Friday, November 14, 2008

The Formal Home

There has been a strong effort in the last couple of decades, to casualize the home. The purpose of this, I suppose, is to make people who would otherwise not feel comfortable in your home, feel at ease.

The disadvantage of creating a more casual environment in the home, is that it ceases to be the protective refuge from the stress and influence of the outside world. People who would not normally want to sit at a cloth-draped table and share a cup of tea with scones and jam, will visit, as long as the host has the things they like: plenty of soda or beer, pizza, chips and snacks of all varieties. A big screen will allow them to view the sports and movies of their desires. Casual furniture makes it easy for to lay down instead of sitting up. Since the fridge is stocked with the things they like, and the house is full of the kinds of games and toys they prefer, they can feel more comfortable and will stay longer. Maybe they will be so comfortable, that they will ask to stay the night.

There are people who remember a time when it was a thrill to be invited to someone's house, for a visit. These visits were by the standards of the time, quite casual, but by today's antics, they were formal. Formality had the upper hand, though, where socialization was concerned. Formal people didn't attract the kind of people who were disrespectful or who wanted to "hang out" or lay around someone's house and watch a game.

In the 40's and 50's , the houses were getting smaller, and people no longer hired household help. Meals were mostly eaten in the kitchen, where you could reach over and get hot rolls from the oven. Folks washed their hands before meals, and combed their hair. They waited to eat, until the blessing had been asked. They ate with utinsels, although it was only one fork, one knife, and one spoon. It was rude to burp, or do anything disgusting at the table. Boys had to remove their baseball caps before eating. We thought all that was very casual. Today, it is made to seem formal. This formality kept out the people who did not want to conform.

When we first entered a home, there was a place to remove caps and wraps and hang them up. In the main room, the place where people sat, were tables with doilies and cloths on them to protect the furniture. Chairs were covered at the head and the arms with crocheted squares, which were removed regularly to be cleaned and starched, and then replaced. These kept the chair from being worn out sooner in some places than in others.

When you visited someone, the younger ones deferred to the older ones, for the best seats. Even if you were 30, you never took the most comfortable chair if there was someone older in the room. No one left the dinner table without first excusing himself. A person did not walk out the door without announcing that he was leaving, and saying goodbye. At the time, such things did not seem formal at all. Today, things are so much more casual, it makes those simple things look incredibly formal.

Families respected the posessions in the home. People did not make frequent trips to the kitchen. Food was generally eaten only at meal times, and not on foot. It was considered very rude to sit all over a chair with legs askew, wrapped all over the arms of the furniture. Families valued their posessions and their homes to such an extent, that they took photographs of themselves standing outside, with the house in the back ground. They were proud of their homes. They guarded them. There was (by today's standards) some formality observed. Routines and rituals were so common, that we hardly knew we were doing them: sitting down for a meal, conversing in the living room, getting ready for bed, rising up in the morning, and dressing up. Now, we are made to feel self-conscious about such normal things.

The formal home can be a good thing. This does not mean that the family is uncomfortable there, but that other people feel uncomfortable enough to behave themselves when in that home. A formal home is actually a good protection for a family.

This isn't just about imposing informality on the home from the outside. It it is also imposed by those inside the home, through disrespect of the parents, not caring for clothing and posessions, and not having a place for things. People inside the family can break down the true meaning of the home by mocking and scoffing at meal times, talking over the parents, loud music and movies, friends who do not respect the family, etc. When the family becomes more casual, the stability of the home is threatened. People who would normally be uncomfortable, whose values would corrupt the family, will then be able to feel comfortable, and gradually break down your values. Some people won't be happy unless the home is more like a college dorm, with lights and noise and no structure at all.

As you can see, this is a continuing article: I don't know if anyone out there remembers that there were homes that were unoccupied or abandoned, which we could go into, as they were rarely locked up. Some of them were only occupied during the summer working season. When we went for walks, we might come across one of these houses and go in. People didn't mind if someone used their home if they needed temporary shelter or food, but visitors left the place in perfect order.

I can remember reading some of the books left in the bookshelf, but always putting them back, and always leaving a note of thanks on the table. Sometimes we even cleaned up dishes and things that the owners had left in the sink, and swept the floor. Never was anything destroyed or disrespected. As time progressed closer to the 60's, people began to ransack these places, and they had to be padlocked. They had to put a stop to people moving right in and leaving the place filthy, with trash and clothing strewn all over.

Previous to this, there was a basic respect for the house, because the house is where a home existed, and where a family's precious spiritual values were formed. When you entered it, even when it was empty, you felt their presence and respected them. There were visitors to our house also, who used the water from the well or left a note that they had been there, when we were away. Sometimes they did go in the house, and maybe they lit a fire and got warm. This may seem informal but in retrospect, this kind of intrusion much less threatening than the mental and spiritual invasion of our homes which breaks down human dignity. That is what the current casualness is doing.

What do you think we were most concerned about if someone happened upon our house when we weren't home, and went in? Not that they would damage anything, or steal, but that they would think we were fine, upstanding people, from the evidence of the house.

Finally, to seal my point about formality being a protection for homelife, a quote by author Grace Livingston Hill:

...."You know formalities are good things sometimes. They are like fences to keep intruders out and hedges to keep in the sacred and beautiful things of life."


Sue said...

The "casual" home of the fifties describes my home of the 80's and 90's, and also my home today. We eat at the kitchen table, and I enforce 'manner patrol'. My daughter sets the table with one spoon, fork and knife, all in the proper position. Hands and faces are washed before sitting down and all must be seated before the meal is started. We take turns saying the blessing. Remember, this is MY home in 2006.

I share this because I am probably a minority out there. We don't have company over often, but we do try to do the 'formal' setting when company is here. The entrance has a place for hats and coats, and shoes if you wish to remove them, although it is not necessary. We have slippers if you do. I always wondered what the doilies on armchairs were for, but never asked.

My parents were working class baby boomers, and carried with them a lot of "respectful" traditions. I am proud to say I have them in force in my home.

Sad how I notice a lot of people in my area don't carry on the same traditions. Most families I come across think I am weird for eating at the table. Although I am blessed to have friends who also share this lifestyle.

DonnaB said...

Enjoyed this post very much...thank you!

Isabella in the 21st Century said...

Again, another informative and ejoyable post. Formality is often about respect and basic manners. The idea that we must put other's comfort before our own, not burp at the table, not ruin the furniture, making sure older people are comfortable is surely not fussy or fuddy duddy but an expression of kindness, hospitality and dare I say - that we're properly socialised! If we don't pass on basic these simple skills to our children then we are left with a society that favours self-absorbtion and inconsiderate behaviour. A society that can be threatening to the very old and the very young and one of which it is difficult to be proud.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mrs. Sherman for once again reminding us of how home life used to be. Some of us will remember this formality first hand :) Maybe this increasingly casual attitude within the home is yet another consequence of women leaving their realm as homemakers and by this I mean by our attitudes as well as our actions. Many of the niceties of civilized living go out the door when Mother is pulled in too many directions either mentally or physically. Sometimes these careless attitudes sneak their way into our lives in unexpected ways. Thank you for this timely reminder! Best wishes from Mrs. T.

Anonymous said...

Well for myself I grew up in a very, very, comfortable home. My mother was a single woman so we did not eat meals at the table with her, come to think of it even when she was married we did not eat meals at the table together often, we ocassionaly eat together. We also did not have to wash our face or comb our hair when we got up in the morning, we could stay in our pajamas all day (and it felt good) I did not grow up with consistant structure, one day we would have a routine and the next day we would not. I secretly wished we were more formal and that my mother was more strict and consistant in her routine but it is what was Now I have followed in my mother footsteps with all the above and I find it so difficult to be consistant in anything. I love comfort but I do think that it should be a little bit more refined Great Post!

Lydia said...

My personal experience is that casualness is being forced on the happy homemaker, who loves her domain, is pleased with the furniture arrangement, and enjoys having dinner ready when folks come home. Invited company sometimes has the nerve to walk in with barely any clothing on, holding a big gulp with a straw, which they plop beside their place setting. They stare at the hostess because she is wearing an apron. Their children ransack the bedrooms. They pull the bedding off the beds and jump on them. Some guests don't like the place they are sitting in the living room, so they move the chair or couch at a better angle, or completely in a different area. Some people will tell the host that they don't feel comfortable in their home because their home is so "formal," even when the home is only as described in this article, which, in those days, was informal. (What was informal 50 years ago, is now formal, just as what was underwear 75 years ago is now outer-wear.) However, my point is that if the person cannot abide your company, and will not settle down and VISIT with you, over a cup of tea in one of your grandmother's tea cups, then hooray for formality. He won't be back because he feels "uncomfortable." You won't be bothered with his obnoxiality, and the home will remain a place of purpose, rather than a stopping off place or a flopping down place. I believe we have bedrooms where people can go lay down if they want to sleep, and it is not necessary to do it on the floor in the living room. Some of this has been imposed on the family through experience of life in college dorms, where they impose on one another day and night, sit around un-invited, lose their modesty and their formality, handle other people's posessions, eat their food, and walk off with things that do not belong to them. The first time my own mother was exposed to this, she showed them the door. Later when it happened to a friend of ours, she didn't quite know what to do. It is being imposed on people to break them down to the level which will make them feel comfortable, and gradually bring you down to the lowest level possible.

Lydia said...

This explains the casualness that we are being beaten down with. As I said in the post, it is not that people deliberately want others to dumb down their clothing and their home life, to the lowest common denominator, so that others won't "feel bad."

Well-dressed needn't be criticized for their choices

By Judith Martin

Dear Miss Manners: I am at a loss to understand why it is acceptable to criticize someone for dressing "too well," while the opposite is totally unacceptable. Let me explain.
Last week I attended a retirement party for my husband's co-worker, which was an outdoor Mexican fiesta. I wore a festive peasant skirt (no pantyhose), sandals, a simple top and some ethnic jewelry. As soon as we walked in the door, the host literally yelled, "Hey you were supposed to dress casual for this event! What are ya doin'?" I was speechless.
Last month, a co-worker chided me with "Why are you so dressed up?" I was wearing a skirt, with a matching cardigan and, yes, pantyhose and heels. Later in the week, when I was dressed more casually in cropped pants and a logo-ed polo shirt, she expressed her approval of my attire. I regret to say that I did respond with a very sarcastic, "I'm so glad my clothes meet your approval today!"
There have been other occasions as well. In fact, this happens to me often enough that it has really begun to irk me. Should we all just dress in our sweats and pajamas? I'm certainly no fashion plate, but I do enjoy dressing in stylish clothes. And to be fair I am often complimented on my choice of clothing.
What response can I give to such boorish statements? The one I long to give is "Why are you dressed like such a slob?" But I know that would not meet with Miss Manners' approval.
Gentle Reader: Indeed, it would not. But Miss Manners can at least relieve you of the notion that criticizing someone for dressing nicely is somehow less culpable than criticizing someone for dressing sloppily.
A great many people seem to think it is. On a mission to dumb things down, they bully gentlemen to take off their ties and complain to hostesses that they should have used paper plates and napkins instead of china and linen. Presumably they want to make their own lapses into the general standard.
But they profess to believe that informality is liberating (in spite of their tyrannical attempts to impose it). So a polite answer can be, "Well, I dress as I see fit — as I'm sure you do, too."

