How To Eat Cake at Versailles

Marie Antoinette never said “let them eat cake” but she might have said “let them follow the rules” because there were a lot of rules to follow at Versailles. For the king and queen as well as the courtiers.

Seating arrangements: whether or not you were allowed to sit in the presence of the king and queen was determined by your rank. The king and queen sat in armchairs along with any visiting monarchs, the brothers or children of the king were allowed chairs with no arms, other very high ranked people were allowed stools. Everyone else had to stand.

Around the Palace:

  • Courtiers were not allowed to knock at doors. Rather, they used their little fingers to “scratch” at the door to be let in, with some people growing out their pinkie nail for that purpose.
  • Courtiers were also not allowed to open doors. An usher had to open the door for them.
  • Men and women weren’t allowed to hold hands or link their arms together (this probably would have been impossible anyway, due to very large skirt size at the time), so they had to stroll through the gardens with their arms out at 90 degree angles (like you do in your driver’s test to prove you know the arm signals for left, right, and stop) and the lady’s arm resting on top of the gentleman’s.

A very public life: Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, as king and queen were subjected to close public scrutiny at all times. Every morning, Marie Antoinette (and the king in his own room) had to go through a ceremony called a levee in which she was awoken and washed and dressed by her courtiers in front of anyone with a high enough rank to be allowed to enter. The couple also had to eat dinner publicly during the Grand Couvert. Anyone of rank could crowd into the room to gawk at the king and queen, as long as they were dressed properly, ie men had to wear swords (luckily you could rent one if you forgot yours!). Marie Antoinette hated this ritual so much that she would pick at her food and have her real dinner sent to her rooms later.

Part of the reason etiquette was so important at Versailles was that the French kings brought all of their nobles to court to keep an eye on them and prevent them from developing their own power centers in their home regions and becoming a threat to the monarchy. The king also used the elaborate and constantly changing etiquette to keep the courtiers in check and on their toes. If you followed all the rules and did everything splendidly, the king might take notice of you and allow you more and more access to him. With that access came influence and power. If you did something to disgrace yourself, the king wouldn’t even “see” you if he passed you, thus you ceased to exist as far as any political influence went.

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Etiquette at Museums

Perhaps a bit intimidating.[Via Wikimedia Commons]

I have a master’s degree in Museum Studies (which is obviously a super useful thing to have a master’s degree in!) so this subject is near and dear to my heart.

One of the things we talked a lot about in my classes was how to make museums more accessible and less intimidating to members of the community who might not be historic museum goers. Part of the reason people find museums intimidating is that there is a belief that there are a ton of rules that you might not know about. That’s not really true. The only real rule is to never touch the art/exhibits unless you are specifically encouraged to touch them. Everything else is more to avoid annoying everyone else:

  • Don’t touch the art. Like I said, this is the big rule. You might not think you are doing any harm, and true, ONE touch isn’t going to do that much. But if everyone disobeys this rule, then you have hundreds or thousands or millions of touches and that all adds up. And oils on your fingers are bad for art even if you think your hands are clean. Besides, many artworks and artifacts are very fragile and you might badly damage them without meaning to.
  • Be quiet, but not totally silent. Museums aren’t libraries and you can definitely talk. Just generally try to keep it on the low side in quieter museums like art and history museums. More kid-oriented spaces like science centers, natural history museums, or especially children’s museums are going to be noisier.
  • Be mindful about taking photos. A lot of museums do allow photos and some are even encouraging people to take photos and use them to engage on social media. But often, especially in travelling exhibitions, photos aren’t allowed. Sometimes this is because flash is detrimental to the materials on display, but often it’s because of copyright restrictions.
  • Don’t hog the art. If you are in a gallery alone, by all means take your time. But if you are in one of those incredibly crowded special exhibitions, take a really good look and then move on. Try not to block the exhibition text either.
  • Don’t eat or drink in exhibition galleries. Many museums have wonderful cafes where you can have a snack in safety.
  • Don’t run. You might bump into the art or other people. Yes, I know it was cool in that one movie.
  • Sketching. Sketching is permitted by many museums, within certain guidelines. Make sure you find out what they allow before you go.
  • Turn off your cellphone. Keep it on vibrate or silent and step out into a hallway or atrium (or a quiet corner?) if you must take a call.

