Nov 28, 2009

Ms. Manners and Seating Arrangements

Miss Manners  I had a lovely Thanksgiving and hope you did, too.  For the second year running, my parents and I were lucky to join their neighbors -- dear folk who also happen to use place cards.  While I rarely feel that place cards are a necessity for modern entertaining, I do think they are often helpful.

So does Miss Manners -- or at least she did twenty-seven years ago when she published this:

Dear Miss Manners:

Last night we went to a dinner party at the home of some neighbors we've never visited before they have a big dining room, and it was all fixed up with candles and everything, so I asked the hostess where I should sit. She said, “Oh, just sit anywhere,“ and so I did. Then the host said, “No, I'm sitting there“ -- it was a sort of oval table, so I couldn't tell what was to be the head of it -- so I moved. I picked another place, but then we were told to get up to get our food from the buffet table, and somebody else sat down in that place. So then I took my plate and sat down again -- you notice that this is now the third time I've tried to sit down and have dinner -- and guess who comes and sits next to me? My wife. I know married couples aren't supposed to sit next to each other dinners, but I didn't know she'd been sitting there was now up to get her plate filled. I got fed up when the hostess saw where I was and said, “Oh, you two can’t can sit next to each other,“ and my wife sat there as if she wasn't ever going to move. But I still was nice, and I said, “Okay, where do you want me to sit? “ and the hostess said, “Oh, sit anywhere,“ and when I looked at her -- and this is now the third time she or her husband had made me move -- she said, “I mean anywhere else. “ So I took my plate and went and sat in the living room. Would you mind telling me what the hell “Sit anywhere“ means?

Gentle reader:

It means that the hostess has not taken the trouble to finish planning her dinner party. There is a mistaken notion that this omission is a sign of merry insouciance on the part of the hosts who would not dream of failing to orchestrate every other aspect of the party. If the hostess cannot carry the seating arrangement at her head so that she can give you a decent answer to your decent question of where you should sit, she ought to use place cards.

Miss Manners’ Guide To Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. Judith Martin. 1982.


1.  I met my first etiquette book in 7th grade when I discovered Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette (~1957 edition) in the classroom closet of my Social Studies teacher, Mr. Robert W. Herbert. Looking back, I realize that Mr. Herbert was one of the most sophisticated teachers I had in Asheville. He'd traveled all around the world and knew his way around Amy Vanderbilt, Indian beggars (he taught me the word "baksheesh"), music, rock climbing and making your own scratch pads from scrap paper with a special kind of rubber cement.  He knew I was smart but didn't mind making fun of me (in a nice way) when I acted dumb.  Steve Richardson once noticed that I was the only kid in class who turned in an essay double-spaced and asked Mr. Herbert if that was what we were supposed to do.  "Only if you have very little to say", he responded. 

2.  I have an awesome ex-girlfriend who really disliked Miss Manners.  I think I understand where both women were coming from. And I'm glad to still like both women, though for different reasons.

3.  Wow, I just realized that the Amy Vanderbilt book was more current (~21 years old) when I first read it than the Miss Manners book is now.  

4.  I would love to co-author a modern etiquette book for teenagers -- a text that focuses on consideration, empathy, kindness and harmony and how these things can help us quickly figure out a well-mannered response to most social encounters.

I'm not so interested (any more) on the proper way to eat potato chips and asparagus ("in the fingers") or to address heads of state (or household servants).  But there are still many rules of etiquette worth teaching to young folk -- especially if we teach the whys behind the better rules.  Feel free to bring this up if I ever do something rude in front of you or your kids.

02:14 AM in Ideas and Yens, Quotables | Permalink | Comments (3)

Nov 28, 2008

National Heritage Day - For American Indians, For Now

Did anyone hear about this?  I just saw it in my Yahoo newsfeed:

National heritage day honors American Indians

By MARY HUDETZ, Associated Press Writer  – Fri Nov 28, 8:10 am ET

PORTLAND, Ore. – For the first time, federal legislation has set aside the day after Thanksgiving — for this year only — to honor the contributions American Indians have made to the United States.

Frank Suniga, a descendent of Mescalero Apache Indians who lives in Oregon, said he and others began pushing in 2001 for a national day that recognizes tribal heritage.

