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.

Etiquette & superstition: bridge

I didn’t find any etiquette or superstitions attached to dental bridges, but I have to admit I didn’t try very hard. Let’s talk about some other types of bridges.

ETIQUETTE: In my last etiquette & superstition post, I mentioned that Emily Post had only two sentences about hair in the 1951 edition of her eponymous etiquette book. In this same edition, she devotes six and a half pages to the game of bridge. I’m not sure if this reveals a gambling problem or simply a healthy interest in a sociable, if complicated, pastime. Let’s not judge Emily right now.

If you are at a large bridge party and you aren’t playing for money, there may be prizes given for first, second and third place. There also may be a “guest prize.” It is not clear whether the guest prize is a raffle sort of thing that you might receive by chance, or if it is something that is intended for a specific person. It is, however, to be considered a gift and not a prize. If you happen to win both the guest prize and first place in the game and you find yourself feeling self-conscious or greedy about the situation, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the host to give the first place prize to the second place winner (who should then give his/her prize to the third place winner, etc.). You should not decline the guest prize, however, as it’s a gift. Geez, Emily, I hope the guest prize is good. Otherwise this seems like a lot to go through.

SUPERSTITION: There used to be this covered bridge in Pennsylvania called the Gudgeonville Bridge even though there wasn’t any town called Gudgeonville around. The bridge was named after a mule in the 1800s named Gudgeon who either freaked out and had a heart attack on the bridge after hearing circus music nearby or was beaten to death by his owner when he refused to move off the bridge. After that, the owner felt terrible and painted “Gudgeonville” on the side of the bridge, and Gudgeon haunted the bridge with his mule noises for 150 years or so. In 2008, some drunk idiot set fire to the bridge, so I guess that’s the end of that.

If you encounter a bridge that goes over train tracks, walk over the bridge when a train is going underneath and make a wish; it will probably come true. If you encounter a bridge that is intended for train traffic, however, don’t walk under it while a train is going over, and by all means don’t talk if you can’t help walking under it. If you still messed this up somehow, go and find a green-colored object to touch and you should be okay. But maybe you don’t need to talk so much. If you say goodbye to a friend while you’re near a bridge, you’re saying goodbye forever.

Heart bridge photo by Richard Bonnett on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: wild as a March hair

I haven’t been posting much lately; I guess I’ve been feeling too mad. Mad as in angry, not mad as crazy. I just got a new book of Ozark superstitions from the ’40s, though, and so far it’s making me a little less mad. Maybe I’ll be posting more again.

ETIQUETTE: Sometimes you just have to quote Emily Post in her entirety. The 1951 edition of her Emily Post’s Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage has this and only this to say about hairdressing: “Hair tumbling loose to the shoulders is all very well on the young, but on an older woman it is as grotesque as though she wore a baby’s cap and bib. Moreover, a flowing mane that makes the head disproportionately huge, while becoming to a lion, is scarcely conducive to the distinction of a woman.” Damn.

SUPERSTITION: (I might be about a week late with this, but better late than never.) Women should not get their hair cut during the month of March. It will make their hair dull and lifeless and may make them sick, or at least give them a headache until April.

Illustration of the March Hare by John Tenniel

Etiquette & superstition: tomatoes

My old pal Millicent Fenwick says in my edition of Vogue’s Book of Etiquette that “toe-mah-to” is the preferred pronunciation of everyone’s favorite nightshade. Not here in Los Angle-ease it isn’t, Millie. This might be the first time we’ve ever disagreed.

ETIQUETTE: You probably figured this one out the hard way when you were a little kid, but if you didn’t, you should know that the best way to eat a cherry tomato is to put the whole thing in your mouth at one time. If it’s too big, you may cut it, but you are going to need a knife and fork to do so. This is not being overly fussy; attempting to cut a cherry tomato with the side of your fork is not going to end well for you or your dining companions. Pierce the tomato delicately with the tines of your fork to stabilize it, and then slice it in two slowly and attentively.

Raw tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator, and should be served room temperature rather than chilled for best flavor. Of course, all of this is a bit of a moot point if you are serving firm, store-bought tomatoes that have been ripened with ethylene gas. Nothing will help those sad fellows flavor-wise. Hey, but they look kind of pretty, eh?

