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I love etiquette books. Test me on any part of Debrett’s Guide to Etiquette and Manners (1999 edition). Go on, I dare you. I know that baby back to front, inside and out.
|My actual copy of Debrett’s.
Man, we’ve had some times together, I can tell you
I have no idea why. The number of times I have had to worry about the correct procedure for hosting weekends at my country estate, or where to sit members of the Royal Family at an informal supper or how to correctly address a wife of a younger son of an earl are surprisingly few.
Even on the odd occasion when you think that Debrett’s might actually come in handy, it ends up just showing how far short one’s life falls of the ideal. My mum was cutting up the material to make napkins once and asked whether I thought the measurements she had in mind were big enough. Knowing that Debretts had already answered this crucial question, I rushed to consult it. Two feet square minimum, apparently. That’s practically the same size as a bedsheet! Needless to say, my mother’s napkins were nothing like that size because basically we’re lower class scum. Still could have been worse, at least we didn’t call them serviettes.
Debrett’s are online now
for all your etiquette-related needs. They even have a guide on how to pronounce stupidly posh surnames.
|Interesting fact. Posh people have literally no idea how the letters of the alphabet are supposed to work.
Indispensable as Debrett’s is, there are times when you need something a little less modern. I’m rather fond of Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette (1875 edition). Not least because the Kindle edition is free which is always an attractive quality in a book.
Routledge provides us with the sort of dogmatic fashion rules that one would expect in a nineteenth century guide:
Never be seen in the street without gloves and never let your gloves be any material that is not kid or calf. Worsted or cotton gloves are unutterably vulgar.
There’s also a lot of stuff that you’d think would be bad manners but is in fact the opposite.
If you should unfortunately overturn or break anything, do not apologise for it. You can show your regret in your face, but it is not well bred to put it into words.
An introduction given for the mere purpose of enabling a lady and gentleman to go through a dance together does not constitute an acquaintanceship. The lady is at liberty to pass the gentleman in the park the next day without recognition.
I’d make a terrible time traveller. What with my apologising and saying ‘hello’ to people, I’d be rumbled in no time.
Lastly, I want to give a shout-out to another etiquette book currently on my bookshelf: Barbara Cartland’s Etiquette Handbook (1962) which is subtitled “A Guide to Good Behaviour from the Boudoir to the Boardroom.”
I don’t know how well Dame Barbara is known outside the UK. She was an insanely prolific romance writer with over 700 books under her belt most of which she dictated to a secretary from a reclining position on a pink couch. In her later years, she looked like a cross between a half-melted Barbie doll and a startled clown. She’s a role model to us all, frankly.
This is her advice on lovemaking to the women of Britain in the supposedly emancipated ‘swinging sixties’:
The act of love should be followed by the woman putting on her elusiveness with her clothes. She should always appear to be the nymph fleeing from the satyr even if she doesn’t run very fast! Every time a man makes love to a woman he believes himself the conqueror and the victor.
I am totally nicking that nymph fleeing from the satyr reference and working it into one of my future books by the way.
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