The Etiquette Of Kingsman: The Secret Service

Yes I know Kingsman: Secret Service came out over a year ago but I’ve been thinking about it on and off for pretty much that whole time. There’s a lot about the film that’s extremely jarring, but if you haven’t seen it, here’s a rundown. A boy named Eggsy father gets killed. Eggsy grows up in a lower-class neighborhood, until growing up and finding his father was part of an elite secret service organization that has traditionally employed members of the upper classes. Eggsy is invited to try out for the secret service and fails, but Eggsy also discovers a secret plot to take over the world by the upper classes, and takes it into his own hands to basically become James Bond and save the day.

Throughout the movie, Colin Firth is Eggsy’s mentor in the service, and explains certain rules to him. The code is “oxfords not brogues,” referencing the service’s sartorial preference for neat but plain dress over flashier outfits. He also repeats the refrain “manners maketh man,” and after we watched it, this is the phrase that drove my husband mad. Because by the end, Eggsy has ditched his street clothing and adopted Firth’s suits and oxfords. On the surface, it appears that “manners” just means “emulating the rich.”

I wrestled with this until I read one of the most astounding pieces of cultural criticism I’ve ever seen, which happens to be written in the voice of the Incredible Hulk. Ignore the all-caps and look at this:

CONSIDER THE KINGSMEN AS AN AGENCY. THEY ARE NOT ONLY THE THROWBACK ICONS TO THE STYLINGS OF THE ’60S, BUT ALSO (WHAT THEY CONSIDER TO BE) THE BETTER, MORE GENTLEMANLY VALUES OF THAT ERA AS WELL. MEANING THEY DO NOT JUST VALUE THEMSELVES AS THE PARAGONS OF JUSTICE, BUT THE STALWART EXAMPLES OF MANNERED DECENCY AND HONOR. AS COLIN FIRTH SO REGULARLY ESPOUSES, “MANNERS MAKETH MAN.” BUT, OF COURSE, SO MUCH OF THE KINGSMEN’S TROUBLE COMES FROM THE WAY THEY EASILY COME TO CONFUSE THE SURFACE APPEARANCES OF WHAT IS CONSIDERED “GENTLEMANLY” WITH THE ACTUAL INTENT OF POLITENESS AND CARING. IT CONFUSES THE SIGNPOSTS OF BEING CULTURED – THAT WOULD BE POSH ACCENTS AND WEALTH, ESTEEM AND POWER – WITH THE SIGNPOSTS OF ONE’S BASIC GOODNESS.

The film deals a lot with that dichotomy between surface “gentlemanly” habits and actual good behavior. Because ultimately, the movie is about rich people throwing poor people under the bus, because they believe their manners make them inherently better. And that is because “manners” is often confused with “good manners.” Manners are just a set of customs and habits prevalent among a group of people. Manners in and of themselves are valueless, but they are made good or bad by their goals. Is the intent to make others feel included and welcome? Or is the intent to exclude those who do not have the same manners as you?

Throughout the film, Firth is the only of the Kingsmen who understands this different, and shows actually good manners. He understands that it is not his money, his house or his fine suits that make him a mannered man, but his treatment of others. That the only thing different between him and someone of a lower class is the suit he can afford.

In the Victorian era, as the middle class rose and more people had disposable incomes, the upper classes began to panic. Having “class” became less about money than about what one did with it. “The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it,” wrote historian Deborah Valenze. Thus, the distinction between “new money” and everyone else, exhibited in Charles Dickens’ sick burn of his characters the Veneerings’ new furniture in Our Mutual Friend: “The surface smelt a little too much of the workshop and was a trifle sticky.” Their furniture was new and literally tacky.

There was also the assumption that if one didn’t have money, it was because of some moral failure. “A series of laws passed between the 1840s and the 1880s, attaching penal sanctions to unpaid loans, arose from a consensus that debt was subversive of ‘national morality,'” writes Timothy Alborn, encouraging the idea that if you didn’t have money, it is because you are irresponsible or criminal. Unfortunately, this viewpoint hasn’t exactly gone away. One need only to look at the rise of the prosperity gospel, which espouses that if one is rich it is because one is favored by God, or the assumptions that all poor people just don’t work hard enough, to see it still exists.

