.

ETIQUETTE: I’m sure it’s obvious to you that I would never make it as an Oxford scholar. It’s certainly obvious to me, as I can hardly figure out their dress code as officially stated in their Statutes and Regulations. Thankfully, there is a more colloquial version they provide.

As an Oxford student, you need to wear an appropriate academic gown, a mortarboard or soft cap, dark suit, white shirt, black shoes and dark socks or hosiery, and white or black bow tie or a black ribbon at all formal University ceremonies. This get-up is called sub fusc. No shorts and flip-flops under your gown. Sorry, Chris from Real Genius.

One of the places you have to wear sub fusc is to exams. During your exams you will also want to wear a carnation. You wear a white carnation to your first exam, pink carnations to the next ones up to your final exam, to which you wear a red carnation.

Immediately after your final exams as an Oxford student, it is tradition for your friends to throw beans, eggs, foam and confetti on you. Thankfully, it is also tradition for them to provide you with champagne.

SUPERSTITION: After you have been doused with a bunch of crap and given a bottle of champagne, if you belong to Jesus College you should try to hit the clock in Second Quad with the cork. If you do, you will ace your exams.

And while it is a recommended sub fusc headwear option, it is bad luck for you to wear your mortarboard before you graduate, and good thing too, because beans, eggs, foam and confetti are pretty hard to wash out of a mortarboard and those things are expensive.

Top photo by Jesus Angel Hernandez de Rojas from Valladolid, España – Honoris Causa de Camacho; second photo via University Of Portland


Etiquette & superstition: doves


Once there was a dove who nested in a plant hanging from Smoothie’s porch next door. The plant was pretty high up but if you went up on your tiptoes you could see this one big quiet eye staring at you. It sounds scary but it wasn’t. It was nice.

ETIQUETTE: If you’re not a human but rather a male dove, you are probably preoccupied with finding a mate. When you have found a female dove who sparks your interest, the first thing you should do is fly around her in a circle with your head down. When you land in her vicinity, make sure to bob your head and stick your chest out while you make a lot of noise. If she shows interest, she will approach you and start to preen herself, signaling you to proceed with nibbling her around the neck. She will reciprocate. Next, you will grasp each other’s beaks and bob your heads in unison. At this point, you may commence with the loving. And now you’ve done it – you are joined for life. Congratulations.

SUPERSTITION: A dove is the only bird whose soul cannot be entered by the devil. A dove visiting a sick person is a portent of death, but also of everlasting peace to the soon-to-be departed’s soul. If you perch a dove on a coffin and it flies away in a southerly direction, it means the person in the coffin has gone to heaven with love in his heart.

Photo by Zach Armstrong via Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: laundry


I’m not going to get all cutesy with this topic and make the etiquette part of the post about airing one’s dirty laundry in public or on social media (same thing), because I think it’s a little too obvious and it’s just common sense anyway. You don’t always have to show a sunny face to the world at large, but as countless memes will remind you, Facebook is neither your therapist nor your diary. But you knew that already. Let’s talk about real laundry instead.

ETIQUETTE: Oh, the shared laundry machine. Whether you’re at a coin laundromat or using the facilities in the basement of your apartment building, sooner or later you are going to come across unattended laundry that is left sitting in a washing machine or dryer long after the machine has done its thing. And you need to do your laundry, and there are no other machines available. Is it rude to take the clothes out of the machine so that you may use it?

No. No, it’s not. Provided you deposit the laundry in a clean area (a spare basket or the top of the machine, for instance), everybody in America seems to be on board with taking the clothes out if you have waited a reasonable amount of time for the owner of the clothes to retrieve them. Let’s say 15-30 minutes after the wash or dry cycle has finished. If you are transferring someone else’s clothes out of a washer, don’t throw the load into a dryer and start the dryer thinking you are being a good samaritan. Some of those clothes might be line dry only… and now you’re not a good samaritan, you’re the jerk who shrank your neighbor’s merino sweater.

