Tea Etiquette

I recently read an amusing little article in the New York Times about one tourist’s misconception of the English tradition of tea.

In it, the author makes the common mistake of confusing high tea and afternoon tea. High tea, which sounds very regal and la-di-da actually is another word for the evening meal- like supper (also just called “tea.” Now go find five usages in the Harry Potter books.). Afternoon tea is what we think of when we imagine having tea with the Queen (or am I the only one who imagines that?). My 18th birthday was actually celebrated with an afternoon tea party, because of course it was.

Afternoon tea became a thing in the early 19th century when the Duchess of Bedford found she was a little peckish in the late afternoons during a period where it wasn’t fashionable to have dinner until 8 in the evening. So she started having tea and some sandwiches and then invited some friends to join her and BOOM a defining cultural tradition is born.

High tea, the tea of the masses, was called such because it was served at a normal, high table, instead of the impractical little wobbly tables used by the aristocracy for their afternoon tea.

There is also a thing called a “cream tea” which is just scones with clotted cream and jam served with tea. I hadn’t heard of such a thing until I visited my sister when she was studying abroad in Brighton and we had it. Delightful! And much, much cheaper than the full afternoon tea spread.

Typically when you have afternoon tea, the food comes out in a particular order. Scones and clotted cream first, tiny sandwiches second, and little cakes and pastries third. Or they might come out all together on a big tier of plates and then you can eat in whichever order with reckless abandon. You will also be given a selection of teas and your own little pot of hot water to steep it in.

Some tea etiquette:

  • Sticking your pinkie out is an affectation, it should gently curve around the other fingers.

  • Eat scones the same way you would eat any roll at the table- break off bite sized pieces and put a small portion of cream and jam on and then eat and repeat.

  • Look into your tea cup when sipping instead of staring at your companions.

  • Don’t leave your spoon in your cup, rest it on the saucer.

  • If you are provided with a tea strainer, rest it over the top of your cup, pour the tea through it into the cup, and remove the strainer. There should be a little dish to put the wet strainer on.

  • Traditionally, milk was put in the cup before the tea because older teacups had a tendency to crack when the hot tea was added. However, both are acceptable today, according to your own taste.

  • If the sugar is served in cubes, use the provided tongs to serve yourself instead of your spoon or fingers.

  • If lemon wedges are provided, they might be tied up in a cheesecloth so that they can be squeezed without the seeds flying out. Place used lemon wedges on the side of your saucer if there is no plate provided for them.

  • The spout of the teapot should face the host(ess) when using one teapot for a group.

  • When sipping your tea, lift only your cup and leave the saucer on the table.

To The Man Who Upstreamed Me A Few Days Ago

To the man who upstreamed us in Queens a few nights ago:

I apologize that my fiance called you a “piece of shit asshole” when a cab pulled up to you before us, but let me explain. You see, despite your insistence that you wouldn’t/shouldn’t be paying attention to us, I must insist that in the future, you become more aware of those around you, especially when catching a cab.

Catching a cab in New York City is an art, and I could tell by your form that you were unpracticed and possibly new. You held your arm out for cabs that didn’t have their lights on, a telltale sign of a newbie. That’s ok. Everyone is new to hailing cabs at some point, but really, you should learn the rules before you attempt such a brazen move as an upstream.

Nathan W. Pyle of the popular NYC Basic Tips & Etiquette gif series puts the practice thusly:

However, I would argue that upstreaming someone for a cab–which, by walking to the corner ahead of us after we had been standing there attempting to hail a cab for about 10 minutes, you most certainly did–is more than just a “cheap way to win.” It is a cheap way to live. It means you assert yourself as more important than your neighbors and community. It is why New Yorkers hate gentrification so much: you’re saying you’re here, but you don’t care.

I’m sorry if this comes off as too serious, but I have a long and uncomfortable relationship to upstreaming. Sometimes, as a child, I’d be late getting out the door for school, ensuring that a ride on the M15 bus would make me late. So, not wanting me to get to school late, or to hail a cab by myself, my parents would put me in a cab to school. They both lived at busy intersections, and it was often a time of morning when lots of other people would be late for work/school if they did not catch a cab. But that did not seem to bother my dad; getting his only child to school on time was important. So he’d walk against traffic, getting ahead of those who had been waiting longer, and as I’d pass them by again from the comfort of the backseat of a Crown Victoria I’d slink down in shame, knowing that the only reason I was there and they were not was because I decided to take their civility for granted.

But back to you.

There are a few other circumstances that made your move so frustrating. Firstly, we were in Queens, and though that corner was probably the best bet for cabs in the area, it’s hardly a hot spot. Secondly, it looks like you were coming off of work at a film shoot that was taking place, given that you were saying goodbye to a lot of people still inside the giant trailers parked everywhere. This city already has a tenuous relationship with film crews, who often block our streets and sidewalks and tell us where we can and cannot walk, and you’re doing nothing to help their reputation with your behavior.