Dear Miss Manners: Some friends of mine were delayed several hours returning to a campsite where I'd agreed to keep watch. It turned out that they'd had car trouble and, as there was no cell phone reception where we were camped, had no way of reaching me.
I'd known they wouldn't have been late without a good reason, and I accepted their apology. But their despair at trying to assure me that the delay wasn't their fault made me wonder: At some point does giving an involved excuse for tardiness imply disbelief on the part of the listener? Should one give an excuse for being unavoidably late, or simply apologize?

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners was waiting to hear that they had chastised you for subscribing to a telephone service that had no reception at the campsite. That would have been rude.
But apologizing is not rude, even if goes on exasperatingly long, and yes, some sort of excuse is required. A mere "Sorry we're late" after you had been waiting for hours would have been infuriating. Instead of looking for a subtext, you should have ended a response you probably gave several times — "That's quite all right; sorry you had trouble" — with "But you're here now, so let's forget about it and enjoy ourselves."


Judith Martin Dist. by United Feature Syndicate Inc.

Lydia said...

You might also enjoy the writings of Tovah Marion T. Hovat, online.

Lydia said...

As I said, it is not that the home is something to feel stiff and unhappy in, is that there is an element of imposition going on, where one must be so overly casual, that if you are not, you are considered a snob. (Reverse snobbery)

Lydia said...

This isn't so much about hospitality, as about keeping a certain formality and mystique in the home for our own families, so that it is a place of respect and sentiment, rather than some dropping off place like anywhere else. It has to have some kind of routine, and things of value in it that are treated with respect, so that it has meaning, and is worthy of its name and its function. It isn't a place where people just come and get a shower, grab a snack on their way to "somewhere else." If it continues to slide downhill, children will have no qualms about damaging it or bad mouthing their parents.

Cherish the Home said...

Loved this!

Where did we, as a society, get the idea that being 'comfortable' was the most important thing in life?

I sometimes wonder if the critics of manners and respect do so because they feel convicted themselves and wish to bring you down to their level.

As the old saying goes...'Misery loves company'.

Anonymous said...

I agree with almost everything you said...

But then thinking aobut it last night, isn't the home rather relative to the other places where thigns take place? For instance, 100 years ago the home might have been formal, but buisness places, churches, etc were even more formal. THe home was still a place where one could relax a bit, compared to all the other places.

Now that all those other places have changed and become less formal too, it seems strange to have a home be more formal than, say, chruch. =P I'm not saying the home shound not be formal, but I'm just speaking relatively.

Hmmm, I'm not sure I made my point very clear.....but I did enjoy reading it, your post had some very good things to think about! =)

Lydia said...

Heidi, it is obvious that as formality degenerates in public places,the home reflects it. However in the 1800's, the homes created the formality that the public places reflected. Manners and values that were practiced in the home were immitated in the public, and not vice versa like today. The reason it is so convoluted today, with public manners being imposed on the home, is that in many cases, the children spend the major part of the day in public places, and do not acquire the values of the family. Indeed, the home cannot compete. We were always taught that the way you behaved in the home would make you or break you in public. Now the public seems to decide how things will happen at home. Formality in the home (simple things like being dressed, speaking in a civil way to others, being clean, putting things away, cleaning up after yourself, respecting the furniture and dishes, having mealtimes, bedtimes, and other "times", etc) will prevent the breakdown of values. Other people who don't believe in all that, will avoid the families who do, and although these formalities put a barrier between them, it also provides protection for the family unit and keeps their beliefs from breaking down.

Lydia said...

PlainandSimple: well said. Care and concern for others is the main point. Yet those who wish to dumb down the home, will reverse this reasoning by saying, "If you care about others, you will want me to be comfortable, you must conform to what I want. I must be allowed to walk wearing whatever I want, listening to whatever pleases me, leaving food all over the house, not bathing and offending anyone I want to, in the name of my own comfort."

Anonymous said...

The way you replied makes so much more sense, thank you! I guess when I think of "formal" I ten to think more of the not folding your cloth napkin because it might crease it, no snacks allowed, children to be seen and not heard...that sort of thing. I think I get what you're syain gnow....thanks for taking the time to respond to me! The Lord bless you...

Lydia said...

Formality today consists of decent things like
being fully dressed
chewing with mouth closed
having mealtimes and bedtimes
cleanliness, neatness, picking up after oneself.

Rachel said...

Enter me (and my house) into the formal column (well, most of the time--tonight we had a picnic in the living room, lol).

But I am one of the few around here who insists on the "Formal today" list that Lady Lydia listed above....get up, get the bed made, get cleaned up and dressed, breakfast at the table, so on and so forth.

It helps that a) we are a one car, one income family, and b) we homeschool. It's easier to inculcate these ideals in the children when they are around you all the time...they aren't sent out to be (in effect) raised by someone else, with someone else's ideas of what consists of proper behavior.

Thank you so much for your blog. It is so nice to know that there are others out there who think the way that I do about these issues.

Anonymous said...

I had to smile when I read Honey Cakes' remark that she didn't know before what the doilies on chairs were for. A bit of trivia - the doily that went on the back of an armchair, where one's head would rest against the upholstery if one leaned back and relaxed, was called an "anti-macassar". There was a hair oil that men used to control their hair way back when called "macassar oil", and these doilies protected the chair from being stained by contact with the gentlemen's hair!

I'm reminded by Lady Lydia's excellent post of a chapter in Little Women, where the oldest daughter, Meg, has been married for a while and has had twins. She's let the housekeeping go to pieces, and spends every second with the babies (unnecessarily, as she has considerable familial support willing to take the children for a while daily), completely neglecting her husband. When she appears at the dinner table at all, it is in her "wrapper", a term used then for a housecoat or robe - which she apparently wears all day long, not even taking the time to dress and groom herself.

One night she's at the table, looking like a trainwreck, and she remembers how her husband always changes his work clothing, puts on a tie and jacket, washes hands and face and combs his hair before coming to the table. She asks him why he goes to such an effort after his long day at work (remember, people worked ten-plus hours a day back then, and he was a clerk, which meant he stood all day long at a "standing desk" - the man was exhausted.)

He simply responds "I do it out of respect for you, my dear." This gentle answer woke her up to how unpleasant it must be for someone else to sit at the table with her looking like a dump and grousing about her day.

That's what formality in the home is all about - simple respect for one another, and for ourselves. Once standards drop, and people begin to accept lower standards, self respect diminishes rapidly. One begins to believe that one doesn't deserve to have or use choose one or all) "nice dishes, cloth napkins, to eat at the table, to expect others to look and smell decent, to sit on a chair, to be with pleasant company, to expect others to eat with their mouths closed, etc".

It's like the people who protest when a hostess has pretty dishes and cloth napkins out for a company dinner - those folks who ridicule her efforts and say that paper plates are good enough, etc. They are, through their "reverse snobbery" stating that they don't think they deserve better.

If you begin to treat yourself with respect, and others with respect in simple things like decent simple manners, dressing decently at a meal, sometimes using your good things instead of leaving them on the shelf, you will find that you value a touch of formality more. Formality doesn't have to mean suffocating and elaborate etiquette - just doing what would make a dining or visiting experience more pleasant for others. At the core of it, that's all manners are - a way to make life more pleasant for all concerned.

And I must say from much experience that there is nothing pleasant in being around someone who has been in their pajamas all day (after sleeping in them all night), eating with people who gobble and chew with their mouths open, and having guests who refuse to respect boundaries and act as if they're "hanging out" with their pals in a college dorm somewhere. One guest walked into my house not that long ago, turned on my television with out so much as a by-your-leave, and then said "You don't have cable! How will I ever get through this boring visit without my MTV?"

I smiled pleasantly, turned off the TV and informed him that he could leave now, and go watch all the MTV he wanted. He hadn't shown the least modicum of manners, he ignored boundaries, he announced that the visit he had been invited for was going to be "boring". Why should I tolerate such a boor in my home?

Guests like this are no loss at all. The tragic thing is that they will never even understand what they did that was so offensive, because they've been brainwashed into "let it all hang out" and believe that there is nothing wrong with being so very rude and unkind.

Anonymous said...

I normally don't post twice, but I just remembered a phrase that my husband uses about our home, that came up when dealing with a frequent, very rude and inconsiderate guest. Just for some background, this guest would invite himself over, or even turn up completely unexpected on Saturdays and Sundays, arrive with five newspapers which he would read cover to cover and throw all over our living room floor (and leave there when he left), would not let us know if he intended to stay for meals but when dinnertime would arrive, would dictate what he wanted to eat, and would then criticize the food and eat like a pig. His only conversation was endlessly griping and complaining about his life, wife and job, and he dismissed all other conversation from us as insignificant compared to his concerns and complaints.

It finally all came to a head when he appeared on Easter Sunday, and threw a fit about not being able to eat what I planned to prepare for our holiday meal (he had a number of imaginary "allergies" and gastric complaints with which he controlled people's menus when he visited) - so I rapidly cooked up a main dish with fish, the only thing he would eat. He crabbed about it, but ate most of what was there, because he gobbled and would finish a plate of food before other people had been served properly. Then he went on at great length about his horrible life, wife and job - the usual. No-one could get a word in edgewise or turn to conversation to a positive subject.

When he left, my husband went to the door with him and said, "I am going to ask you not to come back to see us until you learn something about how to behave in company and begin to have some consideration for others. You come here and take up one and sometimes both days of our only time off, which is the weekend. You don't socialize, but read papers and leave a mess, and when you do talk, you just complain to the point where we dread to see you coming. My home is my place of light, where I go after my own job, which is very taxing and difficult, and I can't have someone imposing his negativity on it. When you can act more pleasant, you'll be welcome here, but until then, please don't come back."

"My home is my place of light." I remember those words whenever I feel like dropping our standard of living to make things easier for myself - or when someone comes into my home and acts like a boor. It's a good standard to adhere to - a home that is a place of light.