SUPERSTITION: If you wash a new article of clothing during a new moon, the clothes will never fit right. And if you wash clothes on New Year’s Day, someone in your family will die soon. The day of the week that you do your laundry also has some effect either on the outcome of that laundry or your general nature. I’m just going to quote directly from the Radfords’ Encyclopedia of Superstition for this one:

“‘They that wash on Monday, have the whole week to dry.
They that wash on Tuesday, are not so much arye.
They that wash on Wednesday, may get their clothes clean.
They that wash on Thursday, are not so much to mean.
They that wash on Friday, wash for their need.
But they that wash on Saturday, are clarty-paps indeed.’

NOTE: Clarty-paps means dirty sluts.” Duly noted.

Photo from Reeve Photograph Collection via National Museum of Health and Medicine on Flickr

Better eight than late

Dang it. I did it again. I forgot my bloggiversary. Fancy Notions is now eight and some days old. Feel free to send gifts of bronze and pottery and linens and appliances.

Etiquette & superstition: spectator sport car crashes

In doing some additional research for today’s post, I came across a cute story from about twenty years ago about a couple of high school sweethearts in Racine, WI who were finally getting married on Friday the 13th in order to break their bad luck. Their two previous attempts at marriage had been thwarted by bad circumstances, but this time they were attempting some sort of superstition overload in order to make things work: the ceremony started at the 13th hour, the wedding party was wearing black (13 bridesmaids, 13 groomsmen) and the guests all had to walk under a ladder to get into the reception. It was a cute story.

It was hard to tell, however, if they were just cherry-picking their bad luck in order to seem more dramatic. The bride admitted that she could make good things happen when she wiggled her nose, like make the cars start crashing at a boring demolition derby, and she had won a prize in a contest by playing her lucky number which included 13 in it. Perhaps most luckily, the future groom had been in a car accident ten years previous to the story, in which his steering wheel suddenly fell off and caused him to roll into a ditch and flip over several times, but he walked away from the crash. Also, he had convinced his pregnant bride-to-be not to get into the car at the last minute.

The story was so cute that I decided to see how the happy couple was doing twenty years on. It seems they are now divorced and their oldest child died at a rather young age. I don’t feel like posting a link to that part of the story because the whole thing was so dang sad. Here’s hoping things go better for the both of them, and let’s think about a nicer time when the bride could make cars crash with her nose.

ETIQUETTE: Demolition derby drivers are supposed to crash into their fellow drivers’ cars, but it is extremely poor form to ram into the driver side door. This is supposed to be fun and games, folks, not a source of injuries.

SUPERSTITION: Red cars don’t get in as many crashes as cars of other colors, and green cars get in the most crashes. Peanuts in the shell are not to be sold, brought to or eaten at car races (other than demolition derbies) because they cause terrible crashes. Shelled peanuts are fine.


Etiquette & superstition: Leap Year


Serial killers Aileen Wuornos and Richard Ramirez were both born on February 29th. But so were Gioachino Rossini, Dinah Shore, Jimmy Dorsey, and Ja Rule, so you probably shouldn’t be scared of people born on Leap Year Day unless you are melophobic.

ETIQUETTE: February 29th is well known as the day women may propose marriage to men in societies where this is not normally accepted. It is considered polite for a woman to provide the object of her affections fair warning in the form of bold attire (pants or a red petticoat) that a proposal is forthcoming. If the man declines the proposal, he must provide compensation for the slight. According to time and local custom, this remittance may take the form of cash, candy, a dress or twelve pairs of gloves.

SUPERSTITION: Your fava beans will grow backwards and your sheep will give you nothing but trouble during Leap Year. Also, your parents are probably going to die. It might be best to ignore the farm completely and look for baby whales, who are only born during Leap Year. Thank goodness for baby whales.

Image provided by Monmouth University Leap Year Postcard Database; more information about Leap Year postcards here
Many thanks to Bedilia Hawks for today’s topic

Etiquette & superstition: interactions with a dying person

According to a New York Times interview with the artist of the painting above, Jack the black monkey was owned by an 18th century British ambassador to Italy. Jack’s owner noted in correspondence that he (Jack, not the ambassador) enjoyed enemas and grabbing the genitals of young boys. Perhaps it is no surprise that there are no companions at his bedside as he joins the choir invisible.

