Essential Etiquette Handbook (essay)

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This is a creative work set in the world of Elanthia, attributed to its original author(s). It does not necessarily represent the official lore of GemStone IV.

Title: Deportment and Decorum: The Essential Etiquette Handbook

Author: Lady Sahese Bayvel Illistim (paternal grandmother to Rohese Bayvel-Timsh'l)

A compilation of the observations first published in the year 4828


Etiquette is not the preserve of the aristocratic. To some it may seem to be nonsensical and superfluous, denoting weakness and timidity yet manners and fighting go hand in hand. The odds are that when fighting in an invasion, the fight is in the name of "civilization" therefore it behooves one to behave civilly in society.

In turn, the term society does not refer to just the wealthy or influential nor does it exclude those who are not of noble birth. It is in fact a gathering of all gentlefolk knowledgeable of the social amenities who are well versed in good manners and considerate of the feelings of others.

Etiquette can therefore be defined as the accepted conventions for the purpose of smoothing personal interaction and developing tact and good manners. Its structure is comparable to that of a building where the foundations are ethics and morals on which one builds good taste, correct forms of speech, unassuming behavior and above all, a dignified pride.

All of these conventions can - and should - be learned, not by attending court or in the company of so-called important people but, first and foremost, in the home. It is worth noting that courtesy and good breeding are only attainable by effort and discipline and cannot be bought.

Manner is personality: the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude towards life. Someone who has good manners is secure in the observance of etiquette and at ease with propriety.


First impressions matter: how one is introduced or presented sets the tone for the rest of the discourse.

First and foremost, the younger person is always presented to the older or more distinguished but a gentleman is always presented to a lady, even though he may be an older gentleman of great distinction and the lady a mere slip of a girl.

The correct forms of introduction would be:

"Lord Distinguished, may I present YoungMrNobody?"

"Lady SoandSo, may I present Lord Distinguished?"

No lady is ever presented to a man with the exception of a reigning monarch or Head of State and it is proper to refer to their House where it applies.

"Your Majesty, I have the honor to present, Lady Elf Heiress of House Nalfein."

"Your Lordship, I have the honor of presenting, Sir Good Knight of House Venquinor."

Under no circumstances should one boast in polite conversation. Whilst the recognition of pre-name titles is fitting, the use of an honorary post-name is inappropriate in social situations; any reference to such should be kept for official proceedings only.

An unmarried lady is presented to a married one, unless the latter is very much the younger.

It is never permissible to introduce someone by referring to them as "my friend". One may say, "my sister" or "my husband" but to refer to a particular person as "my friend" is bad manners since it infers that the other party is a stranger.

The use of first or nameday names over last or family names is often a contentious issue. In essence, should the lady or gentleman being presented be of noble birth and holder or first lineal heir to the family estate then it is customary for them to be addressed by their family name.

For example, Lady Elf Heiress - where Elf is her first name and Heiress, her family name - would be introduced as Lady Heiress. Should she be a younger sibling or other family member, she would simply be introduced as Lady Elf.

Most people of good taste very much dislike being asked their names. To say "What is your name?" is considered abrupt and unflattering. Should one wish to know with whom one has been talking, it is preferable to find a third person later and ask "Who was the lady with the grey feather in her hat?"

When gentlemen are introduced to each other they should always shake hands. When a gentleman is introduced to a lady he must remove his hat and no knight should be introduced without first raising the visor of his helm.

A lady may extend a hand but will generally opt for a slight tilt of the head and a smile. Strictly speaking, it is always the lady’s place to offer the hand or not as she chooses, but if the gentleman does do so, it is rude on her part to ignore it. Nothing could be more ill-bred than to treat curtly any overture made in spontaneous friendliness; not even at the risk of offering a fresh white glove.

In a more public arena, where the introduction is to dancing more than friendship, one never shakes hands. As a general rule, the introduction is followed by a bow and a reciprocating curtsy. Under no circumstances is it ever acceptable to kiss the lady’s extended hand in such a situation.

If by misfortune, one is introduced to someone whose acquaintance is undesirable, merely make a formal nod of greeting which encourages no further familiarity and withdraw.

