Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: Beauty Mark Etiquette

Une Dame à sa Toilette by François Boucher shows a lady applying mouches

Moles are a really common human skin condition and people have found them attractive in certain configurations for centuries. Sometimes they have also attached meaning to certain placements of moles. Drawing them in has even been fashionable at times- Marilyn Monroe’s famous spot started a trend for them in the 1950s. But 18th century French aristocrats took it a step farther and glued fake spots on, in all kinds of Lucky Charms shapes, and assigned meanings to their placements.

In France, these spots were called Mouches or little flies (pretty obvious why!) and were made out of black silk, velvet, taffeta etc. They came in all kinds of shapes like circles, crescent moons, stars, and hearts (even quite elaborate shapes like horse-drawn carriages would sometimes appear!) and would be glued onto the face and décolletage (that’s the cleavagy region of the chest). In addition to their secret meanings, these little spots were also quite handy for covering up small pox scars! They would also draw attention to a certain particularly attractive feature of the face. The dark color in contrast to the skin also made the skin look paler, very much the in thing at the time. Men and women both wore them and could wear any from one to ten at a time!

Of course, all good fads need some material goods to go with them. So the French created fancy little “patch boxes” to keep their little face  stickers in. Made with tons of gold and jewels and miniature paintings, natch.

Some possible meanings for the placement of the spots:

Middle of forehead: dignified or imposing or grandeur

Corner of eye or eyelid: passionate

Middle of cheek: gallant

Cheekbone: risque

Heart-shaped (left cheek): engaged

Heart-shaped (right cheek): married

Between mouth and chin: silent

Corner of the eye: passion

On lower lip or on chin: discreet

Beside the mouth: likes to kiss

On nose: saucy or sassy

Near lip: flirtatious or seductive or even able to kill

On neck: generous

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Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: Morganatic Marriages

So technically, some people still might have morganatic marriages but most of us don’t.

A morganatic marriage is basically a marriage between a man (usually) of higher rank who marries a woman of lower rank and does not pass any of his titles and privileges to his wife and any resulting children. The purpose being, to allow marriage for love when it otherwise wouldn’t be allowed while still preventing undesirable children from joining lines of succession.

Morganatic marriages were most popular in Germanic countries and Russia. Ghengis Khan also practiced polyamoric morgantic marriage, where only the children from his official wife were allowed to inherit while the children from his morganatic wives were not, though they were still legitimate. Morganatic marriage was never really practiced in the UK because there was no prohibition against marrying commoners in the first place. Edward VIII proposed a morganatic marriage with Wallis Simpson so as to marry her and remain king, however parliament did not approve and we all know how that ended.

Famous Morganatic Marriages:

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. Though she was an aristocrat, Sophie was not a member of a ruling royal family, she was not eligible as a royal wife. They ended up having 3 children and were assassinated in Sarajevo, an event that kicked off World War I.

Victor Emmanuelle II of Italy and his wife (and former favorite mistress) Rosa. The first king of united Italy had a proper royal marriage to Adelaide of Austria which gave him 8 children. After she died, he married his favorite mistress in a morganatic marriage.

Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma. After the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, his wife Marie Louise married morganatically TWICE, first to Count Adam Albert von Neipperg and then to Charles René de Bombelles (her chamberlain!)

Airport and Airplane Etiquette

It’s almost the end of summer and you’ve probably taken all of your airplane trips already, so let’s see what you’ve been doing wrong this whole time! Just remember, that flying can suck but it sucks even more if everyone is acting like a big, whiny baby. At the airport:

  • At the check-in counter, remain friendly and calm.
  • New baggage fees are INCREDIBLY sucky, but a fact of life now (except for JetBlue and Southwest! Love JetBlue and Southwest and give them all your dollars) so make sure you are aware in advance of what they are and weigh your suitcases so you aren’t arguing with the person at the counter as the line grows behind you.
  • Yes the TSA is security theater and kind of ridiculous, but we all know the rules by now. Be ready to take off your shoes and pull out your baggie of liquids so you don’t hold up the line.
  • Don’t crowd around the gate. Wait for your boarding group to be called so that people don’t have to push through the big crowd. Don’t try to board when it’s not your turn! Major props to airlines who turn people back when their group hasn’t been called.
  • Don’t try to be all sneaky with your carry on baggage. Trying to get a too big bag in the overhead bin is not going to work and it just holds things up for everyone else. The rules exist for a reason and carry on space (see baggage fees above) is more crowded than ever.
  • Store your carry on in the bin above your seat, NOT at the front of the plane.