And no, this guest has never returned. Easier to find other people to victimize rather than change his ways, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Lady Lydia,
I have been raised with a certain amount of formality myself. But, over the years, through not wanting to be "selfish," and insisting on "my way," have made this very mistake of allowing slackness to come into my home. Although, one friendship I deliberately terminated, due to the fact that it became a burden to be in her company and her children. To some degree, I felt guilty. It worried me that I was too hard, too expectant. In my home children did not climb on tables and chairs, did not jump on the furniture, did not open other people's refrigerators. Did not put fingers in a freshly baked desert. Once, a child hit me, for taking him of of a chair he used to climb onto my counter. The mother laughed saying how determined he was. I cannot believe I even put UP with this relationship for as long as I did. What was I thinking? Even outdoors, my children were not allowed to run wrecklessly about, Hanging on anything that was available or climbing on the hood of a car. When this family would leave my home, I would feels so distraught that I didn't handle myself better, blaming myself for being so angry, at the same time, feeling quite justified. What caused me to finally wake up was when I felt as though I were being mocked for my expectations. I often wondered why she didn't break off the relationship with me, since she seemed to find me so "high strung," about what kids did. Finally, I came to my senses, and no long met with this person.
This past year, my nineteen year old son went away to college. He feared that he was not good with people. He felt too annoyed with the other boys his age, and some much older. It was hard to put up with these men disrespecting (without them even realizing what they were doing) his apartment, and small amounts of furniture. Items would get broken, and dirty, or used without permission. He felt as if he was the bad guy. Our family is not as polite and well mannered as I would like it to be. But, my son knows that when he enters another home, that home and the belongings and people living in it, are to be respected. He was concerned that he made others feel uncomfortable, because of his obvious disdane for some of their behavior.
My family has slackened. We have lost some of the manners that were enforced when we were all younger. A few years ago, I was so embarrassed when while eating at the table, my own mother blurted out to my two younger children to stop eating with there mouth open! It was not that it had never been taught, But, something kicked in that made me realize there needed to be more instruction. As you pointed out, others are not comfortable with formal living in the home. It had never come to my mind, that it could work as a type of "weeding," out those who wish to dumb down.
As I read your blog, it comforted me to think that maybe I had not been so wrong in the past.
A very rare subject to be addressed, and very much needed. It is helping me to re-evaluate a few things in our home.

Lydia said...

It seems like the breakdown of civilization begins with more casual dress, then even more casual behavior and then disgustingly casual words. Without the barriers that formality provides, anyone can walk into anyone's home and do anything they want. This is reminiscent of the Bolsheviks, who moved into the homes of good people and set up camp, or the way the gestapo behaved in the Maria Von Trapp story, where they displaced families set up their headquarters in the finest of homes. Sounds preposterous, but it could come to that if formality goes out the door. Within the house itself, family members can be influenced to be more informal and bring that riotous existance and arguing to their own living rooms, chasing away the parents to the furthest end of the house.

Lydia said...

p.s. It was an excellent post, but I don't think I was the one who wrote about the incident in Little Women. It was someone else.

wendybirde said...

Wow do I second what Plain and Simple said:

"The idea that we must put other's comfort before our own, not burp at the table, not ruin the furniture, making sure older people are comfortable is surely not fussy or fuddy duddy but an expression of kindness, hospitality and dare I say - that we're properly socialised! If we don't pass on basic these simple skills to our children then we are left with a society that favours self-absorbtion and inconsiderate behaviour. A society that can be threatening to the very old and the very young and one of which it is difficult to be proud."

And I think in particular it is young BOYS that need to be taught these things, for putting the other's comfort first is the hallmark of becoming a GENTLEMEN, which is something we have so direly lost! One of my favorite qoutes on being a gentleman is from (the victorian era's) Cardinal Newman:

"His benefits may be considered as parallel to what are called comforts or conveniences in arrangements of a personal nature: like an easy chair or a good fire, which do their part in dispelling cold and fatigue, though nature provides both means of rest and animal heat without them. The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast; -- all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at their ease and at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. He makes light of favours while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring."

And I also just love what Lady Lydia said here:

"My personal experience is that casualness is being forced on the happy homemaker, who loves her domain, is pleased with the furniture arrangement, and enjoys having dinner ready when folks come home...(The theft of this by so called "casualness") is being imposed on people to break them down to the level which will make them feel comfortable, and gradually bring you down to the lowest level possible."

And it has me thinking...when we cease to have gentlemen in our midst in our homes, then we are no longer the mistress of the home either, it really is an attack on this. I think that is perhaps the key to the gift of this "formality", and why disrepectful men in particular can prefer things "more casual for themselves" in the home. It makes things easier on them--and much harder on us women--which is the very opposite of them being a gentleman.

Naomi said...

Thank you for your article. I do practise this kind of formality in my home just as my mother practised it as I was growing up. I hadn't considered it as protecting our family and I thank you for showing me that.

Lydia said...

Mrs. Anonymous: You must be the same age as I am. I always had difficulty being authoritive. I thought it was pushy or trying to have my own way. Others would say they didn't feel "at home" because I didn't have the things they liked there to entertain them. I slacked off just to be nice. In the end, I was shown that it was not nice at all, to let boorish people break down the formality of the home, because formality is more than just using a fork. There is a barrier much like the borders of a country. You don't just walk through it as if you owned the place.

Lydia said...

boorish people includes the children and grown children. You have to watch the outsiders but you have to watch the insiders, too. They have to reinforce your values and will help solidify the home if they don't mutiny.

Lydia said...

yes we can't let men dominate with their casual ways. It is the women who will keep these niceties. If you will look into the history of the Australians, you will find that even the most outback settlements had women in homes who used table cloths and other good things. and made a home different from the world. Somehow in this generation, I think we've lost our nerve! At least the polite ones have. I don't know if anyone eveer saw an old movie called "The Trap" starring Oliver Reed. A trapper came into the town of Seattle in the early 1900's and found a wife. She went out to his cabin to live with him. He threw scraps on the floor and she picked them up. She washed clothes and kep the house clean. He scoffed at this, but one day when she returned to visit her home, he felt not only the loss of her presence but of her formalities, which he normally would make fun of. When she returned, he had made a chandelier for her out of found antlers, no doubt to acknowledge his respect for formality.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I think of our family as "the domestic church", from the teachings of Pope John Paul II. Therefore, our home is a place to be respected and cared for. We have a fairly small home, with only one living area. People always think we're silly for dedicating one of the bedrooms as a "game room" for the children's toys. It is not a big room they have, but it stays organized, and our living room stays formal. People have commented that they would never even know we had children but for their photos on the wall. We take it as a compliment. The home does not need to be trashed out to be comfortable. Our comfort comes from the religious icons decorating the house, and the peaceful feeling of returning to a beautiful family and an ordely life when I get home from work at the end of the day.

Lydia said...

Good idea about the living room. As the elder of 7 children, I still can't remember being allowed to dominate the living area with toys. Mother had a five minute pick-up call every now and then when we would all scramble to get any personal belongings out of that room.

wendybirde said...

whoops, a comment was just sent in accidentally, hadnt even proofread it yet, I'm sure its filled with typoes and such and I apologize. I'll try and rewrite it now, I dont have a copy so its from memory/new...

Lady Lydia, I just love that image you shared of the husband making his wife the chandelier of antlers out of his respect. That is such a healing image!

And i know what you mean about the impact of things like tablecloths and such even in "outback" sort of places. I live in a decent area but an incredibly run down room (a rental, temporary, I am searching to move) and yet even here, amidst the horrible walls and the concrete floors, I must have a lace tablecloth on my desk, and candles and such, it just doesnt feel right at all without these things.

I loved what you said about how women "keeping these niceties" makes home different from the outside world. And when this is dishonored our homes are profaned...and so are we. Disrespect isnt just a small thing, it goes to the heart. It's hurtful.

Lydia said...

Mrs. McKenzie: this sounds very politically incorrect, but formality keeps the riff-raff away.

Anonymous said...

Although our home is on the "formal" side I can sure see much to think about and tweek after reading this post and the comments by so many sharing women. I thank you all for helping my family...and hopefully we can influence others. Thankyou.

Anonymous said...

My grandmother gave me some wonderful advice. I have some crystal that she gave me that I never used. She told me to use it and enjoy it. My grandmother had a beautiful dining room table. She had only eaten at it twice even though she had owned it for years. Then, their house burned down. Enjoy what you own. Use the tablecloths, the nice china, and the elegant touches. All those wonderful things will only go to waste if you hide them away.

Mrs. F

Lydia said...

Generally the rules of home living are: if this is your domain that you are in charge of and keeping, whatever you like, stays, and whatever you don't like, goes. The rules of formality are nothing more than rules of decency and courtesy. Those who have the home are the ones in charge and it is up to them how it is conducted. Too often the homemaker is intimidated into conforming with the new casualness that is invading home life.

Lydia said...

Being in charge of your own home means that if there are people coming around disturbing the peace or demeaning the authority, freeloading, or just any kind of disrespect, scoffing, etc., you are allowed to show them the door. If you choose to invite anyone in need, it is your choice, but you still are in control of what goes on in the home. Those who would be a bad influence on your children, or who would create strife, need to be kept at bay. There are "things" as well as people, that diminish the meaning and purpose of home living, like publications, music,ads, media, etc. I was going along my merry way happily listening to a classical music station when the news came on and there was a report of a terrible thing that should not even be spoken of in public. It wasn't earth shaking news, but one of those things that demoralizes people.

Lydia said...

Just to clarify: informality today means rudeness. Formality means courtesy. If the dissenters will re-read the article they will see that in no way does formality require snobbishness, but it is a way of protecting the home from rude, coarse people who disrespect and scoff and complain.

Anonymous said...

Lady Lydia said, " He won't be back because he feels 'uncomfortable.' You won't be bothered with his obnoxiality" and "formality keeps the riff-raff away."

Lady Lydia, I agree with much of what you said and we practice many of the things you mentioned in our own home. I too lament the casualness of the world we live in, but I have some concerns about the comments you made above. While we don't need to allow people to abuse our homes or our hospitality, I think we need to be careful about showing people the door too quickly. The "riff-raff" need the Gospel too (Jesus is our example in this), and oftentimes people don't even realize how rude they are being. Why not try patiently and lovingly to show them another way of living? I agree that sometimes a line must be drawn for the sake of our families, but sometimes we need to reach out to these boorish people and not just banish them because they don't meet our standards. We need to be careful and prayerful. Our homes are havens, but they are also places of Gospel ministry. Our children learn valuable lessons when they see us reaching out to people who are different, lost, and/or who might not have the same standards we do. My 16yo daughter's new friend (who, if she is a Christian, is a baby one) came to our home for the first time last week and had dinner with us. We ate with the table set nicely as we always do~~nice china, flowers, etc. She was a little amazed, but I was glad she had the opportunity to see that there is still at a family who eat dinner together at a nicely set table. She was asked to toast some bread, and she told me she had never made toast before and that her family never eats anything that doesn't come out of the microwave! It was my turn to be amazed (although I tried not to show it). I was glad she was with us and hope to have her here many more times. Now, if she begins to abuse us or our home, we will have to do something, but for now, my daughter is befriending her in the name of Christ. I didn't care if her manners or demeanor weren't up to scratch. Maybe we can influence her and help her to see a better way. If not for the grace of God, I myself could very well be numbered among the obnoxious riff-raff.

Submitted with due respect.

Lydia said...

One of the reasons I posted the article was to show that sometimes when people say you are too formal, they just mean they feel uncomfortable because they have to behave themselves! This includes our own children. One grown child told her mother that now that she was grown up, she didn't want to follow "a bunch of rules" so she began to leave clothing laying around on the floor and furniture, and food all over the place, refused to bathe, refused to dress properly in front of others, and quit answering politely. That is considered casual today, but it is not casual, just childish and rude. Formality--and what I mean by it is just decency, keeps even family members in line.Homemakers are not obligated to make rude people feel comfortable.