But back to good manners. I think what keeps endearing me to the movie is that it shows the divide between appearance and action. Manners, the collection of actions society has agreed are polite, are the surface. They are supposed to represent good intent. But if the intent isn’t actually there, the manners become hollow. A kind person who doesn’t know manners will always be favorable to an unkind person who knows how to put on a show.

Yes, at the end of the film, Eggsy is dressed in a suit, glasses, and a cane. Part of that, I have to assume, is because the Kingsmen’s suits are fucking bulletproof and that cane has a knife in it, but part of it may also be he just likes wearing it. But he’s in his neighborhood bar, and confronts the man who has been domestically abusing his mother, just as he did when he wasn’t wearing a suit, because appearance or not, Eggsy knows domestic abuse is wrong. He knows that protecting the vulnerable will always be more important than maintaining appearances. Those are the type of manners that make someone, no matter what you wear.

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Pros and Cons of Wedding Seating Styles

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In Part 1, I discussed the variety of food service options you can use at a wedding, and now I will follow up with your options for seating.

First you have to decide if you will dictate where people sit or not:

Assigned Seating

This is when you make a seating chart of what guests will be at which table number and indicate to them prior to entering the reception area what table they will be at. This can be done with “escort cards” or a favor with their name and table number or a big chart.

Pros:

  • This is absolutely the easiest and least stressful from a guests point of view- they know where to go! Also, they have a “home base” for the night where they can stash their stuff.
  • Everyone stays organized and gets seated smoothly.

Cons:

  • Guests may not like where you put them- they don’t like their companions, they wanted to sit with someone else, they are too far away, they are at the “bad” table.
  • You have to make a seating chart and figure out something to display the table numbers and do escort cards or a chart. It’s generally more work for you.

Unassigned Seating

This is when you set up a bunch of tables and chairs and everyone comes in and chooses a seat.

Pros:

  • Less planning work for you!
  • People can sit where they want and with whom they want.

Cons:

  • Can end up with a bit of a musical chairs situation where everyone rushes in to grab a seat. Or even worse, a high school lunchroom where a oddball guest (ie someone who ONLY knows the bride or groom) doesn’t know where to sit. (And yes, I get that people are grownups and will deal, but it CAN cause a lot of anxiety and stress for many people.)
  • Difficult for people with mobility issues to get to a spot. (Consider setting aside a table for elderly relatives.)

Full Seating

This is where everyone has a chair at a table.

Pros:

  • Everyone gets a chair!

Cons:

  • If you do unassigned seating, you might consider making a few extra places so couples don’t have to split up if you end up with a bunch of tables with one seat left. And people inevitably move chairs around. Just a thought.

Best for:

  • Full sit down meals involving cutlery.
  • Long receptions- cocktails, dinner, dancing, etc.

Cocktail Seating

This is when you have a mix of high tables, regular chairs and tables, and lounge seating.

Pros:

  • It’s fun and lets people move around.

Cons:

  • People really do like having a “seat” where they can stash their stuff for the evening. And people who DO get the seats at tables generally will not give them up.
  • If you don’t get a seat, it’s difficult to manage a drink, a plate, and cutlery.
  • Difficult for people with mobility issues (consider setting aside a table for elderly relatives).

Best for:

  • Cocktail receptions with finger foods.
  • Shorter receptions- just drinks, finger foods, and cake.

 

Ultimately, people will be fine and enjoy your reception whatever style you decide to go with. And there will ALWAYS be whiners who aren’t happy with what you chose. But there is a fine line between doing what you want and what you envision for your big day and doing something because it’s easier or cheaper for you at the expense of your guests comfort. So I do urge you to consider your guest list. Mostly older relatives are going to be more comfortable fully seated with food service that they recognize. People your own age are going to be a lot more flexible.