In Flight:

  • Don’t bring your very stinky food on the plane. Try for cold, dry snacks as much as possible. But make sure you do bring snacks! Don’t want to get hangry or have to pay the extreme prices for food on-board.
  • Apparently some people like to talk to strangers on planes. This is puzzling to me, but if you do, judge whether your seatmate is actually interested in chatting or is desperately looking around trying to think of a way to get you to stop.
  • Stay in your space bubble, don’t let your knees or elbows protrude into your neighbors space bubble.
  • The middle seat gets both armrests, if they want them. Sometimes, though, you have to assert your right to them, find advice here.
  • The whole row must make space when one of the interior seats needs to get up to use the restroom with a minimum of acting annoyed and put out. If you know you need to get up frequently, do your best to sit in the aisle rather than a window (though I know you sometimes don’t have much choice!)
  • Interior seat sitters should be mindful of good and bad times to get up. It’s much more of a hassle if everyone has their trays down with food on them.
  • Reclining seats is the biggest debate in flying etiquette. Some say that if they can recline, they should be able to recline with abandon, and some say you should never ever recline. I am in the reclining camp, but I think that if someone is reclining right into your kneecaps, you are free to speak up and the person in front of you should modify their recline. Success with this may vary, however. For heaven’s sake, please don’t kick the seat in front of you!
  • Seats should be upright during meals (if you should be so lucky…)
  • Don’t get belligerently drunk
  • Don’t harass the flight attendants (or call them stewardesses)
  • Sometimes someone might ask you to switch seats with them so they can sit with a child or something similar. You are free to say yes or no as you please. (If you are asking to switch seats, always make it so that you are taking the worse seat ie give someone your window seat for their middle seat.)
  • Flying with small kids sounds like a nightmare, but as long as you are actively trying to keep the occupied and quiet, people should give you a break. It’s the parents who zone out with a movie while their child is screeching who are very unmannerly.
  • Debark the plane in an orderly manner and don’t push your way into the aisle when no one is even moving yet.

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have Ladies Menus (Except That Time I Did)

A few years ago, my now-husband and I were on vacation in Greece, and, as we try to do whenever we go somewhere new, used one night to dine at a really good, fancy restaurant. We had been staying with a friend’s family the rest of that week so we hadn’t been spending much money, and decided to really splurge and go to a Michelin-starred joint on the outskirts of Athens. It was a beautiful place, with a semi-enclosed courtyard and a CHEESE CART (note: write about the etiquette of cheese carts), and we immediately felt very high-class upon entering. We were led to our table, where someone pulled out my chair for me and placed my napkin in my lap, and we were handed menus. Curiously, I noticed my menu did not have prices listed. “Hey, do you have prices? Is this just how they do things?” I asked my date. Turns out, he did have the prices. Welcome to the concept of the Ladies Menu.

The Ladies Menu, one without prices, stems from the idea that someone being treated to dinner should not know what their host is paying for them. You wouldn’t tell guests at a house party how much you paid for all the ingredients in that cake you made, right? Of course not, because they’re your guests and you don’t want to make them uncomfortable about having a lot of money (or a little) being spent on them. Unfortunately, the idea was also that OBVIOUSLY the man would be treating a woman on a date (and obviously a man and a woman out together was a date, and obviously two men or two women would never date, etc.).

The concept works with limited success. Women were often taught to predict which dishes would be mid-range options, to avoid upsetting their dates by ordering too richly. Also, occasionally the “host” would forbid the guest from ordering certain things that were too expensive, defeating the point. And nowadays, given that most restaurants post at least sample menus online, can’t you just figure out the average prices beforehand? Or am I the only one that will spend all afternoon before a dinner trying to figure out what I want to eat?

Complications also arise when a man and a woman want to dine in any way besides the man treating. Tracy MacLeod writes:

…I recall the irritation of a friend of mine, a high-powered BBC current affairs presenter, whose attempt to treat her husband to a special birthday dinner at La Tante Claire was foiled at every turn. Even though she’d made the booking, the staff treated her as the little lady guest. She got the menu with no prices. He got the wine to taste. She requested the bill. He was given it to pay. As they were leaving, the manager asked if she’d enjoyed her meal. It was lovely, she said, but as she was paying for her husband, it would have been nice if they’d treated her as the host. The manager’s face broke into an incredulous smile, and he turned to my friend’s husband. “Lucky fella!” he breathed.

