Etiquette & superstition: port wine

wineratThe wine rat pictured above is not made of port wine. I believe he was a Cab rat. If this wine had come from a particular winery in Temecula, I could make some dumb joke about it being a Cab Callaway rat, but I’m not going to do that.

ETIQUETTE: A decanter of port wine served in Britain is to be passed to the left. Just think about what side port is, if you know about boats. If you don’t know about boats, this isn’t going to help you any and then you’re probably going to sit there fretting and wondering what to do about this horrible sweet wine in front of you, and then eventually some jackass at the table is going to ask, “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” and you’re not going to know what that’s about either, and then he’s going to say, “He’s a terribly good chap, but he always forgets to pass the port,” and by this point you’re wanting to throw a roll at that jackass, but apparently it’s his polite way of asking you to pass the port. Maybe you should learn something about boats.

SUPERSTITION: If a pregnant woman:

her child is going to be born with a port-wine stain birthmark. Pregnant women really need to be careful.

Etiquette & superstition: itchiness

I either have a cold, allergies, or I should soon expect insults, illness, and a disappointing meeting.

ETIQUETTE: Scratching an itch in public is socially unacceptable in most countries, but in India it also communicates very specific information, mostly connoting negative feelings. Scratching your arms or head indicates nervousness and lack of confidence, scratching your neck conveys a lack of agreement, and you rub your eyes when you want to avoid looking at an untruthful person.

SUPERSTITION: An itchy right shoulder predicts an upcoming inheritance. Gossip is portended by an itchy left knee. Itchy loins? A reconciliation, of course. If you want to be kissed by a fool, pay attention to where your nose itches. If it’s on the outside, you’re in luck. Hooray!

Etiquette & superstition: toasting

Benny’s kids seem to be using a certain kitchen appliance a lot today; I keep hearing a “ding” every fifteen minutes or so. Perhaps they are merely preparing toasts for tomorrow night.

ETIQUETTE: A point of etiquette that some may find troublesome or awkward is the one that indicates it is bad form to drink when one is being toasted by guests at a party. There is rarely any indication of how one is supposed to behave when a toast is being offered in one’s honor other than looking humble and gratified, and I strongly suspect this is one of those points that will soon be dropped (much like the dictum against applause at the end of a wedding) in the code of polite behavior.

The proper thing to do is to merely remain seated and say, “Thank you,” but this predicates that the rest of the party understands you are not to toast yourself and they will toast you and be done with it. If this is not the case, and everyone is just standing there with their glasses aloft waiting for you to take a sip, just raise your glass with a “you are too kind; cheers” sort of comment. You really can’t offer a counter-toast to your guests previous to them completing your toast, as that is rather rude to the first toaster, and if you toast them after you’ve been toasted, you’re stuck in the position of just drinking in front of everybody (if you’re going to be correct about things), and oh brother. Maybe everyone should start toasting the lovely day instead. The lovely day doesn’t have to worry about taking a drink or not.

SUPERSTITION: In France, Germany, Italy, and Serbia, a toast at a private party is usually a simple affair. One word to everyone’s health, or life, or to empty glasses. You must, however, clink glasses with everyone at the table, and you must look them in the eye while you are doing so, or you will have seven years’ worth of bad sex.

Drinking a toast with water will cause the honoree to be drowned.

Illustration by the Strobridge Lithograph Co., Cincinnati, New York, ca. 1899, uploaded to Flickr by trialsanderrors

Etiquette & superstition: stealing from dead people

Scrooge does it. Dentists do it. Sun-Tzu advocates doing it. Even Wall-E does it. What’s so wrong about stealing from the dead? It depends.

ETIQUETTE: From a letter to a local newspaper from a resident of Shaniko, Oregon, a ghost town that received a bit of attention for a short time in the ’60s: “… the public is carrying Shaniko away, piece by piece… Among us are several who have had belongings of varied value, both sentimental and intrinsic, taken from their property, and the schoolhouse and surroundings have been devastated by souvenir-seekers. In short, our privacy has been invaded and we are irked to say the least…”.

The book Oregon Ghost Towns by Lambert Florin puts it simply: “Such souvenirs as are found in the brush by the side of the road are legitimately carried home. Parts of buildings still standing, or furniture in them, we don’t include in the souvenir category, however. The old towns are melting away too fast as it is.” Have some respect for the dead. They might not be as dead as you think they are.

SUPERSTITION: If you really need some butter, go get yourself a corpse’s hand. Hold the hand while you churn some cream, and you will have butter within nine churns. If you don’t have any cream, possession of that corpse’s hand will give you the ability to take anybody else’s butter without consequence. That hand will also cure warts, hunchback and scrofula. Tip for the squeamish: you can cure your affliction by just going up to a corpse and rubbing its hand on your troublesome area. Only the butter fiends need to take the hand with them.

“Sardgrin2” by John Cain – screenshot from film Mr. Sardonicus. Via Wikipedia

Etiquette & superstition: use of non-human excrement

I guess I’m still on this rural kick. I’m not sure what that’s about. I fed an apple to a pit bull today. That felt kind of rural and urban at the same time.

ETIQUETTE: Cow manure is a nuisance to some, but quite valuable to others. It can be used as plant fertilizer, fuel for building fires, and cures for what-have-you (perhaps we’ll save that for a later post). If you find yourself in need of some cow manure and you are lacking a cow, it is impolite for you to simply sneak onto your farmer cowboy neighbor’s property in the dead of night to steal some patties. Seriously. Besides it being rude to steal, you might freak out the cows, and freaked out cows are bad news. Just ask your farmer cowboy neighbor if you may have some. He/she is most likely going to say it’s fine. Rabbit poop is also really good for plants, but again, ask that rabbit farmer and don’t just take it. A freaked out rabbit is even worse than a freaked out cow sometimes.

