Sunday, October 08, 2006

Deportment 101

Nicolas LANCRET, Paris, L'automne 1738

When it's all said and done, things haven't changed all that much . . .

"It is proper that her [bourgeois housewife] behavior at table be fitting. But before coming to sit, she should be seen moving throughout her household so that everyone is aware that she is attending to all matters: let her come and go busily, then sit down at last. She should even have everyone wait for her a little. And when she is seated she should, if possible, serve everyone; she should be the first to cut the bread and to pass it around her, beginning with her tablemate with whom she will share a bowl. In front of him she should set the thigh or wing of fowl, on in front of him carve beef depending on what is served, whether it is meat or fish. She should not be chary in this serving, if she is able. She should be careful not to moisten her fingers up to the knuckles with the broths, and that her lips not get smeared with sops, garlic or grease; nor should she stuff her mouth too full, nor take too large bites. Only with the tip of her fingers should she pick up the morsel she dips into the Green Sauce [fresh green herbs stamped with salt, pepper and vinegar] or the Cameline [unboiled cinnamon sauce] or Jance [boiled ginger sauce]; and then she should bear it carefully to her mouth so that not a drop of the broth or sauce drips down her front. Likewise, she should drink carefully so that not a drop falls, else she will be looked upon as vulgar and piggish. She should refrain from reaching for her goblet while she has a morsel in her mouth, and she should always wipe any grease from her mouth—at least from her upper lip, because if there is any grease there, drops of it will show up on the wine, which isn’t pretty.

She should take only small sips; even is she is thirsty, she should not guzzle in a single gulp from her goblet or cup, but rather in small sips, and often, so that others will not say she is swilling down greedily. She should not swallow the rim of her goblet as many wet-nurses do who are so simple-minded and gluttonous that they pour their wine into their belly as if they were filling an empty boot. She should avoid becoming drunk, because neither a drunk man nor a drunk woman can keep private counsel; besides, when a woman is drunk she can no longer protect herself; she prattles her thoughts and is open to everyone’s advances. She should keep herself from falling asleep at the table; it is really improper, and too many indecent things happen to those who let that happen. It doesn’t make sense to doze when you should be awake; many who do so end up falling to one side or the other, or backwards, and break their arm or ribs or crack their head."

Jean of Meun, Romance of the Rose,13thC, II. 13,355-444.

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