Amity said...

I really enjoyed this post!!! The comments made about the way we dress are sooo true. Whenever I go to the mall with Hubby and the children it never fails that people ask me if my children are getting their pictures taken or if we came from a party!?!?! I don't dress them fancy,just niceand I always make sure they are all dressed in the same type of clothes(not matching, just the same styles)

Lydia said...

Anonymous: I think most homemakers can discern the attitudes of the obnoxious and the pushy and those who ridicule and try to break down formalities. Most people can tell the difference between sincere people, ignorant people, or rebellious people.

No one is obligated to entertain people who time after time have made the hostess miserable, ruined her things, insulted the family, criticised the inconveniences of various aspects of the homelife, and so forth.

There is a big difference between the precious young girl you entertained, and the boorish dolts who terrorize the home with their indolence and hold the homemakers hostage to their insolence.

For a too long, people have been made to feel self conscious about things like dignity and standards. They are afraid they will appear to be snobs. This kind of pressure makes them think they have to put up with just about everything, so they will not seem to be "cold" or "inhospitable."

That formality, though, could just be the thing they need to keep their families and their homes safe. As you read the comments, you will see this expressed perfectly by people who call their homes places of peace and light, not places where there is constant uproar or upheaval.

I doubt very much that anyone pushes any bad guest out the door too quickly. These days, the reason such a plague exists is because they were shown the door "at last" instead of "at first."

In former times, if someone did something insulting one time, they were not invited back again for a long time. As word of this travelled, people knew if they behaved the same obnoxious way, they would not be treated warmly, either. That kind of peer pressure was valuable in protecting the home. Today we have reverse peer pressure--the pressure to do whatever is the opposite of good manners. Reverse snobbery means that the homemaker has no right to any preference or conviction and that no rules apply because if she insisted on a certain standard, she would be "a snob."

The comments reveal some of the things that are going on these days to dumb down the values and the standards of home life.

Some of them tell how they went the second mile with these people so that they wouldn't offend, or appear to be cold or inhospitable. In the meantime, sometimes irreparable damage is done to the members of the family as they put up with the rudeness and crudeness of others.

The young girl you entertained had a completely different attitude and was obviously not there to bring you to her experience, but to experience what you had to offer and appreciate it.

There are others who believe a home is public domain, and that they have a right to its offerings. Some homemakers for years have thought that was so, and to refuse to serve someone was un-Christian.

Jesus himself said to shake the dust off your feet (a symbollic practice that pre-dates the 1st century) when people would not accept good instruction.

We are warned by Him not to cast our pearls before swine.

Also, in the Proverbs, the statement "Bad company corrupts good morals" is an admonition to be discerning about who we associate with, especially in view of the influence they will have on us.

The Bible can be quite harsh, in some respects, calling people whose hearts are full of guile, names like swine, brood of vipers, bad companions, and scoffers. (Pro 22:10 Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.)

We live in a society that doesn't want to admit that some people's actions are not nice and that we are actually mandated to get away from them.

Obviously, your experience is different than some of those who have commented, and I hope that no one comes in to give you those bad experiences. They certainly make a person feel shell-shocked.

In the name of God, many unsuspecting homemakers, anxious to share their hospitality, allowed certain people to come into my home who tried to turn the family against each other--the children against the parents, and the parents against each other. The experience was a lesson and many of them are much more cautious and protective, now.

If such people need to be taught, there are ways of doing it without allowing them to degrade and demoralize the family.

Some people come to visit with the express intention of "enlightening" the conservative family by introducing more informal behavior and conversation. They think that family is backwards and want to bring them to the level of the prevailing culture of casualization.

Your teen friend is blessed to have you as an example and indeed, your point about it being an opportunity to influence her, is well stated.

DaisyChain said...

Lady Lydia~ How should a homemaker handle negative comments about her home's formality?

My husband and I were recently hosts to a particular family member who did nothing but criticize me throughout their entire visit. From my homemade food, the cleanliness of my home, how I set my table, my vegetable garden, and pretty much everything else in between, nothing was appreciated, or at the very least not complained about to my face. I was told that I should be making boxed food and not cleaning my house, but rather working at a "real" job. I was not sure how to handle this hurtful situation, especially as the person is family, but I did tell my husband about the problem and he talked to said family member and told them they will not be invited back to stay in our home after their disrespect.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lady Lydia,
There are several anonymous comments on this post. I imagine, it can be a bit confusing once in a while. Here I am, another anonymous commenter... Just wanted to mention that in wanting to reach out in the name of Christianity this desire has been a part of why I had been fearful of being selfish, fearful of being blind to my own flaws, and fearful of being haughty, and fearful insisting on my "stubborn" way. But, I have come to regret this.
My experience, and it has been a span of at least 17 to 20 years...We have dealt with a variety of personalities and a few different situations in different sections of the United States. (because my husband is a minister) It has come to my sincere believe that the bad corrupts the good, not the Good setting a wonderful example, with the fairy tale ending of the bad coming to enlightenment. It can happen, and I still will not turn a type like the above comment was spoken of. But, this type of personality does not come along very often.
It is not all about the details of a person's behavior. It is more about the spirit. And a spirit can be sensed. A haughty look, a mocking jesture, a disrespecful act is still very different than a action that may be made from lack of education about manners, or lack of "refinement." Basically, yes, yes, "bad company corrupts good morals." As I was reading your post outloud to my husband, those very words came out of my own husband's mouth. We feel we have experienced this bit of scripture.
Many of your posts and those of Mrs. Alexandra have been very helpful to me, but this post has been particularly helpful.
For me, this issue has been extremely very difficult. In basic terms, I want to care for people, and be good to people and be a blessing. I do not want to be at odds with people. I never wanted conflict, Especially, those that are in the Christian Church. But, reality has has shown this to be impossible. And the Bible does bring up conflict. Conflict does come about for God's people.
Your posts, especially on this subject at this time, has been a blessing for me.

wendybirde said...

This comment got a little rambly, I wont be offended if you skip posting it...

I have to say I am with the anonymous commenter in being disturbed by the whole ""formality keeps the riff-raff away" part. Up until then what was said here really resonated, but that did not. Nor did the follow up where it was said "The young girl you entertained had a completely different attitude and was obviously not there to bring you to her experience, but to experience what you had to offer and appreciate it." I found that (the part about not deigning to enter her experience) disturbing frankly. Its one thing to expect certain standards kept in your home to keep it kind and peaceful and nurturing feeling and easy to care for etc, to have that respected and supported rather than belittled or taken lightly. I'm behind that 100 percent. But its quite another to then turn around and belittle someone else by taking them lightly and what they might have to offer you lightly. That is hurtful. That young girl was not bullying and disrespecting her host and making the host feel vulnerable, which would have been wrong and deserved that sort of detachment of not "being brought into her experience". Instead that girl was the sort of guest who was herself vulnerable, by being in someones home like that and not being the bullying type. As a host I think it it IS important to be considerate of that.

I doubt you felt your comment about that young girl was belittling, and also of course only you know your own intent there. All I can say is if I were that young girl and you had said that about me i would be hurt and offended. We do not help carry one another's burdens by assuming we are better than the other and that we ourselves might not also have something to learn. That's hurtful and insulting to the other person. And helping one another carry our burdens means LISTENING to the other, really trying to understand them individually, not just assuming you necessarily already have the answers. And so that definitely involves bringing yourself "into their experience", unless they are being harmful and you need to protect yourself or your family.

I really understand what you are saying about not being made to feel guilty because you are not pleasing everyone, and not being bullied into "downing" your home as you were saying just so others can feel "more comfortable" being disrespectful to the haven you wish to create. One of my favorite articles is at and it talks about this, how the woman truly is the mistress of her home and that that should truly be respected. I also really loved the article here about that at , among other really wonderful ones here as well on this.

And noone should be in a woman's home that she is uncomfortable with, even if it is hubby's or son's or daughter's best friend etc--if they are making the woman uncomfortable and damaging the atmosphere she is trying to create then they should not be visiting there, that should be respected-- hubby or son etc can be with that friend somewhere else rather than make things uncomfortable in the home (unless the friend is a damaging one, but that's a whole other area).

But if you DO choose to let someone into your home, then they too should be treated with some respect. If they are the "casual" inconsiderate and subtly bullying type (like all the other examples here) then that is one thing, they are then making you vulnerable; but otherwise they are in your home and in a vulnerable position themselves and that should not be taken advantage of. They should be respected. And respect does involve not just sharing but also listening. Who knows what gifts that young girl will leave with that family. Who knows how one might be blessed by bringing themselves "into her experience". And even if there are no gifts at least there will be more understanding. We cannot carry one another's burdens without that, without actual personal individual understanding, rather than detachment.

I hate the whole politically correct thing personally. And I also hate that those with real standards are seen as snobby or "too sensitive" and the like. When someone says that what they are really saying is that dont want to have to bother with being considerate towards you, and I think that's just plain wrong. But there is a sort of line I think. That one can have real standards without being belittling and hurtful about it. I'm not sure how exactly. But it just seems there must be. And i think we are all a bit muddling here trying to learn and grow as best we can with this...

Anonymous said...

Lady Lydia,

I thank you so much for this post. I wish I could email you somehow privately as my guest who causes strife is my mother. I want to protect my home but we also want to honor my mother as the Lord commands us to do. I did not want to leave my email here though and I did not find anywhere on the site that I could contact you on the side. Thank you again for your wonderful godly blog.

Lydia said...

I think if you merely click on my name on the posts you can reach the email somehow.

Regarding responding to rude remarks, I think the readers probably have some very helpful ideas about it if they would kindly share.

typo: I meant "invited people to THEIR home.." not "my" home.

Thanks for everyone's comments. The teen girl mentioned was hardly the type of guest that threatens the home, nor did she horrify the hostess by insisting on having her own way. She hardly qualifies as the dead-beat friend or relative that many of the commenters have described. Instead, she brings to the family something good and special, which is a real treat, these days.

The anonymous hostess was gracious to her, and truly, most hostesses are enthusiastic and optimistic about sharing their homes. Over the years, I think they get a bit more wise and selective so that their time is not wasted. Homemakers learn to identify those that they can help, those who can help them, and those who can be divisive or corrupt.

I know one young woman who began her married life with the hope that her home would be always open to anyone, even to the point of leaving her door unlocked, in the name of hospitality. As years progressed, experience made her more cautious and selective.

We shouldn't be too sensitive about having strong preferences about who enters our homes. After all, we have preferences (likes and dislikes)where food is concerned and where cleanliness is concerned. We have strong likes and dislikes where music and television is concerned. We are selective about our reading materials and our entertainment.

The home is a haven away from the world, where a man and his wife can retreat and be themselves without outside interference. We have a right to be selective.

If the teen girl who was so graciously entertained, came with an agenda of her own, to break down the family's formality and values, that would have rankled the hostess somewhat.