Suniga, 79, proposed his idea to a cultural committee that is part of the Portland-based Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. The organization took on the cause of a commemorative day, as did the National Congress of American Indians and other groups.

Congress passed legislation this year designating the day as Native American Heritage Day, and President George W. Bush signed it last month.

The measure notes that more Americans Indians than any other group, per capita, serve in the U.S. military. It also cites tribes' artistic, musical and agricultural contributions.

"The Indians kept the Pilgrims alive with turkeys and wild game," Suniga said. "That's the reason it was attached to the Thanksgiving weekend."

After the Thanksgiving weekend, Suniga said, he and other advocates plan to lobby to place the Native American Heritage Day on the nation's calendar annually.

It isn't certain, however, that all tribes would agree that the fourth Friday in November is the best day to recognize their contributions and traditions.

"Thanksgiving is controversial to some people," said Joe Garcia, director of the National Congress of American Indians.

The holiday marks a 1621 feast in which English settlers and Wampanoag Indians celebrated and gave thanks in Massachusetts for their harvest, but it was followed by centuries of battles and tense relations between the United States and tribes.

Unfortunately, tribes have had virtually no time to plan events to commemorate Native American Heritage Day because the legislation creating it was signed only last month, noted Cleora Hill-Scott, executive director of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.

"What's difficult is this day is going to come and go without much being done." she said.

I would love a permanent national holiday dedicated to apology, atonement, and forgiveness -- a national, secular version of Yom Kippur. Others have probably proposed this in more detail.  Please point me to any links you know of. 

Regarding this year's National Heritage Day, I wanted to point you to other coverage and commentary, but there isn't any.  Google National Heritage Day and you will see that the AP article is damned close to the only web-findable thing written on the topic.  Blogger Rowan Wolf comments on the paucity of press, and more.  A copy of the resolution is here at the Melungeon Historical Society.

11:44 AM in History, Ideas and Yens, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jun 26, 2007

The Durham Excellence in Whatever-Phil-Likes Awards

With a few more dollars and not much more sense, I think I'd like to create an annual award for excellence in whatever category or categories strike me at the moment.  What would I want to recognize?  Who knows, but here are some things I notice and appreciate:

  • yummy agedashi tofu,
  • intelligent and hard-working non-profit boards,
  • really good retail service (wait staff or clerks),
  • deft and caring mediators who bring harmony to people in conflict,
  • typography,
  • xeriscaped lawns,
  • people who do great job of integrating their professional work with other parts of their lives,
  • great ad campaigns, and
  • polite kids.

Wouldn't it be cool to send out letters like this?

Dear ______________:

Thank you for being the kind of person you are.  In recognition of your ______________________, you have been selected as one of this year's winners of the Durham  Excellence in Whatever-Phil-Likes Award.

In a perfect world, the only award you would need is the self-knowledge that you've done something great, plus a nice "good job, you" letter sent via registered mail so you wouldn't miss it.  But this imperfect world needs outside signs and cash, so you're going to get (1) a nice little medal and (2) a check for $2,507.99.

We would like to honor you at our annual awards banquet on Saturday, July X, for a 10 a.m. brunch at Fishmonger's.  Vegetarian entrees will be available.  Please give us a call so we can confirm your availability and obtain a list of guests you would like us to invite to your tables.

Don't you go changin'

Phil Marsosudiro
for the Awards Committee

What would you recognize?


images by Botticelli (the one on the left) and my clever friend T with photo by G.

12:28 AM in Ideas and Yens | Permalink | Comments (3)

Jun 25, 2007

Memories for Kids

Sometimes I think about enabling special moments for kids: moments that aren't necessarily hard to create, but that are special because they're rare, fun, and somehow magical or at least distinctively symbolic to a young mind.

On my short list, so far:

  • building a real igloo and maybe even camping in it.

See here for photos of grownups having done just that.

Do you have memories from kidhood that have always stuck with you?  For me, I remember raking for clams -- an astonishing thing to this six-year-old from the mountains.*

What do you remember?  What special memories would you like to give a kid?


Photo: BBC,

*I wish I had spent some time on a farm. It would have been good to learn where meat comes from, and maybe to have helped make it happen. 

12:49 AM in Ideas and Yens | Permalink | Comments (4)