Sunday, May 25, 2008
Let's take it outside
Yesterday I had lunch with my Husband and Daughter at the club. Being here to discuss etiquette in general with you, I should advise you right up front that some of my own respected forebearer's would consider it a poor choice to take an eleven month old child to a public dining room of any sort. In two of the three dining rooms at the club, I would agree. But, in the luncheon room and proverbial nineteenth hole, children are welcome. I observed several tables with young children dining yesterday, all of whom were pleasantly mannered. Then, there was the adults.
I will tell you of this club that it is very traditional in many ways, right down to the goats that once dotted the golf course in the manner of St. Andrew's in Scotland. There is no denim, shorts of less than Bermuda length, or tennis attire allowed in the clubhouse. No printed t-shirts. No tank tops. For the most part, even on days when the public is heavily on the scene there, these old tried and true rules of good dining behaviours, prevail.
But yesterday, for the second day in a row, I noted baseball caps on men's heads in the dining room. Similarly, I once attended a Grand Prix Jumping luncheon and the male riders chose to wear baseball caps at lunch in an enclosed tent, presumably because Mayor Guilani was expected and they did not want to expose their helmet-head from the jumping rounds. But, that is what locker rooms and (in the case of show jumpers) dressing rooms in the trucks are for, to clean yourself up before moving on with your day. The names of those riders stay with me as will the faces of the people in baseball caps yesterday. It will be unlikely, no matter how the years will undulate with joyous and deeply sad circumstances, to forget about these people that they are not gentlemen of the sort I prefer.
Having said that, I will tell you that I know a couple of mannered scoundrels. Their social graces are pitch-perfect at the doorway, at the table, and in church. But manners and decency are not a married pair, never assume the existence of one because there is evidence of the other. I like manners, a lot. But the disclaimer in what I am about to tell you is that given the choice between the two, I would pick decency because I believe it defaults to treating people well and considerately, which is vastly more critical than the correct use of a short fork.
However, if it is at all possible, it would be lovely to be a person who can be said to posses both the skill of manners and the quality, (dare I say) even virtue, of decency. In the pursuit of such an elevated state of grace, one can read all manner of book on the subject. Some of the best are Amy Vanderbilt, How to Raise a Gentleman, How to Raise a Lady, and Tiffany's Table Manners for Teenagers. In our homes, they live on the reference shelf with other volumes of powerful substance: The dictionary. The thesaurus. The Holy Bible. The Way to Cook. Now you see, these are critical documents. Should you not wish to read, memorize, and review these weighty volumes at length in refreshing yourself or in teaching your child, there are very appealing courses one can take, say, while on vacation. The Don Cesar at St. Petersburg Beach, Florida, offers a short course of study for children or for professionals while they are guests at the resort. I imagine the staff there would love to help the etiquette training along by giving all manner of scenario where one might test their new or newly polished skills.
One skill of important awareness to be learned therein is the removal of your cover. Books on the subject do not disagree though some are more thorough: The rule does not apply only to men and that may surprise you.
Firstly, men are to remove hat, cap, or cover of all sort before entering a building and therefore would never have cause to have a hat of any sort on their head in a dining room. This procedure plays a significant manner-role in our lives, having a Husband and Father who is a military officer. Consequently, this gentility is close to my heart. The military is impressively thorough in both their dicta and upkeep on the subject of covers. One could take a lesson from them.
Secondly, Amy Vanderbilt is quite forceful on the subject of baseball caps specifically: Never to be worn indoors. Period! Her emphasis, not mine, though I heartily agree!
Here is the surprise: While women may wear a hat indoors, they are to remove said hat before taking their seat at the table (How to Raise a Lady, Kay West, Thomas Nelson Publisher, 2001). I would go a step further and say that if we are to consider a baseball cap poor manners on a male indoors at all times, in a society seeking equality, we could say the same applies to women: Please remove your baseball cap indoors and your hat of any type before joining the table.
It is not simply that it is a rule of good manners. Nor that I am quietly insulted when one does not remove a hat before entering my home or seating themselves with me at a table. This issue is truly, deeply about respect, and about how much better you look without that baseball cap anyhow. In truth, it is not an attractive fashion article, not in any situation save one: In the house that Ruth built, it is lovely to see Derek Jeter et al. in the traditional attire of their sporting life. But there is something innately appropriate, old school, and lovely about a thing being done properly, is there not?