Saturday, February 04, 2006

Etiquette and the Nose

Every once in awhile a situation comes up to remind me of the good old days when table manners were expected from everyone - and dutifully drilled in! Manners were, after all, what "separated us from the animals for Heaven's sake!"
Sometimes they became quite painful lessons. For instance, in primary school the nuns would stab your elbow with a fork if you left it on the table; or you could find yourself dining on the floor in the corner of the school kitchen should you have dared talk with your mouth full! Oh, and those uneaten lima beans could linger on your plate for days!
Way back then (60's), there were handbooks for table etiquette, handbooks for social events, handbooks for hygiene, and so forth. One etiquette book that was in vogue then, and is still used today (in a revised edition) is Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette.
Of course Amy has long passed, and the revisions to her original text are many. In fact, every successive revison has included a preface from the 'new' editors on how times have changed and how the rules of etiquette have had to be 'downgraded' to fit society today. Not that I am all that picky after all, but there are times...

We were dining in a very nice restaurant, quite plush, with linen floor length tablecloths, elaborate silver candle holders and very lovely wine glasses and china. It was a twilight atmosphere, muted classical music playing in the background. Part way through our meal, oysters on the half shell to be exact, my guest and I both seemed to notice the couple at the next table at the same time. They were very well dressed, and appeared happily engaged in an animated conversation.

Suddenly, the man sneezed loudly. "har-choo! har- choo", again and again, "Ah-choo! Aurggh!"
Now all heads are turned. The next thing you know, he had reached forhis white linen table napkin, held it up to his nose and gave it a good goose-honking blast, not once, but twice. He wiped the napkin across his face a few times then balled it up and tossed it in the middle ofthe table, picked up his fork and proceeded to shovel in his dinner. His wife shot him a fiery look, tightened her lips, turned in her seat and gazed desperately across the dining room, obviously wanting to disappear.
We also glanced aroundto see the waiter standing at another table glaring over his shoulder with a clenched jaw.

The waiter (who had up until now been very calm, solicious and reserved) fairly leapt toward the table like an annoyed cat on prey; and with a fly-by pass, tossed a bunch of linen napkins on the table sneering almost inaudibly "in case you need to go the men's room , Sir!.
The man's wife stood up quickly and headed for the bar. If we weren't so sure that he would be following, we would have headed there too.

Well, in case you ever wondered - we looked up the situation in 'Amy', and here's what she said:
"Sneezing: If you feel a sneeze coming on at the table, and you have no time to reach for your handerchief, cover your nose and mouth area with your napkin, but never blow into it. If you are going to be in dire needof a handerkerchief or some tissue, excuse yourself quickly from the table with an "Excuse me one second" and head for the bathroom. "When you return to your place, murmur a quick apology" "and forget about it.""When you have to blow your nose at the table, do it very gently, as it is hardly an appetizing sound."

There you have it. In case your really wanted to know. Were you surprised at some of her advice? We were.And maybe you know someone this flu season who could use it.

Check it out. Amy Vanderbilt's book can be found here
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