When you are in someone else's home, you adjust to them, not force them or intimidate them into adjusting to your preferences.

Not all hospitality has to be a meal in a home. Several ladies born in the 1920's, have told me about the Hobos who came to their parents houses. A hobo was sometimes someone who rode the rails and got off in towns where they might find food. In places where food was handed out, these hobos would leave an "X" on the fence or somewhere, so that other hobos could go there. The women have told me that their parents never invited the hobo into their inner sanctum. They would hand the guy some food through the door, or let him sit outside on the porch, but never let him in the house, and he didn't want to come inside, anyway. This was an acceptable form of hospitality and no one was criticised for it. The parents in those days knew it was wise to be cautious and protect their families, but they weren't criticised for not having the hobo inside for a formal meal. This sort of thing was quite common in the 1930's. Our grandparents referred to such people as "bums" and the bums were not demanding to be called something more respectable. They knew they were bums and were happy to be that way, but they didn't impose their values on the homes where they were getting the hand outs.

The teen girl that Mrs. Anonymous described, was completely different than the hobo that our grandmothers passed food to through the back door.

There are acquaintances and there are friends and there are families. In former times, people respected these distinctions and didn't expect to be in the inner circle of a family unless they cooperated with that family and behaved themselves. If they offended the family they had to quit it or they didn't get included very much.

Gail said...

Oh yes, my parents told me the same stories about the hobos. They knew their place and so did everyone else. This sounds horrid to the American ear, and I think that is where some of the confusion and problems have arisen. In our country and probably in the places "down under", people live in an open, egalitarian society where individualism is enshrined. In promoting democratic ideals we really rankle against the idea of "knowing one's place" because it seems unfair, exclusionary, etc. In the last several years, however, this has been taken to the extreme, as in women insisting they be allowed into every private men's club or organization, young people being allowed to openly challenge and disrespect their elders because they assume themselves too brilliant to have to be quiet, people wearing a suit with flip-flops to a wedding (and other similar bad-taste dressing), clergymen who use a swear-word in a sermon for shock-effect (yes, I have observed this at least twice, in two different denominations), and the list goes on. It goes on to include crashing parties and people's homes with the intent of making myself comfortable and teaching you a thing or two about how you should be conducting your own affairs.

I have kept house for over 30 years and I now can say that in the name of being Christian, loving, and inclusive, I very wrongly put up with people, "friendships", and situations that proved detrimental to my family and home, and my own well-being. Why? Sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of my own mistrust of what my gut was telling me, and mostly because of my own cowardice. I was wrong. And one more thing. As a mother of several children, I have entertained many other young people. A lot were good kids; and a lot were seasoned con-men. Things were stolen; I was lied to, and my children were corrupted. Then they started lying. There were also adults who set a bad example for my children and/or directly challenged me about my parenting standards in front of my own family. So I would be careful; heed the Lord's warning about casting your pearls before swine. More precious than pearls are your children, your home, your serenity.
Someone once said that to share the Gospel you shouldn't have to use your children as bait. Protect them.

Anonymous said...

I too, have regrets about the people that I let stay too long. Not that I am inhospitable, but I have learned to be slightly cold to those that I don't want to encourage, because I know they will try to break up my marriage or turn my children against me. That doesn't mean I'm cold to everyone. LIke it has been said, there is the family, there are friends, and there are acquaintances. We need to keep those distinctions and not insist that everyone deserves to be in the inner circle.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Lady Lydia... it is not about being a christian or not being a christian.. it is about good manners and just basic respect. A HOME is a special place. It is not public, it is protected and I have found over the years that it is a haven... I know and understand hospitality, and do not feel I OWE anyone my home... I have never felt obligated to receive anyone that did not have a sense of value... in fact it is scary to invite someone to your home that you had questions about in character and lifestyle... I am a single woman and I am CAREFUL... Your home is you....
I also have raised foster children, one set I had for over 10 years, they still come for visits... they are taught great manners, out of love and concern for them... they get up out of bed, get dressed, wash their face, brush their teeth, comb their hair and make their bed, before ANYTHING else is done... I do not allow them, or myself to run around in robes...
We sit at the table for nearly every meal, occasionally they eat out on the patio, they use cloth napkins and we say grace... they rinse their dishes and say please and thank you...they do not run, yell or rough house indoors, they do not climb on the furniture, they do not throw things in the house...but I have always involved them in fun activities, we laugh and play board games... I have taken them to so many places and they know how to behave.... last summer I was at an Ice Cream parlor, with a whole church group. and the server came outside to where I was sitting and said she had to complement me on how polite the boys were... do you believe that? These are children that come from a terrible background....They go home now to their mom but LOVE to come to my home and visit me, they LIKE the homelife..the quietness, the peacefulness... they are 12 and 15 yrs and KNOW all my training was wrapped with love and respect and I know it will affect them for the rest of their lives....

Anonymous said...

I think there is some confusion in the comments regarding what sort of guest it is best to avoid, and thought I might try to make an explanation, as a couple of my previous posts involved guests that I finally had to exclude from my home.

The young lady mentioned in one post is not that sort of guest at all. Her problem is ignorance and lack of experience because of the environment she was raised in. She might not have ever been taught the niceties that the family she visited was accustomed to, but she did the best she could, kept her eyes and ears open, and learned. She went along with the program in their home, and didn't try to shame or ridicule them into changing things around until it was what she was accustomed to at home. She was a great guest, and I'm sure would be welcome back again.

There is another kind of guest being talked about here, however. These are those people who are determined that they will force you, through bullying, ridicule, scorn and insistence on displaying bad manners, to change the way you do things in your own home. Their surface reason is, of course, that you as hostess, must make them comfortable, no matter how you must compromise your standards to do so. They, on the other hand, are not willing to do their part as guest, which is to try to make a visit pleasant and comfortable for everyone, even if it might mean not having things exactly as the guest is accustomed to at home.

There is a world of difference between the guest who might simply be inept or inexperienced, but who wishes to make a visit pleasant and tries hard, and a guest who is outright determined that they are going to remake your home to suit themselves.

There are also mentions here of a third type of guest, the one who deliberately attempts to disrupt the home. This includes people who are determined to show a hostess that she is "wrong" in something she does, be it doing her own cooking, being a housewife, homeschooling, etc. Sometimes these guests seek to break up marriages and turn children against their parents. And all too often, such guests are members of the host and hostess' families!

The inept or inexperienced guest is no problem, and exposure to different ways of living is usually an epiphany for them, and might eventually lead them toward more gracious ways. The boorish bullying guest and the guest who tries to sabotage a household are other matters entirely, and it is up to the host and hostess to make the decision to limit their contact with such guests for the sake of their own household's sanctity.

Lydia said...

I think they were offended by the term "riff-raff" but it doesn't necessarily mean "people." It means things that disrupt the home that need to be thrown out, whether it be a certain type of magazine or disrupting music. I have noticed that even some women's magazines are disruptive to the home, since they may promote the liberated women who is liberated to do everything but keep a nice house and monitor the cooking and the conversation, to see that it is good and wholesome. It is from an old English word used in the 1700's and means "refuse."

Lydia said...

I'd be interested in what people say to those who criticise everything in the home.

Anonymous said...

One of my biggest regrets is tolerating, in the name of patience, and in the name of flexibleness, someone who frequented our home when our children were young. This person picked on our marriage and on the way the children were being raised, and they heard it. We were trying to be an influence on the person and help them get their life straightend out and their relationships back in alignment. What happened instead was tremendous stress and pressure on our family and we were too polite to get rid of the hanger-onner. It reminds me of an old Fred Flintstone cartoon where some obnoxious relatives came and played loud music and kept Fred and Wilma up all night. When they got ready to go back home, Fred and Wilma said, "Nice having you. Sorry you have to go. Wish you could stay longer." The relatives stayed longer and each time they decided to go, Fred would say cheerfully, "Goodbye, we will miss you," and they would change their minds. Fred was so polite, he just couldn't admit he wanted them to leave, and they took it as an invitation. People really do this! It causes much harm to your family.

Gail said...

What to say to people who criticize you in your home? Be polite but disengage. I just sort of give a blank stare and then change the subject in a very obvious way. And I think I just get very quiet. Also, when I need for a visit to end, nowadays, I'm more likely to initiate a close to the visit than I would have been when I was younger. It doesn't happen so much anymore with adults, but once in the past, because they were relatives who were huge boundary busters, it actually factored heavily into our moving out of state. Sad, really, because we should have found a way to distance ourselves socially until they got the point, instead of having to physically move.

Criticism from others should be evaluated to see if, despite the rudeness, there is any merit in it. But instead of being something that in due time can be solved in a discussion, I have found that when people are determined to do this to you, there is really no effective amount of arguing or trying to justify yourself to them tht will suffice.

Leanne Payne says that it is pointless and dangerous to enter into a dialogue with darkness. Sometimes the attacker really thinks they are doing you a favor, but often it is out of their own darkness that they try to extinguish your light.

wendybirde said...

I think the line might perhaps lie in a few things, my little musings here...

What is vulnerable should be considered and protected, not taken advantage of. If your guest is rude and crude or subtly bullying you, that makes you vulnerable and you should be protected. If on the other hand your guest is vulnerable, as many single women are for example, then you should also be protective I feel. For many people, especially those without the protection of a loving father or a husband, it is quite a vulnerable thing to be a guest in someone else's home, and this should be taken to heart.

The rude crude type guest is not actually seeking comfort but intimidation and being able to be inconsiderate of you. "Lighten up, don't be so sensitive, you should be more casual". In other words, I cant be bothered to be kind and considerate to you. I dont think this is really about seeking comfort (which is why in my responses here I put comfort in quotes) but rather about someone not caring if they hurt you or not and not wanting to "have to bother to be sensitive" to you. Definitely not a healing person in a home. It's called emotional abuse. Someone truly needing comfort is another story I think.

Admitting someone makes you feel vulnerable or uncomfortable and protecting yourself and your family is differnt from saying you have all the answers and are above "entering someone's experience" and learning as well. In the example given of the families who fed those who were hungry for example, was this done with compassion or with judgement? Were they seen as real people, real humans with real hearts, or more only as those bringing "riff raff"? To me that is a very important line with all this. You may not choose to bring someone into your home, but how you view them (with judgement and looking down or with compassion) is in essence your prayer for them. And I deeply believe this has impact. And I think really softening our eyes to have more compassion is a challenge for so many of us, myself included. But even just admitting that one needs to do this has a healing affect I think, makes one less hurtful.

Isabella in the 21st Century said...

I'm interested that many commentors are equating formality with snobbishness. Being a snob means that you discriminate against someone because of their social status - it really is a horrible thing! Being formal means that you ascribe to a set of norms and manners (both within and out of your home). These "manners" are just a set of rules that help people get on with each other. I teach my children to tidy up after thmeselves, have table manners, respect other people's belongings because I am *not* a snob. That is to say, no matter whose house they visit they show respect to that person because they are a guest and the owner of the house has worked hard for their possessions. You can feel comfortable, laugh, play, listen to music, watch TV with your host without putting your feet on the furniture or raiding their fridge or looking in their cupboards or criticising their way of life!

