Monday, March 8, 2010

About Etiquette

In the old days, long before my youth, young ladies might go to “finishing schools.”  They would learn how to set tables, greet famous people and dress appropriately.  (See Mona Lisa Smile for scenes showing this kind of training.)  Over the years, a resurgence of manners and etiquette education is making its way to schools and through independent groups.

In preparing for a class I'm teaching, I came across some interesting facts and details:
  • The first known “etiquette scroll was written around 2500 BC, called The Instructions of Ptahhotep which gives advice for getting along with others and moving up in the world.
  • Forks were first used in Tuscany in the 11th century, but were condemned by clergy because food was a gift from God and only His creation could touch it.
  • Knives have been around since the Stone Age and became a big etiquette problem in 17th century as men would use the ends of their knives to pick their teeth at the table.  According to legend, Duc de Richelieu had the points filed off the table knives in his home.
  • ”Modern” etiquette books came into full flower in 13th century Europe.  Examples from some of these sources:
When you blow your nose or cough, turn round so that nothing falls on the table.

Refrain from falling upon the dish like a swine while eating, snorting disgustingly, and smacking lips.

Turn away when spitting lest your saliva fall on someone.

Do not move back and forth in your chair.  Whoever does that gives the impression of constantly breaking or trying to break wind. 

The defintion of the word “etiquette” is also interesting.  The French king, Louis XIV, had a beautiful home and gardens.  Often he hosted parties, and people came to visit.  People would walk on the grass, pick flowers, wade in the fountains and leave behind litter.  They didn’t have formal gardens and parks at their own houses and didn’t know how to behave.  The king and the head gardener decided to put up little signs all over (keep on the paths, don’t pick the flowers, please don’t litter, etc.)  The French word for “little sign” or “ticket” is etiquette.  So many centuries later, etiquette is simply a collection of the little signs to guide us in society and relationships.

And finally, let me share some words of wisdom that George Washington wrote in his rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.
1st Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.

11th Shift not yourself in the Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.

12th Shake not the head, Feet, or Legs rowl not the Eys lift not one eyebrow higher than the other wry not the mouth, and bedew no mans face with your Spittle, by approaching too near him when you Speak.

16th Do not Puff up the Cheeks, Loll not out the tongue rub the Hands, or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them or keep the Lips too open or too Close.

53d Run not in the Streets, neither go too slowly nor with Mouth open go not Shaking yr Arms kick not the earth with yr feet, go not upon the Toes, nor in a Dancing fashion.

54th Play not the Peacock, looking every where about you, to See if you be well Deck't, if your Shoes fit well if your Stokings sit neatly, and Cloths handsomely.

98th Drink not nor talk with your mouth full neither Gaze about you while you are a Drinking.

99th Drink not too leisurely nor yet too hastily. Before and after Drinking wipe your Lips breath not then or Ever with too Great a Noise, for its uncivil.

Bad manners

I’m teaching a class on manners and etiquette at the charter school my kids attend.  As I was searching the internet for ideas, resources and even pictures, I came across an amusing site: - The World’s Largest Archive of Bad Manners

If you ever think someone has been rude, unkind, or inconsiderate to you, I quarantee you’ll find someone on this site who has experienced something worse.

Whether it’s an issue of “misery loves company” or the fascination of watching someone else’s train wreck, this website has a strange allure.  I’m thanking my lucky stars that no one has left their unruly children at my house until midnight or spit in my food or wanted to borrow my wedding dress before I wore it.

Check out this site for a chuckle and a sigh of relief.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Fascinating Field Trip

Recently, my son and I visited Five Stones Garden Bonsai to do some research for a school project.  What we thought would be a few quick questions and a walk-thru of a shop turned into 2 hours of the most fascinating visits I’ve had in a long time.  At one point, the owner and expert asked me whose project this was since I kept asking so many questions.  (At that point I did my best to be a quiet spectator.)

This man had a small shop of supplies, a workroom for teaching and working on plants, 3 sections of protected greenhouses, and an outdoor protected area for wintering plants.  Growing and training bonsai plants is both an art and a science.  Unlike “dwarfing,” bonsai trees are not genetically altered plants.  Bonsai uses cultivation techniques like pruning, root reduction, potting, defoliation, and grafting to produce small trees that mimic the shape and style of mature, full-sized trees.  (see Wikipedia for more information.)

Bonsai first appeared in China over a thousand years ago.  Introduced to Japan through Zen Buddhims in the 12th century,  it became an accepted practice among the upper class.  By the 14th century bonsai was viewed as a highly refined art form.  Though bonsai was introduced to western culture in the late 1800’s, they didn’t gain popularity until after World War II.  Early opinions objected that the trees looked “torture” and voiced their displeasure in the way the trees were being treated by the masters.

Our shopowner/ expert shared how he has spent time under a variety of Japanese masters over the years.  He was definatly passionate about growing and developing his trees.  He showed us very old trees that he’s been working on for almost 30 years.  He explained the various specialty tools for trimming and pruning. The tools are fine and sharp for the intricate snips and tweeks of the branches. 

The bucket in the below picture is full of wires that are heated and then twisted to hold branches in place.

If you're interested in bonsai, Minnesota has a society for novices and near-masters.  You can see bonsai collections at the Como Conservatory and at the State Fair.