Reference > Emily Post > Etiquette
Emily Post (1873–1960).  Etiquette.  1922.

Chapter XXV.
The Country House and Its Hospitality
THE DIFFERENCE between the great house with twenty to fifty guest rooms, all numbered like the rooms in a hotel, and the house of ordinary good size with from four to six guest rooms, or the farmhouse or small cottage which has but one “best” spare chamber, with perhaps a “man’s room” on the ground floor, is much the same as the difference between the elaborate wedding and the simplest—one merely of degree and not of kind.   1
  To be sure, in the great house, week-end guests often include those who are little more than acquaintances of the host and hostess, whereas the visitor occupying the only “spare” room is practically always an intimate friend. Excepting, therefore, that people who have few visitors never ask any one on their general list, and that those who fill an enormous house time and time again necessarily do, the etiquette, manners, guest room appointments and the people who occupy them, are precisely the same. Popular opinion to the contrary, a man’s social position is by no means proportionate to the size of his house, and even though he lives in a bungalow, he may have every bit as high a position in the world of fashion as his rich neighbor in his palace—often much better!   2
  We all of us know a Mr. Newgold who would give many of the treasures in his marble palace for a single invitation to Mrs. Oldname’s comparatively little house, and half of all he possesses for the latter’s knowledge, appearance, manner, instincts and position—none of which he himself is likely ever to acquire, though his children may! But in our description of great or medium or small houses, we are considering those only whose owners belong equally to best society and where, though luxuries vary from the greatest to the least, house appointments are in essentials alike.   3
  This is a rather noteworthy fact: all people of good position talk alike, behave alike and live alike. Ill-mannered servants, incorrect liveries or service, sloppily dished food, carelessness in any of the details that to well-bred people constitute the decencies of living, are no more tolerated in the smallest cottage than in the palace. But since the biggest houses are those which naturally attract most attention, suppose we begin our detailed description with them.   4

  Perhaps there are ten or perhaps there are forty guests, but if there were only two or three, and the house a little instead of a big one, the details would be precisely the same.
  A week-end means from Friday afternoon or from Saturday lunch to Monday morning. The usual time chosen for a house party is over a holiday, particularly where the holiday falls on a Friday or Monday, so that the men can take a Saturday off, and stay from Friday to Tuesday, or Thursday to Monday.   6
  On whichever day the party begins, everyone arrives in the neighborhood of five o’clock, or a day later at lunch time. Many come in their own cars, the others are met at the station—sometimes by the host or a son, or, if it is to be a young party, by a daughter. The hostess herself rarely, if ever, goes to the station, not because of indifference or discourtesy but because other guests coming by motor might find the house empty.   7
  It is very rude for a hostess to be out when her guests arrive. Even some one who comes so often as to be entirely at home, is apt to feel dispirited upon being shown into an empty house. Sometimes a guest’s arrival unwelcomed can not be avoided; if, for instance, a man invited for tennis week or a football or baseball game, arrives before the game is over but too late to join the others at the sport.   8
  When younger people come to visit the daughters, it is not necessary that their mother stay at home, since the daughters take their mother’s place. Nor is it necessary that she receive the men friends of her son, unless the latter for some unavoidable reason, is absent.   9
  No hostess must ever fail to send a car to the station or boat landing for every one who is expected. If she has not conveyances enough of her own, she must order public ones and have the fares charged to herself.  10

  The host always goes out into the front hall and shakes hands with every one who arrives. He asks the guests if they want to be shown to their rooms, and, if not, sees that the gentlemen who come without valets give their keys to the butler or footman, and that the ladies without maids of their own give theirs to the maid who is on duty for the purpose.
  Should any of them feel dusty or otherwise “untidy” they naturally ask if they may be shown to their rooms so that they can make themselves presentable. They should not, however, linger longer than necessary, as their hostess may become uneasy at their delay. Ladies do not—in fashionable houses—make their first appearance without a hat. Gentlemen, needless to say, leave theirs in the hall when they come in.  12
  Travel in the present day, however, whether in parlor car or closed limousines, or even in open cars on macadam roads, obviates the necessity for an immediate removing of “travel stains,” so that instead of seeking their rooms, the newcomers usually go directly into the library or out on the veranda or wherever the hostess is to be found behind the inevitable tea tray.  13

  As soon as her guests appear in the doorway, the hostess at once rises, goes forward smiling, shakes hands and tells them how glad she is that they have safely come, or how glad she is to see them, and leads the way to the tea-table. This is one of the occasions when everyone is always introduced. Good manners also demand that the places nearest the hostess be vacated by those occupying them, and that the newly arrived receive attention from the hostess, who sees that they are supplied with tea, sandwiches, cakes and whatever the tea-table affords.
  After tea, people either sit around and talk, or, more likely nowadays, they play bridge. About an hour before dinner the hostess asks how long every one needs to dress, and tells them the time. If any need a shorter time than she must allow for herself, she makes sure that they know the location of their rooms, and goes to dress.  15

  It is almost unnecessary to say that in no well-appointed house is a guest, except under three circumstances, put in a room with any one else. The three exceptions are:
  1. A man and wife, if the hostess is sure beyond a doubt that they occupy similar quarters when at home.
  2. Two young girls who are friends and have volunteered, because the house is crowded, to room together in a room with two beds.
  3. On an occasion such as a wedding, a ball, or an intercollegiate athletic event, young people don’t mind for one night (that is spent for the greater part “up”) how many are doubled; and house room is limited merely to cot space, sofas, and even the billiard table.
  But she would be a very clumsy hostess, who, for a week-end, filled her house like a sardine box to the discomfort and resentment of every one.  17
  In the well-appointed house, every guest room has a bath adjoining for itself alone, or shared with a connecting room and used only by a man and wife, two women or two men. A bathroom should never (if avoidable) be shared by a woman and a man. A suitable accommodation for a man and wife is a double room with bath and a single room next.  18

