The Past Asks You: 1889 Etiquette

well-dressed couple arm in arm

The following questions are taken (verbatim) from The Home Manual: Everybody’s Guide in Social, Domestic, and Business Life (1887). Each question below is followed by the original response along with three modern impostors. Test your etiquette cred by identifying the correct answers!

  1. Is it proper to use a knife and fork in eating asparagus, or should the stalks be taken in the fingers?
    a) Certainly, knife and fork are obligatory.
    b) Never use a knife. Many well-bred people take the stalks in the fingers. If a compromise is desired, use the fork only.
    c) Asparagus has no place on a refined table.
    d) Use the knife only. It is prudent to practice the use of the asparagus knife in isolation until elegant mastery is attained.

  2. Is it good form for a lady to ask her fiancé to take her to drive?
    a) It is acceptable, provided that a chaperone is available to accompany them.
    b) No, it would be more proper for her to suggest “Serialized novel and chill?”
    c) It is not improper, but ladies usually wait for their lovers to take the initiative, especially in the early days of the engagement.
    d) It is acceptable if the engagement has persisted for more than six months.

  3. On what occasions is it proper for a man to wear a “tourist shirt?”
    a) When traveling abroad in warmer climes.
    b) When the need for armpit ventilation eclipses the desire for self-respect.
    c) When yachting, playing ball or tennis, or in the woods.
    d) This custom is never acceptable among those of good breeding.

  4. Is it proper to wear a black silk hat in summer, if a man dislikes the light colored ones?
    a) No, it is contrary to custom.
    b) Tasteful shades of pale blue and violet may be permitted.
    c) Only if he is a Dickensian villain named Mr. Gloombridge or Sir Tetchbottom.
    d) This custom is gaining acceptance among younger men but should not be adopted by a man above forty.

  5. If a gentleman meets a lady in a large retail store and wishes to talk with her, is it allowable for him to replace his hat after removing it to bow?
    a) No, courtesy dictates that he hold the hat until the parties take their leave.
    b) No, but he may place it in the front compartment of his ample Costco shopping cart in order to assist the lady with her party size hamper of frozen meatballs.
    c) Yes, for in a large store, where a number of people are passing to and fro, the same rules apply as when persons meet in the street.
    d) He may replace his hat only if the lady authorizes him to do so.

bird image labeled "answers to questions"

1) b 2) c 3) c 4) a 5) c