So what should you have done?

Firstly, you should have looked around. You should have paid attention to us. We were at the opposite corner from you, clearly waiting for a cab to come in the same direction. Once you noticed us you should have either walked to a different block to try your luck there, or come over and waited behind us. Yes, I know it was late at night and yes, I know you were “just trying to get home like everyone else,” but “everyone else” includes us, who were waiting to get home before you.

Being a New Yorker (though, I’m presuming, a new one) you may be thinking “why should I care? New Yorkers are rude people, so I have the right to be rude! Plus, that guy just called me an asshole!” It’s true, New Yorkers have a certain–and in my opinion, false–reputation for being rude. But these rude outbursts are not just for the sake of being mean to strangers. Any time a New Yorker yells at you, it is punishment for disrupting the balance of the city, a place where the needs of millions must be sorted out in an incredibly confined space. In order for everyone not to go nuts, we’ve developed a dance. You keep to the right of stairwells, and don’t stop in the middle of moving traffic (yes, sidewalks count as moving traffic). You define your space on the subway in order to maximize your comfort, yet not encroach on the personal space of those around you. You’re constantly balancing your needs versus the needs of others, putting yourself first when it counts, and taking one for the team when someone else needs it. The whole idea is the foundation of good etiquette.

So, when my fiance yelled at you, it was not because he likes yelling, but because you were disrupting the balance and must learn, lest you spend the rest of your life pissing off every New Yorker you come in contact with. If we had the time to have a full conversation we would have, but let’s face it, we were all trying to get home. Yes, there are some who are rude for no reason, but you’ll find those people across the globe. Perhaps you were shocked that he would call you out, but really, consider it a favor. Hopefully, you’ll remember this the next time you attempt to grab a cab from someone who has been patiently waiting for longer than you have.

There may come a day where you legitimately need to upstream someone. One day your wife may be in labor, or you’re late for a job interview at a cutthroat firm, where being one minute late would guarantee that you’d lose the opportunity. Go forth and upstream then, knowing that it’s necessary. But if it’s a Wednesday night at 11 pm and you see two tired and slightly cold people waiting on a corner, leaning into the road to look for cabs, I implore you to cross the street and wait behind them.



Not such a great idea now, huh hotshot?

Not such a great idea now, huh hotshot?

Can I Ask Why My Parents Weren’t Invited to This Wedding?

Not Invited copy

Hey Ladies,

My question is actually sort of similar to the one y’all just posted about wedding invitation snubs, but a little different. Okay, so one of my oldest friends is getting married, and she initially told me at least one side of my family (Mom vs Dad) would be invited, but maybe not both because they are divorced. I told her they are fine in the same room, and by the end of that convo it sounded like both would be invited. Since both parents have known this friend basically her whole life, they were pretty much expecting to be invited. I received my invitation a month ago, but neither of my parents received one. Everyone is a bit disappointed and hurt, and I don’t know what to tell them. I should also note that my sister falls under both my mom and dad, so I assumed she would be invited one way or another. For all I know all of this is actually an oversight, but is rude me to ask my friend if that’s the case? Is there a way that I can find out what happened without stressing out my friend and making her feel bad? Also, should I ask about my sister specifically?


Confused About Invitations



You can’t assume you will be invited to a wedding until you receive a save the date or an invitation. Note for brides and grooms- don’t go around willy nilly verbally saying you will invite people to your wedding until you are SURE that they will be on the guest list. It is also generally considered rude to ask about invitations.


Victoria: Ok, this question is basically “My friend said she was inviting my parents to her wedding and then didn’t.”

Jaya: Right. Oy. So, anyone getting married, do not say someone is invited unless they are 100% invited! Like, I’m sure she thought it was 100% and it turned out not to be.

Victoria: Yeah, I feel like this is a major rookie mistake.

Jaya: Haha “rookie.” There’s an etiquette league.

Victoria: Yes and we are the refs. But just to act like “of course they are invited” and then boom there’s no room, is a pretty big mistake. I asked the writer for a follow up and it turns out the bride ended up not being able to invite anyone’s parents.

Jaya: Oooh interesting. So yeah, this seems like she had an idea of what her wedding was gonna be like, was very vocal about it, and then circumstances made it not possible. Which happens.

Victoria: And I think thats fine mostly. I mean, do people really enjoy attending weddings of random people? Like your kids’ friends?

Jaya: I mean, it sounds like they weren’t random. And omg they do.

Victoria: You know about all this now!

Jaya: Everything I’ve heard from my fiance’s family friends is that they LOVE attending the weddings of their friends’ kids. I mean, weddings can be fun, I get it, and this seems like they’re super close family friends? It at least sound like the reader’s parents have their own relationship with the bride.

