Saturday 9 November 2013

Class etiquette

I'd joked about the class-entrenching function of etiquette a couple of years back.
Etiquette rules, like the downward fork tines rule, that deliberately hobble the person making the display have a signalling value: it's the peacock's tail. Folks who've been able to spend hundreds of hours practicing how to eat in a deliberately hobbled fashion are then able to demonstrate finesse in that form of eating. Everyone else at the table will recognize them as being from the leisured class, whose parents either had sufficient servants to spend time drilling that technique into the children, or who invested that time in lieu of other pursuits in early adulthood. Either way, you're demonstrating that you've had time and leisure to spare. ...

If you could deduce etiquette from logic, it wouldn't be etiquette. If it's not a costly signal, it can't induce the separating equilibrium that keeps the farm boys like Scott and me from having airs when dining with our purported betters.

Down with the tyranny of etiquette and its oppressive class-entrenching function! Up with efficiency! Ecraser l'Infâme! Join me in the revolution! All you have to lose are your chains!
It isn't really a joke. Not knowing which signals need be sent and which are just purposelessly costly is costly. Here's Tressimc (HT: +Althea Parker-Wood)
In contrast, “acceptable” is about gaining access to a limited set of rewards granted upon group membership. I cannot know exactly how often my presentation of acceptable has helped me but I have enough feedback to know it is not inconsequential. One manager at the apartment complex where I worked while in college told me, repeatedly, that she knew I was “Okay” because my little Nissan was clean. That I had worn a Jones of New York suit to the interview really sealed the deal. She could call the suit by name because she asked me about the label in the interview. Another hiring manager at my first professional job looked me up and down in the waiting room, cataloging my outfit, and later told me that she had decided I was too classy to be on the call center floor. I was hired as a trainer instead. The difference meant no shift work, greater prestige, better pay and a baseline salary for all my future employment. 
This is one reason a fair few welfare-to-work programmes provide some basics about interviewing: explicitly telling people what others already know.


  1. I'm trying to imagine eating food using a fork with the tines pointing up rather than down, and it seems that it be inefficient and slow most of the time. I mean, when I'm cutting the tines point downward because I'm using them to hold the food in place. Once I've cut, I can raise the fork to my mouth, or I can turn the fork over so that the tines point upwards and THEN raise the fork to my mouth. How is the second one logical?

    Of course, for certain foods such as peas, it makes sense to use the fork as a scoop, but off the top of my head (not having had the opportunity to eat a meal during the writing of this comment) I would consider that the exception.

  2. Scoop/shovel for mashed potatoes with gravy, peas, corn, creamed corn... Guess it depends what your typical meal is.

  3. I eat my peas with honey;
    I've done it all my life.
    It makes the peas taste funny,
    But it keeps them on the knife.