Thursday 5 March 2015

Mrs Humphry, Miss Post and the Last Word on Bananas - Joan Lennon

It is World Book Day today - World Book Week/Fortnight for many writers - as schools and libraries up and down the land get into the spirit of the celebration and invite us to get out of our jammies/big sweaters/baggy jeans/slippers/the house.  And, frequently, onto public transport where we, blinking in the sudden light, meet the wide world in a small space.

Be gentle with us.

(Some of the advice below may appear to come from another world, but many of us live in other worlds a lot of the time, so it seemed appropriate.)

I love Mrs Humphry.  (I've posted before about her Manners for Women and Manners for Men and barely scratched the surface of her awesomeness.)  Listen to her words from the 1897 edition of Manners for Men on omnibus travel -

"True courtesy ... will prevent a man from infringing the rights of his neighbours on either side by occupying more than his own allotted space.  Very stout men are obliged to do so, but at least they need not spread out their knees in a way that is calculated to aggravate the evil.  Nor need they arrange themselves in a comfortable oblique position, with the result of enhancing the inconvenience ... Even a thin man can take up a quantity of room by thus disposing himself at an angle of forty-five ...

The morning paper may be converted into an offensive weapon in the hands of the rude and careless ... Newspapers are rather unwieldy things to turn and twist about in a limited space, but this very circumstance affords a man an opportunity of displaying his skill in manipulating the large, wide sheets without dashing them in the face of his nearest neighbour, or knocking against anybody in a series of awkward movements that a little care could easily convert in leisurely, graceful ones ...

It can never be out of place for a man to give up his seat in favour of the old and infirm, or for a woman with a baby in her arms.  But such matters as these belong to the region of heart and mind beyond mere manners, and it is useless to suggest any line of action on such subjects.  The impulse must come from within."

And, moving from bus to train, and forward a decade or two -

(Miss Emily Post 1912)

Miss Emily Post's Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home has been revised and reprinted many times, but I like the 1922 original best.  And out of all her words of advice, I'd like to select these for your consideration as you pack your leather valise -

"On a railroad train you should be careful not to assail the nostrils of fellow passengers with strong odors of any kind. An odor that may seem to you refreshing, may cause others who dislike it and are “poor travelers” to suffer really great distress. There is a combination of banana and the leather smell of a valise containing food, that is to many people an immediate emetic. The smell of a banana or an orange, is in fact to nearly all bad travelers the last straw. In America where there are “diners” on every Pullman train, the food odors are seldom encountered in parlor cars, but in Europe where railroad carriages are small, one fruit enthusiast can make his traveling companions more utterly wretched than perhaps he can imagine." 

Just a thought.

(If you want to browse more in Miss Post's or Mrs Humphry's books and don't have well-thumbed copies on your shelf, you can do so here - and here - but be politely warned - they are incredibly addictive!)

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.


Carol Drinkwater said...

Ha ha! I was peeling and eating my morning orange as I read this. Fortunately, I am alone at my table. Lovely post, thank you.

Y S Lee said...

She's absolutely right about bananas in poorly ventilated spaces! Good luck out in the big world today.

Gillian Polack said...

I love Manners for Men so very much. I use it in teaching and to wave at people when needs demand

Joan Lennon said...

I thank you most politely for your comments!