Victoria: Yeah probably.

Jaya: But anyway, as much as this sucks, there is not really anything to get upset about. Because even though her parents thought/assumed there was an invite coming, they were never formally invited.

Victoria: True! You just have to be gracious.

Jaya: You can get upset that you weren’t invited, but it’s not like the invitation was rescinded. And no one is obligated to invite you to their wedding. And while it’s not rude to ask about it, I’m not sure asking the bride about it is going to do any good.

Victoria: She says she ended up not even having to ask because it came up in conversation at the bachelorette party with everyone. But yeah, and I wouldn’t do it with someone I wasn’t so close to, but if you are a bridesmaid, I feel like you have a bit more leeway as long as you frame it as being curious, not accusatory.

Jaya: I think on all sides, don’t talk about things like invitations a lot unless you’re entirely sure you’re invited, or the other party is invited. Even if she made it seem “very likely,” that is not a guarantee. And don’t ever expect invitations to things like this. It is so personal. Unless you’re like, the groom’s mom or something. And even then maybe your son just wants to elope!

Victoria: LOL

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have To Use Visiting Cards Anymore

You know, like this.

You know, like this.

The first thing I found when beginning research on Calling Cards (aka Visiting Cards) was this line from Lillian Eichler’s 1921 Book of Etiquette, which says “The origin of the social call dates from the Stone Age,  when the head of a family used to leave a roughly carved block of stone at the door of another as an expression of good will and friendship.” THIS CANNOT BE TRUE, RIGHT? Let’s just take a moment to picture that, a caveman thinking to himself “You know, I really should call on that eligible girl Kathleen,” and carving his name into a rock and then leaving it with her chaperone. It’s beautiful.

A calling card was essentially a proto-business card, and was used in far more social situations with far more rules. You know how awkward it is to admit you’ve been networking and hand your card to somebody? (If not, you’re a better, confident person, teach me to be you.) Imagine doing that with someone you wanted to date, and there were set hours in the day with which to do it, and guardians had to be involved. Yeah.

Half of the rules of dating cards are about fonts, sizes, and card stock. Men’s cards were longer and narrower than Ladies cards, and Emily Post notes that a “fantastic or garish note in the type effect, in the quality or shape of the card, betrays a lack of taste in the owner of the card.” However, Marion Harland’s Complete Etiquette mentions “the styles of calling cards change from year to year even from season to season so that it is impossible to make hard and fast rules as to the size and thickness of the bits of pasteboard or the script with which they are engraved. Any good stationer can give one the desired information on these points.”

The rest of the rules concern when to leave or send cards. The basic idea was that Person A would not expect to see Person B in her own home (unless already invited or introduced) without Person B first leaving his visiting card at the home of Person A. Cards are left for bereavement, used to RSVP to events (bring the card a week before if you’re attending, earlier if not), and absolutely must be left “within a few days after taking a first meal in a lady’s house; or if one has for the first time been invited to lunch or dine with strangers.” Turning down the corner of a card meant that more than one person from the family name on the card had arrived.

There’s also this great anecdote from Emily Post. So (new money) Mrs. Vanderbilt was having a super lavish ball and everyone wanted to go. (Old Money) Mrs. Astor waited and waited and didn’t receive an invitation, so finally she sends around a note asking where her invite is. And Mrs. Vanderbilt responds: Mrs. Astor has never called on her and she wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to invite someone who had never called on her to a ball. So Mrs. Astor sends her card, Mrs. Vanderbilt invites her and they eventually become great friends.

It all sounds pretty exhausting, and involving a lot of footwork. For instance, this is an excerpt from Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions on how Naval Officers should conduct themselves with calling cards: “In formal calls, both the officer and his wife left a card in the tray provided for such a custom near the front door. In the most formal situations, the husband would leave two cards, one each for the senior being called upon and for his wife, while the officer’s wife would leave only one, since the inviolable rule of polite society was that ladies did not call on gentlemen. If the senior was unmarried, only the officer himself left a card.” The book also notes that this etiquette was far more rigid in Europe.

However, there is one aspect of this whole circus that I wish still existed: “Not at home.” If you are not available to entertain a guest when the guest calls, your servant (ha) would simply say that you are “not at home.” That could mean you’re out, it could mean you’re taking a nap, or it could mean that you hate the person calling and don’t care to hang out with them right now. It doesn’t matter, because they just leave their card and try again later. Only if you’re in your drawing room do you officially have to accept anyone, and you never have to explain yourself.