SUPERSTITION: That old superstition about tomatoes being poisonous? Oh, that’s ridiculous. And nobody ever really thought that, anyway. They won’t kill you and they won’t turn you into a werewolf either. Superstitious posh. Tomatoes are absolutely fine to eat, really.

Just remember not to eat one fresh off the vine if you want to avoid brain fever. Also, peel it unless you want to give yourself The Cancer, and oh brother, don’t drink tomato juice unless you want to aggravate that high blood pressure of yours. Otherwise, go for it. Oh yeah. Don’t eat the seeds either, unless you’ve already had your appendix taken out. Better to put the tomato seeds in a pouch and wear them around your neck; it’s a sure-fire way to be popular with the boys.

Photo of Chole post-skunking by Brian Boucheron via Flickr; you really should check out the whole album here

Etiquette & superstition: bread crust

Today’s post was inspired by Atlas Obscura’s recent compilation of mom lies they received from readers in honor of Mother’s Day. One of the lies someone sent in was about how their mom said bread crust was full of vitamins, and it made me think about the news story a few years ago about scientists finding a cancer-fighting antioxidant called pronyl-lysine in bread crust and how happy that lying mother must have been to have her lie retconned like that. Of course, the same chemical reaction that produces pronyl-lysine in bread crust also creates acrylamide, which is a carcinogen. So it’s a bit of a wash, Lying Mom. You’re going to have to try better than that to get me to eat my bread crusts.

ETIQUETTE: Sandwiches with the crusts cut off are not the preferred and “most proper” way to serve sandwiches unless you are talking about little finger sandwiches you serve at a daytime party or tea. A normal sandwich served as a meal for an adult should have its bread crusts intact. Anything else is overly precious and fussy, which I believe we have previously noted is the opposite of true etiquette.

Also contrary to what you may have been told, you may in fact use your bread crust to sop up a particularly nice bit of sauce on your plate, provided you are not in a formal setting and you do the sopping with a modicum of restraint. Take a bite-sized bit of bread/crust, drop it on the plate, and direct it with your fork into the sauce. Fork that bread bit up into your mouth and be happy.

One last tip for time travelers only: If you find yourself in the early to mid-19th century being served a plate of fish, go ahead and use your bread crust in lieu of a knife as a sort of aid to your fork. The steel knives they have right now carry a metallic taste that overpowers the fish, and it’s going to be a few years yet before they start making fish utensils out of silver.

SUPERSTITION: Bread crusts! They make your hair curly. They help you learn how to whistle. They make your teeth whiter. They make your boobs grow, and they attract kisses. Eat your bread crusts, kids!

Photo by anyjazz65 on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: leftovers

If you are an American of a certain age and from a certain region, you may recall restaurant takeout bags referred to as “doggie bags.” A current Google image search, however, will reveal that most items these days referred to as doggie bags either carry doggies or something made by doggies. This is one more reason you should keep up with your vernacular terms.

ETIQUETTE: Long ago in the US, it was considered gauche for a diner in a restaurant to ask for their uneaten food to be wrapped up so they could finish it later at home. Sometime around the early to mid-20th century, a workaround was devised in the form of “I’m quite finished, thank you, but if it’s all right I’d like to take the rest of this steak home for my pet to consume,” and the “doggie bag” was born.

This desire to not seem overly greedy has now turned around completely, and in the States it is completely normal to ask for one’s uneaten food to be wrapped up for later consumption; the “this isn’t for me; it’s for my dog” cover story is considered to be a bit absurd, and pretty much nobody calls it a doggie bag anymore. You can go to some rather well-respected dining establishments and they will not bat an eyelash if you ask them to box up the uneaten portion of your meal. A really fun place may even give you your food wrapped in a foil swan.

However, this way of thinking is not very common in the rest of the world. In Canada, go for it. In the UK and Vienna and South Africa, it seems to be fine in places that offer takeaway food. But in Australia, depending on what state you’re in, it’s either a normal practice or illegal. In most of Europe and in Japan, you are going to get a look from the waitperson at the very least, you will embarrass your dining companions, and the restaurant will probably not accommodate your request. Eat up at the table, doggie.