And, I mean, I have been to and I’ve heard about weddings that we absolute disasters as far a guest comfort went, but they still created fun memories and people had good times at them.

And even I can’t even begin to decide if a wedding with somewhat bland plated food that all arrived at the same time and allowed me to eat with the people at my assigned table and a wedding with awesome, unique food where I maybe had to stand in line or be the last one to sit down at the one remaining table  with a bunch of strangers was better! They were both great!

And sometimes, the best you can do is the best you can do when working with limited space, time, and budget.

In Defense Of Not Saying Who You’re Voting For

If you’re like me, you were already exhausted with this election in 2015. I voted in the New York primary today and I still can’t believe there is basically the entire election to go. But one of the things that’s making it harder and harder is watching all my friends announce on Facebook who they will be voting for. It’s just strange, and it makes me long for the days when making such a proclamation was incredibly rude.

I remember once asking a neighbor who he was voting for, because I was seven and I had recently learned what voting was. I was quickly reprimanded, either by my neighbor or my mom, because asking and sharing who you’re voting for was just not done. For a long time I didn’t get why. I thought it was similar to the “don’t talk about politics, money or religion” at the dinner table rule–what the hell else are you going to talk about?

But as I watch these proclamations devolve into arguments, or read blog posts about “Why I’m Voting For So and So” that provide no positive reasons to vote for their chosen candidate, only reasons to vote against the opponent, I realize why that rule made sense. Publicly stating who you’re voting for creates pressure. You may not intend that. You may just say you’re stating a preference. But it encourages a response, which is either yes, the person you’re speaking to agrees with you, or no, they don’t. And if they do, the conversation can easily turn into whether or not they’re as passionate as you, and if not why not? And if they don’t, well, now you’re disagreeing when that conversation didn’t have to happen.

There are exceptions here. If you work for a particular candidate or party, by all means promote them. Or maybe you just feel so passionately about one candidate that you’re devoting the entire election season (so like, four years at this point) to their platform. And, if somebody is actually misinformed about a candidate (they think Ted Cruz is pro-choice, or Hillary Clinton didn’t vote for the war in Iraq), you can absolutely, politely correct them. But otherwise, you’re likely not going to change minds.

This last bit is what I think is the most important, especially among friends. I am 100% into talking about politics among friends. If you know me, you know I am pro-choice, I care about the environment, I care deeply about institutionalized racism and sexism and classism, I want more gun control, and I want to welcome refugees to America. So, if you trust me as an intelligent person, you should trust that I have thought through these issues, researched the candidates, and chosen to vote for the one I believe best represents those issues. If not, you’re either undermining my intelligence, or just think that your assessment of these issues is better than mine. Which, unless you’re a professional political analyst, is probably not.

If you can’t tell I have a lot of personal feelings about this! Maybe I’m just generally the type who supports issues, not candidates. But I’ve seen too many friends, friends who are smart and thoughtful and agree about 95% of issues, get into legitimate fights because they feel the need to proclaim who they’re voting for without prompt. And I’ve had too many people ask me who I’m voting for who won’t take “I don’t feel like saying” for an answer.

So, best practices. Don’t ask people who they’re voting for. Don’t tell someone who to vote for. And maybe think twice about announcing who you’re voting for unless the conversation really calls for it. Or just stop telling me, personally.

Pros and Cons of Wedding Service Styles

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So, when you are planning a wedding or other large event, you will have to make a number of choices about how your event will be run. It can be difficult to consider all the choices available and make the best decision for your event. So I’ve run through some of the popular options for serving food and made pros and cons list for them so you can be sure to make your guests as comfortable as possible (which is your main aim as a host).

Plated:

This is your traditional food service style- all the guests are seated at tables and waiters come around and bring them prepared plates of food, possibly in several courses.

Pros:

  • Tables are generally served together and the people at that table get to sit and talk with each other while they wait and while they are eating.
  • Generally fast and convenient for hosts and caterers.
  • Everyone gets the same thing and you are unlikely to run out of food or leave people hungry.
  • You can do speeches and dances in between courses.
  • Is practical for everyone regardless of mobility.