  The perfect guest room is not necessarily a vast chamber decorated in an historically correct period. Its perfection is the result of nothing more difficult to attain than painstaking attention to detail, and its possession is within the reach of every woman who has the means to invite people to her house in the first place. The ideal guest room is never found except in the house of the ideal hostess, and it is by no means “idle talk” to suggest that every hostess be obliged to spend twenty-four hours every now and then in each room that is set apart for visitors. If she does not do this actually, she should do so in imagination. She should occasionally go into the guest bathroom and draw the water in every fixture, to see there is no stoppage and that the hot water faucets are not seemingly jokes of the plumber. If a man is to occupy the bathroom, she must see that the hook for a razor strop is not missing, and that there is a mirror by which he can see to shave both at night and by daylight. Even though she can see to powder her nose, it would be safer to make her husband bathe and shave both a morning and an evening in each bathroom and then listen carefully to what he says about it!
  Even though she has a perfect housemaid, it is not unwise occasionally to make sure herself that every detail has been attended to; that in every bathroom there are plenty of bath towels, face towels, a freshly laundered wash rag, bath mat, a new cake of unscented bath soap in the bathtub soap rack, and a new cake of scented soap on the washstand.  20
  It is not expected, but it is often very nice to find violet water, bath salts, listerine, talcum powder, almond or other hand or sunburn lotion, in decorated bottles on the washstand shelf; but to cover the dressing-table in the bedroom with brushes and an array of toilet articles is more of a nuisance than a comfort. A good clothes brush and whiskbroom are usually very acceptable, as strangely enough, guests almost invariably forget them.  21
  A comforting adjunct to a bathroom that is given to a woman is a hot water bottle with a woolen cover, hanging on the back of the door. Even if the water does not run sufficiently hot, a guest seldom hesitates to ring for that, whereas no one ever likes to ask for a hot water bag—no matter how much she might long for it. A small bottle of Pyro is also convenient for one who brings a curling lamp.  22
  In the bedroom the hostess should make sure (by sleeping in it at least once) that the bed is comfortable, that the sheets are long enough to tuck in, that there are enough pillows for one who sleeps with head high. There must also be plenty of covers. Besides the blankets there should be a wool-filled or an eiderdown quilt, in coloring to go with the room.  23
  There should be a night light at the head of the bed. Not just a decorative glow-worm effect, but a light that is really good to lie in bed and read by. And always there should be books; chosen more to divert than to engross. The sort of selection appropriate for a guest room might best comprise two or three books of the moment, a light novel, a book of essays, another of short stories, and a few of the latest magazines. Spare-room books ought to be especially chosen for the expected guest. Even though one can not choose accurately for the taste of another, one can at least guess whether the visitor is likely to prefer transcendental philosophy or detective stories, and supply either accordingly.  24
  There should be a candle and a box of matches—even though there is electric light it has been known to go out! And some people like to burn a candle all night. There must also be matches and ash receivers on the desk and a scrap-basket beside it.  25
  In hot weather, every guest should have a palm leaf fan, and in August, even though there are screens, a fly killer.  26
  In big houses with a swimming pool, bath-robes are supplied and often bathing suits. Otherwise dressing-gowns are not part of any guest room equipment.  27
  A comfortable sofa is very important (if the room is big enough) with a sofa pillow or two, and with a light-weight quilt or afghan across the end of it.  28
  The hostess should do her own hair in each room to see if the dressing-table is placed where there is a good light over it, both by electric and by daylight. A very simple expedient in a room where massive furniture and low windows make the daylight dressing-table difficult, is the European custom of putting an ordinary small table directly in the window and standing a good sized mirror on it. Nothing makes a more perfect arrangement for a woman.  29
  And the pincushion! It is more than necessary to see that the pins are usable and not rust to the head. There should be black ones and white ones, long and short; also safety pins in several sizes. Three or four threaded needles of white thread, black, gray and tan silk are an addition that has proved many times welcome. She must also examine the writing desk to be sure that the ink is not a cracked patch of black dust at the bottom of the well, and the pens solid rust and the writing paper textures and sizes at odds with the envelopes. There should be a fresh blotter and a few stamps. Also thoughtful hostesses put a card in some convenient place, giving the post office schedule and saying where the mail bag can be found. And a calendar, and a clock that goes! Is there anything more typical of the average spare room than the clock that is at a standstill?  30
  There must be plenty of clothes hangers in the closets. For women a few hat stands, and for men trouser hangers and the coat hangers that have a bar across the shoulder piece.  31
  It is unnecessary to add that every bureau drawer should be looked into to see that nothing belonging to the family is filling the space which should belong to the guest, and that the white paper lining the bottom is new. Curtains and sofa pillows must, of course, be freshly laundered; the furniture, floor, walls and ceiling unmarred and in perfect order.  32
  When bells are being installed in new houses they should be on cords and hung at the side of the bed. Light switches should be placed at the side of the door going into the room and bathroom. It is scarcely practical to change the wiring in old houses; but it can at least be seen that the bells work.  33
  People who like strong perfumes often mistakenly think they are giving pleasure in filling all the bedroom drawers with pads heavily scented. Instead of feeling pleasure, some people are made almost sick! But all people (hay-fever patients excepted) love flowers, and vases of them beautify rooms as nothing else can. Even a shabby little room, if dustlessly clean and filled with flowers, loses all effect of shabbiness and is “inviting” instead.  34
  In a hunting country, there should be a bootjack and boothooks in the closet.  35
  Guest rooms should have shutters and dark shades for those who like to keep the morning sun out. The rooms should also, if possible, be away from the kitchen end of the house and the nursery.  36
  A shortcoming in many houses is the lack of a newspaper, and the thoughtful hostess who has the morning paper sent up with each breakfast tray, or has one put at each place on the breakfast table, deserves a halo.  37
  At night a glass and a thermos pitcher of water should be placed by the bed. In a few very specially appointed houses, a small glass-covered tray of food is also put on the bed table, fruit or milk and sandwiches, or whatever is marked on the guest card.  38