I DREAM about this lifestyle. I mean besides having a drawing room and lots of people to do my bidding, I dream of a life set up structurally so that I don’t make myself feel guilty about turning down social engagements. If you want to be social, you either had to go to someone’s house, or essentially set up office hours, and if you didn’t feel like it someone else could just say you weren’t there. It’s a perfect, cowardly move and I want it. But maybe we should all learn from this model and work on setting boundaries in our lives. I can’t be the only one who struggles with that, right? Let’s meet back here to discuss how that’s going for us. If I’m not available, leave your card.

Etiquette in Places of Worship

Notre dame noel 2006Sometimes we might find ourselves in a religious space that is not our own. Here are some very general tips to help you not embarrass yourself. Also, remember that even within a religion, there is a TON of variation, so consider these extremely general guidelines.

In General:

  • Be respectful of beliefs that are not your own.

  • Be quiet before and during all services-turn your phone off (and don’t dare use it unless an emergency), no talking or excessive rustling.

  • Follow along with whatever everyone else is doing if you are unsure.

  • Dress fairly conservatively, many places of worship require arms and legs to be covered (or have more specific requirements), even if visiting as a tourist. Check before you go.

  • If you are inviting a non-member to your place of worship, it would be kind to give them a rundown of what to expect and what is expected of them.

  • Don’t eat or drink, unless you are specifically offered something as part of the service.

Christian Churches:

  • Be very quiet even before services start, people use the time for reflection and prayer. In fact, you should almost never talk above a whisper in church as there are always people who wish to pray. Churches are very similar to libraries.

  • Stand when the congregation stands but you may sit while they kneel.

  • Communion: if you do not wish to participate, you can remain in the pew. If the pew is too narrow to allow this and let others pass, you can go up and cross your arms over your chest to signal that you are not participating. (Note: in the Catholic faith, only Catholics are allowed to receive communion, it is very disrespectful to take communion if you aren’t Catholic.)

  • You are welcome to follow along with the prayers, or to keep silent.

  • Don’t applaud after any music or singing.

  • There are many different denominations, so don’t expect every church to be exactly the same. Many have looser or stricter requirements.

  • Grace: you may be asked to say grace when dining in a Christian home. There are a number of well known graces you can say if you feel comfortable, but a general thanking of the host and talking about the beauty of the food is fine. If you want more of a “grace” feel, you could try this secularized version: “for what we are about to receive, let us be truly thankful. Amen.” If someone else is saying grace, follow along with everyone else and either bow your head or join hands respectfully and either say amen at the end, or say nothing.

Jewish Synagogues

  • At many synagogues, most men will be wearing a yarmulke (a small round hat, also known as a kippa). They may have extras for you to borrow. Apparently it is not required, but it strongly suggested in more conservative synagogues.

  • There is a lot of standing and sitting, just go along with what everyone else is doing.

  • Services can last from 3-4 hours, so often people come and go and don’t stay for the entire time.

  • When the Ark is open, you shouldn’t enter or leave the sanctuary.

  • Don’t put prayer books on the floor.

  • Kiss anything that has fallen on the floor, like yarmulkes and prayer books.

  • It is inappropriate to applaud.

Muslim Mosques

  • Remove hats and shoes

  • Do not point your feet at the Qibla, the wall that aligns to the direction of Mecca.

  • Women are required to cover their heads, and everyone should cover as much skin as possible.

  • Sometimes there might be separate entrances or separate areas for men and women.

  • You may be greeted with the phrase “Assalam Allaikum” to which the correct response is “Wa alaikum-as-salam” though no one is really going to expect you to say it.

  • It is customary to enter with your right foot first and leave with your left foot first.

  • If you are a tourist, you should avoid coming to the mosque during the 5 daily prayer times.

Buddhist Shrines

  • Remove your hats and shoes.

  • Dress modestly, long pants are preferred to shorts.

  • Do not touch the Buddha statue. It is also respectful to back away from the Buddha statue a few paces before turning your back on it.

  • Pointing is very rude. If you need to indicate something, gesture with your whole RIGHT hand, palm up. Also don’t point your feet at any people or Buddhas.

  • If any monks or nuns enter while you are sitting, stand up.

  • Only use your right hand when giving or receiving anything.

  • Women should be careful not to touch a monk or to hand them anything directly as they must perform a lengthy cleansing ritual after any contact with a woman.

  • In the opposite style of a mosque, it is traditional to enter with your left foot and leave with your right foot.

  • You may greet monks by putting your palms together and bowing slightly.

Hindu Temple

  • You will usually need to take off your shoes. Many temples have cubbies outside where you can keep them, but if you’re worried about that, bring a bag and slip them in there.

  • There are generally pastes, flowers, and other objects that will be put on you. Be aware that you might get dirty.

  • Use only your right hand when making offerings.

  • There may be some places in the temple you are not allowed to go if you are not Hindu, so be aware that you may be blocked from entering certain rooms.