How Do You Eat French Onion Soup?

Do you know how hungry you get searching for pictures of French onion soup? via Wikimedia Commons

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

How does one eat French Onion Soup (I mean the real stuff with bread soaking inside and a thick layer of ooey gooey stringy cheese on top) without looking like an ill-mannered heathen?


Soupless in Seattle

Official Etiquette:

Peggy Posts suggests using a knife to cut the cheese against the side of the bowl and then using the knife and spoon to get all the bits onto the spoon and into your mouth.

Our Take:

Victoria So soup!

Jaya:  Soup! I love soup!

Victoria: Me too and I especially love French onion soup, so I looked it up and Peggy Post suggest using a knife and a spoon to eat it, so you can cut the cheese as you go. Personally, I think a spoon is sufficient and you just twirl the cheese like spaghetti

Jaya:  That seems…complicated. The knife thing.

Victoria:  Yeah

Jaya:  Knives do not belong in soup. I like using the spoon to cut the cheese against the side.

Victoria Yep. It would be cool if there were special french onion soup spoons where they were kind of pointy.

Jaya:  Also some foods I think people need to accept will never be polite.

Victoria: Haha yeah, I mean its sort of hearty peasanty food, so does it really belong somewhere where you can’t have some cheese trailing from your mouth to your spoon?

Jaya:  Exactly! Do not serve complicated foods and get mean when people are sloppy with them (looking at you, any host who serves corn on the cob).

Victoria Hahah, I will serve you French onion soup sometime and you can be as messy as you wish. Also, I was surprised that there was so much French onion soup available in Paris- I had it in Paris for Thanksgiving one year (I’m trying to tie this into Thanksgiving since it is coming up).

Jaya:  Ooooooh that sounds delicious.

Victoria Also etiquette related, French onion soup is one of those things that has special bowls- like can you make it without the proper bowl? With the handle thingy? I mean, I do, but I think it tastes better with the special bowl.

Jaya:  Oh yeah, at least with a stone crock like that. You can use ramekins too.

Victoria I just use my normal bowls.

Victoria: I’m getting you French onion soup bowls for your wedding, I just decided.

Jaya:  I will gladly accept those.

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have To Do That Anymore: Not Safe in Taxis

Don’t get into one of these with a handsy guy (unless that’s your thing!) via Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago I was in London and visiting every museum possible, and I saw this amazing exhibit at Kensington Palace called The Last Debutantes which was based on a book of the same title by Fiona MacCarthy about her experience as part of the last group of debutantes to be presented to the Queen of England in 1958 before the ceremony was ended. Among all the exhibits teaching you the proper way to curtsey, balance a book on your head (I am an ace at this, btw), and waltz, there was a strange acronym. NST. What is NST?

Not Safe in Taxis. This was used by debutantes and their mothers to refer to young men who couldn’t be trusted to escort a deb home in a taxi without getting handsy. Apparently some mothers actually kept a list of these young men and the debs themselves would avoid them. Young men of the right pedigree to attend debutante events were apparently in such short supply that these guys would still be invited to things, and would dance with the girls, they just couldn’t escort them home. Dates to debutante parties were charmingly called “deb’s delights” by the way.

Fortunately we live in an age where you can take your own taxi home without having to resort to a creepy guy escorting you. Unfortunately, just because no one keeps lists of the men who might grope you if given the chance, it doesn’t mean that we are beyond it happening. It’s pretty sad that so little has changed in over 50 years. Good etiquette shouldn’t be about avoiding getting groped, it is about being the kind of person who would never grope anyone who didn’t want it.

A Vague Guide To Maybe Hitting On Someone

when-you-try-to-flirt-with-someoneI’ve attempted to write a How To Hit On Someone post for a while now, and man, it is impossible. I now fully understand why the only options out there are either the dangerous “physically pull a woman into your lap and make her push you away” or the vague “say hi, see if you have anything in common, and then move on if there’s no spark.” It’s because any middle ground is so personal and circumstantial. Some people like having drinks bought for them, others consider it an insult. Some people enjoy being approached, while others prefer to do the approaching. There’s almost no way to write something for everyone. Which is a shame, because neither “SEX IS A CONQUEST” nor “I don’t know, do what you want?” is helpful for anyone.

So, knowing that I can’t speak for anyone else’s experiences or tastes, I want to relate some times where I have been approached by a stranger in a bar, at a concert, or in another public setting  and how it worked out, since when you’re single the general idea is that you’re supposed to meet people in public settings. Many of these were in the successful range, others were not. Take from this what you will.

Do ask what I’m reading: Once I was at a bar alone, reading a book, waiting for my boyfriend. A guy came up to me and asked what I was reading, and at that particular moment I was feeling conversational, so I started talking to him. Within 15 minutes I was drinking beer with him and all his friends at his table. If he was sincerely hitting on me it didn’t work out because, duh, my boyfriend showed up, but all in all I think we had a pretty good time.