  A clever device was invented by Mrs. Gilding whose palatially appointed house is run with the most painstaking attention to every one’s comfort. On the dressing-table in each spare room at Golden Hall is a card pad with a pencil attached to it. But if the guest card is used, a specimen is given below.
  Needless to say the cards are used only in huge houses that, because of their size, are necessarily run more like a clubhouse than as a “home.”  40
  In every house, the questions below are asked by the hostess, though the guests may not readily perceive the fact. At bedtime she always asks: “Would you like to come down to breakfast, or will you have it in your room?” If the guest says, in her room, she is then asked what she would like to eat. She is also asked whether she cares for milk or fruit or other light refreshment at bedtime, and if there is a special book she would like to take up to her room.  41
  The guest card mentioned above is as follows:

        What time do you want to be awakened?
        Or, will you ring?
        Will you breakfast upstairs?
        Or down?

        Coffee, tea, chocolate, milk,
        Oatmeal, hominy, shredded wheat,
        Eggs, how cooked?
        Rolls, muffins, toast,
        Orange, pear, grapes, melon.

        Hot or cold milk, cocoa, orangeade,
        Sandwiches, meat, lettuce, jam,
        Cake, crackers,
        Oranges, apples, pears, grapes.
  Besides this list, there is a catalogue of the library with a card, clipped to the cover, saying:
  “Following books for room No. X.” Then four or six blank lines and a place for the guest’s signature.

  Every one goes down to dinner as promptly as possible and the procedure is exactly that of all dinners. If it is a big party, the gentlemen offer their arms to the ladies the host or hostess has designated. At the end of the evening, it is the custom that the hostess suggest going upstairs, rather than the guests who ordinarily depart after dinner. But etiquette is not very strictly followed in this, and a reasonable time after dinner, if any one is especially tired he or she quite frankly says: “I wonder if you would mind very much if I went to bed?” The hostess always answers: “Why, no, certainly not! I hope you will find everything in your room! If not, will you ring?”
  It is not customary for the hostess to go upstairs with a guest, so long as others remain in her drawing-room. If there is only one lady, or a young girl, the hostess accompanies her to her room, and asks if everything has been thought of for her comfort.  45

  Many older ladies adhere to former practise and always write personal notes of invitation. All others write or telegraph to people at a distance, and send telephone messages to those nearby.
  When a house is to be filled with friends of daughters or sons of the house, the young people in the habit of coming to the house, or young men, whether making a first visit or not, do not need any invitation further than one given them verbally by a daughter, or even a son. But a married couple, or a young girl invited for the first time, should have the verbal invitation of daughter or son seconded by a note or at least a telephone message sent by the mother herself.  47
  Every one is always asked for a specified time. Even a near relative comes definitely for a week, or a month, or whatever period is selected. This is because other plans have to be made by the owners of the house, such as inviting another group of guests, or preparing to go away themselves.  48

  Excepting when strangers bring influential letters of introduction, or when a relative or very intimate friend recently married is invited with her new husband or his bride, only very large and general house parties include any one who is not an intimate friend.
  At least seventy per cent. of American house parties are young people, either single or not long married, and, in any event, all those asked to any one party—unless the hostess is a failure (or a genius)—belong to the same social group. Perhaps a more broad-minded attitude prevails among young people in other parts of the country, but wilfully narrow-minded Miss Young New York is very chary of accepting an invitation until she finds out who among her particular friends are also invited. If Mrs. Stranger asks her for a week-end, no matter how much she may like Mrs. Stranger personally, she at once telephones two or three of her own group. If some of them are going, she “accepts with pleasure,” but if not, the chances are she “regrets.” If, on the other hand, she is asked by the Gildings, she accepts at once. Not merely because Golden Hall is the ultimate in luxury, but because Mrs. Gilding has a gift for entertaining, including her selection of people, amounting to genius. On the other hand, Miss Young New York would accept with equal alacrity the invitation of the Jack Littlehouses, where there is no luxury at all. Here in fact, a guest is quite as likely as not to be pressed into service as auxiliary nurse, gardener or chauffeur. But the personality of the host and hostess is such that there is scarcely a day in the week when the motors of the most popular of the younger set are not parked at the Littlehouse door.  50

