(Editor’s Note: These excerpts are from Our Deportment, or the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society; Including Forms for Letters, Invitations, Etc., Etc. Also, Valuable Suggestions on Home Culture and Training. Compiled from the latest reliable authorities, by John H. Young, A.M. Revised and Illustrated. Publisher: F. B. Dickerson & Co., Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis: 1884.
Who knew there were so many types of introductions, including specific types of bows, handshakes and kisses? Knowing these rules makes watching programs like Poldark or any adaptation of a Jane Austen novel more fun, shedding light on the social interactions portrayed. This is the second is a series of excerpts.)
Introductions. An acquaintance or friendship usually begins by means of introductions, though it is by no means uncommon that when it has taken place under other circumstances – without introduction – it has been a great advantage to both parties; nor can it be said that it is improper to begin an acquaintance in this way. The formal introduction has been called the highway to the beginning of friendship, and the “scraped” acquaintance the by-path.
Promiscuous Introductions. There is a large class of people who introduce friends and acquaintances to everybody they meet, whether at home or abroad, while walking or riding out. Such promiscuous introductions are neither necessary, nor at all time agreeable.
An Introduction a Social Endorsement. It is to be remembered that an introduction is regarded as a social endorsement of the person introduced, and that, under certain circumstances, it would be wrong to introduce to our friends casual acquaintances, of whom we know nothing, and who may afterward prove to be anything but desirable persons to know. Care should be taken, therefore, in introducing two individuals, that the introductions be mutually agreeable.
The Introduction of a Gentleman to a Lady. A gentleman should not be introduced to a lady, unless her permission has been previously obtained, and no one should ever be introduced into the house of a friend, except permission is first granted.
The Manner of Introduction. The proper form of introduction is to present the gentleman to the lady, the younger to the older, the inferior in social standing to the superior.
The Obligation of an Introduction. Two persons who have been properly introduced have in future certain claims upon one another’s acquaintance which should be recognized, unless there are sufficient reasons for overlooking them. Even in that case good manners require the formal bow of recognition upon meeting, which, of itself, encourages no familiarity. Only a very ill-bred person will meet another with a stare.
The “Cut Direct.” The “cut direct,” which is given by a prolonged stare at a person, if justified at all, can only be in case of extraordinary and notoriously bad conduct on the part of the individual “cut,” and is very seldom called for. If any one wishes to avoid a bowing acquaintance with another, it can be done by looking aside or dropping the eyes. It is an invariable rule of good society, that a gentleman cannot “cut” a lady under any circumstances, but circumstances may arise when he may be excused for persisting in not meeting her eyes, for if their eyes meet, he must bow.
Letters of Introduction. Friendly letters of introduction should only be given to personal friends, introducing them, and only addressed to those with whom the writer has a strong personal friendship. It is not only foolish, but positively dangerous to give such a letter to a person with whom the writer is but slightly acquainted, as you may thus give your countenance and endorsement to a person who will take advantage of your carelessness to bring you into embarrassing and mortifying positions.
Salutations. Salutation Originally an Act of Worship. A lady writer of distinction says of salutations: “Hence the commonest acts, phrases and signs of courtesy with which we are now familiar, date from those earlier stages when the strong hand ruled and the inferior demonstrated his allegiance by studied servility. Let us take, for example, the words ‘sir’ and ‘madam.’ ‘Sir’ is derived from seigneur, sieur, and originally meant lord king, ruler and, in in its patriarchal sense, father. …‘Madam’ or ‘madame,’ corrupted by servants into ‘ma’am,’ and by Mrs. Gamp and her tribe into ‘mum,’ is in substance equivalent to ‘your exalted,’ or ‘your highness,’ madame originally meaning high-born, or stately, and being applied only to ladies of the highest rank. …The very word ‘salutation,’ in the first place, derived as it is from salutatio, the daily homage paid by a Roman client to his patron, suggests in itself a history of manners.