This isn’t the only way restaurants differentiate between men and women, though it’s certainly the most obvious. The New York Times says, “At most upscale restaurants…software lets servers note both the position at a table to which a dish is going and whether the diner is female, so the food’s couriers can plot to present dishes in a gender-conscious sequence,” whatever that is. And MacLeod continues, “it rankles when front of house staff refuse to accept a woman as the main point of contact in a mixed group. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve ordered wine which has then been brought to a male companion to taste. Same with the bill. And quite regularly, waiters have assumed, if I’m dining with a man, that the fish must be for me, and the steak and ale pudding for him.”

Restaurants giving priceless menus to ladies is dying out, though some restaurateurs do note the need for priceless menus. For instance, if one person is hosting a group at a restaurant, they may not want their guests to see the prices, and that is totally legitimate! But let’s be thankful that most women get to know what they’re paying for their own dinner.

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have To Write Letters Anymore, Right Millenials?

Clippy-letterI hesitate to write this, because I am wary of coming firmly on the side of No More Letters. What a shame, right? For a long time in my life I very much romanticized writing letters. I had a wax seal with my initials on it, for gods sake, and for one year in high school decided I’d write all my best friends heartfelt letters for their birthdays instead of getting themselves gifts (I’m so sorry, friends). Even recently I’ve found it comforting to write letters to faraway friends instead of texting or emailing, and I covet my personalized stationery.

However, the last time I picked up a pen and tried to write an extended thought on a piece of paper I think my hand cramped up. I have the handwriting of a 7-year-old on a hay ride, and between trying to make sure anything I write down is actually legible, or being like “Yes Word paperclip I am trying to write a letter, YOU’RE SUCH A GENIUS,” or making sure that after all is said and done the damn paper actually gets to where it’s going (quite a few of our wedding invitations mysteriously never made it to their destinations), the art of letter writing is losing its allure, and I think I might be done. I don’t want to give a definitive answer, but some days I really appreciate Gmail.

But, obviously, writing letters has been a huge part of how people communicated. The Polite Letter Writer, 1860, states, “Had letters been known at the beginning of the world, epistolary writing would have been as old as love and friendship, for as soon as they began to flourish, the verbal messenger was dropped, the language of the heart was committed to characters that faithfully preserved it, secrecy was maintained, and social intercourse rendered more free and pleasant.” Nice, right?

The Polite Letter Writer has a whole guide for many types of letters, but there are some basic rules. First, make sure you spell everything correctly, a rule that gives me heart palpitations because I rely heavily on those squiggly red lines to let me know what I do wrong. Also, “vulgarism in language” suggests you’d be bad company, and “Proverbial expressions and trite sayings are the flowers of the rhetoric of a low-bred man.” So, you know, say what you mean. She then goes on for about ten pages about how to craft your natural writing style, which I’m sure is a lovely skill to have, but it’s all about studying the works of eminent poets but not actually imitating them, and I’d rather just send a Futurama .gif. (Hahah some Baby Boomer just read that and had a heart attack. Sorry guys, sorry for keeping it real.)

Most of the letter writing guides I’ve found follow the same format, and it’s EXHAUSTING. I mean, just look at the Table of Contents for Martine’s Perfect Letter Writer:

letter contents

You don’t even get to ‘How to begin a Letter” until 20 pages in, and that tip is literally start writing two-inches down from the top of the paper. It’s madness. Here are some other outdated tips for writing all day long.

  • If you’re writing a letter to someone you don’t know well, end with “Your obedient Servant.” As you get friendlier you can move up to “Yours faithfully” and even to “Yours very sincerely.”
  • “Honored sir” is terribly antiquated.
  • “Never sent a note to  person who is your superior.”
  • “Postscripts are generally indicative of thoughtlessness, and should be avoided.”
  • “Never write ‘I saw 5 birds’.”

Of course, there’s no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater (was that too much the rhetoric of a low-bred man?). These books still have good advice, and I’d like to leave you with something that applies whether you’re communicating via written letter or Gchat:

And finally remember that whatever you write is written evidence either of your good sense or your folly, your industry or carelessness, your self control or impatience. What you have once put into the letter box may cost you lasting regret, or be equally important to your whole future welfare. And, for such grave reasons, think before you write and think while you are writing.