  We enjoy staying with certain people usually for one of two reasons. First, because they have wonderful, luxurious houses, filled with amusing people; and visiting them is a period crammed with continuous and delightful experience, even though such a visit has little that suggests any personal intercourse or friendship with one’s hostess. The other reason we love to visit a certain house is, on the contrary, entirely personal to the host or hostess. We love the house because we love its owner. Nowhere do we feel so much at home, and though it may have none of the imposing magnificence of the great house, it is often far more charming.
  Five flunkeys can not do more towards a guest’s comfort than to take his hat and stick and to show him the way to the drawing-room. A very smart young New Yorker who is also something of a wag, says that when going to a very magnificent house, he always tries to wear sufficient articles so that he shall have one to bestow upon each footman. Some one saw him, upon entering a palace that is a counterpart of the Worldlys’, quite solemnly hand his hat to the first footman, his stick to the second, his coat to the third, his muffler to the fourth, his gloves to the fifth, and his name to the sixth, as he entered the drawing-room. Needless to say he did this as a matter of pure amusement to himself. Of course six men servants, or more, do add to the impressiveness of a house that is a palace and are a fitting part of the picture. And yet a neat maid servant at the door can divest a guest of his hat and coat, and lead the way to the sitting-room, with equal facility.  52
  Having several times mentioned Golden Hall, the palatial country house of the Gildings, suppose we join the guests and see what the last word in luxury and lavish hospitality is.  53
  Golden Hall is not an imaginary place, except in name. It exists within a hundred miles of New York. The house is a palace, the grounds are a park. There is not only a long wing of magnificent guest rooms in the house, occupied by young girls or important older people, but there is also a guest annex, a separate building designed and run like the most luxurious country club. The second floor has nothing but bedrooms, with bath for each. The third floor has bachelor rooms, and rooms for visiting valets. Visiting maids are put in a separate third floor wing. On the ground floor there is a small breakfast room; a large living-room filled with books, magazines, a billiard and pool table; beyond the living-room is a fully equipped gymnasium; and beyond that a huge, white marble, glass-walled natatorium. The swimming pool is fifty feet by one hundred; on three sides is just a narrow shelf-like walkway, but the fourth is wide and is furnished as a room with lounging chairs upholstered in white oilcloth. Opening out of this are perfectly equipped Turkish and Russian baths in charge of the best Swedish masseur and masseuse procurable.  54
  In the same building are two squash courts, a racquet court, a tennis court, and a bowling alley. But the feature of the guest building is a glass-roofed and enclosed riding ring—not big enough for games of polo, but big enough for practise in winter,—built along one entire side of it.  55
  The stables are full of polo ponies and hunters, the garage full of cars, the boathouse has every sort of boat—sailboats, naphtha launches, a motor boat and even a shell. Every amusement is open-heartedly offered, in fact, especially devised for the guests.  56
  At the main house there is a ballroom with a stage at one end. An orchestra plays every night. New moving pictures are shown and vaudeville talent is imported from New York. This is the extreme of luxury in entertaining. As Mrs. Toplofty said at the end of a bewilderingly lavish party: “How are any of us ever going to amuse any one after this? I feel like doing my guest rooms up in moth balls.”  57
  No one, however, has discovered that invitations to Mrs. Toplofty’s are any less welcome. Besides, excitement-loving youth and exercise-devotees were never favored guests at the Hudson Manor anyway.  58

  It matters not in the slightest whether the guest room’s carpet is Aubusson or rag, whether the furniture is antique, or modern, so long as it is pleasing of its kind. On the other hand, because a house is little is no reason that it can not be as perfect in every detail—perhaps more so—as the palace of the multiest millionaire!
  The attributes of the perfect house can not be better represented than by Brook Meadows Farm, the all-the-year home of the Oldnames. Nor can anything better illustrate its perfection than an incident that actually took place there.  60
  A great friend of the Oldnames, but not a man who went at all into society, or considered whether people had position or not, was invited with his new wife—a woman from another State and of much wealth and discernment—to stay over a week-end at Brook Meadows. Never having met the Oldnames, she asked something about their house and life in order to decide what type of clothes to pack.  61
  “Oh, it’s just a little farmhouse. Oldname wears a dinner coat, of course; his wife wears—I don’t know what—but I have never seen her dressed up a bit!’  62
  “Evidently plain people,” thought his wife. And aloud: “I wonder what evening dress I have that is high enough. I can put in the black lace day dress; perhaps I had better put in my cerise satin——”  63
  “The cerise?” asked her husband, “Is that the red you had on the other night? It is much too handsome, much! I tell you, Mrs. Oldname never wears a dress that you could notice. She always looks like a lady, but she isn’t a dressy sort of person at all.”  64
  So the bride packed her plainest (that is her cheapest) clothes, but at the last, she put in the “cerise.”  65
  When she and her husband arrived at the railroad station, that at least was primitive enough, and Mr. Oldname in much worn tweeds might have come from a castle or a cabin; country clothes are no evidence. But her practised eye noticed the perfect cut of the chauffeur’s coat and that the car, though of an inexpensive make, was one of the prettiest on the market, and beautifully appointed.  66
  “At least they have good taste in motors and accessories,” thought she, and was glad she had brought her best evening dress.  67
  They drove up to a low white shingled house, at the end of an old-fashioned brick walk bordered with flowers. The visitor noticed that the flowers were all of one color, all in perfect bloom. She knew no inexperienced gardener produced that apparently simple approach to a door that has been chosen as frontispiece in more than one book on Colonial architecture. The door was opened by a maid in a silver gray taffeta dress, with organdie collar, cuffs and apron, white stockings and silver buckles on black slippers, and the guest saw a quaint hall and vista of rooms that at first sight might easily be thought “simple” by an inexpert appraiser; but Mrs. Oldname, who came forward to greet her guests, was the antithesis of everything the bride’s husband had led her to believe.  68
  To describe Mrs. Oldname as simple is about as apt as to call a pearl “simple” because it doesn’t dazzle; nor was there an article in the apparently simple living-room that would be refused were it offered to a museum.  69
  The tea-table was Chinese Chippendale and set with old Spode on a lacquered tray over a mosaic-embroidered linen tea-cloth. The soda biscuits and cakes were light as froth, the tea an especial blend imported by a prominent connoisseur and given every Christmas to his friends. There were three other guests besides the bride and groom: a United States Senator, and a diplomat and his wife who were on their way from a post in Europe to one in South America. Instead of “bridge” there was conversation on international topics until it was time to dress for dinner.  70
  When the bride went to her room (which adjoined that of her husband) she found her bath drawn, her clothes laid out, and the dressing-table lights lighted.  71
  That night the bride wore her cerise dress to one of the smartest dinners she ever went down to, and when they went upstairs and she at last saw her husband alone, she took him to task. “Why in the name of goodness didn’t you tell me the truth about these people?”  72
  “Oh,” said he abashed, “I told you it was a little house—it was you who insisted on bringing that red dress. I told you it was too handsome!”  73
  “Handsome!” she cried in tears, “I don’t own anything half good enough to compare with the least article in this house. That ‘simple’ little woman as you call her would, I think, almost make a queen seem provincial! And as for her clothes, they are priceless—just as everything is in this little gem of a house. Why, the window curtains are as fine as the best clothes in my trousseau.”  74
  The two houses contrasted above are two extremes, but each a luxury. The Oldnames’ expenditure, though in no way comparable with the Worldlys’ or the Gildings’, is far beyond any purse that can be called moderate.  75
  The really moderate purse inevitably precludes a woman from playing an important rôle as hostess, for not even the greatest magnetism and charm can make up to spoiled guests for lack of essential comfort. The only exceptions are a bungalow at the seashore or a camp in the woods, where a confirmed luxury-lover is desperately uncomfortable for the first twenty-four hours, but invariably gets used to the lack of comfort almost as soon as he gets dependent upon it; and plunging into a lake for bath, or washing in a little tin basin, sleeping on pine boughs without any sheets at all, eating tinned foods and flapjacks on tin plates with tin utensils, he seems to lack nothing when the air is like champagne and the company first choice.  76

