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

Words of the day for Tuesday, November 24th

Thanksgiving dinner tends to have its share of things that you absolutely positively are going to be served whether you like them or not. Rather than falsely declare an allergy to a particular food item (please don’t do that), perhaps you could claim a phobia*. Examples:

MeleagrisphobiaMeleagrisphobia is the fear or turkeys. I believe it’s more a phobia of the live guys running around than of a giblet on your plate, but there is little chance that anybody at your table is going to know this.

No problem with the main course? Perhaps you have

Potnonomicaphobiapotnonomicaphobia, which is a fear of potato products, particularly mashed potatoes. Please note that this is incredibly rare. Most people with a potato-related phobia tend to fear the eyes on old potatoes if a simple Google search is to be believed. Now that I’m thinking about that one, I might have it. I don’t think I can bear to even search to find a term for it. That’s… oh, why did I even find that? Ugh. Moving along.

Are you embracing your inner vampire and trying to avoid garlic? Declare yourself

Alliumphobic(1)alliumphobic and be done with it. Or perhaps you’re fine until the dessert course and for whatever reason you cannot bear to eat a slice of pumpkin pie.

Cucurbitophobia will get you out of your predicament far more quickly than a claim of gluten intolerance or sugar aversion ever will.

Perhaps the thing you know that is going to be served that you absolutely cannot swallow is Uncle Kirby’s avowal of love for all things Donald Trump. Just stay home, declare a sudden bout of

Allodoxaphobia (the fear of opinions), and order yourself a nice pizza or something.

*Actually, don’t do this either. All you faux-coulrophobics out there can suck it.


Etiquette & superstition: here comes the judge


I’m on jury duty again. I really, really want to make a different point of etiquette in relation to judges here, but sharing this point at this time could be construed as “discussing the trial prior to its conclusion,” so I’ll refrain from doing so. I reserve my right to send a cranky letter to the court at some point in the future, however.

ETIQUETTE: When speaking, you may directly address a judge either as “Your Honor” or “Judge (last name).” When referring to this judge while speaking to another person, you either say “His/Her Honor” or “Judge (last name).” When writing to a judge, you address the letter to “The Honorable (first name) (last name)” and use either “Sir” or “Madam” as the salutation.

Please note the above does not apply when you are speaking to a state or US supreme court judge. If you were to meet Ruth Bader Ginsburg for lunch, you would greet her by saying, “Good afternoon, Ms. Justice.” Ms. Justice may sound more like a superhero than a judge, but in the case of Justice Ginsburg, both descriptions apply so it should not seem awkward to address her thus.

SUPERSTITION: The judge will rule in your favor if you wear the eyes of a green plover on your shirtpocket. People with large mouths tend to judge others without properly weighing the evidence.

Photo mine, taken at Old Trapper’s Lodge; you should go there sometime

Old time relijun

We’ve made our way to New Orleans. Primary stops today were the St. Roch Cemetery and the Voodoo Museum.

St. Roch has an area where people pray for healing of hearts and feet and eyes

and such,

show proof of past healings by offering braces and casts that are no longer needed,

and give thanks for the healing.



Pretty straightforward. I didn’t believe it, but it seemed innocuous enough. Throw a battery in the vestibule and maybe you won’t have to recharge your phone as much. Maybe, maybe not. Whatever.

A strange thing happened when I got to the Voodoo Museum, however.

I had a couple of dimes in my hand, ready to toss them someplace as an offering, when I got nervous.

Despite the helpful placards, I realized that I had no idea what any of this stuff really meant.

I knew there were some pretty bad spirits, and I had no idea who was who around here. Furthermore, I heard that the spirits weren’t too keen on penny offerings, so who was to say if a dime was going to be a good thing or a bad thing?

Ultimately, it didn’t seem like a thing I should be messing with if I had so little understanding.

I guess, for all my detached observances on this blog, I really am a superstitious person.

laveauobamaOr maybe I’ve just convinced myself of that because I’m a cheapskate who doesn’t want to throw away twenty cents.


Etiquette & superstition: picking up and dropping forks

I had been quite sure that forks in general had already been a topic of discussion here, but I guess I thought that because twelve or so posts discuss forks in relation to some other topic. All roads lead to forks, it seems.