Vis a vis "dangerous" guests. I believe that a Christian should have an "open door" but my DH does not! He feels that our home should be a protective space where the children are safe (physically, emotionally, spiritually)and an open door nowadays is not a sensible thing, he also feels very strongly that it is his duty to protect us (the girls and myself). Therefore, if I minister to the needy I do it by donating food to the SA shelter, knitting for those in need etc, etc. The trouble is the older I get the more apt I am to agree with him...and this gives me the guilts...

P.S. I say that I teach my children manners, but don't think we're all perfect eldest girl has just done the biggest belch...but she *did* say "pardon me"! LOL!

Lydia said...

I'm sorry I was so misunderstood in this article. By "formality" I was not imposing a stiff sort of snobbery that demands to know which fork to use or how to sit at a table.

What I was trying to say was that a certain amount of normal formality such as being dressed when you answer the door, or eating at a table or picking up your posessions and having a little pride in the appearance of the house, repels the people who would ridicule it or criticise the family and otherwise cause dissention in the home.

If they feel uncomfortable throwing papers and cans on the floor because you would like it to go in the waste bin, they will not want to hang out or stay and aggravate.

Because of the college dorm mentality, many homes are sufferring the plague of casualness, and it drives the homemaker into distraction.

Instead of enjoying their homes, they just want to go somewhere else, run away or lock themselves in their rooms.

I hear of this from day to day...a man's sister comes into town and camps out for a few weeks in his house, yells at his children, trashes the entire house, forcing the hostess to live at the other end of the house.

Or, the 20 something son comes home from college or work or somewhere else and brings his sloppy living habits with him and bursts into long, harranging arguments when asked to pick up after himself.

One woman told me, "Our son behaves so badly that I have to live at one end of the house, and he at the other. If he needs anything, he has to go through his father, because he can't speak pleasantly to me."

Another lady endured several weeks of a sister in law who couldn't get her life together, leaving one man after another, and when her own brother told her to stop trashing the house, encouraged the sister in law to get a divorce!

The s.i.l. had asked her not to waste food or water, and not to run up a phone bill, because they couldn't afford to pay it. The intruder answered, "You could get more money if you divorced him!"
She would not accept her brother's teaching or counsel, and said he was "insane."

The homemaker discovered that if she cleaned the house, it made the woman uncomfortable.When the sil finally left, she did so with a bang, saying, "I can't stand it here. How can you kids stand these rules? I'm outa here!"

It is easy to be idealistic about what our goodness and our examples will do for others. We hope they will see the light and want to reproduce what we have done, in their own lives.

Anonymous said...

Lady Lydia,
You write very well. This post has been very comforting. I wish I had the skill to communicate so well in writing. Many of your statements hit the nail right on the head for me. I needed to read your post and some of the other comments by your readers. It helps so much to not feel so alone in this area. I have hated myself for years, because of my difficutly with people who were quite rude in my home. It is finally sinking in, that I blamed myself for things that I should not have, and it helps with confidence.

Lydia said...

Having a little more formality in the home keeps away the interference of those who will try to water down the family's beliefs and values. To illustrate: there was a store in a mall that was having a great deal of difficulty keeping the teenagers from just hanging around inside, doing nothing, moving things around, and wasting time. They changed the arrangement, making it not as easy to access the merchandise, and played classical music instead of popular music. A sign read "no shirt, no shoes, no service." The clientel changed dramatically, and the amount of disturbance was greatly reduced. The formality that was introduced, made the ne'er do wells uncomfortable. You see, some people are not comfortable around chairs and tables and forks, or places where things are put away. If trash is spilled over onto the floor, it seems to attract more trash. I know this from my own kitchen. Once someone sets a wrapper down, or a bag or a straw, someone else finds it easier to set something like that down, rather than put it away in the trash bin. When it is kept neat and clean, it doesn't seem to attract the accumulation.

I had an idea to share with those who are second-guessing themselves and feeling a little guilty because they refuse service to some people, based on their insulting words and actions in their home. If you doubt you made a good call, try it again to confirm your suspicions. Invite them over again and give it one last try. If it happens again, you will know your instincts were right. I've done this before just to be sure I wasn;'t being overly critical or judgemental. The second time around, things were actually worse, as the people never bothered to show up til the event was over, and then they wanted to stay until midnight.

wendybirde said...

I know its hard to be misunderstood Lady Lydia. And if I've been one of those who has misunderstood you I apologize. Maybe I am really missing things. All I can do is say what I experienced I guess. When things took a turn for me was that at fist I was hearing you saying the woman of the house deserves true respect rather than to be bullied with rudeness and crudeness and disorder, which I am behind 100% and then some... but then later I heard more a tone of looking down at others. There was just a real difference there for me. I've been on both ends, having guests and being the guest, and in my experience by far the more vulnerable end is being the guest. Vulnerability needs protection. So I think most guests deserve respect and assurance, as it can be an awkward thing being a guest. And I certainly would not feel respect nor assurance from someone who felt so above me she does not want to deign to "enter into my experience" or care about my comfort, instead I would feel even more vulnerable.

However, when someone is intimidating you with their rudeness and crudeness, being inconsiderate of you and calling you "too sensitive" or "too formal" because you expect them to act decently and considerately, then they are no longer simply a guest but an emotionally abusive person. And when that happens they are no longer the more vulnerable one but now you are, and deserve protection.

I just think there is a real difference there...

Lydia said...

While we can analyze whether or not the article contains anything objectionable, we can miss the entire point. It is like a painting.

If you get up very close and start looking at all the brush strokes, you find some going a different way than you expected, and some a different color and maybe it doesn't look like a painting, up close.

But when you step back and look at the painting as a whole, it looks normal.

We can get caught up in the brushstrokes and miss the big picture.

In an article, we can get caught up in a detail and miss the whole of the thing. I've seen young college students do this. It is like the critical thinking or higher criticism that entered our society and passed off as intellectualism.

A lot of different little elements will make up the main story, and to pick on one little element and make a big deal of it makes it lose its central theme, a theme, which I think everyone can generally understand.

The new critical thinking and higher criticism makes analysts of all of us, until we can't really enjoy anything because we have to pick it all to death and invalidate it--a common practice of the press.

The main theme of the story is that formality--which is the best word I could find to describe it(although it conjurs up the wrong image in most people's minds) will help keep chaos away from your home and make the unruly people who would create quarrels and upheaval, shy away from laying around and being useless and criticising. They tend to dislike things like sitting on a chair, or eating with a fork, bathing, buttoning their shirts, or conversing about worthwhile things. They would rather go to see someone who lets them watch the games on the big screen, drink their cold drinks from the fridge, and lay around all day. That is fine for them, but it is not for everyone.

For the ones who want more meaning in home life, formality (wearing clothes, washing hands, conversation) will protect them from those who don't want to conform and who create an unsettling atmosphere.

The Bible is full of adjectives to describe people with these habits, and says "avoid" lest these habits rub off on you,(such as: ungrateful, haughty, highminded, disobedient to parents, lovers of self, lovers of money, unruly, rebellious, disorderly, scoffers, scorners, seditious, wrathful, envious, etc.) especially if you are vulnerable, as Wendy points out.

It would be different if someone wanted to organize a dinner or some kind of hospitality for people like this, with a settled purpose in mind, of influencing them, but the homemaker is not obligated to evangelize people who terrorize her with their actions.

I appreciated the lady writing about her young friend who was benefitted by the hospitality. I brought out the point that she didn't come with an agenda to mock the family and make sure they gave up their niceties because they might be thought of as "snobbish." She was in their house and didn't push her own ideas of manners off on them as superior.

Throughout the comments, I notice that some anonymous's found one or two words they objected to and rode them quite a ways. You bring your experience to me through your posts, and now I will bring my experience to you:

I was raised by people born in the early 1900's, and observed an entire society and their responses to rude people. It was not like to day at all.

Some of you who are younger, tend to view life as you see it right this moment, but it was not always like this. Rude people were not tolerated like they are today. That is why they get away with so much of it--because they can.

When someone got obnoxious and insulted the wife, the husband would literally pick him up by the armpits and literally throw him out the door.

If unacceptable language occurred in the home, it was cut off immediately by authoritative people, who didn't care if the offender still liked him or not.He would say, "That is enough of that. Let's hear no more of it."

The family was protected from drunken behavior, also. A drunk who was getting out of hand would be shown the door. I heard one hostess say, "Get out of my house."

My article in no way suggested anything as drastic as these physical solutions which worked very well in the past.

Instead, I suggested a peaceful way of correcting the problem: Just create a little more formality in your life. When food is taken from a table, even the children behave a little better.

Quarrels and strife often occur in homes where there is not much order. Orderliness helps contribute to the peace. I'm not saying it is the reason for problems but I am saying it helps when things are in order, when food is eaten at the table, and when people wear clothes.

There are always deeper reasons for people's bad behavior, and even though our house was not always clean and neat when I was growing up (whose would with 7 children!), we weren't allowed to badmouth the cook or spit on anyone or throw things in the house, or eat on foot.

We had many friends but they wouldn't have dreamt of doing the things people do today.

The reason they do such obnoxious things today is because casualness has crept in. I don't know exactly where it came from, but I know that some of it came from college life.

The point was brought out by one of the readers that sadly, most of this behaviour comes from within the home itself. I am saying it can be corrected through a little more formality.

My suggestion of creating a little more formality was a peaceful solution. You are lucky I didn't suggest we go back to the old days when people would insult the hostess and the husband would grab them by the collar and tell them what for.

Isn't it nice we have advanced so much that it is not necessary to do such things, and we can solve the problem in a more civilized manner just by creating more fomality.

It isn't snobbish to not want the company of some people who make us miserable. We understand likes and dislikes when it comes to food and styles of decor, and music, but somehow we have a problem feeling it is okay to like or dislike certain attitudes and manners.

Anonymous said...

Lady Lydia,
Indeed it is true, probably, many have experienced feeling snubbed or uncomfortable treatment by a hostess while visiting in a home. I have. And this did cross my mind while reading this post. I always had to deal with the pain of wanting to be a gracious hostess, in the name of the Lord, then find sudden grief and conflict. This was very disturbing to me. I never took this posting to encourage being a person that thinks they are better than someone else. There are moments when a person must be strong, or be headstrong. There is a right time to decide that another person just is not good company.
Strange, but, if a hostess is not nice, I just don't show up in that home again, unless there is some good reason for it. But, when I am insulted or dominated in my own home, especially, when in clear conscience, I have done all that I can to treat that guest with honor and respect; this experience bothers me for a much longer period of time. For the very fact, that I disdain the idea of looking down on people, I don't even want to be put in the position to have to entertain the idea that a person needs to not be in my home. For those that struggle with this, they need to become headstrong.
A guest is vulnerable. It is true. It is not a pleasant experience to be treated coldly when one is visiting. Actually, that is rather cruel.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is Bravo, Lady Lydia.
Formality, in the sense you are using it, means having form. There is a certain form that civilized behavior takes, and is entirely appropriate in the home. It is somewhat like a waltz, and it used to be that everyone knew the steps. That is no longer true, since there is no more consensus on most things.