  If a visitor brings no maid of her own, the personal maid of the hostess (if she has one—otherwise the housemaid) always unpacks the bags or trunks, lays toilet articles out on the dressing-table and in the bathroom, puts folded things in the drawers and hangs dresses on hangers in the closet. If when she unpacks she sees that something of importance has been forgotten, she tells her mistress, or, in the case of a servant who has been long employed, she knows what selection to make herself, and supplies the guest without asking with such articles as comb and brush or clothes brush, or bathing suit and bath-robe.
  The valet of the host performs the same service for men. In small establishments where there is no lady’s maid or valet, the housemaid is always taught to unpack guests’ belongings and to press and hook up ladies’ dresses, and gentlemen’s clothes are sent to a tailor to be pressed after each wearing.  78
  In big houses, breakfast trays for women guests are usually carried to the bedroom floor by the butler (some butlers delegate this service to a footman) and are handed to the lady’s maid who takes the tray into the room. In small houses they are carried up by the waitress.  79
  Trays for men visitors are rare, but when ordered are carried up and into the room by the valet, or butler. If there are no men servants the waitress has to carry up the tray.  80
  When a guest rings for breakfast, the housemaid or the valet goes into the room, opens the blinds, and in cold weather lights the fire, if there is an open one in the room. Asking whether a hot, cool or cold bath is preferred, he goes into the bathroom, spreads a bath mat on the floor, a big bath towel over a chair, with the help of a thermometer draws the bath, and sometimes lays out the visitor’s clothes. As few people care for more than one bath a day and many people prefer their bath before dinner instead of before breakfast, this office is often performed at dinner dressing time instead of in the morning.  81

  The “tip-roll” in a big house seems to us rather appalling, but compared with the amounts given in a big English house, ours are mere pittances. Pleasant to think that something is less expensive in our country than in Europe!
  Fortunately in this country, when you dine in a friend’s house you do not “tip” the butler, nor do you tip a footman or parlor-maid who takes your card to the mistress of the house, nor when you leave a country house do you have to give more than five dollars to any one whatsoever. A lady for a week-end stay gives two or three dollars to the lady’s maid, if she went without her own, and one or two dollars to every one who waited on her. Intimate friends in a small house send tips to all the servants—perhaps only a dollar apiece, but no one is forgotten. In a very big house this is never done and only those are tipped who have served you. If you had your maid with you, you always give her a tip (about two dollars) to give the cook (often the second one) who prepared her meals and one dollar for the kitchen maid who set her table.  83
  A gentleman scarcely ever “remembers” any of the women servants (to their chagrin) except a waitress, and tips only the butler and the valet, and sometimes the chauffeur. The least he can offer any of the men-servants is two dollars and the most ever is five. No woman gets as much as that, for such short service.  84
  In a few houses the tipping system is abolished, and in every guest room, in a conspicuous place on the dressing-table or over the bath tub where you are sure to read it, is a sign, saying:
  “Please do not offer tips to my servants. Their contract is with this special understanding, and proper arrangements have been made to meet it; you will not only create ‘a situation,’ but cause the immediate dismissal of any one who may be persuaded by you to break this rule of the house.”
  The notice is signed by the host. The “arrangement” referred to is one whereby every guest means a bonus added to their wages of so much per person per day for all employees. This system is much preferred by servants for two reasons. First, self-respecting ones dislike the demeaning effect of a tip (an occasional few won’t take them). Secondly, they can absolutely count that so many visitors will bring them precisely such an amount.  86

  Breakfast customs are as varied in this country as the topography of the land! Communities of people who have lived or traveled much abroad, have nearly all adopted the Continental breakfast habit of a tray in their room, especially on Sunday mornings. In other communities it is the custom to go down to the dining-room for a heavy American (or English) meal. In communities where the latter is the custom and where people are used to assembling at a set hour, it is simple enough to provide a breakfast typical of the section of the country; corn bread and kidney stew and hominy in the South; doughnuts and codfish balls “way down East”; kippered herring, liver and bacon and griddle cakes elsewhere. But downstairs breakfast as a continuous performance is, from a housekeeper’s point of view, a trial to say the least.
  However, in big houses, where men refuse to eat in their rooms and equally refuse to get up until they feel like it, a dining-room breakfast is managed as follows:  88

  The table is set with a place for all who said they were “coming down.” At one end is a coffee urn kept hot over a spirit lamp, milk is kept hot under a “tea cosy” or in a double pitcher, made like a double boiler. On the sideboard or on the table are two or three “hot water” dishes (with or without spirit lamps underneath). In one is a cereal, in the other “hash” or “creamed beef,” sausage, or codfish cakes, or whatever the housekeeper thinks of, that can stand for hours and still be edible! Fruit is on the table and bread and butter and marmalade, and the cook is supposed to make fresh tea and eggs and toast for each guest as he appears.