Cons:

  • Less mingling time for the guests.
  • You generally need to assign seating, especially if the guests had to indicate beef or chicken or whatever ahead of time.
  • Guests who are at a table they don’t like are stuck with it for the whole meal (too bad for them!)
  • Less choice of food and less ability to offer unique food options.

Buffet:

This is one or two very long tables set up with a variety of dishes. People get up and serve themselves and bring their food back to their tables.

Pros:

  • Able to offer a wide variety of foods and everyone can choose what they like.
  • People can mingle a bit while waiting in line or waiting for their table to be called.

Cons:

  • Some popular dishes may run out (when doing a buffet, it’s best to plan on too much food so the last people to go through aren’t stuck with dregs)
  • Difficult for guests with mobility issues to navigate. Also difficult for parents with small children (if you have many at your wedding)
  • Can have long , slow lines (hard for people in heels!) (Can be fixed by having duplicate buffets and/or utilizing both sides of the table)
  • If you call people up by table, the first group may be done eating by the time the last group gets their food, creating a lull in the party (keep those lines moving fast!)

Family Style:

This is when everyone is seated at a table and the waiters put big platters of food in the center of the table so everyone can serve themselves.

Pros:

  • Able to offer a wide variety of foods and people can choose what they like.
  • Combination of the best of plated service (everyone sitting and eating together) and buffet (being able to select your food).

Cons:

  • Some piggy guests might take too big portions of a dish leaving not enough for the rest of the table (make sure your servers know to keep an eye out and refill as necessary)

Stations:

This is where there are several stations of food set up around the room (such as a carving station, a taco stand, a soup bar) and people go to each one and then bring their plates of food back to their table. Kind of like a spread out buffet.

Pros:

  • You can get REALLY crazy and fun with the food- think mashed potato bar, build your own tacos, fresh carved roast beef, etc.)
  • Like a buffet, people can select what they want and in what portion.
  • People can mingle and compare the different options.

Cons:

  • Guests can spend even more time in line than a traditional buffet since they will probably have a wait at each station.
  • A line for each station may mean guests’ food from the first station might get cold as they’re waiting for the fourth.
  • Hard to coordinate eating with your table companions since everyone is jumping up and down to visit the different stations.
  • Can be difficult for guests with mobility issues.

Cocktail:

This is when you just serve small bites and appetizers either passed by waiters or at stations.

Pros:

  • Can do really delicious foods and a big variety.
  • Can be cheaper than full meals (though not always!!!)
  • Encourages walking around and mingling.

Cons:

  • Generally cannot serve as a full meal. Current etiquette says that if you have your reception over a generally recognized mealtime (11am-2pm, or 5pm-8pm), you need to serve a full meal.
  • Can be difficult for guests with mobility issues.

 

Part 2 will be different seating styles!

 

Wedding Invitation Hack

NYPL has put a zillion public domain images online and it's amazing [Via]

NYPL has put a zillion public domain images online and it’s amazing [Via]

Earlier this week, I talked about rude lifehacks. But I was also reminded this week about a cool invitation thing that I wanted to share- you can send your wedding invitation to certain important people and get a response, with the most popular being The President of the United States and Mickey Mouse!

Okay, technically you no longer need to send an actual invitation to the President- they have a handy form online that you can fill out for a wide variety of milestones- baby’s birth, major birthdays, Eagle Scout/Girl Scout Gold awards, etc. You can find it here. Note, this service is available to US citizens only.

For a response to Mickey and Minnie Mouse, send it to:

Guest Letters

Letters to Mickey Mouse

P.O. Box 10040

Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-00100

 

If you are a British citizen (or Canadian, Australian, or New Zealander), the Queen will send you a greeting for a milestone birthday (and they mean serious milestones- 100+ only) or wedding anniversary (starting at 65 years!) but (not for a wedding). Find the form here.

 

And if you have a deceased loved one who is a Veteran of the United States, you can find information about requesting a flag here.