“To bare the head was originally an act of submission to gods and rulers. A bow is a modified prostration. A lady’s courtesy is a modified genuflection. Rising and standing are acts of homage; and when we wave our hand to a friend on the opposite side of the street, we are unconsciously imitating the Romans, who, as Selden tells us, used to stand ‘somewhat off before the images of their gods, solemnly moving the right hand to the lips and casting it, as if they had cast kisses.’ Again, men remove the glove when they shake hands with a lady—a custom evidently of feudal origin. The knight removed his iron gauntlet, the pressure of which would have been all too harsh for the palm of a fair chatelaine; and the custom, which began in necessity, has traveled down to us as a point of etiquette.”
Salutations of Different Nations. Each nation has its own method of salutation. In Southern African it is the custom to rub toes. In Lapland your friend rubs his nose against yours. The Turk folds him arms upon his breast and bends his head very low. The Moors of Morocco have a somewhat startling mode of salutation. They ride at a gallop toward a stranger, as though to unhorse him, and when close at hand suddenly check their horse and fire a pistol over the person’s head. The Egyptian solicitously asks you, “How do you perspire?” and lets his hand fall to the knee. The Chinese bows low and inquires, “Have you eaten?” The Spaniard say, “God be with you, sir,” or, “How do you stand?” And the Neapolitan piously remarks, “Grow in holiness.” The German asks, “how goes it with you?” The Frenchman bows profoundly and inquires, “how do you carry yourself?”
Foreigners are given to embracing. In France and Germany the parent kisses his grown-up son on the forehead, men throw their arms around the necks of their friends, and brothers embrace like lovers. It is a curious sight to Americans, with their natural prejudices against publicity in kissing.
In England and America there are three modes of salutation—the bow, the hand-shaking and the kiss.
The Bow. It is said, “A bow is a note drawn at sight. You are bound to acknowledge it immediately, and to the full amount.” It should be respectful, cordial, civil or familiar, according to circumstances. …Returning a Bow. …The Manner of Bowing. …Duties of Young to Older People. …How to Avoid Recognition. If a person desires to avoid a bowing acquaintance with a person who has been properly introduced, he may do so by looking aside, or dropping the eyes as the person approaches, for, if the eyes meet, there is no alternative, bow he must. On Public Promenades. …A Smiling Bow. A bow should never be accompanied by a broad smile, even when you are well acquainted, and yet a high authority well says: “You should never speak to an acquaintance without a smile in your eyes.” Deference to Elderly People. …Words of Salutation….
Shaking Hands. Among friends the shaking of the hand is the most genuine and cordial expression of goodwill. It is not necessary, though in certain cases it is not forbidden, upon introduction; but when acquaintanceship has reached any degree of intimacy, it is perfectly proper. Etiquette of Handshaking. An authority upon this subject says: “The etiquette of handshaking is simple. A man has no right to take a lady’s hand until it is offered. He has even less right to pinch or retain it. Two young ladies shake hands gently and softly. A young lady gives her hand, but does not shake a gentleman’s unless she is his friend. A lady should always rise to give her hand; a gentleman of course, never dares to do so seated. …It may perhaps be laid down that the more public the place of introduction, the less handshaking takes place….”
The Kiss. This is the most affectionate form of salutation, and is only proper among near relations and dear friends. The Kiss of Friendship. The kiss of friendship and relationship is on the cheeks and forehead. In this country the act of affection is generally excluded from public eyes, and in the case of parents and children and near relations, it is perhaps unnecessarily so. Kissing in Public. The custom which has become quite prevalent of women kissing each other whenever they meet in public, is regarded as vulgar, and by ladies of delicacy and refinement is entirely avoided. The Kiss of Respect. The kiss of respect—almost obsolete in this country—is made on the hand. The custom is retained in Germany and among gentlemen of the most courtly manners in England.
You can read the first installment of Our Deportment here.
(Cover: From A Lady and Gentleman at Home and Abroad, Containing Rules of Etiquette for All Occasions, 1896, Maud C. Cooke, via Wikipedia Commons.)