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etiquette

Sep 6 2016

Taking Good Care

by Dea Anne M

I find myself thinking this week of the many hotels in which I’ve stayed and it might come as no surprise that a few have been notable for reasons that would give pause to any but the grittiest and most optimistic of publicity teams. I’m remembering especially a place I stayed in Chicago years ago. We’ll call it the Bismarck Hotel since, basically, that was its name. My friend and I were there for the weekend, for a swanky formal wedding which was taking place in the hotel on Saturday night. The Art Deco splendor of the lobby and the banquet hall was rivaled only by the utter weirdness of the guest rooms. You might remember Twin Peaks from when  it premiered on television in 1990, or you may be one of the people who discovered the series after the DVD’s appeared on the market in 2007. For those of you who don’t know the show, Twin Peaks was auteur director David Lynch’s serial drama which, along with its quirky dialogue and incredibly convoluted plot, remains notable chiefly for its unrelenting, almost sledge-hammer-like,  hallucinatory quality. Our room at the Bismarck was like that. Like that show. Each corner of the room seemed to exist inside its own dimension of time and space. Looking at each of the four walls gave you the unsettling sensation that you could walk toward it and never reach it. It didn’t help that each wall was covered with a different wallpaper and that the wall closest to the bathroom boasted a painted portrait of a Holstein cow in profile. When people who have stayed in my guest room declare, as they have on occasion, that the experience is “Just like staying in a hotel!” all I can think is “Not like the Bismarck, I hope.”

The actual reason that I’ve been thinking about hotels and hospitality is that I will have houseguests this week. I actually quite enjoy having people come to stay with me, although perhaps not on the same scale as that known to hosts during the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian eras when guests often stayed for a fortnight (i.e. 14 days) or longer and needed to be provided with meals and entertainment and private rooms until their departure. While I don’t possess a billiards room and I can’t promise guests a fox hunt, I certainly do what I can. Some of the entertaining advice one encounters on lifestyle websites and in magazines are a bit over the top in my opinion (“Have the maid put fresh flowers in each guest’s room along with a tiny silver bell to summon the butler!” “Tie up guest towels with twill ribbons to make a pretty package but first make sure that you’ve had each towel custom monogrammed with your guest’s initials!”) while some guidelines for guests are… basic (“Don’t stay too long.” “Don’t steal.”) For me, the rules for hosting remain fairly simple – make sure the guest’s room is clean and comfortable, find out ahead of time about any food allergies or strong food preferences, participate willingly in conversation and other group activities. Most of all, I want my guests to feel comfortable and cared for – just as they would in a good hotel except maybe even more so.

If you feel like you could use some help with your own entertaining, or if you simply find the topic as fascinating as I do, let me recommend the following resources from DCPL.

Letitia Baldrige’s New Manners for Modern Times by Letitia Baldrigebasic

The New Basic Black: home training for modern times by Karen Grigsby Bates and Karen Elyse Hudson

Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin

Emily Post’s Etiquette (17th edition) by Peggy Post

What about you? What do you like to do with and for your guests? As a guest, how do you like to be treated?

 

 

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I recently paid a visit to a local bookstore.  I don’t visit them too often these days because I generally can be content with borrowing my reading material from the library (yeah, I know, go figure) but this was a huge sale and who can resist a bargain, right?  We made our selections, mostly things the junior member of the household—who holds an advanced degree in manipulation—begged for.  Her beautiful little face threatened to become tear streaked because we were talking about a copy of Llama Llama Misses Mama for her very own (oh, and a bunch of Disney Princess paperbacks she knew better than to mention)  and she actually said, “aren’t books the most  important thing in the world to buy?”  This is how I found myself buying more than I intended because truly, she can beg for a lot of things she’s not going to get (ponies, a BB gun, television in her room, a Mustang)  but she’ll get a book every time she asks.  The pain was lessened by the very pleasant woman at the cash register who chatted so knowledgeably about books.  Then she surprised me by saying that she was not looking forward to using the library once she was unemployed because library books “creeped” her out.  Turns out, she’s got a thing about handling books other people have used.  “You would not believe what people do to books and then try to return them to us,” she told me, shaking her head sadly.