  The advantage of having one’s guests choose breakfast upstairs, is that unless there is a separate breakfast room, a long delayed breakfast prevents the dining-room from being put in order or the lunch table set. Trays, on the other hand, stand “all set” in the pantry and interfere much less with the dining-room work. The trays are either of the plain white pantry variety or regular breakfast ones with folding legs. On each is put a tray cloth. It may be plain linen hemstitched or scalloped, or it may be much embroidered and have mosaic or filet lace.
  Every bedroom has a set of breakfast china to match it. But it is far better to send a complete set of blue china to a rose-colored room than a rose set that has pieces missing. Nothing looks worse than odd crockery. It is like unmatched paper and envelopes, or odd shoes, or a woman’s skirt and waist that do not meet in the back.  91
  There is nothing unusual in a tray set, every china and department store carries them, but only in “open” stock patterns can one buy extra dishes or replace broken ones; a fact it is well to remember. There is a tall coffee pot, hot milk pitcher, a cream pitcher and sugar bowl, a cup and saucer, two plates, an egg cup and a covered dish. A cereal is usually put in the covered dish, toast in a napkin on a plate, or eggs and bacon in place of cereal. This with fruit is the most elaborate “tray” breakfast ever provided. Most people who breakfast “in bed” take only coffee or tea, an egg, toast and possibly fruit.  92

  Of those elaborate ceremonials between host and guest familiar to all readers of the Bible and all travelers in the East, only a few faint traces remain in our country and generation. It is still unforgivable to eat a man’s bread and remain his enemy. It is unforgivable to criticize your host, or in his presence to criticize his friends. It is unforgivable to be rude to any one under your own roof or under the roof of a friend. If you must quarrel with your enemy, seek public or neutral ground, since quarrels and hospitality must never be mingled.
  The Spaniard says to his guest: “All I have is yours.” It is supposed to be merely a pretty speech—but in a measure it is true of every host’s attitude toward his house guest. If you take some one under your roof, he becomes part of, and sharer in, your life and possessions. Your horse, your fireside, your armchair, your servants, your time, your customs, all are his; your food is his food, your roof his shelter. You give him the best “spare” room, you set before him the best refreshments you can offer, and your “best” china and glass. His bed is made up with your best “company” linen and blankets. You receive your guest with a smile, no matter how inconvenient or troublesome or straining to your resources his visit may be, and on no account do you let him suspect any of this.  94

  In popular houses where visitors like to go again and again, there is always a happy combination of some attention on the part of the host and hostess, and the perfect freedom of the guests to occupy their time as they choose.
  The host and the men staying in the house arrange among themselves to rest or play games or fish or ride or shoot clay pigeons or swim, etc. The hostess, unless at the seashore where people go bathing in the morning, generally leaves her guests to their own devices until lunch time, though they are always offered whatever diversions the place or neighborhood afford. They are told there is bathing, fishing, golf; and if they want to do any of these things, it is arranged for them. But unless something special, such as driving to a picnic or clambake, has been planned, or there is a tennis tournament or golf match of importance, the hostess makes her first appearance just before luncheon.  96
  This is the same as any informal family meal. If there are thirty guests it makes no difference. Sometimes there are place cards—especially if other people have been invited in—sometimes people find places for themselves.  97
  After luncheon something is usually arranged; perhaps those who play golf go out for their game, and others who do not play go to the country club at the hour the players are supposed to be coming in, so that they can all have tea together. Those who like motoring perhaps go for a drive, or to a neighbor’s house for bridge, or neighbors come in for tea. There is always bridge, sometimes there is dancing. In very big houses musicians are often brought in after dinner, and dancing and bridge alternate till bedtime.  98
  A houseful of young people very easily look after their own amusement. As said before, a big house is run very much like a country club, and guests are supposed to look after themselves.  99
  Making an especial effort to entertain a guest who is to stay for a week or longer has gone out of custom in the fashionable world, except for an important personage. A visit from the President of the United States for instance, would necessitate the most punctiliously formal etiquette, no matter how close a friend of the family he may always have been. For such a visitor a hostess would either arrange a series of entertainments or none, according to her visitor’s inclination. 100

  The most trying thing to people of very set habits is an unusual breakfast hour. When you have the unfortunate habit of waking with the dawn, and the household you are visiting has the custom of sleeping on Sunday morning, the long wait for your coffee can quite actually upset your whole day. On the other hand, to be aroused at seven on the only day when you do not have to hurry to business, in order to yawn through an early breakfast, and then sit around and kill time, is quite as trying. The guest with the “early” habit can in a measure prevent discomfort. He can carry in a small case (locked if necessary) a very small solidified alcohol outfit and either a small package of tea or powdered coffee, sugar, powdered milk, and a few crackers. He can then start his day all by himself in the barnyard hours without disturbing any one, and in comfort to himself. Few people care enough to “fuss,” but if they do, this equipment of an habitual visitor with incurably early waking hours is given as a suggestion.
  Or perhaps the entire guest situation may be put in one sentence. If you are an inflexible person, very set in your ways, don’t visit! At least don’t visit without carefully looking the situation over from every angle to be sure that the habits of the house you are going to are in accord with your own. 102
  A solitary guest is naturally much more dependent on his host (or her hostess), but on the other hand, he or she is practically always a very intimate friend who merely adapts himself or herself like a chameleon to the customs and hours and diversions of the household. 103

  When a guest asks to be called half an hour before breakfast, don’t have him called an hour and a half before because it takes you that long to dress, nor allow him a scant ten minutes because the shorter time is seemingly sufficient. Too often the summons on the door wakes him out of sound sleep; he tumbles exhausted out of bed, into clothes, and down stairs, to wait perhaps an hour for breakfast.
  If a guest prefers to sit on the veranda and read, don’t interrupt him every half page to ask if he really does not want to do something else. If, on the other hand, a guest wants to exercise, don’t do everything in your power to obstruct his starting off by saying that it will surely rain, or that it is too hot, or that you think it is senseless to spend days that should be a rest to him in utterly exhausting himself. 105
  Don’t, when you know that a young man cares little for feminine society, fine-tooth-comb the neighborhood for the dullest or silliest young woman to be found. 106
  Don’t, on the other hand, when you have an especially attractive young woman staying with you, ask a stolid middle-aged couple and an octogenarian professor for dinner, because the charm and beauty of the former is sure to appeal to the latter. 107
  Don’t, because you personally happen to like a certain young girl who is utterly old-fashioned in outlook and type from ultra modern others who are staying with you, try to “bring them together.” Never try to make any two people like each other. If they do, they do; if they don’t, they don’t, and that is all there is to it; but it is of vital importance to your own success as hostess to find out which is the case and collect or separate them accordingly. 108

