self help

‘Splain This To Me, Lucy

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I love to read old etiquette books, and have quite a collection of them. It’s fun to see how manners have changed over the years, and it’s good to have a reminder of how grandma would have expected for me to behave, given I’m just shy of a caveman in comparison.

I was listing a 1940s etiquette book in the shop today, after quizzing my husband on the customs of 1940 last night. He actually did surprisingly well, though I shouldn’t be surprised. As irreverent as he is most days (he’s a Marine, after all, so he says it how he sees it), he was trained in the 1950s by his brother, who was in a fraternity at Miami University. His brother was very proper, and drilled it into my husband. Hubby also got some training on protocol in the Marines, especially since he was an officer, and there were expectations. I have a vintage book about how to be a good officer’s wife, but I’d fail from the get-go since I don’t cook.

So when I came across this piece in a 1929 Vogue etiquette book, I was confused. You tell me what this means:

“The sight of bones being picked and the appearance of fingers and faces afterward to not linger agreeably in the memory….The only way to meet the ordeal of removing fish and terrapin bones from the mouth is to meet it frankly and firmly. If the bone can be brought to the edge of the lips, it can be pulled out quietly between the finger and thumb. If it dludes the pursuit of the tongue, there’s nothing to be done but choke or hunt for it. The elegant who object to choking are sometimes driven to the cover of the held-up napkin while they hunt. This is one degree worse than hunting in the open, and it is therefor suggested that any beast bristling with bones be chewed cautiously and in the front of the mouth.”

Vogue’s Book of Etiquette, 1929, p. 197.

Are they suggesting that you choke on a fish bone rather than removing it? Have they never heard of how Christian Dior died (true, he died 25 years after this book, but still…). Am I reading this wrong? I have so many questions.

Tell me what you think.

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