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: 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: knuckle cracking

Recently I was on a group forum and I denounced knuckle- and various other joint-crackers as “monsters.” I thought I was being funny, but apparently some joint-cracking enthusiast with experience in the dark arts took offense and put a curse on me, as last night during dinner I very quickly developed some sort of TMJ disorder and now my jaw won’t stop cracking. I apologize, Monster. Please remove this curse. It is driving me insane.

ETIQUETTE: Cracking your joints is not going to give you arthritis. It may or may not reduce your grip strength. But it will annoy someone around you. You can count on this. If you are having discomfort in your joints and the only thing that will alleviate the discomfort is a good hyper-extension of that joint, by all means crack away. But if your knuckle-cracking habit has developed into an unconscious tic that provides you with no actual benefit, break the habit now. That co-worker of yours that hums incessantly? You are worse. Seriously, stop it.

SUPERSTITION: Cracking your knuckles breaks the bones of a deceased loved one. It is also the equivalent of praying the rosary to Satan. On the other hand, it’s a good way to tell how many people are in love with you. Pop all your knuckles and listen for how many cracks come out; that’s how many admirers you have in spite of your terrible joint-cracking habit.

Photo by Dave Goehring on Flickr

A stitch in time

What do these things have in common?

They are all nine. Turn me on, dead man.

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

whisper1

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: old wood

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Many years ago, a friend gave me a wooden pipe that had been carved into the shape of a penis. It never got used much by anyone and we will not speak of it again, at least in this post.

ETIQUETTE: If you are having a dinner party but wish to show off your lovely antique wooden table, it is perfectly acceptable for you to use nice placemats instead of a tablecloth. Keep your place settings as simple as possible to avoid a cluttered “island of utensils” look, and make sure you have enough trivets and coasters for any serving dishes and implements that are on the table.

SUPERSTITION: According to the letters received by the rangers (check them out here and here), if you steal a piece of petrified wood from the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona terrible things will happen to you. Your dog will die, your fancy new vase from Mexico will break, a loved one will get kidney problems or cancer, and you will fall through the roof of your new house. You’ll probably have some car problems as well.

Don’t bother sending that piece of petrified wood back to the park, either; the rangers can’t verify where it’s supposed to go even if you draw them a fancy map, and they’ll have to throw it onto the ever-growing cursed Pile Of Conscience they started by the side of some unlucky road.

Photo by Philip Porter via Flickr
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