ETIQUETTE: When you are talking or writing a letter to a dying person, it is important that you try to find out whether the person knows and accepts whether they are dying. If they do not know, insist on using euphemisms or are not willing to accept their impending departure, you need to go along with that. Now is not the time to get into a new argument.

Start working on making your peace with the dying if you need to, let them wrap up their own loose ends, accept gifts they wish to bestow on you. Err on the side of making amends rather than expressing brutal honesty, but don’t say anything or make any promises that you would regret if the person weren’t dying. Sometimes people make amazing recoveries.

If you can’t think of anything to say to a dying person, just hold their hand.

SUPERSTITION: If a dying person’s last words are your name, you’re probably the next on your way to the pearly gates. If a dying person hits or bites you, you have to hit or bite them reciprocally if you don’t want to die yourself. Go ahead and get them back real good; a dying man’s tears are a good headache cure.

Image of “Jack On His Deathbed” by Walton Ford provided by La Petite Claudine on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: single at Christmas


Last year I wrote an etiquette & superstition post noting that if you were going to be a crank during Christmas, you should probably just stay home by yourself and not ruin everyone else’s fun. Sometimes you’re by yourself over the holidays through no cranky fault of your own, however. Treat yourself to some nice takeout or something and try to take it easy. It’s going to be okay.

ETIQUETTE: Miss Manners notes that questions from acquaintances such as, “What did you do for the holidays?” and “Did you have a nice Christmas?” are to be taken about as seriously as “How are you?” That is, not seriously at all. These are meaningless pleasantries. You don’t go into a litany of your financial, spiritual and physical woes with the grocery store clerk when you get a “How are you?” from them when they’re ringing you up, do you? (Please say no.)

So if you spent Christmas alone staring dead-eyed at the wall, this is not the time to share that information. You got through the day; why do you want to relive it, and above all, spread your horror to another person who was just trying to give you the verbal equivalent of a friendly wave? Get out of your brain for a moment. If you truly had the loneliest day of your life and need to unload, please take a friend aside at some time when you can really have a deep, two-sided conversation about what you experienced. If you don’t have a friend to talk to, feel free to write to me in a private message and I will listen. My email address is in the “About” section of this blog.

SUPERSTITION: If a single girl bangs on the door of the chicken coop really loudly on Christmas Eve and a rooster yells at her before a hen yells at her, she will be married before the end of the year. If she goes into the garden at midnight and plucks twelve leaves from the sage bush, she will be met by an apparition of her future husband.

If you really live in solitude and your only companions are ghosts, you will be alone on Christmas Eve because that is one night that ghosts never appear (sorry, Charles Dickens). If you were born on Christmas day, you will never see a ghost in your lifetime.

Photo by Matthew Matheson via Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: put a knife in it

I did a search for “stabbing etiquette” online because I wasn’t finding anything in my standard etiquette books. Mostly all I found was “don’t stab,” so I guess you’re stuck listening to Uncle Kirby’s idiotic political arguments at the Thanksgiving table. A possible workaround would be you stabbing yourself when things get unbearable; I don’t think anybody would deny you excusing yourself at that point. Good luck.

ETIQUETTE: Perhaps another way to relieve some tension during dinner is finding something other than Uncle Kirby or yourself to stab. What ho – there is an enormous hunk of cooked meat right here at the dinner table. Perhaps you can take over bird carving duties if the host doesn’t have some particular pride about doing it.

This may be a daunting proposition if you’ve never carved meat before – indeed, there are more than a few resources noting the necessity for “a cool, collected manner” in order to not “negate the time and hard work of whoever has done the cooking,” and above all, “let us hope for the best.”

There is certainly more to it than simply remembering not to keep either the fork or knife stabbed into the meat while serving. And there are certainly some very beautiful descriptions and diagrams available, but a simple YouTube video might be easier in this day and age. Go with Jamie Oliver maybe. Who doesn’t love Jamie Oliver? Or hell, I don’t know; go with Martha Stewart.

SUPERSTITION: If you are sailing and need more wind, stick your knife into the mast. On land, stick a knife into the headboard of a cradle to protect the baby. While traveling in the woods, stick a knife into the door of any fairy house you happen to go inside; otherwise, they just might lock you in.

Photo of traditional Thanksgiving family gathering by Carole Raddato via Flickr
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