Can a 1952 etiquette guide help us entertain ourselves today?

OPEN THE Luxuriously bound ‘Notes on Entertaining’ in blue leather, published by Smythson of Bond Street, the Queen’s British stationery, and you might feel like you’ve traveled back in time to a more gracious era of home entertainment. Offering a charming blend of simple illustrations and imaginative tips on how to entertain at home in style, author Fiona Leahy manages to channel the spirit of the 1950s, when the boom in home ownership post-war created a sort of cocktail and dinner party. rebirth of the party.

While Ms. Leahy’s advice is quite modern, “Notes on Entertaining” reminded us of another book, written almost 70 years ago. Despite its title, “The Complete Book of Amy Vanderbilt’s Etiquette,” first published in 1952, was much more than a picky encyclopedia of pinky formalities. Offering advice on everything from how to host a formal dinner party to managing a thug in the living room, Amy Vanderbilt’s guide taught martooni-era America how to entertain at home. with style and elegance. (Fun fact: His diagrams are courtesy of Andy Warhol, in his pre-Pop Art incarnation as a commercial illustrator for hire.)

As our difficult ceasefire with COVID-19 continues to cast suspicion on public social gatherings, home entertaining is experiencing a near-1950s revival. But even as we plan our next dinner with Ms. Leahy’s book in hand, we can’t help but wonder: in 2021, can Vanderbilt still teach us a thing or two about hospitality – as guests or hosts – or has time and the tide has returned its strangely outdated advice? Here, a few examples of Vanderbilt’s wisdom and our decision as to whether the Edicts still resonate in 2021.

Smythson’s ‘Notes on Entertaining’ (October 11) is a cheeky retro guide to home accommodation, illustrated with everything from essential martini tools to table dressing standards. $ 275, smythson.com


Photo:

F. Martin Ramin / The Wall Street Journal

Rules for Hosts

Provide a menu

Formal dinners are accompanied by a printed menu, writes Vanderbilt: “Always in French. Script, or written in script-like handwriting.

Verdict: A home printer makes this easy, and a small theater is always fun. But French could seem very old-fashioned.

Make a pitcher

If a carefully planned meal is meant to be the highlight of the evening, a host who thinks he’s a mixologist might “take the emphasis off dinner and put it tasteless on what should be an incidental procedure,” writes Vanderbilt. . “Mix only one type of cocktail.”

Verdict: The idea of ​​a preselected cocktail could annoy some guests. But the logic behind it has its merits.

follow the guide

When dinner is announced, “the hostess usually leads her guests into the dining room with the men following, with the host bringing up the rear,” Vanderbilt details. The men come forward and hold chairs while the hostess indicates where each lady should sit. Then, at his signal, the men sit down.

Verdict: Even if you wanted to resurrect this forgotten dinner ritual in the name of social anthropology, your guests would need a staging and a dress rehearsal to be successful. Simple can also be elegant.

Turn the table

“About halfway through a meal, the hostess quietly ends her conversation with the gentleman on her right … and turns to the gentleman on her left,” Vanderbilt explains. “Others are supposed to watch this turn and do the same. “

Verdict: While a good host makes sure all guests are engaged in the conversation, this movement, including boy-girl-boy-girl seating, seems too regulated for modern tastes.

Dealing with the boors

Creatively When a “non-controversial fun” guest turns friendly combat into war, use diversionary tactics. “If you have a game room, get someone to take it to table tennis,” suggests Vanderbilt. “If he’s such a talent as the piano, the smart hostess might say, ‘Joe, we can’t all go with you in the debate, but I know I’m dying to hear you beat that boogie- woogie. “”

Verdict: Diplomatic, but given levels of bipartisan discord in 2021, perhaps naively optimistic.

Get off tonight

“There are occasions when the rugs can be rolled up and the room cleared for dancing to the radio, phonograph, or accordion music.” According to Vanderbilt, “a good host tries to dance with every woman invited to their party.”

Verdict: Dated gender roles and accordions aside, it sounds good.

Enter them correctly

Meeting the needs of your overnight guest isn’t just about clean sheets, a set of clean towels and a happy “see you tomorrow”. According to Vanderbilt, you can hardly call yourself a host unless you send your guest to bed equipped with the following:

  • Sleepwear, including bathrobe and slippers
  • Face towel, washcloth, bath towel, soap
  • Clean razor, shaving cream, brush and comb
  • Adequate bedding (more than sufficient in case of doubt)
  • A bedside lamp for reading
  • Current magazines, a mystery or any favorite bedtime read
  • Tissues, cold cream, toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Enough pillows for reading in bed
  • Cigarettes and ashtrays
  • Clothes hangers, including skirt hangers
  • A bedtime snack: a fruit dish, a plate, a knife and a paper napkin on the bed table

Verdict: A lovely feeling, but perhaps a bit too Norman Bates for modern guests with average expectations. You might scare them.

Rules for guests

Keep it clean

“The sauce is never poured or poured over rice, noodles or anything other than meat on the plate,” warns Vanderbilt. “It is an insult to the kitchen to flood everything on your plate with sauce or ketchup.” By the way, if you want to eat your potatoes with gravy, you dip a spoon into the spoonful on top of the meat.

Verdict: It probably didn’t fly even in 1952. It’s America, after all. The sauce is breast milk.

Stay awhile

“Except for a very good reason previously discussed with the hostess, no guest can leave after a formal dinner at a private home in less than two and a half to three hours,” Vanderbilt rules.

Verdict: A picturesque artefact from a much more graceful, social and less frenetic era. Forget.

Log in and close it … please

Vanderbilt was no TV snob. While the onus was on the host to inform guests in advance that the television would be the main event, Vanderbilt has harsh words for those who accept the invitation: “Guests are rude if, once. installed, they maintain a continuous chatter that prevents others from hearing what is going on. They should be still and watch and listen or withdraw from there.

Verdict: Wisdom for the ages. It’s a shame that there isn’t technology that can effectively silence those who refuse to respect the viewing experience.

Stick to the plan

The arrival and departure dates and times of weekend guests should not only be clearly communicated, they should be regarded as a contractual obligation. As Vanderbilt notes, if guests suddenly decide to play their tour by ear, depending on the weather, a hostess could be “left dry with a lonely bachelor and a big leg of lamb on her hands, or inundated. guests and have to cook a little chicken for Sunday dinner.

Verdict: Anyone who’s ever spent the day cleaning the house and tidying up the refrigerator for a weekend guest who shies away at the last minute will agree: meeting your social obligations never goes out of style.

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