SUPERSTITION: Stepping in dog poop with your left shoe is good luck, as is a bird pooping on your head. Nazis in Africa during WWII thought that running over camel dung was good luck, but then the Allies apparently heard about this and started making land mines that looked like camel dung, so that didn’t work out so great for those Nazis, did it? Ha. That’s a pretty good story…

Okay, okay. I can’t wait anymore. I need to talk about the most amazing shit superstition – amazing because it’s true. Well, maybe it’s true. It was printed in the newspaper a long time ago, about my friend Rob. Take a look.

There you have it. Cow dung cures warts. Maybe. See, Robbie Zabrecky grew up to be a magician, so it’s entirely possible that this wart-disappearing incident was some early illusion of some sort. He’s a really good magician so I wouldn’t be surprised if he could do this sort of thing when he was 12.

Mini cow photo by pablocomotion on Flickr; newspaper clipping courtesy of Mr. Zabrecky

Etiquette & superstition: early arrivals

Which racist vintage cartoon* do you want – the “Early Worm Catches the Bird” or “The Early Bird and the Worm”? Neither? I’m fine with that. No picture today.

ETIQUETTE: You should arrive early or at the very least on time for job interviews, weddings, and meals at restaurants with friends. Arrive on time for children’s parties. For dinner parties at a person’s home, you should never arrive early, unless you have specifically been asked to help the host/hostess with preparations. If you arrive early, you may seriously mess up some last-minute preparations or even catch your host without their face on. In Venezuela, it is considered rude to even show up on time to in-home dinner invitations. Arrive 15-30 minutes late.

SUPERSTITION: Babies born early in the morning have a better chance of living to an old age. Early teething means another baby is coming soon. If you see bats flying around earlier than usual in the evening, good weather will soon be coming your way.

*Really. These bird/worm cartoons were worse than usual. Oh, humans.

That’s Implausible!

This is it. This is the clip from That’s Incredible that I’ve been looking for to post during the Halloween season, the story that made all us Sunnyvale kids a little cocky the day after it aired. John Davidson, Cathy Lee Crosby AND Fran Tarkenton all talked about our local toy store. The haunted toy store. Yes, I know I’ve talked about my childhood haunted toy store here before, but 1) not for at least three years according to my archives search, and 2) I wasn’t able to include this particular TV clip previously. Prepare to be astounded by the haunting image of a supernatural being from the mid-19th century wearing clothing clearly purchased from the Sunnyvale Town Center Miller’s Outpost.

Thanks, Dom!

Curse of the condemned cat

Okay, now I see that it’s kind of just a Rorschach blot on this cat’s nose,

but when I looked at this earlier it really seemed like the silhouette of a mouse. And that got me thinking, “Wow, that’s weird. A mouse silhouette on his nose. I wonder if he killed a mouse and the mouse was some kind of magic devil mouse who gave the cat a ‘Whomever shall harm me will wear my image for eternity’ mouse curse sort of thing. And the cat’s name is Thirteen. Good lord, you’re just asking for it by giving a cat the name Thirteen. That’s like giving a dog the name Lucky and not expecting it to be run over by a truck. This cat is so doomed. He probably was just looking for some cat action in the middle of the night and boom – dark alley surrounded by angry mice with their red beady little eyes  set on revenge for their fallen devil mouse leader or whatever. This cat is not coming back.”

And then I looked at the picture again when I uploaded it to my computer, and that mark didn’t look very much like a mouse any more.

Etiquette & superstition: a multitude of spoons

This four foot long spoon attached to a tree outside this house in our neighborhood is puzzling to me. True, I own a four foot long spoon, but I keep it in the kitchen. Maybe this house is the secret hideout of The Tick.

ETIQUETTE: Everybody who complains about utensil etiquette usually complains about the forks. “The forks! There are so many! It’s so hard with the forks!” I wonder about these everybodies sometimes. It’s as if they just sit there staring at the left-hand side of their place settings and never bother to notice the abundance of spoons on the right-hand side, and even above the plate. These everybodies are going to have heart attacks with the spoons if they’re already having trouble with forks.

If you go into the early to mid-20th century etiquette books you are going to see a lot of dissension about spoons. As an example, ’50s edition Emily Post will tell you that tablespoons are a little arrogant to have around the house, but she makes no mention of soup spoons or what one is supposed to eat soup with. Amy Vanderbilt from that era has no problem with tablespoons but really only likes to talk about dessert spoons, unless she is upset about teaspoons showing up where the soup spoon should be (though she makes little mention of the soup spoon itself, relegating it to a few diagrams). The ever-thorough Etiquette Scholar does a very nice job of outlining the 14 types of spoons one may commonly find at a table, though he does not mention the scalloped sugar spoon.

Let’s just make this simple. If you’re at a formal dinner, your soup spoon is going to be to the right of your knife and your dessert spoon is either going to be above your plate or will be provided when dessert is served. They also should be helpful with providing your teaspoon with your tea saucer and/or your coffee spoon with your demitasse service. If anybody looks at you with an “Oh! The Wrong Spoon!” face, it is their fault for providing you with the wrong spoon at the wrong time. Give them a withering “I am doing the best that I can with what I have been provided” face in response and we’re done with that.

SUPERSTITION: Two spoons inadvertently placed in a single cup or saucer signal either an impending wedding, a second wedding, or twins. Spooning gravy backhanded will lead to arguments within the house.

Not a catamaran

A cat on a boat is supposed to be lucky, but maybe it’s not so lucky to have two cats on a boat.



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