Don’t neg me about my race: If you’re not familiar with negging, it’s the process of insulting/ignoring the person you want to woo in the hopes that they will be confused enough to sleep with you. Yeah, I don’t get it either. But once a guy outside a bar kept saying out loud to his friends while pointing at me “She’s so hot, I don’t care if she’s hispanic.” 1. I’m not hispanic 2. It doesn’t even matter what race I am because holy shit what are you talking about?? I was drunk enough to get pulled into a conversation (argument) with him, in which later he insulted my friends’ intelligence and looks (“They’re not smart like you”), and was then baffled when I wouldn’t go home with him.

Do find common interests: When I was 22 I found myself in a weird bar in New Zealand (I mean, on purpose, I did not wake up on my 22nd birthday unable to remember how I got to this country), and everyone was dancing to really clubby music and it just wasn’t my scene. A guy apparently noticed this, and began talking to me about how it wasn’t his scene either. We got some drinks, sat in a booth in the back and talked for a really long time, and then made out for an even longer time. Common interests doesn’t have to be boring!

Don’t be surprised that we have common interests: I once was with a guy who basically sent flirting into overdrive once he discovered that I could quote The Blues Brothers and agreed that the best Guinness I ever had was in Ireland. The night went well, but in hindsight I find it sort of disturbing that his reaction was less “wow, I love that thing too!” and more “you’re so cool because most girls don’t like that thing!” Lots of people like lots of different things. Girls like video games, guys like fashion, gay men like football…etc. It’s a great moment of luck if you find out someone shares your tastes, but it shouldn’t be surprising because of their sex.

Do be honest if you’re attracted to something: If you find something attractive about someone, tell them! This can be physical, like telling them they have a nice smile or you like their hair. The whole point if this dating thing is that you’re supposed to find something attractive in the other person, so that’s nice to know! In early-on flirting situations I’ve had guys compliment some aspect of my body, and it’s usually felt pretty nice. If I’m starting to become basely, lustily attracted to someone, it’s nice to know it’s mutual.

Don’t focus entirely on the sexual: If you think this person has beautiful eyes, great, but for the love of god do not make that the entire thing about them. Feeling lusted after is nice, feeling like everything you’ve been saying for the past hour has been ignored because your partner cannot ignore their attraction is another.

Unfortunately, there is an infuriating key to this, that I cannot describe any other way than don’t do any of this as anyone other than yourself. I know, the “be yourself” advice is so frustrating to hear, because duh you’ve been yourself, how you can you be anyone but yourself, but “yourself” isn’t working. But yourself will work, I promise. Being yourself isn’t about being every aspect of yourself all at once from the get go, it’s about doing things in a way that feels natural to you while still being able to test the waters with someone new. So go forth and talk to people you find attractive! It’s ok, I promise!

Have you’ve ever been successfully wooed by a stranger? Let us know how it went!

Noisy Neighbors

It could be worse, your neighbors could play this at 2am. via Wikimedia Commons


Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

Our neighbours and I share a semi-detached home. There is a brick wall between us. The other night they had a very loud party – their first loud one in 3 years.The noise, music and loud talking was awful. By 1:30 in the morning, my husband got out of bed and knocked on their door. They said “oh its only 11:30.”  He politely corrected them, and they said they’d calm down.  We awoke again at 2:30 am due to the loud music. We’ve all been super friendly in the past, and so I’d expected that they would’ve stopped by and offered a chagrined apology by now. Nothing after 3 days.  Now we feel like the old, crabby and dull neighbours.

Are my expectations too high? What should they have done (assuming they even remember that we politely approached them)?


Need Some Sleep


Miss Manners always advises a peaceful and civil communication with noisy neighbors.

We’ve also already covered how to be a good urban dweller, which includes not being noisy and how to deal with noisy neighbors.


Victoria: My first instinct is that if it’s the first time in three years and they are otherwise good neighbors, maybe just let it slide.

Jaya: Three years is pretty good!

Victoria: On the other side, when I’ve had friends who had regular loud parties, they would tell the neighbors ahead of time and that seemed to help.

Jaya: Perhaps the neighbors honestly thought they had toned it down at the first request, so they wouldn’t have thought they needed to apologize.

Victoria: Yeah, drunk people are not exactly the best judges of noise. And at that point, honestly, any amount of noise is going to annoy you.

Jaya: You’re gonna hear anything at 2:30 am. Though if someone complains to you about noise, I think it’s good to do a test!

Victoria: Oooh what kind of test?

Jaya: If your neighbors come to you with a noise complaint, have them go back in their apartment and turn your music up and down and figure out at what level it doesn’t bother them, and then just remember where it’s at for your next party.

Victoria: Ooh that’s a genius idea.