Would You Hire a Bridesmaid?

We recently read about this new service, Bridesmaid For Hire, who, as described, will fulfill many of the traditional duties of a bridesmaid: help with planning, keeping peace with your family and friends, and a shoulder to cry on. We thought this was an interesting concept, especially given the blowback brides have gotten from demanding too much from their real bridesmaids, and had a lot to say about it:

Jaya: So this is just a wedding coordinator? Can we talk about this? And also that a lot could be solved if you talked with your bridesmaids about expectations beforehand?

Victoria: Yeah, I mean I guess it is slightly different than a planner or coordinator, it’s almost more the old fashioned social secretary, except mixed with a therapist. I guess it’s a fine idea if people want to shell out for it. And super great if it means no one is expecting a bridesmaid to deal with every little issue.

Jaya: I’m weirded out that one of the packages involves her actually walking down the aisle as a bridesmaid.

Victoria: THAT is REALLY weird. Like you are showing your wedding pictures to your grandkids and “oh that lady is someone I hired to come.” You can definitely do all that stuff and not be IN the ceremony!!!

Jaya: And also I think it just frustrates me that we’ve gotten to the point where this is what’s expected as a bridesmaid.

Victoria: Yeah, omg the crazy expectations.

Jaya: It’s more the bigger picture that now you expect your best friend to be an expert party planner. So instead of lowering your expectations, you hire a better friend?

Victoria: Yeah, seriously. I mean the thing is, no one should be expecting their bridesmaids to do ANY of this. Bridesmaid expectations: show up, wear prescribed dress. Anything else is extra (not that there aren’t very heavy cultural expectations at play!)

Jaya: Yeah, and I mean, that’s why you talk about it! Don’t just throw all this stuff on somebody, because they might be busy with other things, or maybe they’re just not good at planning showers.

Victoria: The bachelorette party and stuff is generally expected, but honestly if your bridesmaids are too broke, spread out, or busy, then tough–you don’t get that. Or you take what they CAN give you.

Jaya: I just feel like most of it could be solved with like “this is what I’m hoping happens, is that something you think you could do?” and then everyone is just honest with each other.

Victoria: Yeah, for sure, and like also omg, it doesn’t HAVE to be the MOH who does it all. Like if MOH lives far away, and Bridesmaid A is interested and wants to plan, then duh she should. The whole thing is so bizarre.

Jaya: Yeah! When I was a bridesmaid, the maid of honor would start an email chain and then everyone figured it out together based on our budgets and schedules.

Victoria: I do like this Bridesmaid for Hire the more I think about it- if you need THAT level of service and hand holding, it’s definitely better to hire someone than force it on your friends. But don’t dress them up and march them down the aisle, that’s creepy and weird.

Jaya: I’m trying to figure out how I feel. To me, it’s more like, a wedding coordinator and a therapist would probably be more beneficial in the long run. You get the coordinator for planning, and you get your friends for emotional support. And with “forcing” it on your friends, obviously it depends by relationship, but I’d hope that my friends could take maybe a few late night freak out phone calls. I don’t wanna push the boundaries of what friends are for, but sometimes that’s what friends are for! OR YOUR SPOUSE MAYBE??? Like if you’re bonding yourself for the rest of your life to a person, maybe they can be an emotional/planning support??

Victoria: Yeah for sure, but if you need someone like…every day. I mean, I guess that maybe means you have bigger problems, lol.

Jaya: Anyway, yeah it does sound useful if your friends and spouse are gonna be no help and you’re prone to getting overwhelmed.

Victoria: Yeah, and if you were going to hire a wedding coordinator anyway, maybe you want that extra level of service.

