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

Etiquette & superstition: voluntary and involuntary surrender of cream

“Etiquette & superstition: got milk?” actually would have worked quite well here as a title, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s 2017.

ETIQUETTE: If you’re having coffee or tea with someone and they ask you to pass the cream, the polite way to do this is to pick up the cream pitcher by the handle, transfer it to your other hand (grabbing it by the front of the pitcher), and offer it to the requestor with the handle facing them.

If you are at a coffee house, tea room, or diner and you discover that the milk or cream receptacle is empty (either by your actions or someone else’s), tell the waitstaff so that they may refill it. Do not leave a dairy carafe empty for someone else to discover. Seriously; even Urban Dictionary recognizes this as a faux pas. It’s barely one step up from when you were nine and you left the milk carton in the fridge with only a teaspoon of milk left in it.

SUPERSTITION: If you’re a Scandinavian witch, there are a lot of ways you can steal someone’s cream without getting caught.

  1. You can make a troll cat, which sometimes looks like a cat and sometimes looks like a cow’s hairball but totally isn’t, by rolling up a bunch of junk from the floor like fingernail clippings and sawdust and hair, then putting three drops of your blood on the ball and asking for help from Satan.
  2. You can make a milk hare out of an old sock and some wooden pegs for the ears.
  3. You can make a “til-beri” out of a dead man’s rib by rolling the rib up in stolen yarn, hiding it between your breasts, and dribbling Sacrament wine onto it over three consecutive Sundays. Once it’s strong enough from the wine, then you cut a little hole on your thigh and let it suckle from that for a while.

Now you’re ready for some milk-stealing. Just send your little helper out, and they will soon suck up a bunch of milk from your neighbors’ milk troughs and then come back and spit all the milk back out into your milk bucket. Ta da! Milk for days.

Etiquette & superstition: rheumatoid disorders

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This post is dedicated to my old pal Gort, who has been noticing cures for gout popping up in her Facebook feed lately.

ETIQUETTE: If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, it is perfectly acceptable to not shake a person’s hand when it is offered to you. You may choose to excuse yourself by explaining your situation, but if you are uncomfortable going into your medical history during an introduction, you can try taking their hand in both of yours. Alternatively, you can plan to hold something in your right hand in situations where handshaking is likely to occur.

There is another handshake being promoted by a a rheumatologist lately that involves you approaching the other person’s hand from the top rather than from the side, but it seems to me that unless you are a dowager queen this one could be tricky to pull off. Try to avoid lying about being germophobic, because this will likely make the other person curious about what you will and won’t touch and why… and it’s also just kind of bad to lie about having a medical condition you don’t have.

SUPERSTITION: If you suffer from any sort of rheumatism, you can either:

  • crawl through the arch of a bramble branch that has taken a second root in the ground (this may be quite painful if you have rheumatism, however);
  • ask a person who was born a breech baby to step on you with their bare feet; or
  • place a buckeye, a nutmeg, or a stolen potato in your pocket.

If you suffer specifically from gout, you should rip the legs off a spider and put it on your foot, securing it with deer skin. You’ll be hopping around in no time.

Photo from Archives New Zealand via Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: not keeping secrets

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I was once asked to pose for some photos with a giant ear. All of my initial poses were me with a “huh? I can’t hear you” face. When he couldn’t stand it any longer, the photographer mentioned that I was posing with a giant ear, and maybe it would make more sense for me to try to tell the giant ear something rather than try to hear what the giant ear was trying to tell me.

ETIQUETTE: The most common form of secret-sharing is the whisper. A whisper expresses that the information being shared is only for the owner of the ear being whispered into, and obviously the owner of that ear should respect that fact and not further disseminate the information being provided by the whisperer.

The only problem with whispering is that it is an uncommonly loud form of communication. People outside the conversation can hear that a conversation is taking place without hearing what the conversation is about. It is an intentional act of exclusion, and it sounds like an angry snake. Whispering is acceptable only when you need to tell someone a short message that would cause them embarrassment if it were heard by others, such as the fact that they have lipstick on their teeth or their fly is undone before an important meeting. If you need to share a longer secret with someone, go to a place where you can speak in a normal tone of voice without others hearing you.

SUPERSTITION: If you need to find out a secret that someone is keeping from you, wait until that person is asleep and then stick a paper funnel in their ear. You can also cut a live goose’s tongue out and stick it on the sleeping person’s chest. They will soon tell all. If this person never sleeps, you can try walking around with an old key in your pocket.

If you find a gold pen, it means that someone has betrayed a secret of yours. Sorry about that, but at least now you have a gold pen.

Whisper-Spark” by Jason Hadley, via Hadley Art
Published in: on December 23, 2016 at 12:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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Etiquette & superstition: noses

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About a week ago I decided in the morning to do an etiquette & superstition post about “triangles,” because I had an etiquette point in mind but decided it was going to be too difficult to find a matching superstition for that exact topic. The vaguer “triangles” subject was going to cover both.

Well, this was all well and good until the evening when I was trying to figure out what the hell my “triangle” etiquette point was going to be about, because of course I hadn’t written it down. I wound up at about 11 p.m. going on Facebook and asking for help from friends for what topic this triangle etiquette thing was supposed to be about. Nothing clicked, and things got pretty weird suggestion-wise.

Benny was snoozing peacefully on the couch as I was muttering, “What is it… what IS it…,” and I guess I was getting a little loud because he asked what I was going on about, and I said, “Etiquette. Triangles. What could that be?” And still half-asleep he said, “Cheese?” And that was it. Benny knows me well.

You’ll notice this post isn’t about triangles. Turns out there aren’t a lot of great superstitions regarding triangles. Let’s move on to noses*.

ETIQUETTE: When cutting a bit of brie from a wedge, it is extremely rude for you to cut straight across the wedge, taking the tip for yourself. This is known as “cutting the nose” off the cheese, and it’s rude because this part is thought of as an especially delicious and creamy part of the cheese. Before this wedge was a wedge, it was part of a circle of cheese, and that tip is what was in the center of that circle.

What you need to do is slice a thin sliver lengthwise along one of the sides of the wedge so that you have some of the center, some of the middle, and some of the outer rind. Oh, and don’t scoop the middle out of the brie, leaving the rind on the plate. Take all of that even if you’re not going to eat the rind (which you really should, I mean come on). I don’t know if this is called picking your nose, but maybe it should be.

SUPERSTITION: A woman’s elbow and a dog’s nose are both cold because when Noah’s Ark sprang a leak, Noah couldn’t find his tools to fix it so he stuck his dog’s nose in the hole. The dog couldn’t breathe, though, so Noah grabbed his wife and jammed her elbow in there. Thanks, Noah.

If you have a nosebleed, you can cure it by stabbing a toad, putting the toad in a sack, and wearing the sack around your neck. Or you can find some moss from a dead man’s head and put that on your face. If both of these are too adventurous for you, you can just take a cold key and press it on your back. Yawn.

Photo by wackystuff on Flickr
*”Why didn’t you just write an etiquette & superstition post about cheese?” you might ask. Well, I already did that. And yes, now I’ve screwed myself if I find a good etiquette tip about noses, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
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