Victorian Etiquette, Tea parties, Victorian Homes, Victorian lifestyles, Victoriana collectibles

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How would you react if you were serving dinner to a guest and you had asked him “Would you care to have another helping of crepes, or perhaps more tea?” And, his reply to you was “Nah-- I don’t want anymore of that”; you politely interject, “Are you certain?” and he retorts, “I said nah---didn’t I?” “Watsa matter, can’t ya hear me?”

How likely is it that the person who replied to you in such a manner would be invited to tea again? Well, unless he was a close relative you were “stuck with” or a charity case that you might “excuse” because of pity, we are sure that you would have been offended and he would not be asked back for another meal, not even leftovers!

The difference between your being hurt that you had gone to all of this detail and expense for an “ingrate” and being pleased that you had invited him for the meal lies somewhere in the fact that he had not applied the rules of Etiquette.  “What is etiquette?” It is an indefinite set of rules of good manner and behavior. By using these rules, people make living with one another more pleasant and comfortable.

There is an old saying “All things may be allowed, but all things are not advantageous!” So, although we may “get by” doing or saying something, it may not be in our best interests or that of others. If one lives alone in this world he has nothing to worry about.... but, who of us has the luxury of having the “world to himself?” Therefore, since “no man is an island”, and that is the way it is, many centuries ago some very thoughtful people set an indelible guide of proper behavior for us all to learn.

The interesting part is that with the exception of a few, we all begin to be taught these rules from infancy. Because the nature of a child is to be selfish, one must start to teach him very early so that he will get along favorably in life. At the outset, he grabs food and everything he sees regardless of whose it may be. Or, he may throw someone! He may scream loudly or hit someone or even himself when he does not get his way. But, when he is a taught one, he grows up recognizing these simple, but countless rules of conduct that may “make or break” him, all according to how he applies these mannerly rules in his life.

The word etiquette comes from an old French word meaning ticket. It later came to mean a prescribed routine that is “passed down”, especially of court behavior. Charles 1 and 11 of England mimicked the rules of etiquette from the French court, and these rules became the requirements of behavior in court circles and among aristocrats from all over the lands. Two or three hundred years ago in Europe, the rich nobles who lived at the king’s courts enjoyed a highly developed social life, and they added countless etiquette rules to suit their snobbish behavior.

Etiquette covers the whole field of human relations, including rules for the simplest actions and for the most elaborate of social occasions. An example of simple etiquette may be when we meet or see another person we may know...or even may not have been formally introduced to. We greet him with a friendly “Hello” or “How do you do.” A man may have good table manners, but a rude way of speaking to a waiter will identify him with poor etiquette. Rudeness to those who serve us marks us as an impolite person. Etiquette includes rules for what we say & how we say it.

Informal Etiquette

In the Middle Ages, when two men met, they extended their right hands andRecapture the romance of an era gone by... visit the Victorian Bazaar's Victoriana Boutique of beautiful gifts and accessories! shook hands to show that they did not intend to use their swords. It was a display of friendship, and the custom remains a gesture of courtesy through today. People always shake hands with a guest of honor. Hosts and hostess’s shake hands with friends. Guests shake hands with the host/hostess when they leave, people shake hands meeting someone and when they depart, introduce persons who have not met before, speak to others as you would have them speak to you and offer one’s place to older persons who are standing.

When women wore long, flowing gowns, it was difficult for them to exit a carriage, so the gentlemen helped them. Today it is polite for a man to stand ready to give his hand to a woman getting out of a car, opening doors, climbing stairs, getting seated at establishments, offering his seat so that she may not have to stand, offering her the first plate at a buffet, and rising politely when she rises from a seat, walking at the ladies left side or nearest the curb.

Much of etiquette is based on using “good taste.” We do not shovel food into our mouths, come to the table with unwashed hands, talk with our mouths full, slurp soup, chew with our mouths open, eat messy food with our fingers, break bread after buttering, leave food on our faces, dribble food down the front of our clothing, pick our teeth, floss in public, gorge ourselves on food when we are invited guests for dinner, pick over our food, leaving all of our food when we are dinner guests (unless ill) for to do so would be unpleasant for other people to watch. We take frequent baths, use deodorant, clean & comb our hair, groom nails, brush our teeth, wear clean clothes, clean/polish our shoes, keep neat children, pets, homes, yards and vehicles.