The fascinating book "The Tipping Point" talks about how certain behaviors can be started in societies and through various measures can increase until the tipping point, and that comes when so many are doing this behavior that it becomes the new standard.

One of the examples given was how through lack of care in enforcing "quality of life" laws, New York City became run-down and crime-infested. When Mayor Giulianni took office he decided to have the police start arresting people again for the smallest crimes, i.e., panhandlers, those who snuck onto the subway for free, people openly using drugs on the street, urinating in public, etc. What they found is that a vast number of those breaking minor laws were actually wanted for bigger crimes and that is one way they started cleaning up the city. Another thing is that they began to keep everything more tidy and orderly (e.g., washing the graffiti off of subway cars every night) and therefore people began to treat property more respectfully.

They called this the "broken window" principle; in that if a fine house in an otherwise good neighborhood
were allowed to have one broken window, this would signal the world that the house was uncared for or abandoned; the house would quickly be vandalized and all the windows broken. Soon the problem would spread throughout the neighborhood.

I think this is exactly the heart of what you were saying: that if a a home keeps up good form, this encourages others (outsiders and insiders) to respect it as well. If a housewife is consistent with her housekeeping and with communicating expectations, then everyone there will respect the home and themselves a whole lot better.

One cannot help but wonder if, with the new casualness, we are devolving instead of moving forward with civilization.

Lydia said...


This is a fascinating report. Thanks so much for sharing. The idea of one broken window being a temptation to break more, is like letting clutter accumulate. Once something is not put away, or a can is left somewhere, it is easier for others to do the same. I found this with a church building or meeting place. When trash is left in the pews, it is easier for everyone to do it, but when everything is scrupulously clean, the one who leaves trash feels like he sticks out and feels embarrassed. Isn't there a book called "Whatever Happened to Shame?" The only way to get shame is to create an atmosphere where one can feel it. All of us who feel shame over things we have done, know that it is so painful it becomes a deterrant to repeating the action! I'm not suggesting we shame innocent people who don't know any better, but those who confidently and deliberately intimidate people into letting their hair down for the sake of removing barriers and obstacles to their own bad behavior.

wendybirde said...

I think this thread just really caught folks' attention, mine included. It started out being about the article itself, formality in the home, and then as the comment discussion evolved it later sidetracked into more of a discussion about guests. And it all just really happened to hit alot of nerves, both positive and negative. And the truth is it takes an excellent writer, and an excellent blog, to make that happen, and to create the space to truly discuss. We are so blessed to have that here Lady Lydia and Mrs Alexandra, and I'm grateful for it.

I (and I'm sure so many others) also really appreciated how you brought home again and deepened the heart of your article now..."Quarrels and strife often occur in homes where there is not much order. Orderliness helps contribute to the peace." There is such precious truth there : )

Lydia said...

Thanks, Wendy, and thanks to all the anonymouses too. Good thoughts and much to consider in your comments.

Anonymous said...

Again I am so glad I came "home" and read this article and all the comments about it. It was all so inlightening. It is all about "homeliving"...and loving those in our homes. I cannot tell you how much the many beautiful articles you have written have changed the familie's life and reinforced my thinking. ...and your written memories of what life used to be like have brought back clear memories of those times I too remember. Yes I too remember and you are so right in your descriptions of those ways in this and other articles. I never thought they would slip away..eroding little by little till now some don't even remember them. Even more frightening to me that some believe we couldn't have ever had an entire society like that. There was a feeling of scurity and order. I grieve its passing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Lady Lydia. Growing up we didn't entertain visitors much at all, but we knew how we ought to behave (i.e. manners) when there were visitors or we were visiting (which was mostly just extended family). There was no sense of formality, we were very casual. One phrase that came around our house when we were to rowdy was, "You don't live in a barn!"

Until recently my husband and I have never lived in close proximity to family. After the children came, it became more difficult to get us to family get togethers during the holidays. We then began hosting church family for these dinners (particularly those without local family either). We have had from two to 17 people in our home. Although, our home is not what I consider "formal" by any means, I do expect a certain level of behavior of my guests (and think that the "state of the home" can be communicated through it's tidiness and orderliness). Nothing frazzles me faster than children who have obviously not been taught simple manners -- don't run indoors, don't go into rooms withour permissions (i.e. bedrooms, rooms with closed doors, etc.), don't take things down or out without permission, etc.

I have gently reminded children of all sizes, "We don't play in the bedrooms right now." or "We don't touch things without asking." Often having to do so in front of a parent (hoping they'll take a clue; yet not trying to make them feel humiliated). I have found the more "causally" I appear when correcting behavior the more comfortable my guest and the more likely they are to self-correct their behavior.

One thing I remember from a youth, and I'm not even sure if it was something my parents taught me or something I did for self-preservation, Be observant! Look around you when you are visiting, watch what the host is doing. You can certainly learn to "come up to" a more polite level by watching. If something one is accustomed to doing is not acceptable in a home, you can readily see this by observation. For example, in our home we didn't pray at meals, but I knew some others did. So I would watch others coming to the table at mealtime, looking for clues as to the beginning of the meal.

Finally, as to boorish company. I have been fortunate not to have anyone so obnoxious that I would find myself needing to verbalize a call to senses and manners, however, I have chosen to have some that leave my home a wreak (physically and spiritually) over less often or under more controlled circumstances. Even in wanting to reach out to others, I have been cautious of the influence left behind a visitor. Our homes are a haven of refuge. We must not let that peace be violated by ill-mannered company.

Anonymous said...

I'm not trying to be obnoxious, but I'm a nut for words...

Perhaps a word that might suit better is "civilization" as opposed to "formality." It's the state of being civilized that is slipping away so rapidly and noticeably. Our society is quickly devolving into barbarianism again.

Barbaric cultures have always had slack rules of courtesy. Basically, the only enforcement for courtesy was to resort to the sword (or axe or whatever was the popular weapon). You didn't bring it up if you weren't ready to kill over it, and you didn't offend someone who you figured would kill you over it.

It's gotten to be the same lately. Every time I ask people please to mind their manners, the really rude ones answer me with "There's no law saying I have to..." They may as well be saying, "I challenge you to make me." The rest make me feel so uncomfortable objecting (either by mocking or by acting like I'm being even more rude than they for asking), that I usually wind up cutting ties. (Mostly this regards language or topics of conversation.) Then they think I'm snobby--and laugh about it.

Having a home with relaxed rules or no rules might be fine for today--but years from now when your son is trying to sell a new product line to a client over dinner, poor table manners or a too-familiar manner will offend the prospective buyer and blow the sale.

I can't tell you how many times I've been humiliated because my parents' rules were too slack, and I didn't know better than to say or do what I did! You can try to explain to the people you offended that you had poor training at home, but they'll hold it against you anyway.

That said, could someone please refer me to a good source for everyday etiquette? I've tried searching online, but most of them seem concerned with (a) which fork to use when your company takes you to Chez Ritz and you order scallops; (b) how to avoid offending Vietnamese transvestites; or (c) how much to tip the person who fixed the vending machine at the end of the hotel hallway. Finding out "how to eat lunch with someone without looking like you were raised by chimps" is nigh impossible.

Mrs. Bartlett

Lydia said...

Lady Lydia Speaks said...
In light of the recent exchange of words regarding "words" and terminology, I thought it might be enlightening to see where some of them came from.

Distinguishing Language:

Vandal- The vandals were the original inhabitants of Germany, as far as I know. They were known for their ferocious ways, and so the word "vandal" was eventually used to describe anyone who was ferocious and cruel. In America, vandals are people who break in to stores and steal.

Heathen - Heathens were people in England who lived in the Heath, which was a distant, country area away from the cities and neighborhoods. Since they were not courteous and respectful, even to God, the word "heathen" eventually was commonly used to described anyone who had bad manners and did not obey the gospel, (even if they did not live in the Heath.)

Barbaric -This was the name of a people in Morocco in the coastal areas (possibly called "Barbary" at the time, and later the Barbary Coast was named in San Francisco), where the Arabs practiced their slave trade. Anyone from that area, including the Arabs, were called barbaric. Thereafter, people with the same intentions and practices were termed "barbaric," which meant inhumane and unkind and fierce.

Brutes, The Brutes were a people that existed in ancient history, known for their sensless behavior, their wildness, and irrationality. I do not remember what country they were in. They were so senseless and beastial, that today, when something is very rough or uncivilized, it is referred to as "brutal."

Gaul- I believe these may have originally inhabited parts of France and Britian, and were known for their fierceness and courage. I don't know for sure, but have thought that the phrase, "He has some gaul" or "the gaul of him," might have come from.

Philistine- The Philistines also were known for their taunting and arrogance, and their uncivilized, violent behavior. They had no respect for anyone and existed mainly to destroy rather than build. Though it is no longer used today, old people used to say that something was "downright Philistine."

Corinthian- Corinth, in its day, was famous for being one of the most liberal cities of the ancient world, practicing whatever they pleased, in excess. The members of the church in Corinth were admonished by the letter to the Corinthians, written by Paul, to behave differently.

Using words to distinguish meant that they that showed contrasts and differences. If one did not know the differences by name, they knew it by behavior. For a long time, the term "Corinthian" was a common word, used to describe something uncivilized or ill mannered. (I never hear it any more). People who read the Bible a lot, adopted the word "Heathen," from the King James version, which was put in there to describe a rebellious sort of people who needed the gospel.

In teaching children, however, it is important that, although they know the history of these terms, they use them to examine themselves to see if there is anything in them that needs to be corrected.

In general, all of these terms are descriptive of a rebellious attitude and a failure to conform to the standard of good, lovely, etc.

I do not know any terms that would describe the opposite of all these words, except for the word "civilized" which Mrs. Bartlett suggested, which according to the 1828 dictionary, means

Reclaimed from savage life and manners; instructed in arts, learning and civil manners.

By civilized, I am supposing that the criteria would be a written language, records and history, some kind of structures or buildings, art, music, and literature left as a record of the people. The "uncivilized" were, in the past, those who only wanted to eat, drink and be merry, caring not what they would leave for future generations. One general description of civilized verses uncivilized is in reference to how much respect the people have for life.

wendybirde said...

I too feel that being civilized is at the core here. To me what civilized means is that the savage "might makes right"/"survival of the fittest" is healed--that those weak and vulnerable and thus not "mighty" (women, children, the poor etc, and dare I say guests again lol) are actually protected and cared for. And also that the more subtle and vulnerable things of life are cherished (rather than just the more blatent)--things like beauty, and kindness, and innocence, and simplicity--things that are subtle and vulnerable and need protection and support to flourish.

I see civilization as a caring wall around a cherished garden, allowing those tender roses to grow, protecting them, caring for them, not trampling them or ignoring them because they are not "mighty" or "fit" enough. And so I find that a core, and very healing, thing. Sort of like the fence mentioned in the original article..."hedges to keep in the sacred and beautiful things of life."