Jaya: (We keep trying to do this with my terrible neighbors and it doesn’t work because they’re the worst.)

Victoria: Hahaha oh no.

Jaya; Every weekend we tell them to turn it down. How the hell do they not remember?

Victoria: Yeah, I think EVERY weekend is insane. But one loud party in three years is not much to get upset about. Consider it a free pass to have a loud party of your own!

Jaya: Yes! And maybe be the bigger people and warn them that you’ll be having a party, so they know that behavior is expected.

Victoria: Yeah, that way you’ve covered your bases if you need to call the police later. Which is always an option.

Jaya: The only time I think there really should be leeway is New Years. If it’s 4am and they’re still going it doesn’t matter, it’s New Years.

Victoria: Totally, and a weekend is going to need more leeway too.Though now that I work on Saturdays I’m not sure how i would feel about a loud party on a Friday, lol. But yeah, if it’s constant and you live in a house, you’re always free to call the police. And now reading this question, it might be a nice gesture for their neighbors to apologize and bring some cookies or something over the next day, especially if they complained.

Jaya: Yeah, that would be nice, though again if they thought they had toned it down enough maybe they didn’t think they had to. I’ve had neighbors mention once to quiet down and I have, and never felt the need to apologize. Though growing up in New York apartments, you sort of have a higher tolerance for noise. It’s a bit more expected.

Victoria: Though I would rather have one loud party every three years than a screaming baby every day, which is what I have now.

Let’s Stop Calling Having Strong Opinions “Rude”

Murder has nothing to do with manners

Murder has nothing to do with manners

If there was one etiquette rule that I internalized my entire life, it was the idea that you should NEVER call someone out for being rude. (Ok, except if they try to upstream you.) Someone forgets to send you a thank you note? Rude. You call that person to chastise them for not sending one? WAY MORE RUDE. Don’t invite +1s to your wedding? Totally fine, though some people seem to think it’s rude. Yelling at a bride and groom for not getting a +1? YOU ARE THE WORST HUMAN.

This has made it so that being called “rude” is a terrible insult, and thus, if someone has felt the need override this rule because of what you’re doing, then what you’re doing must be inhumane. Sure, we’ve probably all had a momentary outburst at a stranger who is bothering us, but I’m hard pressed to find a time in my life when I’ve told a friend or family member that what they’re doing is a rude action, even if I’ve felt it with all my being.

However, there is one thing that is not and never will be rude: having an opinion about your own life. So let’s stop treating it like it is.

Ama Yawson recently wrote this incredible piece for The Atlantic about racism, tolerated behaviors, and teaching her children to stand up for themselves. Please go read it now. This is important. But what struck me about it is the whole thing was couched in the language of etiquette. People laugh “politely” when they hear racist speech. The idea of having courage to speak up  is weighed against basic “courtesies.” Apparently being a good sport means never disagreeing with someone. She writes, “As a child, I was taught to refrain from reprimanding others for fear of causing them shame.  Moreover, many of us are conditioned to avoid the potential discomfort and social ostracism that such reprimands might trigger.”

Let’s be clear: “Polite” and “rude” are not synonyms for “right” and “wrong.” There is a huge difference between yelling at your houseguest for not making the bed and calling out a barber when he calls your son the N-word*, and speaking of the latter in terms of what is “polite” and what is “rude” is doing both sides a disservice. Yet this idea of something as “rude” has been turned into an insult you can hurl at anyone if they happen to disagree with your twisted view of humanity. “You don’t want to be rude, do you?” is now a a sinister threat. We’ve all been taught that being nice means never voicing a different opinion.

Obviously racist, sexist, and other intolerant behavior is something you should stand up against. But there are other times, smaller times, where having a personal need that goes against someone else’s plans is treated as a breach of etiquette. I immediately think of wedding planning, when so often brides stating opinions are referred to as “bridezillas.” I think of how I worry about my friends thinking I’m rude if I cancel plans because of a sudden onslaught of social anxiety. Hell, I worry that if my fiance and I are trying to figure out what to eat for dinner and I suggest “pizza” too powerfully he’s going to think I don’t respect his opinion.

It is often difficult to figure out the difference between being polite and being a pushover, especially when adhering to social graces is held in such esteem. People like it when other people are nice to them; that’s the whole reason we even have this damn website. We can all think of times where we should have spoken up but didn’t, or should have kept our mouths shut.

We all want to be treated with common courtesy, but sometimes that means demanding it. Not putting up with bigoted behavior is not a matter of etiquette, it’s a matter of basic human decency. You should never apologize for your fundamental being. You deserve space on this earth just like everyone else. So let the language of etiquette be used to discuss noisy neighbors and baby shower gifts. Don’t you dare worry about being polite.

*Which, by the way, you have every right to speak out against if just for the fact that you are paying him for a service you specified and he did not do it to your liking.