Groom's Column

      The Mystery of Etiquette
               by Larry Tyler

Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen:  
Bogart says, "…A man takes a drop too much
once in a while, it's only human nature."  

Hepburn says, "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are
put in this world to rise above."  

Etiquette is a feminine thing.  Even the word,
"etiquette" has a feminine sound to it, and thus, for
most men, the world of etiquette is as strange and
remote as the planet Neptune.  (…or maybe Venus
would be a better example.)

We can master technology or conquer complex
machinery, but taking on the rules of etiquette may
be the most daunting challenge we'll ever face,
mostly, I think, because etiquette must be
memorized without the benefit of logic or

Taking on the rules of etiquette isn't for the faint of
heart.  We step into the realm of etiquette the way
we step onto a thin layer of ice that covers a lake,
with the knowledge that sooner or later we are
doomed to sink, and it is likely to happen before we
know what happened to us.  Once we get a glimpse
of etiquette we realize that it is a whole world of its
own, a foreign culture, the natural enemy of
impulse and intuition.  

Here's an example of this alien world:  The napkin.  
The wonderful all-purpose napkin; the perfect tool
for wiping ketchup off your chin, blowing your
nose, scribbling phone numbers down, and
depositing unwanted food from your mouth.  From
the age of four you were quite capable of using a
napkin, right?  Enter etiquette and you discover
that everything you know about a napkin is wrong,
beginning with the word napkin.  With etiquette, a
napkin becomes a serviette.  Etiquette teaches you
how to unfold the serviette, where to place the
serviette, how to use the serviette to daub invisible
globs of food at the corners of your mouth, and
most importantly, what not to do with the serviette,
which happens to be everything you used to do with
a napkin.

So, now picture yourself moving forward to take on
the ultimate, extended course in etiquette: your

At your wedding, you're taught that this person
stands here, does this, and doesn't do that; this fork
goes there and spears this but not that…And in case
you think you can sneak past etiquette by having a
nontraditional wedding, counter culture weddings
aren't exempt from etiquette either; they just simply
have their own rules to replace the traditional ones.  
How can we hope to survive this crash course, this
total immersion?   Do we panic?  Do we surrender
in the face of overwhelming odds?  Do we throw in
the serviette?  

You don't have to.  But, of course, you might need
a little attitude adjustment if you've got your heels
dug in too deeply about how you think things ought
to be done at your wedding.  

The way I looked at it was like this:  Sure, some
rituals can seem kind of silly.  And yes, formality is
uncomfortable.  Awkwardness doesn't feel good,
and the thought of committing a social blunder in
front of everyone you know is pretty damned
chilling.  But all those facts are outweighed by the
realization that my wedding was not the sad end of
my own personal lifestyle; it was the beginning of
me expanding into new realms.  And along the way,
I've even been able to bluff my way through some
pretty big social functions--my sons' weddings for
example.  And frankly, I've enjoyed some of those
new realms over the past few years.

Don’t get me wrong.  I haven't totally abandoned
my old lifestyle.  I still have my room downstairs--
my Cave.  It's a place I retreat to every so often
when I want to get reacquainted with napkins. No, I
haven't totally abandoned sloth.  I've just gained a
little versatility.

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