Friday, December 10, 2010

The Etiquette of Little Things.

There are some people who never seem to be sure whether they ought to shake hands with you or not, and from shyness or nervousness put out their hand halfway, and then draw it back in a hesitating, lukewarm fashion that is both most disconcerting and awkward. Others, again, there are who will shake hands with you one day in quite a friendly manner, and the next, perhaps, merely favour you with a formal bow, and, though this conduct may, and very frequently does, arise from the same cause as the half-extended hand, it is more often than not attributed to caprice, conceit, or a desire on the part of the offender to give herself airs, and yet all the while the person who does these things, instead of being desirous to give herself airs, is often painfully anxious to do, not only what is correct, but also what is polite and agreeable. Still, people, as a rule, do not, or will not, believe this, and both dislike and resent being met one day as a friend and next day treated as a mere acquaintance.

There is another thing, too, that constantly leads to misconstruction, and not infrequently checks what might otherwise have proved a pleasant friendship, and this is the carelessness, of forgetfulness of a mistress who leaves the thinking of all little things to servants, and trusts too much to their memory and discretion. She will, perhaps, forget to say whether she is to be at home to visitors or not. Then when the hall-door bell rings, the servant will probably go to answer it without thinking of, or waiting to make sure about, the matter, and, in consequence, has to say in reply to the visitor's question, "Is Mrs A at home?" "that she is not sure, but will go and see." While she goes the visitor has to stand at the door and wait her return. If she comes back and says that she is sorry, but finds that her mistress is not as home, the probability is that the visitor, on hearing this, will walk away with the firm, but secret, conviction that the lady was at home all the while, but that for some reason or other she did not care to see her, and, therefore, told her servant to say that she was not at home. Naturally, this view of the matter is followed by the resolution not to cultivate the friendship of Mrs. A. Or, perhaps, the servant will admit the visitor, show her into the drawing-room, and, leaving her there, will return after a while, and say that she is sorry that she has made a mistake, but finds that her mistress is not at home, after all. Now, neither of these things would have happened if the mistress had remembered to tell the servant that she would not be at home that afternoon. Little mistakes of this sort, are doubly awkward should they happen when it is a visitor's first call.

Again, in the matter of leaving verbal messages, mistakes and confusion are very apt to arise, and sometimes much inconvenience, even if not actual misunderstanding, has been cause by the wrong or garbled delivery of one. Has it not also happened to most of us, when by some mischance we have forgotten our cards, and, in consequence, had to give our name to the servant, to discover sooner or later that our visit has never been made known to the mistress of the house? Not that this has been done intentionally, of course; it simply occurred from sheer forgetfulness. We ourselves know and acknowledge the fact openly that it is quite impossible for us to remember everything; therefore, we neither can nor should expect our servants to be able to do what we frankly own to be an impossibility. So when we have a message, especially if it is one that we are anxious should be delivered correctly, it is safer and wiser to write a note to leave if the friend called on should not be at home, or, simply still, instead of a note, write a message on one's visiting card, and leave that, and then there will be no fear of the message being wrongly delivered or any mistake being made as to the identity of the person from whom it has come.

- "The Lady."

Source: Western Mail, Saturday June 24, 1899.

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