Conversation and Correspondence

The purpose of social gatherings is to please and be pleased where the object of conversation is to entertain. The power of preserving silence is vital for those wishing to please: not a sulky, indifferent silence but a deferential silence where one listens attentively. By all means respond where a response is necessary but never give short or sharp answers in ordinary conversation unless one aspires to gain distinction by mere rudeness.

Nothing bores more than someone who talks for the simple pleasure of hearing oneself speak on a topic of no general interest. Speak to the point of what has been said and be sure to temper the volume of the voice; the silence imposed on a crowd by the sole power of one’s lungs is most definitely unwelcome.

As for the topic of conversation, never speak of one’s children or praise near relations in company as to do so deprives the listener of all power to dissent. The discussion of ailments or prowess in battle should be kept for practitioners of the healing arts and the confines of the sparring arena respectively; they are not for general airing.

The charm of clever conversation is not in the display of one’s own wit and intelligence but in the power to draw forth the contribution of others. The lady who leaves a gathering after a long conversation feeling pleased with herself and the part she has taken in the conversation can be considered a worthy advocate.

Simple fluency of tongue and a little modest assurance allow one to shine. Be cheery – affable of temperament not high spirited - and exude a sincere desire to please and be pleased; these qualities alone will see one succeed in conversation.

To be truly memorable one must be well versed in both philosophy and theology, also possess a fair acquaintance with history, science and magic, not to mention the idiosyncrasies of fashion and nuances of language.

Though one need not be a poet, musician or artist, one must be well read and acquainted with artisan skills because it is only by their study that taste can be cultivated. It is however the height of ill-breeding to converse or jest on subjects that are not perfectly understood by the party at large and almost as uncivil as whispering or speaking in a language that may not be familiar to those present.

The art of conversation consists in knowing how to contradict and when to be silent. In regard to facts wrongly stated, no well-bred person would ever think of correcting them merely to show wisdom in such matters but, when tackled politely, it is easy to rectify an error when the development of the topic demands it.

The natural flow of conversation must remain calm and serene. If the subject matter takes a grave or serious turn but continues to be of interest to all parties, never break in on it with any display of wit or levity but continue to participate without affectation.

Avoid teasing and sarcasm; they are weapons that few can wield effectively and if forced to speak on a difficult subject, be the last to do so if at all possible.

In mixed company, try not to speak to a friend on a matter which the rest do not understand unless it is something which can be readily explained and inclusive of those in the party. Above all, never ask a lady a question about anything whatsoever; couch the inquiry in terms of a statement and allow her the opportunity to impart as much information as she considers agreeable.

There is no surer sign of vulgarity than the perpetual boasting of possessions or achievements: one does not gain recognition by flagrant exhibitionism.

Do not endeavor to shine in all companies. Leave them wanting to hear more; if it can be expressed in six words, never use a dozen. Make one’s company a rarity and people will value it; in the case of ladies, men despise what they can easily have.

When conversing by means of a letter, as in all other forms of social observance, the highest achievement is in giving the appearance of simplicity, grace and integrity.

Consider the suitability of the parchment on which the message is to be conveyed; whilst largely a matter of personal taste, there are circumstances where colored or scented paper would be inappropriate. A wax seal should always be applied in the case of personalized and crested stationery.

At all times, be sure to write neatly. Attention should also be given to the open and close of a missive to avoid offences of pretension, dismissal or undue familiarity. Correspondence is the mirror that reflects one’s appearance, taste and character.

Dress and Deportment

Dress is often considered a trifling matter but it is in fact of considerable importance. Those that take time over their appearance should not be condemned as weak or peculiar. Personal appearance should be viewed as a prologue to character.

Well-bred people do not often dress in what is called the "height of fashion" as that is generally left for pretenders and flatterers. To be considered stylish, one must adopt a personal manner of dress with a polite nod towards the dictates of court and fashion.

A well-dressed individual does not require so much an extensive wardrobe as a varied one. Adapting simple dress for both season and occasion is all that is required for the edicts of good taste. Neat attire with a modest countenance and graceful deportment do more for one’s character than an ostentatious display of wealth and eccentricity.