Well, I would believe it because I’ve seen some strange things in books.  In every library system I have ever worked (six to date), I have kept a big envelope on my desk with all the stuff  found in returned books.  Let me tell you, it is staggering.  There are the usual things—money, postcards, fancy bookmarks, dried flora—and then there are the surprising things.  It’s astonishing how many people use their financial documents and family photos for bookmarks.  I once found a letter from the author (dead, highly collectible) tucked in between the flyleaf and the cover.  I’ve also found personal hygiene products, a bag of stuff I’m going to believe was parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but that we flushed anyway, and one heartbreaking letter someone wrote to her mother, detailing the breakdown of her marriage. I’m not the only person in the world to do this.  Richard Davies has posted his own list.

Of course, along with finding interesting things in books I have handled items that are returned reeking of cigarette smoke, stained with what I will choose to believe is apple juice,  or are full of sand.  As the DCPL budget is now so tight the idea of starting an e-book collection is just a grand dream. I’m hoping everyone who shares the collection with everyone else in DeKalb County will remember that these are borrowed books, CDs, DVDs and magazines and will take a moment to shake out the sand,  clean off the spaghetti sauce and fan the pages to remove personal items before bringing the items back.  Maybe then we can lure in folks like the lady at the bookstore.

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Jan 25 2010

What do you say, Dear?

by Patricia D

I vividly remember my maternal grandmother being horrified the day she caught me drinking the milk from my cereal bowl.  According to her I was obviously being raised by wolves and not her child since she hadn’t raised a hooligan.  I was five.   Please understand that this is the woman who insisted I learn how to curtsy (knowledge, much like working quadratic equations, I have never needed) and wear white gloves to church.  Even well into adult hood she was correcting my manners, scolding me for greeting her neighbors on our evening stroll with a nice “hey.”  “Hey,” she explained in no uncertain terms, was not a proper greeting in western Kentucky.  I will spare you my response but I tell you all this to explain, in some small way, my fascination with etiquette books.

I think one of the things I loved the most about the character Elle Woods, portrayed by Reese Witherspoon in the movie Legally Blonde is the fact that her manners are impeccable.  Even when she has been publicly humiliated she manages to keep her dignity AND find kind things to say to the woman who humiliated her.  By movie’s end she is much beloved, not because she can teach an entire salon full of women the “Bend and Snap” but because she never fails to be kind or stoops to the level of those around her.   She rises to every awkward and painful situation because  her manners are deeply ingrained and being able to react gracefully gives her the confidence to go on.   To paraphrase Miss Manners, also known as Judith Martin, manners are not meant to be used as blunt instruments on others but to put the other person at ease.  Of course, Judith Martin is the same woman who, as a young reporter for the Washington Post, was banned from Tricia Nixon’s wedding because she made the Nixon women “uncomfortable.”  No doubt Elle Woods would have been a more welcome guest.

If you just want some snappy reading try any of Miss Manner’s books.  Her detailed chart on weddings is a scream.  Categories include: Excruciatingly Correct, Less Formal and Over Miss Manners’ Dead Body.  If you just want to make certain you don’t bring up any little hooligans of your own, we have an app, er, book for that too.

Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin

What Do you Say when–Talking to People with Confidence on any Social or Business Occasion by Florence Isaacs

Civility Solution: What to Say When People are Rude by P.M. Forni

Teen Manners: From Malls to Meal to Messaging and Beyond by Cindy Post Senning

Being a Pig is Nice by Sally Lloyd-Jones

How Do Dinosaurs Go to School? by Jane Yolen

Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf by Judy Sierra

Smart Girl’s Guide to Manners: Secrets to Grace, Confidence and Being Your Best by Nancy Holyoke

Please is a Good Word to Say by Barbara Joose

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