In today’s let-it-all-hang-out culture, which has dominated our society since the Sixties, you wouldn’t think etiquette would be much of a subject for drubbing. But you’d be in error.
Many years ago (now), we were having a departmental luncheon, paid for by the department. I must admit, I didn’t hold a very high opinion of my co-workers or my supervisor. Their manners were decidedly wanting.
Still, as I didn’t care much about them and I was tremendously hungry, I began to nibble at my meal. I was soon given to understand that I’d created a serious gaffe and was obliged to put my fork down. Later, the said supervisor gave me a royal dressing down for disrespecting her. This same supervisor would dress me down again for a birthday bash in which I not only grabbed a doughnut out of turn, but invited some temporary workers to partake of the breakfast feast.
I acknowledged my doughnut debacle but dressed the supervisor herself down (she was a good deal younger than I was) for her cruel rudeness in excluding the temporary workers.
You’d think I’d have known better, having been brought up amidst Admiralty Receptions. The admirals deserved my respect; I couldn’t say the same at all for that supervisor.
The year is not 1815 and we’re not guests at the Netherfield Ball. Those who’ve read Pride and Prejudice, the classic, 18th Century novel of parlour-room manners and romance, know the disgrace that improper behavior could bring upon young ladies of that era. But in the 21st Century?
Still, some rules are supposed to still apply, even in our decadent age. One of those rules is that ladies seat themselves properly in public, with their knees together and their feet flat on the floor. That is what I had to tell the young female pupils in my very brief career as a school photographer: hands together, knees together, feet together.
Kellyanne Conway, one of President Trump’s senior advisors and the woman rightfully regarded as the key to his successful election as president, has come under the quizzing scorn of the “Ladies” of the Left, a word I use guardedly. Conway was photographed in the elegant Oval Office sitting on an Oval Office couch in a short skirt with her legs tucked under her and her visible legs spread somewhat apart.
“Heavens above!” to paraphrase Pride and Prejudice. “Are the shades of the Executive Mansion to be thus polluted?!” shrieked the Mainstream Media, while college-educated Conservative women squirmed silently, unwilling to criticize a woman so critical to the election of our newly-minted Conservative president.
We were taught since toddlership that same rule I mentioned above: hands, knees, feet together on the floor (if our feet could reach the floor). Never tuck your legs under your body while sitting. Especially if you were wearing a dress. Plus, always wait until the hostess signals that it’s time to eat. Keep your elbows off the table. Don’t talk with your mouth full.
Why such a flap over Kellyanne? This kind of gossip always brings out the Caroline Bingley in all of us, sneering at the lower classes who don’t know a cocktail fork from a dessert fork or how to eat bread properly (always pull the roll apart into small parts; never cut it with your knife).
Still, no matter how much we might want to defend her, the simple fact is, you don’t do The Wave in an exclusive West Side restaurant the way another set of co-workers did on a trip into the City after first sampling too much of the drinks at the bar in the front. Nor do we curl ourselves up on a couch in the White House as though we were getting ready to watch our favorite Pride and Prejudice movie on a Saturday afternoon when we’ve sent the kids out with their dad to play miniature golf.
We all make social gaffes, for which we suffer the consequences. However, the consequences should not go on longer than a lengthy dinner sermon by Mr. Collins or a piano concerto by sister Kitty.
Let us rather look to the example of Elizabeth Bennett’s sister Jane. “My dear Jane,” Elizabeth tells her, “you are too good. Your sweetness and disinterestedness are really angelic…You wish to think all the world respectable, and are hurt if I speak ill of anybody.”
Mr. Bennett, their father, takes the folly of the world, his wife’s, his five daughters’, and even his own, in stride.
“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”