Consider the absurdity of wearing one’s finest damask and silks to wander the dangerous environs of our walled towns and cities or similarly, the jarring clink and odor of chainmail at a ball.

Dress should be such so as not to excite both positively or negatively. To be fancifully dressed in gaudy colors and myriad trinkets is an example of bad taste and to be discouraged. True gentlemen rarely flaunt jewelry; that is left for the preserve of the fairer sex who in turn should reserve it for evening display only.

Everything depends on the judgment and good taste of the wearer. There should always be an harmonious adjustment of one piece of clothing to another as there should be to the size, figure and complexion of the wearer so as to present a pleasing ensemble.

Assuming one is correctly attired, punctual and in a good frame of mind, one is almost assured of welcome at any occasion.

Invitations and Hospitality

The nature of invitations generally fall into two categories: the personal invitation to tea parties, garden parties and weddings and the more open invitation or announcement to receptions, performances, dances and balls.

Personal invitations of a formal kind are invariably issued in the third person, and good usage permits of no deviation from this form. This should ideally be extended to all invitations where possible but the less formal are also acceptable in the second person if written by hand rather than engraved.

Personal invitations should always be acknowledged regardless of the occasion and in the form of a written acceptance or regret. A timely response is vital as is the intention to keep the obligation.

It is permissible for a guest to take a partner in the case of an open invitation but it is not generally acceptable to approach a host about bringing a stranger where a personal invite has been received. If one is intimate with the host or hostess however, and believe the omission to be an oversight, it would be mindful to discreetly mention it.

The impression of hospitality is intangible yet its presence – or absence – is strongly felt by those in attendance. Some have a natural gift for being hospitable whereas others carry with them an air of austerity that can adversely affect the scene.

It is worth noting that when entering a social arena, one is forced to make a choice – consciously or subconsciously – about place or position in the world. Should one, for example, wish to be established as a devoted husband or wealthy lothario, a graceful hostess or social butterfly, a misanthrope or philanthropist: all defining characteristics that will linger in the memories of guests and hosts alike.

A polite host should greet each guest on arrival with a warm smile and kind word. Nothing of great importance need be said as simple charm of expression and manner expresses a far more gracious welcome than a wealth of elaborate phrases and effusive compliments.

Ideally, each guest should be shown equal and impartial attention but, if the numbers attending are formidable, this may not be feasible. It is not unheard of for ushers to be in place at functions other than at weddings; their purpose to ensure that no young or unchaperoned lady is left without a dancing partner or escort into dinner.

Good taste demands that hospitality is extended to the menu. One should always try to provide a balanced selection of food and beverages that caters to all tastes and avoids the humiliation of excluding or offending a guest. Dishes need not be elaborate or extensive but some thought should be given to their content.

As a guest, it is considered impolite to refuse dishes at the table because to do so implies that one does not like what is on offer. If this is true, care should be taken to take at least a little and make a pretense of eating.

Fashionable ladies never take off their hats but gloves should be removed and stowed before being dining. Fans must be closed and tied on the wrist or placed in the lap.

Once seated, whether for dinner or a performance, one inexorable rule of etiquette is that one must talk to one’s neighbor regardless of resentment and past indiscretions. The host deemed it appropriate to invite both parties and one must simply put all bitterness aside for the occasion. Conversely, nothing shows less consideration for others than to whisper and giggle or make audible remarks throughout.

When it comes to the time of departure, there is no precedent unless a monarch or Head of State is in attendance. In such a case, it is customary for the guest of honor and entourage to rise and take their leave first. Other guests should consider this their cue to follow soon after unless specifically asked by the host or hostess to remain or a preset time has been mentioned on the invitation.

Courtesy dictates that a thank you note or token gift should be dispatched to the host within the next few days.

In Closing

Never make the mistake of thinking that a pretty face or handsome countenance precludes the need for intelligence, honorable behavior and decorum. A gift of more value than beauty and aristocratic demeanor is an inward altruistic charm outwardly expressed in good manners with the assured knowledge that it is not possible to be rude and escape being disliked for it.

Above all else, have regard for others in all things: consideration for their rights and feelings is not merely a rule for behavior but the very foundation upon which society is built and the essence of etiquette is never to do anything that is unpleasant to others.