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Some etiquette from yesteryear endures
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Forsyth County News

On a recent excursion in downtown Atlanta, we made our way to enter a large building with revolving doors.

Except for a brief time as a child, I have never been a fan of revolving doors. My overactive imagination always envisions me getting pinned and squashed if somebody is pushing the doors too fast.

On this visit, right before I started to go into the revolution, Paul said, “You know the man is supposed to go first, right?”

I didn’t know that, and it just didn’t seem right. I went first. After doing some research, however, I found out that my husband, apparently a.k.a. Mr. Manners, was correct.

It seems that “back in the day,” men were supposed to go ahead of a lady to help get the revolving doors going. In addition, did you know that men are supposed to go first when exiting a bus, train or airplane?

That way, if a lady (notice I keep using the word “lady” instead of “woman” because it just seems to fit the context) were to fall, she would fall on top of the man instead of the pavement.

This new etiquette knowledge brought up all sorts of thoughts in my mind. Remember when women sat in the car and waited for the man to come around and open the car door?

I mainly know this from old movies, not because Paul wouldn’t open the door for me — he has on occasion —  but mainly I’m just ready to open the door as soon as we stop. I think most women are probably the same way.

Paul does open doors for me, unless I’m in a hurry and just open the door without thinking. I’ve read some women are actually offended when men do this. They think it signals men are trying to be dominant or some other nonsense.

I’ve also read that the custom of men opening doors and helping women out of cars (or carriages) actually stems from the outfits women used to wear.

Think about those cumbersome hoop skirts from yesteryear. You really would need help exiting from the carriage if you had on that get-up.

Etiquette is such an interesting thing. So many of our customs and “rules” began for different reasons than we may think.

For example, why do you suppose we are not supposed to put our elbows on the table while dining?

This rule stems from the Medieval times when diners at court ate at long, narrow tables, sitting quite close together. Everybody wanted the opportunity to dine in the presence of whoever the ruler was, so people packed the tables like sardines. There was no room for elbows on the table. How funny during such a time of non-etiquette, that particular rule stuck.

Another etiquette rule is covering our mouths when we yawn. Most of us probably do this so others are spared seeing our molars.

But did you know that for hundreds of years people covered their mouths to keep their souls from slipping out?

What about the napkin in the lap rule? In the Middle Ages, people just wiped their mouths on the tablecloth, or their clothes if there was no tablecloth.

The French began placing smaller cloths on tables to keep the tablecloths cleaner longer. Perhaps not surprisingly, the French went on to invent all sorts of napkin rules, including forbidding diners from using their napkins to clean their teeth or wipe their noses.

They also stressed that no diner should unfold his napkin until the person at the table with the “highest rank” had unfolded his napkin.

So many rules of etiquette have thankfully gone out of style, but some customs and rules seem to be here to stay, largely because of practicality.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always happy when a man opens a door for me, especially when it’s a young man.

Call me old-fashioned, but I always think he was raised by good parents who taught him how to treat a lady.

 

Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at contact@adlenrobinson.com.