  The most casual hostess in the world is the fashionable leader in Newport, she who should by the rules of good society be the most punctilious, since no place in America, or Europe, is more conspicuously representative of luxury and fashion. Nowhere are there more “guests” or half so many hostesses, and yet hospitality as it is understood everywhere else, is practically unknown. No one ever goes to stay in a Newport house excepting “on his own” as it were. It is not an exaggerated story, but quite true, that in many houses of ultra fashion a guest on arriving is told at which meals he is expected to appear, that is at dinners or luncheons given by his hostess. At all others he is free to go out or stay in by himself. No effort is assumed for his amusement, or responsibility for his well-being. It is small wonder that only those who have plenty of friends care to go there—or in fact, are ever invited! Those who like to go to visit the most perfectly appointed, but utterly impersonal house, find no other visiting to compare with its unhampering delightfulness. The hostess simply says on his (or her) arrival:
  “Oh, howdo Freddie (or Constance)! They’ve put you in the Chinese room, I think. Ring for tea when you want it. Struthers telephoned he’d be over around five. Mrs. Toplofty asked you to dinner to-night and I accepted for you—hope that was all right. If not, you’ll have to telephone and get out of it yourself. I want you to dinner to-morrow night and for lunch on Sunday. Sorry to leave you, but I’m late for bridge now. Good-by.” And she is off. 110
  The Newport hostess is, of course, an extreme type that is seldom met away from that one small watering place in Rhode Island. 111

  The energetic hostess is the antithesis of the one above, and far more universally known. She is one who fusses and plans continually, who thinks her guests are not having a good time unless she rushes them, Cook’s tourist fashion, from this engagement to that, and crowds with activity and diversion—never mind what so long as it is something to see or do—every moment of their stay.
  She walks them through the garden to show them all the nooks and vistas. She dilates upon the flowers that bloomed here last month and are going to bloom next. She insists upon their climbing over rocks to a summerhouse to see the view; she insists on taking them in another direction to see an old mill; and, again, every one is trouped to the cupola of the house to see another view. She insists on every one’s playing croquet before lunch, to which she gathers in a curiously mixed collection of neighbors. Immediately after lunch every one is driven to a country club to see some duffer golf—for some reason there is never “time” in all the prepared pleasures for any of her guests to play golf themselves. After twenty minutes at the golf club, they are all taken to a church fair. The guests are all introduced to the ladies at the booth and those who were foolish enough to bring their purses with them from now on carry around an odd assortment of fancy work. There is another entertainment that her guests must not miss! A flower pageant of the darlingest children fourteen miles away! Everyone is dashed to that. On some one’s front lawn, daisies and lilies and roses trip and skip—it is all sweetly pretty but the sun is hot and the guests have been on the go for a great many hours. Soon, however, their hostess leaves. “Home at last!” think they. Not at all. They are going somewhere for tea and French recitations. But why go on? The portrait is fairly complete, though this account covers only a few hours and there is still all the evening and tomorrow to be filled in just as liberally. 113

  The anxious hostess does not insist on your ceaseless activity, but she is no less persistent in filling your time. She is always asking you what you would like to do next. If you say you are quite content as you are, she nevertheless continues to shower suggestions. Shall she play the phonograph to you? Would you like her to telephone to a friend who sings too wonderfully? Would you like to look at a portfolio of pictures? If you are a moment silent, she is sure you are bored, and wonders what she can do to divert you!

  The ideal hostess must have so many perfections of sense and character that were she described in full, no one seemingly but a combination of seer and angel could ever hope to qualify.
  She must first of all consider the inclinations of her guests, she must not only make them as comfortable as the arrangements and limits of her establishment permit, but she must subordinate her own inclinations utterly. At the same time, she must not fuss and flutter and get agitated and seemingly make efforts in their behalf. Nothing makes a guest more uncomfortable than to feel his host or hostess is being put to a great deal of bother or effort on his account. 116
  A perfect hostess like a perfect housekeeper has seemingly nothing whatever to do with household arrangements which apparently run in oiled grooves and of their own accord. 117
  Certain rules are easy to observe once they are brought to attention. A hostess should never speak of annoyances of any kind—no matter what happens! Unless she is actually unable to stand up, she should not mention physical ills any more than mental ones. She has invited people to her house, and as long as they are under her roof, hospitality demands that their sojourn shall be made as pleasant as lies in her power. 118
  If the cook leaves, then a picnic must be made of the situation as though a picnic were the most delightful thing that could happen. Should a guest be taken ill, she must assure him that he is not giving the slightest trouble; at the same time nothing that can be done for his comfort must be overlooked. Should she herself or some one in her family become suddenly ill, she should make as light of it as possible to her guests, even though she withdraw from them. In that event she must ask a relative or intimate friend to come in and take her place. Nor should the deputy hostess dwell to the guests on the illness, or whatever it is that has deprived them of their hostess. 119