Jaya: But if you take away the wedding coordinator duties, you’re sort of left with just needing the emotional support. and ideally you have friends that can provide that. I know bridesmaids are just supposed to show up in a dress, but I also think they’re supposed to be a bit happy for you and supportive when you need them, like friends are.

Victoria: Yeah, absolutely. But I guess looking at her packages she does do a lot of coordination type stuff, like between a full on wedding planner who deals with vendors and a “day of” coordinator who isn’t really there to help you make to-do lists and stuff.

Jaya: I feel like a lot of planners offer packages like that too. At least when I was researching there were lots of in between options.

Victoria: Do they? I have no idea.

Jaya: So I guess this girl is just good at branding/marketing. And sometimes wearing a dress and standing next to you.

Victoria: Not to mention the creepy thing of your MOH hiring this person secretly to plan your showers/bachelorettes.

Jaya: Yeah!!!!! That is weird. Like, if you’re a bridesmaid and you’re thinking of hiring help, please talk to the bride first.

Victoria: Seriously, omg that is so strange. Unless I guess you are super rich and would outsource all that kind of thing anyway.

Jaya: It’s just frustrating that it’s gone far enough to justify this, instead of people maybe trying to work together with their friends to make an enjoyable time.

Victoria: Haha yeah, but I do get, I guess, that weddings are more “stressful” now than maybe they used to be. And so maybe you do need to hire some form of planning help, in whichever iteration is more pleasing to you.

Jaya: Yeah. Though it still is about expectation. If you planned a 300 person wedding 100 years ago, you’d probably need a social secretary or assistants and such, but now, the expectation is that everyone will have a big wedding and know how to plan it by themselves.

Victoria: Yeah, plus your mom would be planning it and had probably planned dozens of parties for 300 people.

Jaya: Hahaha yeah. And yeah there’s the WIC (Wedding Industrial Complex) and all that, whatever. [ed. Jaya is not very into the term Wedding Industrial Complex] [other ed. IT’S A STRAWMAN]  I guess what bothers me is people tend to use that as an excuse for having no control over their weddings, like there are no other options. Hellooo you’re an adult, stand up to your parents’ expectations. And we have the internet, I can find you a white dress for under $100 like yesterday.

Victoria: Haha yeah, exactly, but I mean, it does seem like a lot of people go in with great expectations about keeping control on things and then it just spirals and they throw their hands up. So I can see getting in over your head.

Jaya: It is easy to be convinced things are necessary when they’re not, by family or by vendors. That’s definitely an issue. Why can’t everyone else just have a will of steel??

Victoria: Plus you have to have a pretty strong sense of self and what you want to do that. And that is just not easy for…probably most people. Especially if they hadn’t really thought much about their wedding besides, “it will be lovely and pretty and the happiest day of my life.” And not everyone spends as much time reading about weddings as us. For some reason.

Jaya: WHY NOT?! They have no excuse then. I say that as a joke but also kinda mean it???? Like, even if you haven’t read a lot about it, it’s not ridiculous to go in thinking it’ll take planning and decisions. So if you don’t research how to do that and then get overwhelmed, idk.

Victoria: Haha yeah for sure. I mean there are tons of resources.

Jaya: I certainly got overwhelmed, and it’s hard dealing with everyone’s opinions. But if it’s too hard for you then go to City Hall. If you agree to do a wedding, you sorta have to agree to planning, and making decisions, and saying no, and all this stuff. Or that you’ll pay someone to do it for you.

Victoria: Lol yeah for sure. Anyway, it’s certainly not rude to hire a bridesmaid, but maybe it would be best to talk to your actual bridesmaids about their expectations first. And, hey, if anyone wants to hire etiquette consultants to make sure you are doing everything above board, we are probably available!