Lydia said...

The word "savage," like some of the other words I listed, comes from the word "forest," and means "wild and untamed, as savage beasts of prey." So, to be savage, brutal, vandals, etc. is to be ferocious and cruel, whereas civilized is to care for those who need protection. I sort of which I had not looked up this made me see how our own society is getting more savage, starting with abortion and ending with euthanasia. Like the woman who wrote about the crime in New York, I can understand how this brutality begins with rudeness and crudeness, and graduates into disregard for human life. That is why it must be nipped in the bud, where and when it first begins, and corrected at first, instead of at last. I'm talking about real deliberate rudeness, not the occasional social blunder because someone wasn't taught or doesn't know the right thing to say.

Anonymous said...

I love your article. I am reminded of growing up. My mother (though she was very uncomforable with visiters) was what is considered formal now. All our family meals were home cooked and eaten at the table. She never served a meal in the pan it was cooked in (like I frequently do) but always put everything in a pretty serving bowl. We took care of the furniture, didn't get rowdy in the house and spoke resectfully to our parents. She didn't know how to handle house guests well for some reason though and everyone always ended up feeling uncomfortable.

I love house guests. At our house I serve others meals all the time. All meals are homecooked and served at the table. We always say grace and men are expected to remove hats at the door. My husband sees to this by simply saying "don't forget to remove your hats for ladies, gentlemen". Meal time conversations are usually always lively and polite. There is something about sharing a meal with people that is very personal. (Unless of course it is TV dinner in front of the boob tube)

I'v had very few rude guests. I find that most people I've hosted have been very pleased with the "old fashioned" way we run our household. My husband usually handles the rude guests before things get out of hand. Usually he will say lightly "Didn't your mother teach you any manners." Or simply "Mind your manners". I've heard him tell children: "You might be able to do that at your house but you need to show more repect than that in mine." Usually things never progress to the point of misery.

On occation my family will eat a meal in our living room and we make a big deal out of it. For example: Thanksgiving evening we watch John Wayne movies and eat turkey sandwiches in the living room. We've made it a tradition. But as a general rule, the dining table is for eating at.

wendybirde said...

I'm getting self concsious that I'm commenting so much on this thread, but I just cant seem to help it. Its so (chillingly!) true what you just said about the savageness of our times. And..."I can understand how this brutality begins with rudeness and crudeness, and graduates into disregard for human life. That is why it must be nipped in the bud, where and when it first begins, and corrected at first, instead of at last." Amen!

Not to be a broken record, but this growing savagery today is because of the growing lack of protection for--and increase in detachment and judgement towards-- those most vulnerable. Protection and care for the vulnerable is at the very roots under civilization, and the attacks on this take many forms. Rudeness and crudeness must be nipped in the bud, but so also must be detachment and judgement and even passivity towards those weaker or more vulnerable or needing. And for this what we especially so deeply need again are heroic gentleman who protect and cherish and actively care for those more vulnerable--women, children, the elderly, even our earth--rather than think we are just there for their plundering or pillaging.

I guess I cant stop talking about this stuff because my heart longs for it so much--for there to be heroes among us again, true gentlemen who provide for us and protect us--rather than we needing to protect ourselves from them or in spite of them because of their crudeness or passivity.

I guess I just want the fairy tale, and I refuse to think its impossible...

Rebecca said...

Hello Lady Lydia,
I was interested to read your post because Mom, Amy and I have noticed this trend. We love to entertain, but our home interior and furniture placement is more formal than many of our friends'. Thus, it is more conducive to events like tea and dinner parties, not informal pizza-and-pepsi parties like some of our friends host. Rebecca

Lydia said...

Rebecca, thank you. I can't imagine you girls sprawled on the floor with food all over the place. Your grandmother was such a refined lady. Not that she was snobbish or too formal; just that I never saw her walking around with a can of pop in one hand and a bag of chips in another. I picture you girls as holding a china tea cup in your hand!

Lydia said...

To the one who was asking about online sites for manners:

Although it says "Manners for Children," they are perfect for adults, too; simple and straightforward without any nonsense about pickle forks and celery holders!

Anonymous said...

For anybody looking for resources on manners: Please read Judith Martin's "Miss Manners" books (get at the library or buy them -- they are a great resource to have and are worth the money). They have helped me so much in understanding the reason for manners, in improving my manners, and in getting politely out of tricky situations -- and she is quite witty and fun to read! Her books are mostly in question-and-answer format, with real questions from readers. I have read them all and been fascinated.

Penelope said...

this is one of the best blogposts i have ever read...the wisdom is astounding!

Just Me said...

Dear Lady Lydia,

I wish I could convey how much I enjoy your blog.

Thank you for this glimpse into the past. I never knew some of these happenings you describe.

I'm striving to achieve a comfortable yet formal home, myself. Thanks again.

Lady in the Making

Anonymous said...

There is a commercial on the TV at this time for a snack food which shows a bunch of teen boys ransacking a kitchen and looking very unhappy tossing snackfoods back into cupboards and then the mom magically appearing with the heated and expensive snack which they all look at with approval and the mom just beams. Who writes this drivel I wonder? Makes me determined never to serve this snack to anyone.!! Yes I notice in our relatives a real uncomfortableness with any thing " nice " My neice asked me what that cloth was all over the table for(she had never even heard of a tablecloth in her life) and she was in awe that my sister served bread with a meal by placing it on a plate! My inlaws requested no Thanksgiving meal this year as it is too much fuss (I provide the whole thing they are only asked to bring desert and show up to eat it and I love doing it) Running in and out flipping burgers and hotdogs and making salads and picking up endless paper plates and plastic utensils from all over the house porch and yard is way more fuss to me plus never getting to sit down as a family at any point ,they have also requested we don't pray because one of them is now an atheist and it is insulting for we Christians to force him to hear a short pray of thanks.It just makes me sad.

Lydia said...

Do not give them an inch, or they will take a mile. They will tell you that you are intolerant. Institutional living has taken people away from real eating utinsels and plates and glassware. Life is only a pleasure, to them, if it immediately satisifies the tastebuds. There is, however, a prelude to all that: the sight of a beautifully set table, the touch of your hand on the cloth napkin, the sound of the tea cup on the saucer, and the scent of the food being prepared. Squeezing the lemons for a lemon pie is part of the process of appreciation and prepares the taste buds and the digestion system with anticipation. When food just hits you out of the cold package, it just cant have the same effect. The meal table was historically a place where the family bonded and their values were reinforced. Getting rid of the whole process is part of the breaking down of the authority of the home.

I saw this deterioration of formality and manners when it first began. Instead of being gradual, it began almost over night, and with a shock. Young people coming home from college or work, brought in a kind of casualness that was in-your-face snobbery towards anyone who wanted to sit on a chair and eat off a plate and get dressed in button down shirts which were tucked in. They riduculed people who wanted to comb their hair and look sharp, calling them snobs. They broke down the manners and formality from within the home, and from without. I went to tea parties put on by older women, to honor certain younger women for vearious events, such as engagement, birth of a baby, birthday, appreciation, etc. I saw the younger women make total fun of the whole thing, beginning with their shock-value appearance. They looked like they were in their pyjamas. The hostess were speechless and too polite to say anything about it, but long before this, in the years when people were not so conditioned to be "tolerant" (toleration means putting up with things that are not right), they would have been met at the door with an equally shocked expression on the host, who would have told them right away they looked terrible and would not be admitted to the party til they washed up and combed their hair. Some would even offer a change of clothes or to help them be presentable. If you did that today you'd be scorned and put down and even accused of a crime.The only way to change this rude attitde toward the home is to change it within your own home.

Jennifer C. Valerie said...

Interesting thoughts there. My hubby and I came back from a ministry trip to Guadeloupe on Friday and one of our gifts from a church member was a lovely white tablecloth. I ironed it and put it on the long entrance table(a desk really).

My hubby's response was that it brought a certain level to the table(meaning that we could no longer just drop any and anything on the table when we came in). I felt good when he said that and reading this post today made me feel even better.

I'm going to have to look for additional ways to uplift our home to a more formal one. I'm glad I read this today.

emmeline said...

I love this blog post! I am in my late 20s and I am dismayed by the lack of manners/hospitality and formality in the home. My parents had me late in life, they grew up in a time where formality and manners were very important - it didnt matter if you were rich or poor. It was a mark of being civilized.

As a result of being raised by parents who were "old fashioned", my values are similar to those who are much older than I am. Friends my age often remark how formal and stuffy I am. From the way I dress (dresses at home, different outfits for different occassions.. they dont even know what a "slip" is) to how I run my home.

As a child, I was trained to use "nice" cups, sip my drink properly and not leave crumbs on the sofa. I couldnt touch anything without asking for permission and I was made aware that I had no business in expecting to be entertained. If I was bored, I should have brought a book along to read quietly.

Now that I have a house of my own, I take great pride in taking care of it - not just for appearance but also to preserve some sense of formality and calmness. I do not entertain very often because most parents cannot and will not teach their children manners. You get the outright rude ones who couldnt be bothered to the mothers who giggle at their child playing with my ornaments like they are toys.

I have heard parents complaining that their children had "nothing to do" in so-and-so's house so they left in a huff. I visited homes where the soap in the washroom was slimy and wet, a layer of dust clearly visible on the counter. The woman proudly proclaims that she doesnt have time to do silly things like housework. It has become a badge of honour - to not care. People enter my house and comment how clean it is and some even implied that maybe I should get out more. To me, Im not cleaning to show off, its a sign of respect for my guest - to make them comfortable. With some of the reaction I get from the younger folks, Im begining to think I should leave it dirty for their comfort!

It is unfortunate but i have decided a couple years ago that I will not entertain certain people and that includes relatives. If I absolutely have to, it will be a short one or at a time when Im fully prepared to deal with the mess with no help. I have tried to extend my hospitality to others, even to younger ones whose parents havent taken the time or effort to instill proper manners.
It just doesnt work because they dont see the value in such things. And how can i expect them to if their parents dont care? It is not often that you'll find a young person these days who is interested in formality (without being introduced to it at a young age).

I am glad for the wisdom of my parents. I will be teaching my child proper manners and i expect the neagtive comments to come rolling in. I am prepared!

Lydia said...


I am glad you brought this post to my notice again. There was quite an outrage over it when it was first aired. Some people think it is snobbish to require they wear shoes or decent clothes when they visit or that the members of the house take a shower every day before they present themselves. They want to slob out, pig out and shout out. They want to create a disturbance. I believe the home is a castle, and that it is a fortress, created by God . When people attack that fortress with rudeness, they are spitting in the face of God. THeyare insulting his divine order. I believe the home should have a drawbridge that is drawn and only goes down to let agreeable people in.

You see, this political correctness has crept into the home: just as businesses are not to discriminate against unruly customers or ill clad women or bad mouthing, they want the home to have the same standards. But we stand above it all. We draw up the bridge and it stays drawn til we want to let it down for extra nice people. My blog is an example of this. You only get to post under certain conditions.