ETIQUETTE: For Americans brought up on the “American style” of fork and knife usage, where one is expected to cut meat with the knife in the right hand and fork in the left, and then put the fork in the right hand and lay down the knife before eating the cut bit of meat, I have some good news: Amy Vanderbilt says that this bit of utensil juggling is absolutely not necessary. Actually, she said that it was not necessary at least as early as 1967. If you are like me, this means that you were taught an outdated and overly fussy way of handling your fork because your mother was probably trying to get you to slow down when you were eating. Good luck trying to break your dinosaur fork moves now, slob.

SUPERSTITION: A dropped fork means a woman is coming to visit. Or perhaps it’s a man that’s coming to visit. Depends who you ask. Some people just take the easy route and say “someone is coming to visit.” If two forks of the same type have been deposited at your table setting by accident, you will be invited to a wedding soon.

Photo by mr. rollers via flickr

Etiquette & superstition: opals

This post is not about the makers of the Doktorwagen, the Puppchen and the Bedford Blitz. That’s Opel.

ETIQUETTE: Perhaps surprising to any girl who lived through the ’70s-’80s opalescent nail polish and lipstick craze, noted etiquette authority George Routledge states, “Of all precious stones, the opal is one of the most lovely and least commonplace. No vulgar woman purchases an opal.” A fair man, if perhaps a lazy one, Routledge states elsewhere, “Of all precious stones, the opal is one of the most lovely and least commonplace. No vulgar man purchases an opal.” So whatever sex you are, if you don’t want people calling you vulgar, go buy yourself an opal.

SUPERSTITION: Volondr/Wieland, smithy to the Norse/Teutonic Gods, made opals out of children’s eyes. Opals either cause one to go blind, improve one’s eyesight or make one invisible to others. Seems a little chancy. I might stick with being called vulgar.

Photo by Mauro Luna via Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: not really dead soldiers

I was going to go on this whole thing about how it’s a terrible idea to have Memorial Day at the end of May because everybody defaults to “Summer! Yeah!” rather than “Dead soldiers. Sad,” but the day was in fact established for decorating the graves of dead soldiers with flowers, and once upon a time we couldn’t get flowers year-round from Safeway or Trader Joe’s or wherever, so it actually makes sense to have the day during the part of the year when traditionally there have been flowers available. I’ll just shut up and not go on that whole thing.

ETIQUETTE: During a mock battle, war re-enactors have to balance their desire for authenticity with their desire to not get heatstroke. Reenactment styles vary by region and personal focus, but it is generally agreed that if you are wearing a wool uniform in the middle of summer on a sunny battlefield, it is acceptable to die under a shade-bearing tree, provided it seems natural for you to be fighting under that tree in the first place. A hat cocked over one’s eyes after a fatal hit is an alternative, as is screaming, “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” and running off the battlefield. Seriously. It’s authentic.

Re-enactors seem to have strong and varied opinions about soldiers who die too quickly on the field vs. soldiers who are miraculous anonymous action heroes who survive with nary a scratch. To avoid issues of this sort, some societies have taken to assigning death times to participants via a card or token system. Don’t cheat if you have been assigned to die. It doesn’t work in real life, either.

SUPERSTITION: A Russian soldier’s name coming up on a list of war casualties by accident portends a long and happy life for that soldier, provided his family doesn’t kill him for upsetting them so much when they were told he’d fallen.

Photo by Woody Hibbard via Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: pots to piss in

I spent some time last weekend visiting the porta-potties pictured above. The one labeled “WHORES” was markedly cleaner than the one designated for “LADIES.”

ETIQUETTE: After using a porta-potty, put the lid down. Have you ever noticed that PVC pipe that goes up to the roof of the potty? That’s a gas chimney that transfers heat and odors from the waste area to outside. If you don’t put the seat down, the gas travels up through the bigger hole in the seat rather than up the pipe, and that stinks up the area you’re sitting in.

SUPERSTITION: If you want to give a wedding gift that will provide good luck to newlyweds in the Philippines, you can’t beat a chamber pot. I’m not sure where the luck comes from, other than the luck that the newlyweds aren’t in France. If they were in France, they would be expected to consume all of the wedding party leftovers that their friends have scooped into a chamber pot.

Scrubbing the kitchen floor each morning with the contents of your chamber pot will keep that kitchen floor clean and sparkling. If you want to cure corns, apply some of the dried-up urine crystals from the inside of a chamber pot to your afflictions.

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