  The guest no one invites a second time is the one who runs a car to its detriment, and a horse to a lather; who leaves a borrowed tennis racquet out in the rain; who “dog ears” the books, leaves a cigarette on the edge of a table and burns a trench in its edge, who uses towels for boot rags, who stands a wet glass on polished wood, who tracks muddy shoes into the house, and leaves his room looking as though it had been through a cyclone. Nor are men the only offenders. Young women have been known to commit every one of these offenses and the additional one of bringing a pet dog that was not house trained.
  Besides these actually destructive shortcomings, there are evidences of bad upbringing in many modern youths whose lack of consideration is scarcely less annoying. Those who are late for every meal; cheeky others who invite friends of their own to meals without the manners or the decency to ask their hostess’ permission; who help themselves to a car and go off and don’t come back for meals at all; and who write no letters afterwards, nor even take the trouble to go up and “speak” to a former hostess when they see her again. 121
  On the other hand, a young person who is considerate is a delight immeasurable—such a delight as only a hostess of much experience can perhaps appreciate. A young girl who tells where she is going, first asking if it is all right, and who finds her hostess as soon as she is in the house at night to report that she is back, is one who very surely will be asked again and often. 122
  A young man is, of course, much freer, but a similar deference to the plans of his hostess, and to the hours and customs of the house, will result in repeated invitations for him also. 123
  The lack of these things is not only bad form but want of common civility and decency, and reflects not only on the girls and boys themselves but on their parents who failed to bring them up properly. 124

  Courtesy demands that you, when you are a guest, shall show neither annoyance nor disappointment—no matter what happens. Before you can hope to become even a passable guest, let alone a perfect one, you must learn as it were not to notice if hot soup is poured down your back. If you neither understand nor care for dogs or children, and both insist on climbing all over you, you must seemingly like it; just as you must be amiable and polite to your fellow guests, even though they be of all the people on earth the most detestable to you. You must with the very best dissimulation at your command, appear to find the food delicious though they offer you all of the viands that are especially distasteful to your palate, or antagonistic to your digestion. You must disguise your hatred of red ants and scrambled food, if everyone else is bent on a picnic. You must pretend that six is a perfect dinner hour though you never dine before eight, or, on the contrary, you must wait until eight-thirty or nine with stoical fortitude, though your dinner hour is six and by seven your chest seems securely pinned to your spine.
  If you go for a drive, and it pours, and there is no top to the carriage or car, and you are soaked to the skin and chilled to the marrow so that your teeth chatter, your lips must smile and you must appear to enjoy the refreshing coolness. 126
  If you go to stay in a small house in the country, and they give you a bed full of lumps, in a room of mosquitoes and flies, in a chamber over that of a crying baby, under the eaves with a temperature of over a hundred, you can the next morning walk to the village, and send yourself a telegram and leave! But though you feel starved, exhausted, wilted, and are mosquito bitten until you resemble a well-developed case of chickenpox or measles, by not so much as a facial muscle must you let the family know that your comfort lacked anything that your happiest imagination could picture—nor must you confide in any one afterwards (having broken bread in the house) how desperately wretched you were. 127
  If you know anyone who is always in demand, not only for dinners, but for trips on private cars and yachts, and long visits in country houses, you may be very sure of one thing: the popular person is first of all unselfish or else extremely gifted; very often both. 128
  The perfect guest not only tries to wear becoming clothes but tries to put on an equally becoming mental attitude. No one is ever asked out very much who is in the habit of telling people all the misfortunes and ailments she has experienced or witnessed, though the perfect guest listens with apparent sympathy to every one else’s. Another attribute of the perfect guest is never to keep people waiting. She is always ready for anything—or nothing. If a plan is made to picnic, she likes picnics above everything and proves her liking by enthusiastically making the sandwiches or the salad dressing or whatever she thinks she makes best. If, on the other hand, no one seems to want to do anything, the perfect guest has always a book she is absorbed in, or a piece of sewing she is engrossed with, or else beyond everything she would love to sit in an easy chair and do nothing. 129
  She never for one moment thinks of herself, but of the other people she is thrown with. She is a person of sympathy always, and instantaneous discernment. She is good tempered no matter what happens, and makes the most of everything as it comes. At games she is a good loser, and a quiet winner. She has a pleasant word, an amusing story, and agreeable comment for most occasions, but she is neither gushing nor fulsome. She has merely acquired a habit, born of many years of arduous practise, of turning everything that looks like a dark cloud as quickly as possible for the glimmer of a silver lining. 130
  She is as sympathetic to children as to older people; she cuts out wonderful paper dolls and soldier hats, always leisurely and easily as though it cost neither time nor effort. She knows a hundred stories or games, every baby and every dog goes to her on sight, not because she has any especial talent, except that one she has cultivated, the talent of interest in everyone and everything except herself. Few people know that there is such a talent or that it can be cultivated. 131
  She has more than mere beauty; she has infinite charm, and she is so well born that she is charming to everyone. Her manner to a duke who happens to be staying in the house is not a bit more courteous than her manner to the kitchen-maid whom she chances to meet in the kitchen gardens whither she has gone with the children to see the new kittens; as though new kittens were the apex of all delectability! 132
  She always calls the servants by name; always says “How do you do” when she arrives, “Good morning” while there, and “Good-by” when she leaves. And do they presume because of her “familiarity” when she remembers to ask after the parlor-maid’s mother and the butler’s baby? They wait on her as they wait on no one else who comes to the house—neither the Senator nor the Governor, nor his Grace of Overthere! 133
  This ideal guest is an equally ideal hostess; the principle of both is the same. A ready smile, a quick sympathy, a happy outlook, consideration for others, tenderness toward everything that is young or helpless, and forgetfulness of self, which is not far from the ideal of womankind. 134

  The sole difference between being a guest at a country house and a guest on a private car or a yacht, is that you put to a very severe test your adaptability as a traveler. You live in very close quarters with your host and hostess and fellow guests, and must therefore be particularly on your guard against being selfish or out of humor. If you are on shore and don’t feel well, you can stay home; but off on a cruise, if you are ill you have to make the best of it, and a sea-sick person’s “best” is very bad indeed! Therefore let it be hoped you are a good sailor. If not, think very, very carefully before you embark!

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2020 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit · Free Essays · Cookie Settings