Too, we refrain from showing poor personal habits and “body language” like nose picking, scratching body parts, passing gas, fidgeting, taking our shoes off if our feet smell, ignoring our own halitosis, removing dentures in public, wearing hose with runs, spitting while speaking, using poor or obscene language, speaking constantly (a bore!), bumping into companions while walking side by side, slapping others on the back when we greet them, being boisterous, touching others repeatedly while we speak with them, interrupting others while they are speaking and/or finishing their sentences, leaving unfinished work for others to do, preoccupying oneself by picking loose strings or hairs off of others clothing, repeating gestures (hand or facial), monopolizing conversations, criticizing someone in public, talking about others “when their backs are turned”, helping ourselves to food at the table before the host, belching loudly (unless it happens to be the custom to show that one has enjoyed the meal), always being the first one at the table, nudging others with elbows in conversation, staring at others, “looking someone over” as they talk with us, clearing our throats repeatedly, coughing or sneezing in someone else's face, yelling in someone’s ear, daydreaming as someone speaks to us, shifting from foot to foot when engaged in standing conversation, nodding “yes or no” repeatedly, tappingHow glorious! our fingers on the table as someone speaks to us, forgetting to say “please and thank you”, butting in line, talking during movies, blocking someone’s view, immodestly dressing, dressing inappropriately, smoking in the presence of a non-smoker, blowing smoke in one’s face, not using vehicular courtesies (this may lead to “road rage!”) and the list goes on and on! These things are offensive to others and show poor etiquette. Being polite and having good manners sometimes costs us some of our comfort. But, in the long run, we gain more than we lose because other people like us and show consideration for us!

Formal Etiquette

The ways of formal etiquette remain today. These customs include the proper way to conduct weddings and wedding plans, to set silverware and dishes on the table for a formal dinner party, to use a knife and fork to cut large pieces of food at the table, to place utensils at the side of the plate, to send invitations for a social function and to respond to social invitations. These customs may vary with different groups. As a rule, affluent members of what is called “high society” have more complicated and more rigid forms of etiquette than less well-to-do people.

In formal city society, women usually pay formal calls on newcomers to join their social group. These “calls” are made only at certain hours, or perhaps calling cards are merely left. On the other hand, informal country folk usually call on newcomers in person regardless of their social standing and it is considered “neighborly”. An interesting fact, however is that it is considered in poor taste to switch the customs. One or the other would view it as inconsiderate.

In business, it pays to be polite. A customer who is waited on by a sales person with good manners will want to return to that store. An employee will be respected by his employer, and if he accomplishes his work as well, may even get a raise. A polite telephone operator can provide excellent help to a distressed caller and “make his day”. A cheery receptionist will bring more business to her employer. A courteous and prompt waitress will usually get good tips, and on his return to an eating establishment--- a good tipper will usually get great service. A customer that telephones a business and gets prompt results will likely do business there since he was not kept holding on the line. We could go on and on, could we not?

Differences in Etiquette

Various countries do have sharp differences in what is considered to be etiquette. For example, in the United States, people consider it impolite for a man to walk ahead of a woman. But in Burma, a woman may follow behind her husband, showing respect and submission to him. Also, in Japan, it is polite to take one’s shoes off before entering a house. The good reason for this is that floors of Japanese houses are made of straw mats, and shoes may damage them. It has also been the custom for such a long time, that even if the floors are of modern materials, the practice is still polite.

Noteworthy too, is if a person is impolite in ordinary society, he is simply considered “rude”. But in some savage tribal societies, if a visitor or intruderMusic to your ears! “breaks an important rule of etiquette” his life may be “on the line”! They may possibly kill him!

Etiquette in Summary

Etiquette is really simpler than one may realize. One may lead a very plain, ordinary life and yet show all of the politeness he/she may need to get along well with others. In contrast, one may have been trained in “high society” and know all about formal etiquette and yet, not “apply” the respect for others that he has learned, in his daily life.

Therefore, at last we come to realize that etiquette has not so much to do with formality or informality, but rather how one causes another to feel or think. We may sum up etiquette finally in this renowned way: Always try to follow the “Golden Rule”, and that is “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You. Or, in other words, do, as they would have you do!


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