SUPERSTITION: In Spain, if it’s Ash Wednesday and you’re at a feast you can ask someone to box up your food. They’ll be happy to do it, but you’re going to have to carry it in a procession and then bury it with a whole lot of fanfare and I’m not sure that’s what you intended when you asked them to box your food.

But Ash Wednesday was a while ago. Let’s talk about food from this week. I sure hope you didn’t bring home any leftovers from your Walpurgisnacht feast. If you did, you should throw them out because they aren’t really leftovers anymore. Some fairies came and ate the leftovers and made some fake food out of sod and left that in place of the leftovers. I’m serious. That’s what they do. Jerks.

Photo (greaseproof!) by julia k via Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: pearls

When I was in high school in the ’80s I asked my dad if I could wear his old Air Force overcoat, and he said, “Sure.” I took a string of fake pearls and looped it around the epaulet strap in place of decorative braid, and I wore the hell out of that coat for a while. My dad was much slower with his “sure”s after that.

ETIQUETTE: Geez. You look up “pearl etiquette” on the internet, and you have people asking, “Can I wear pearls after 5?” “Can I wear pearls before 5?” “Can I wear pearls at work?” “Can young people wear pearls?” What is with all the pearl anxiety? I have a feeling someone’s parents or significant other didn’t want to or couldn’t buy pearls for a young lady who wanted them, made up some story about how they were inappropriate for the young lady, and then all the other parents or significant others saw how well this worked and they ran with the concept, tailored for their own situations.

Look. You can wear pearls at any time of day, at any time of your life, and for any occasion. Even the fuddiest duddiest etiquette book says you can even wear them for funerals. They are the most versatile, non-flashy, elegant balls of irritant in the world. If someone gives you pearls, wear them happily and often. And don’t rub them across your teeth to see if they are real… at least not in front of anyone.

SUPERSTITION: Be careful with pearls. It’s unlucky to get pearls as a gift unless you are a baby. If you wear pearls and they turn white, everybody will know you are evil. If you wear pearls on your wedding day, your marriage will be full of tears. But on the other hand, a pearl under a pillow will help a couple conceive a child. Pearls protect the wearer against fire and shark attacks, and powder made of burnt pearl will cure insanity, jaundice, and snake bites.

Photo by antinea…hereandzere on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: hiccups

Benny had a health scare recently, namely a 24-hour bout of singultus. Also known as yox, hickot, hickock, hitchcock, and hiccough. He has since recovered, despite his refusal to drink water upside-down, which is a tried and trusted cure in my family. I think he just doesn’t know how to drink water upside-down and he’s embarrassed to admit it.

ETIQUETTE: As far as I have been able to determine, there is no culture that has any sort of reflexive “bless you” or similar response to the hiccups, but here in the West there does seem to be an automatic response of “Oh hey! You know what cures hiccups?” One of the hardest things to do if somebody around you has the hiccups is to refrain from offering unsolicited advice about a tried and trusted cure. But refrain you must, and ignore the hiccups as best you can.

If you have the hiccups and you don’t have a tried and trusted cure for them, it is recommended that you leave the room and get yourself a little privacy for a few minutes until the bout (hopefully) takes its course. You will be helping the person who so desperately wants to give you their tried and trusted cure and knows they shouldn’t, and you will be helping yourself, because you will eventually want to sock the person who won’t take no for an answer about their cure, and if you’re in a public place you’re likely to get in trouble for being publicly intoxicated if you’re hiccuping and throwing punches and all.

SUPERSTITION: Oh hey! You know what cures hiccups? Holding your left thumb with your right hand. No, wait. Hold your chin with your right hand while somebody sings a church hymn. No? Think about where you put that horseshoe that you found. You don’t have to get it or anything, just think about where you put it. Wait, wait. Tie a key to a piece of red string, tie it around your neck, and throw the key over your shoulder. Okay, but hold on. This one really works. Spit in your right hand, make a cross on the toe of your left shoe three times, and then say the Lord’s Prayer. Backwards. Tried and trusted.

Photo by Smokey Combs on Flickr

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
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