Time To Bring Back These Cleanliness Tips

Personal grooming is a large part of modern etiquette, which is something I have mixed feelings about. We’re always taught not to judge a book by it’s cover, but nobody wants to read a book that clearly hasn’t showered in four days. And then you get into the hole of realizing our cleanliness standards stem from the rich, who’ve had the most access to baths/perfumes/other grooming tools, and having access to hot water is already a hurdle in so many places, not to mention dental care and other things we consider “basics,” and okay I’m getting ahead of myself. Our cleanliness standards may have gotten a little too elaborate, but yes, everyone likes someone who makes the effort to bathe regularly.

The New York Fashion Bazar Book of Etiquette has some tips on how to achieve cleanliness, many of which sound pretty good today. Wash at least your face and hands every day, change your underwear often, and don’t forget to clean your underarms. But remember, “In the street cars, railways, omnibuses, and at churches and theaters the vast numbers of unwashed persons make themselves odious to their neighbors, and often a well-dressed man or woman is quite as disgusting as those whose outward garb show their low grade of life,” so have some chill.

However, the book does a strange thing in advising against soap. “Soap is not a good cosmetic for the face and hands,” author Sophia Johnson writes, “but alcohol stimulates the skin and invigorates the glands and muscles of the body.” Alcohol is apparently especially helpful for the elderly–the young need only use water.

As the book goes on it increasingly sounds as if it’s written by that general in Dr. Strangelove who is worried about fluoridated water sapping his fluids:

All places of resort unless well ventilated are filled with the poison of human breaths and the noxious exhalations of the body and no one who understands the science of health can doubt that many lives are shortened by the injurious atmosphere of fashionable assemblies churches and theaters

American Etiquette and Rules of Politeness takes a bold pro-soap stance, and also advocates for the vigorous use of a “flesh-brush.” And looking to remove your freckles? Just wash your face with a mixture of horseradish and buttermilk. There is one grooming tip I’d advise we all remember, and that is that any perfume must be used in “moderation.” “Perfume which may be agreeable to one is perhaps offensive to another,” author Walter Raleigh Houghton reminds. So please, lady on the subway that smells like fermented baby powder, lighten up.

Telephone Etiquette

Telephone etiquette has changed rapidly in the last two decades with the advent of cell phones. When I was a kid, I remember I wasn’t allowed to call friends after something like 9 or 10pm, and my parents got really mad if anyone called during “dinnertime.”

I was never specifically taught good telephone manners, I think, my house was pretty relaxed about it- we answered the phone with “hello” and I don’t recall ever asking “may I ask who is calling” or anything like that. But for the most part, I don’t think people really expect that. Though those kind of extra good manners do help out sometimes.

I have a great etiquette book from the 1950s called Etiquette for Young Moderns that lays out telephone manners as:

  1. Being conscious of your voice and tone.
  2. Answer in a brisk, cheerful manner.
  3. Identify yourself as soon as you pick up the receiver.
  4. Always ask who is calling if the person doesn’t identify themselves
  5. Give your complete attention to the phone call, don’t have side conversations with people in the room.
  6. Treat wrong numbers politely
  7. Make sure you dial the correct number.
  8. Plan the timing of your calls so you don’t interrupt meals.
  9. If the person who you are calling isn’t home, leave at least your name so they don’t have to wonder who called.
  10. If you can’t hear the person, state that to them so they can adjust their voice.

A lot of these rules are still actually pretty good! Even for cell phones!

I think some key things for telephone etiquette today are:

  1. Being conscious of where you are- don’t talk on your phone while a cashier is ringing you up. Especially don’t talk in quiet places like a house of worship, library, theater, or movie theater. And don’t text in most of those places either.
  2. Don’t speak loudly in public, no one wants to hear your conversation (and it has been proven that listening to a one sided conversation is more distracting than listening to two people talk in your presence.)
  3. Speak clearly.
  4. If you are picking up a call from say, a company where you are interviewing for a job or your doctor’s, identify yourself when you pick up the phone: “This is Theodore” so that they know right away they have the right person.
  5. Keep it on silent or vibrate when you are with others.
  6. Put it away when dining with others or in meetings and other times when you are with other people. Be focused on the people you are with.