Etiquette is about all of us living together kindly, civilly, and beautifully. What makes that work are the ceremonies we share with one another.
“If we ignore ceremony entirely, we are not normal, warm human beings.”
–Amy Vanderbilt, Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette (1952)
It seems fitting that the ringing in of the new year should bring us to the very start of Lindsay’s Finishing School in earnest, as the annual wiping clean of the calendar is perhaps among the world’s most widely shared ceremony.
Or could it be that etiquette itself is the most widely shared ceremony?
The first crack of Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette is one of my favorite parts. It unfolds the gooey center of what she believes to be important about proper etiquette; the humanness of it all.
In truth, etiquette ultimately is about all of us living together kindly, civilly, and beautifully. A lot of what makes that work are the tiny ceremonies we share with each other every day: a simple please, thank you, and you’re welcome, the way you answer the phone, even your morning cup of coffee.
But there are two or three grand events that demarcate our lives in great ceremony: birth, marriage (should you so choose), and death. Of course writing that gives me a tiny panic attack. Compacting all of the beautiful little moments feels like cheating everyone out of the very color of life, but this is what Ms. Vanderbilt believed.
“If we ignore ceremony entirely, we are not normal, warm human beings. Conversely, if we never relax it, if we “stand on ceremony” in all things, we are rigid. We must learn which ceremonies may be breached occasionally at our convenience and which ones may never be if we are to live pleasantly with our fellow man.”
It seems that modern living is not conducive to acknowledging ceremony.
In a time where efficiency is king, the seemingly superfluous graces of ceremony and etiquette have been the first out the window. Ms. Vanderbilt understood the importance of cradling these guidelines carefully. There is a fluidity to it all that feels counter intuitive to the admittedly rigid outline set forth in a book as tall as a Big Mac. And the thickest component of that meal is the ceremony of the wedding.
“The elaborateness or simplicity of the wedding is of no real consequence. It is the spirit in which we marry that is truly meaningful.”
One of the reasons I wanted to do this series was because of this sentence. That is an incredibly contemporary and revolutionary take on the rules of the wedding. Though the 138 pages of protocol belie this simple idea, it’s clear that the spirit of things should inform every glimmer of manners. This is the very heart of how etiquette can modernize with us.
“Ceremony is really a protection, too, in times of emotional involvement, particularly at death. If we have a social formula to guide us and do not have to extemporize, we feel better able to handle life.”
I had never thought of etiquette as protection before reading this bit. Think about that. Etiquette is perhaps a white knight battling our small daily interactions with the world, sweeping in to shield us from the challenges that are woven into the very thread of life.
–All quotes are from Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette (1952)
Lindsay’s Finishing School is a series of articles focusing on proper etiquette with a 21st century sparkle. Relishing the more antiquated corners and finding a way to negotiate them into the modern reality of tweets, twerking and Tinder. Is there something in particular you would like me to discuss? Please let me know in the comments. Thank you for attending Lindsay’s Finishing School.
For more on classic etiquette for the modern women, please enjoy these posts: