Friday 29 December 2023


I have been reading old blogs and comments and two images haunt me: the super-capable Trad Catholic college girl whose intended's chosen career was "poet," and the happily employed young Trad Catholic woman who is called a feminist by the young Trad Catholic men around because she likes her job.

It has reached my ears that Catholic men are still teasing Catholic women by calling them feminists. As this first happened to me over 30 years ago, I wonder if it is not becoming a tradition in itself. It is intensely aggravating, especially if you are in the frontlines against feminist ire, as I was as a leading member of University of Toronto for Life. 

However, it is probably a natural development of the teasing boys do in elementary school: the hair pulling, the sticking-the-sharp-pencil-in-the-back, the daily declarations that "You're ugly," the bra-snapping and other forms of sexual harassment. It makes sense in the context of our societies' hellbent attempts to keep men adolescents forever. Yes, I do suspect that the men who still enjoy upsetting women have not entirely moved on from their elementary school days. 

I used to get furious and scold such men. My friend Stef, tall and elegant, merely smiled pityingly and ignored them. And now that I think about it, not a single one of the young men who enjoyed calling me a feminist in 1990 is happily married today. Possibly one way Trad girls could handle being called a feminist is to pretend the man has just said "I'm unmarriageable." 

Scooter: Hey, Suzie, what are you going to do with a Physics degree anyway?

Suzie: I think I'll work in a lab until I get married and have children.

Scooter: That's because you're a feminist. 

Suzie: Oh, don't say that, Scooter. I'm sure you have many good points. 

Now that I think about it, though, a man whose idea of a good time is telling supremely marriageable women--kind, modest, brave, hardworking, churchgoing, young Catholic girls--that they're feminists, really is saying that he is ineligible. It's hard to see this when he is young, slim and good-looking; it will be easier when he's fat, red-faced and fifty. 

Scooter (age 50): So, Suzie Junior, are you going into Physics like your mother did?

Suzie Junior: No, Mr. Campbell. I'm thinking about Law.

Scooter: I guess you're a real feminist, eh? Haw, haw, haw! 

Suzie Junior. Oh, please don't say that, Mr. Campbell. I'm sure you'll find somebody someday. 

If I'm sounding unusually acid *, it is because I know something traditionalist Catholic girls don't necessarily know, and it is that they are deeply, supremely and ontologically valuable. If they continue to be themselves--kind, modest, brave, hardworking, churchgoing--they will very probably become mothers of infants as well as life companions to good men who recognize their worth. (That is excepting, of course, those girls who choose--I don't want to hear any of this future-freezing "discernment" nonsense--who CHOOSE to become Brides of Christ.) But even if these splendid girls don't eventually marry and have children, they are, in their very persons, the preservation of the civility of Western Civilization. It was to protect girls like them that past generations of young men were willing to wage war and older ladies like me waded into embarrassing scenes gripping umbrellas. 

This is, by the way, what older people really mean when they say, "Don't lower yourself." (It sounds like they're saying you're low already, but they mean the exact opposite: you're supremely valuable and as a valuable being, you should act and dress accordingly, with modesty and grace.) It is also why I absolutely advise against young women asking young men to dance or on dates or any of those other things old people once called "running after men." It is wrong for young women to chase after young men because they run the very real risk of choosing the wrong men. 

Choosing the wrong man can be fatal to one of your most valuable possessions as a young woman--time--for if you are very unlucky, he will accept your advances and lap up your flattering attention without ever doing anything much to deserve it. He won't ask to marry you, for why should he? He probably hasn't grown up yet and, when he does grow up, he may break up with you (or flee in relief when you break up with him) and pursue a girl who embodies his unconscious idea of female perfection, e.g. his Primary 2 teacher, Mrs O'Connor, when she was 24. 

The right men are men who have thoroughly grown up (and not all men do grow up, sadly) and recognize the right women's worth. They will find excuses and opportunities to spend time with the women they admire. These men are friendly and funny; they do not try to make the women they admire angry or want to cry. They don't realize it yet, but you are the spitting images of their favourite primary teachers/babysitters/Blue Peter hostess when they were your age. These are the only men worth bestowing your affections on. 

This brings me to the subject of crushes. Crushes are as common as the common cold. They are just emotional flu. They happen to everybody: four-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, priests, old married ladies. The objects of these crushes are often inappropriate, and the reasons for the crush are often irrational. My first crush object was a cartoon character, and I got the most terrible crush on an older girl when I was 13. (I shudder to think what ideological straitjackets adults today would have forced me into.) In between, I had a crush on a small English immigrant because of his long eyelashes and on various other boys, not because they paid any kindly attention to me whatsoever, but because of what they looked like or how well they played ice hockey.

Treated correctly, crushes go away. Encouraged, however, they can turn into a form of emotional pneumonia. There is no shame in a woman getting a quiet crush, which nobody can really help, but indulging one is as imprudent as going out with wet hair when you have a fever or a runny nose. When you have the flu or cold and a wet head and now want to sleep in the asparagus trench in your soggy garden, it is time to go to confession. 

In short, when you get a crush on someone inappropriate, you must take care that it goes away ASAP. (The older you get, the quicker you will go about this.) You do not seek the person out. You do not search the internet for his photo. You do not discuss him with your friends. You do not contemplate whether his indifference to you is just evidence that he is shy and just needs a little encouragement.  (No.) You force yourself to be rooted in reality and admit that you would prefer a man who boldly asks you out for coffee and brings you flowers on Valentine's Day. 

If your radar is tuned so that you can hear your crush's name at 40 paces, feel free to listen (silently) to gossip about him that will dash your hopes for good. It could be sublime, e.g. that he told Mary Catherine O'Houlahan that, because the genocide of 1915-1916 almost wiped out his people, he feels he could only ever marry a fellow Armenian. It could be unpleasant, e.g. that he told Suzie McCoy that she was a feminist for wanting to work in a lab until she marries and has children. Either way, it will be medicinal.

Many years ago I knew a girl--age 13, so this is impressive--who cured a crush on a boy by concentrating on his shoes. He wore battered trainers that she very much disliked. By disliking his trainers even more intensely, she got over him. If all else fails, give that a try. 


*It's also because I read my blogpost about men whose Traditional Catholic Singles ads consist of their theological interests and reproductive demands instead of important information like the professions they will pursue so that their future wives and children have food to eat. 

UPDATE Concerning discernment: if the idea of becoming a cloistered nun, religious, priest or permanent unvowed single person makes you burst into tears of grief and disappointment, congratulations! Your discernment is over.  

Thursday 28 December 2023

The Empty Cafe

I began writing for Single women in 2006, and since then one of my most often repeated pieces of advice is "It's Just a Coffee. Say Yes to the Coffee." But what if no-one is asking you for a coffee? 

First of all, I hope the person asking me this question is a woman. I was shocked the other day to see a meme on a traditional Catholic Facebook account in which a cartoon woman says "Marry me, baby" to a bearded man who replies with a laconic "Yes." If even the men who adapt and/or republish Groyper cartoons are expecting women to make the moves, I despair. As I wail at waltzing parties, "The girls can't ask you; they're trad girls." 

Second, if you're a 20-something university student, you are surrounded by men your own age, but they are not necessarily old enough yet to ask girls out for coffee. As you may have noticed, every culture west of the Oder River is bent on keeping boys teenagers until they are 30 while encouraging women to skip their child-bearing years altogether. Boys are encouraged to look up to men who play games (footballers), instruments (bands) or make-believe (actors) for a living, whereas women are exhorted to work for decades towards becoming astronauts or high court judges. It's as if cultural influencers were deliberately trying to wipe out the birth rate and end the father-led family. But I digress.

Despite this, we all grow up at different times, though, so don't be surprised if a 21- or 22-year-old asks one of your friends for coffee. He probably asked her (not you) because she looks like the Ideal Woman imprinted on his psyche, possibly by a kind and oblivious primary school teacher when he was 8.* 

To put this all into perspective, the average age a man (first) marries in the USA is 30.2 (2021) and in the UK 33.4 (2022). Little wonder then that the average age an American woman marries at is 28.1 and a British woman--31.5.  I asked an expert on British Catholic demographics what the average age was for Catholics, but he told me he had no idea.

As young traditional Catholics do not merely move in with somebody after years of sinful and stupid amorous adventures, I imagine they--on average--marry younger than that. However, I do not as yet have any data on it. It may be that many Catholics become traditional after they marry young, hoping to find more support for their very unfashionable way of life than they find in their local NO parishes. 
Third, the current economy does not encourage men to enter a trade or a profession at a young age, build savings, buy a house, and look for wives. Fewer men go to university than women now, and some of those men opt for courses of study that do not, in fact, lead to remunerative occupations. Also, messages about what to do with money, once a man manages to earn any, are ridiculous. I was horrified recently by an advert for banking services which showed a young man looking with great greedy eyes at a jeweller's window. He was staring at a luxury wristwatch. (Of course, the idea that a man must buy a woman a hideously expensive engagement ring as a prerequisite for marriage is also discouraging.)

Therefore, if you are a traditional Catholic girl in your early twenties, do not despair or wonder if it is somehow your fault that a young man, let alone legions of young men, has not terrified you with an invitation to coffee. It is not. (That said, if your preferred topic of conversation with young men is their faults, you may want to rethink your approach.) 

Carry on with life as normal, taking care to socialize and serve within the traditional (and/or tradition-positive) Catholic community which, for all its challenges, thinks more highly of chastity, marriage and children than any secular fellowship. Do your best at your studies, and when you earn money, do your best not to squander it. It will come in handy when you do marry, which I assure you you are very likely to do within the next ten years. If at all possible, stay at home with your parents and tell them that you are creating a nest egg towards your eventual marriage. That may make them rethink charging you rent, if that's what they're thinking. 

That nest egg, by the way, is not to be squandered on a blowout wedding (and, interestingly, my etiquette books think blowout weddings aren't very class), but to be safely invested** so that when you are homeschooling your five-plus beautiful children, it will contribute to the family income. Alternatively, it could serve as a down-payment for a home. 

To sweeten all this advice, I will now share with your one of my favourite toys, the online investment calculator

*More on this important theme later. 

**If in Britain, go to Monevator to find out more about this sort of thing. If in Canada, Millennial Revolution is for you. If in the USA, Mr. Money Moustache is for you. None of the authors are Trad Catholics, but they do understand about retiring early from the workplace, which is what traditional Catholic girls are very likely to do.

Tuesday 26 December 2023

An Adult's Christmas Day in Scotland

A Happy Christmas to British, Irish and Australian readers, a Merry one to those across the Atlantic, and wesołych świąt to fluent speakers of Polish, whom I rather envy.

This year I burst into tears on the last day of work, so eager was I to be done with it and get stuck into Christmas preparations. These were truncated as the most recent local polski sklep has also closed down, and I had nowhere within walking distance to buy dried forest mushrooms or pre-ground poppy seeds. Thus, we dispensed with Wigilia and had more of a Scottish Christmas Eve supper, featuring avocado salad on toast, followed by trout and preceded by sherry and spiced nuts and Florentine biscuits. I had fasted from (or without) breakfast until supper the three days preceding, so it is no wonder I woke up between 1 AM and 2 AM on Christmas morning with a terrible stomach ache.  

Fortunately, that had cleared up by 7 AM when I leapt out of bed to attend to the traditional family Christmas Chelsea bun. Fortunately, the usual Christmas miracle had occurred: the rolled up bits of leavened dough wrapped around cinnamon, sugar and raisins I had left on the counter had puffed up and out enough to fill our largest roasting pan. I stuck the pan in the oven and went out into the dark predawn to listen to children exclaiming over their stockings. 

The murky streets were empty, but here and there windows glowed, and on the street behind mine, I passed a house with an upper flat whose windows were open and, sure enough, I could hear both the voice of an excited, questioning child and the explanatory tones of a woman. However, this was the only child I heard in my 20 minute walk through the streets of neighbourhood. The nearby street I would like to live on, as it is lined with picturesque 3-storey Victorian rowhouses, was as silent as an empty pram. 

I was back in time to take out the bun before it got too brown. Having already put baking paper under the cooling rack, I inverted the pan over it and made a pint of coffee. Toffee dripped onto the paper for ten minutes, and then I took the pan off and poured the rest of the boiling water into it to melt the adhering sugar. The bun, though the sections were unequal, was a success. 

This morning I contemplate whether I like better the actual bun or the walnut-studded toffee sticking to the paper. By St. Stephen's Day, definitely the toffee. 

Benedict Ambrose and I ate a quarter of the bun and drank all the coffee and opened our presents, which involved socks, nightwear, and snazzy treats from House of Bruar which we put on for Christmas Mass. The air was mild but drizzly. B.A. lurched along to the bus stop with my dress shoes and missal in a cloth shoulder bag, his new-to-him NHS walking stick grasped in his right hand. I followed along with a much heavier bag containing two bowls, an electric handheld whisk, a homemade trifle, a 2 pint tub of double cream, 2 Tbsp of sugar, 2 Tbsp of toasted almonds, 2 tsp of vanilla, 4 pieces of Chelsea bun, and a bottle of pudding wine.

The trifle and pudding wine went straight into the parish hall fridge when we arrived at church. The Museum of Modern Art had closed and locked its gates, so B.A. and I had to creep around the perilous street the long way. We can afford to buy each other items from House of Bruar, but a taxicab on Christmas Day? Forget it. 

There was a skeleton congregation and a skeleton choir, the latter made up chiefly of expats too cash-strapped to fly across oceans at Christmas. We began and ended with an English carol, a proper Christmas treat. I prayed that B.A.'s tumours had disappeared (or will disappear) and that he will get his strength back, and I suspect he did the same. Possibly others did, too, for there is prayer-provoking about a normally lively 50-year-old hunched over a walking stick.

I retrieved trifle and wine from the fridge and, after some protracted Christmas morning conversations, B.A. and I bundled ourselves into a clerical car and were driven over the Firth of Forth and far away to a Christmas lunch in a farmhouse in the countryside, where there was champagne, and a generous fire in the hearth, and scrumptious sausage rolls made from a pig most of us had known and disliked, and space on the kitchen counter on which I finished assembling my trifle. 

Then there was a splendid Christmas lunch/dinner before the dining-room hearth. It began with foie gras from the Charles De Gaulle airport and ended with a blazing pudding and my trifle. In between there was moist and flavourful turkey, crisp roast potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, round Brussel sprouts, sausage stuffing, and slivers of ham, the ham and sausages also originating with the former farmyard resident. He had bullied his wife and stolen her food even when she was pregnant, so we ate him without remorse. Over supper we added insult to injury by discussing the demonic nature of porcine squealing.

There were also delicious wines. 

I made Facebook calls to Canada, where brunch had ended late, so the turkey had been stuffed late and dinner would be begin late. One of my sisters had bedded down for a nap with her dog and her cat, and the other one was rather immobile on the parental sofa. 

When I returned my attention to Scotland, B.A. was back in front of the sitting-room fire, and the company all assembled there to play three rounds of "Who Am I?" I was Isabelle of Castille, J.S. Bach and some British actor of whom I had never heard, whereas B.A. was Ferdinand, Haydn and Audrey Hepburn. The last round was very difficult, and we eventually resorted to glaring hints and singing snatches of famous film tunes to each other. 

Sometime between 10:30 PM and 11:00 PM, the Edinburgh party drove off. Very unfortunately, I developed a case of car sickness so terrible, I eventually felt the need to announce it. The driver kindly let me out, and I aimed to be sick in the gardens of the local Episcopalian cathedral. Happily for its groundsman, this did not happen after all. Instead I eventually got one of my bowls out of the boot of the car and exchanged seats with B.A. He kept up from the back seat a steady flow of chatter with the driver while I clutched my bowl and moaned from time to time. Upon arriving home, I locked myself in the bathroom. Then I went to bed, grateful for its flat and stationary nature. Poor B.A. had to grapple with his stick and the bags by himself.   

This morning I awoke before the sun, which is now high in the sky, and ate 3 pieces of Chelsea bun (and toffee) and drank 2 cups of coffee, from which we can surmise that I am feeling better. To be on the safe side, however, I consumed these in bed and finished reading Alice Thomas Ellis's The Inn at the Edge of the World, which makes fine Christmas reading.  

I shall spend the day writing letters and doing housework. I may write another post though. Stay tuned. 

Wednesday 20 December 2023

Bye, Fiducia!

I woke up at 4 AM and eventually read myself to sleep. This morning I was very bad-humoured. I kept thinking about how devastated poor Evelyn Waugh was by the destruction that followed the Second Vatican Council. 

The younger novelist Alice Thomas Ellis was not as devastated as embarrassed. She was ashamed for the Church. And I realized that I am now ashamed for the Church myself. 

My question this morning, as I stumped around the neighbourhood to kickstart my serotonin, was "What can we do?" The current regime in Rome will apparently do just about anything and then play whack-a-mole when any faithful bishop gets up to protest. The laity will become more and more splintered. I am snoozing conservatives on Facebook just for reminding us all that for all his faults Pope Francis is our "father." 

My answer, which came after reading Fr. Longenecker's even-tempered take, is as follows:

We can be better spouses (or work on becoming marriageable). We can live more chastely according to our station in life. We can do more to protect children and young people from ideological poison. We can do something beautiful for our own small community of believers, whoever that may be. (Our household. The parish. The Altar Guild. The local Juventutem.)  We can pray for the good orthodox, orthoprax priests we know personally, and tell them we hope they aren't put to the test. 

I foresee a long work day of shame ahead, but when it comes to my own personal and spiritual life, I can now say a hearty "Bye, Fiducia!"

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Ladies and Gentlemen (Part Four)

Speaking as a Tea Lady, I was edified on Sunday to see so many members of the Hope of the Future attacking the crumbs on the parish hall carpet. The parish hall has three machines of relative antiquity, the youngest (and most effective) being a hoover named Henry. (The other two are elderly carpet sweepers.) All three were in use when I looked. Meanwhile, a young man in an elegant long tweed coat washed the dishes while a young lady in a pretty dress dried them.  

A reader recently cited Hilaire Belloc's poem "Courtesy," which I swiftly realized was not about good manners but about the great graciously addressing the small, like an adult getting to his knees to talk to a six-year-old face-to-face. When someone dressed in their Sunday best voluntarily grasps the humble objects of domestic drudgery, like a sponge or dishcloth or hoover, that is courtesy.  

It is also service, to which all Christians are called, and done in company it can be fun. It is less fun done alone, so I am grateful for the courtesy of our young people. Indeed, now that I think about it, one of our youngest, a cherub with a kingly name, consented to wipe the tables. I must tell his mother. 

A look inside the change dish caused me a pang, however, for it seems our noble company believes that the milk, coffee and biscuits come from an invisible parish cow, coffee garden and biscuit tree. So now I will write, with no assistance from Mrs Humphry, Mrs Maclean, and Ward, Lock & Co., about good manners and the change dish before discussing dancing.

Parish change dishes

It is good manners to put a 10 pence piece or perhaps a 20 pence piece in the parish change dish after accepting a cup of coffee or tea and before taking a biscuit or two, so that some unknown--but real--person is not left out of pocket. 

(I admit to an interest in the case.) 

If the approach of a cashless society is making that too difficult, the donation of a packet of biscuits is a good substitute, as would be (locally) a package of Taylor's Lazy Sunday Ground Coffee (currently on sale at Tesco £3.75). My predecessors, in their wisdom, made coffee from a big tin of instant coffee supplied (I hope) by the archdiocese. Our freshly brewed coffee is a natural, but costly, post-liturgical development. Perhaps one day we will reach the baroque heights of a cappuccino machine before some Bugnini of the Teapot throws it into the bin and reintroduces instant coffee in a calculated fit of archaeologism.  


I have written about dances before (here for example), but I always enjoy an opportunity to do so again. Now I will invite Mrs Humphry (1897), Messrs Ward, Lock & Co (1930) and Mrs Maclean (no relation, 1962) back into the discussion. I will also reintroduce Mr Smagris, my YouTube dancing instructor. 

Kinds of Dances  

Etiquette books of the 1897 - 1962 era describe three principal types of dances: the private ball, the private dance, and the subscription dance. I am not going to write about the private ball, for almost nobody I know can afford one--except perhaps for their wedding, and you can easily read all about wedding etiquette somewhere else. 

The private dance vs the 1920s subscription dance 

Roughly speaking, a private dance is one arranged by one hostess, and a subscription dance was one arranged by two or more hostesses, or a committee. 

At a private dance, the hostess (and/or her husband) pays for everything, and she greets all her guests personally as they arrive. The guests then go into the ballroom where they greet her husband and grown-up children (if any), who introduce them to appropriate dance partners. The guests thus start filling in their dance cards, if there are dance cards. All the men are expected to solicit a dance with the daughters of the house (if any). When they leave, the guests say good-bye to the hostess. 

A private dance might be an afternoon dance (with the words "Dancing 4 to 7" on the invitation), or a dinner dance, during which the "dancing is not kept up until a late hour" (Ward, Lock & Co.).

Both Ward, Lock & Co. and Mrs Maclean mention the possibility of having dinner in one place and then hosting the dance in another. In this situation, you transport your dinner party guests with you to the dance.

At the 1920s subscription dance, each hostess greeted her own friends, the ones to whom she may have sold tickets. Interestingly, the hostesses could club together to pay for everything, or they could sell tickets to their friends. If the guests did not buy tickets, they were expected to bid their own hostess good-night. However, if they had bought tickets, they weren't. Of course, there was no rule that ticket-buyers couldn't say "Thank you for organizing the dance" to the hostesses or committee.  

My 2023 thoughts: The structure offered by the pre-1963 private dance could work very well for small, semi-private, unstaffed, ticketed dances. One committee member could welcome each guest when he or she comes in, so he or she sees a friendly face immediately upon arrival. This committee member (and/or) an assistant could hang up their coats, give them dance cards, and send them on in to another committee member, who introduces them to other guests. This committee member could also explain what the dance cards are for. 

Dress for Dances 

In the preconciliar era, clothing for British dances was formal. In 1962, it seems men were expected to wear white tie and tailcoats to "official dances," and black tie and dinner jackets (tuxedos) to everything else. Women were expected to wear evening dress according to the year's fashions. That said, Mrs Maclean directs ladies to wear full skirts and medium heels if "Scottish reels" are on the dance program. 

But Mrs Maclean also describes informal dances with "gramophone" for teenagers. At these (in hindsight questionable) gatherings, boys wore slacks and shirts, and girls ordinary dresses or even slacks.

My 2023 thoughts: In my experience, organizers of balls or large formal dances indicate the formality of dress expected in their invitations or tickets. In Scotland, a man can never go wrong in wearing Highland dress to an evening dance. I venture to say men can't go wrong in wearing black tie, either, as long as white tie is merely optional. Women wear long evening dresses to white tie or black tie events in Edinburgh. (Short skirts were few and far between at the Malta Ball in both 2022 and 2023.) 

At less formal events, like a Sunday tea dance, suits-and-ties are more appropriate. In a pinch good old cords-shirt-sweater-tie-tweed jacket will do, or if this is just too Young Fogey, whatever the guest's Sunday Best is. As for women, Vernon and Irene Castle, writing in 1914, praise "full frocks of soft chiffon" and "low-heeled easy slippers" but note that blouses and skirts are also seen at tea dances. My opinion is that what a young lady wears to the Sunday TLM will do for a Sunday tea dance--minus the chapel veil, of course, and with low heels for the more bouncy dances.  

In terms of décolletage at trad events, my advice is to at least try to find something with a four-fingers-below-the-collarbone neckline. (Sharp-eyed locals will point out that my terrible V-necks do not meet this standard. I know, I know. One of my New Year's Resolution is to buy new clothes.) Meanwhile, all women know it is exceedingly difficult to find a formal dress with a long skirt and a high neck, let alone long skirt, high neck, and sleeves, without looking like you fell into a time machine in 1972. 

Dance Deportment


If you are invited to a private dance, let the host or hostess know ASAP if you intend to come. 48 hours to check your diary or consult loved ones should suffice. If invited to buy a ticket, you can certainly have more time to mull it over. Keep an eye out for any deadlines, however. At a semi-private dance where tickets are sold only within the community (as in the 1920s subscription dance), tickets will not be sold at the door. If you are new to that community, do not be surprised if the committee refuses to sell you a ticket without asking who you are and where you heard about the event. This is particularly true if you are so unfortunate as to share the name of a local career criminal. 


At a formal private dance, it is the duty of the host or hostess to introduce guests to each other. At a more chaotic informal subscription dance, guests should ask committee members or fellow guests they know to introduce them to the guests they know. In a pinch, gentlemen should ask ladies if they may introduce themselves. (The sound you hear is Mrs Humphry rolling in her grave.) By the way, 1897 ballroom introductions didn't "count," and if a woman liked, she could pass by mere ballroom acquaintances on the street with a mere nod. 

Dance cards

These are for both men and women. All the dances are listed with blank spaces for the partners' names, and they make life easy by allowing men to ask women for dances in advance. Traditionally, a man is not supposed to solicit more than two dances from the same woman. The dance cards make nice souvenirs. You can sigh over them when you are elderly before selling them on eBay. 

How to be asked for a dance

Traditionally young women go to dances escorted by their parents, family members, or an older female friend. They are introduced to young men by the host, and the young men politely ask if the young women could spare them a dance on their dance cards. (You see here the brilliance of both introductions and the dance card.) They exchange dance cards to write down their names. Then the young women move into the room to greet their other friends (the male ones hopefully reserving a dance). When the music starts, they wait by their chaperones or friends to be collected for their reserved dances.

If not all their dances are reserved (or there are no dance cards), the women should make sure their backs are NOT to the dance floor and that they are NOT huddled in a group of fellow females only the bravest or most foolhardy man would attempt to break up. They should watch the dancing as if they are interested in dancing. 

In a pinch, a young lady can ask a female friend to ask her brother to ask her to dance, and in return she should lean on her own brothers to do their duty. Mrs Humphry should not hold up her nose; I am sure this carryon happened also in 1897. 

And in 1797.

How to ask a woman to dance

This is very easy if you have reserved your dances ahead of time. As the music is about to start, or just after it has started, you find your partner sitting with her friends and you offer your right hand with the words, "May I have this dance?" or "I believe this is our dance" or some polite variation on that theme. 

The young lady is supposed to drape her left hand over yours, like a towel over a towel bar, and you lead her to the dance floor. Success!  

If, however, she says "No, thank you. I want to sit this one out" or (better) "Do you mind terribly if I sit this one out?" you should ask her if you could bring her a glass of anything to drink. If she says no to that, too, you are free to ask another young woman to dance. Please do. Look for the one staring at the dance floor with her heart in her eyes.

How to respond to a man's invitation to dance

At a private dance or a subscription dance in your community, "Yes, thank you very much" should be your answer 99.9% of the time. At a public dance, feel free to turn down all the dances you like. The kind of dance communities that assure you that you can turn down dances with social impunity are also those that applaud members of the same sex dancing together. Yes, well. Take it away, Laura

In Trad circles where we are trying to restore Western Civilization, say "Yes, thank you very much" unless you really are exhausted or have hurt yourself, or the elastic on your underpants has snapped, or you know for a fact that the man is handsy. If you say "No, thank you," you may not then accept an invitation for that particular dance from someone else. (By the way, if the man is handsy, tell the hostess in strict confidence. It is not detraction if you disclose an evil to prevent more evil from happening. If any man does anything to disturb any of my female guests, I certainly want to know so I can feed him to the seals in the Firth of Forth drop him from my list.)

As I am sure I've written before, you can soften your "No" by suggesting that the young man ask a young lady you know is dying to dance. (Obviously don't offer an alternative victim to Mr. Handsy.) 

But if you have said "Yes, thank you," you drape your left hand over the man's proffered right hand and suffer to be led to the dance floor.

What to do when the dance is over

Traditionally, when the dance is over, the man offers the woman his right hand, she drapes her left over it, he leads her back to her friends, and he thanks her for the dance. That sure beats standing on the floor together feeling awkward, which is the new normal of which we wish to be rid. 

To avoid the lady's confusion, I suppose that, until we take over the world, the man should offer the woman his right hand while asking outright if he may take her back to her friends/chair. He might also ask her if she would like a drink at the refreshment table and offer his arm if she says yes. If the woman asks why he is being so formal, he could say that he is a traditionalist bent on restoring Western Civilization. 

The Interval

Traditionally refreshments are offered during a dance. (A full-fledged ball has a sit-down supper.) My guides to 1897 and 1930 describe dance refreshments as "simple." Ward, Lock & Co observes that "iced drinks, tea and coffee, sandwiches and cakes only are provided." 

My 2023 thoughts are that there must always be water and squash available to dancers throughout and that in the evening "iced drinks" could include beer and wine, depending on licensing laws.

At a dances where there were no waitstaff, men were expected to wait on ladies during the interval or "stand-up supper," asking the one he was dancing with last if he could serve her a sandwich or fill her glass, etc. (He was expected to offer to do this between dances, too.) When the woman was done with her dishes, he was supposed to take them from her. When Mrs Humphry wrote soulfully in Manners for Men about self-denial being the price of social life, she was probably thinking of things like that.  

At any rate, if a very correct young man, having made a study of good manners before the Deluge Second Vatican Council, offers a young lady a sandwich or slice of cake from the refreshments table or to fill her glass, she should not say "I can do it myself, thanks." She should say "No, thank you," or "Yes, thank you," or "I'll have a little of the carrot cake, please. Thank you!" 

Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, men worth knowing do not enjoy women being abjectly rude to them. This is a confusing, as men love to fake-insult each other. However, unless you enjoy being mistaken for a man, I would save brushoffs for those men whom you never wish to see again. 

The End of the Dance

At the end of a private dance, you thank your host or hostess, go home and write a thank you note the next day. If  it was a relatively informal tea dance, email or social media will suffice. But if it was obviously a blowout, complete with paid band, send a card or letter. 

If it was a semi-private community dance for which you bought a ticket, you don't have to say goodbye to the organizers or send them a thank you note. However, if there is no waitstaff, and if you have no train to catch and no young person to take home to her anxious parents, you would be doing a very good deed if you found an organizer and offered to help clean up. If the organizers have not yet learned that they need to reserve team of volunteers in future, they will be abjectly grateful to you, especially if they have hired the hall by the hour. You are under no obligation, however. 

The floor is now open to questions.

Friday 15 December 2023

Ladies and Gentlemen (Part Three)

I was tempted to take a break from this series to talk about why, having discovered the Traditional Latin Mass, it behooves Catholics to partake of other treasures passed down by their ancestors but hidden from them. However, one of those treasures was a love of order unchallenged by the distractions of the internet. Therefore, I will thrust that idea aside and get on with Part 3. I was going to write about the ideal dance, but instead I will write about 

Post-war pre-conciliar dating

To do I will dip periodically into the thought of Sarah Maclean (no relation, 1962).

If there is one more crucial time to understand that other people are real, it is in the area of dating and courtship. I write with the zeal of the convert, for my behaviour as a young woman was unthoughtful. Had I my time over again, I would not go out for expensive coffees, lunches, dinners, drinks or snacks with hopeful youths who wrongly believed I would make them a good wife one day. Hindsight being almost supernatural, I would go straight to Scotland at 19 and find Benedict Ambrose doing crossword puzzles in the Aberdeen Art Gallery. 

Most of my younger readers want to get married and have children, so eventually you will want to distinguish between members of your (I hope) wide Catholic acquaintance and either ask one if she would ever consider being married to you or decide if you could ever consider being married to him. 

The question is how to get to that question. Traditionally--once we get past parents arranging everything--young men find excuses to spend time with the young women they like best. Also traditionally, these young men and women live in the same community, probably grew up together, or at least are attending the same university. Traditionally, they already knew each other; the question was if they might fall in love. And, traditionally, "dating" was a more-or-less smooth transition from being at the same social events. Before World War I, the young man's distinguishing question was not "May I pick you up at eight?" but "May I walk you home?"  

Today homes tend to be a rather long walk from where young people gather, so the 21st century equivalent (at least in UK cities) of that question is probably "May I walk you to the bus stop?" or "May I drive you home?" Obviously this is not the kind of question a man can ask a complete stranger, as no sane woman goes anywhere with a man she doesn't know, let alone by car. Thus, a useful question for a young man who has met an attractive, entertaining and sympathetic young woman at a party or dance is "Would you like to go out for coffee this week?" 

It's just a coffee

One of the difficulties of female life is that we often develop ideas about our Ideal Man from fictional characters (e.g. Mr. Darcy) and thus we are disappointed that real men aren't much like them. This is why I stress that, according to 2023 currency, Mr. Darcy was a billionaire and Elizabeth Bennett the daughter of a multi-millionaire. Your chances of meeting (let alone marrying) a Mr. Darcy are equal to your chances of meeting Leonardo Maria Del Vecchio, 28, who according to Forbes has a fortune of 4 billion (USD). 

Fortunately, any young people reading this are probably Catholics, and traditionalist Catholics to boot, so my female readers are not hoping for a Mr. Darcy, but a Catholic Gilbert Blythe, which is to say a kind, intelligent, hardworking, amiable young man with whom to go to Mass every Sunday (or every day) and have as many children as God sends. 

However, my female readers may also hope for a man with the looks and aplomb of a movie star, and so when an ordinary-looking and slightly clumsy youth asks them if they would like to go out for coffee this week, they may panic and say no. 

Don't say no. It's just a coffee. It could mean something, but it could mean nothing. It's just a coffee. You know who goes out for coffee with young men? Me. Married old me. Because it's just a coffee. Moreover, last month B.A. met a female former classmate for coffee. I recorded what he spent in the accounts book without turning a hair because it was just a coffee. 

A sample script for making an appointment for coffee

Unmarried man: Would you like to continue this conversation over coffee this week? 

Unmarried woman (not panicking): Sure. When?

Unmarried man: How about Sunday morning before Mass? 

Unmarried woman: I can't Sunday; I keep the old fast. 

Unmarried man: Maybe Saturday at 10? Club Sandwich Cafe across from Haymarket Station is quiet, even on a Saturday.

Unmarried woman: That works for me. Thank you! 

Note that the man should have a specific time and place in mind. In the UK, people say "Let's have coffee soon" just to be polite, and they seem nervous when Canadians like me take out a pen and paper and say "When? Where?" Thus, if you really want to go for coffee in the UK, you must say when and where. 

Who pays?

Obviously the man pays, for he asked. But because he is paying, he should pick the cafe. Understanding that the young man is real, and that only he knows what he can afford, the young lady leaves the decision of the venue to him unless his first choice is terribly inconvenient.  

Remembering that the young lady is real, with real worries about not looking greedy, the young man should declare if he intends to eat anything and then invite her to do the same. But if I were the young lady, I would have eaten something beforehand, just so that I could say so. It's just coffee, not lunch, and the point is the conversation. 

The conversation

If this coffee (which is so far just a coffee) is to become in hindsight the gentle, zero-stress beginning of an actual courtship, it is best that conversation be kept light and good-humoured. One of the worst and most common mistakes of the First Date is unloading all your hopes, fears, and past tragedies on the person across the table. I almost burst into tears when a lonely friend about my age told me about a first date with a widower. It was clear that neither saw the other as real. If I remember correctly, the widower took her to his late wife's favourite restaurant, and she felt more sorry for herself than for him.  

When you are on what could be (in hindsight) your first date, you must pretend that your life is practically perfect and you have met with nothing but kindness all your privileged, joyful life. You must also give the impression that you are just as interested in finding out about your interlocutor as he or she might be interested in finding out about you. 

The best possible conversational material is something you both share in common and care about. Your could also share non-malicious gossip about mutual friends. If anyone I know personally doesn't want to talk, even non-maliciously, about someone behind their backs, I give them my hearty permission to gossip charitably about me. Always happy to help. 

Two excellent sentence beginners: "What do you think about...?" and "I think...." The second, however, should sooner rather than later be followed by, "And what do you think about ... ?"

Hopefully by the end of this coffee, these two people have at least become friends or, if they were already friends, will continue to be friendly. 

I would recommend that the young man invite the young lady out for a second coffee (and that, if she doesn't now actively dislike him, the young lady accept the invitation) before asking the slightly more daring question:

"Would you like to go out for lunch with me?"

A lunch is, admittedly, not just coffee. It is, however, just lunch. It is not a marriage proposal. It is not even a request not to accept similar invitations from other men. That said, it is a clear indication of the single young man's interest in spending alone time with a single young lady in a slightly more formal way. Not to make this all about money, but in Edinburgh a restaurant lunch for two sets you back at least £20 or so.  

Again, I think this question should be asked and answered in the most casual, least stressful way. And here I am going to break definitively with The Rules (which did not foresee the age of the smartphone) and say that if a young man who has already paid for your cappuccino once or twice asks you to go out for lunch that very day, you can say "Yes."

I would, however, also raise an eyebrow and ask, "Are you paying?"

If he says "Of course," then it is a date. A courtship is clearly underway. And I will abide by my long-held opinion that, out of sheer sororal love for Nice-Catholic-Boys-In-General, a Nice Catholic Girl should probably accept that lunch date.

But if you have had coffee together twice, this is the date that indicates those coffees were dates (the first and the second), and by the end of it you should know the young man (and your feelings) well enough to know if you are just always going to be good friends or if you hope the courtship carries on. 

If you know by the end that you are just always going to be good friends, tell him that when he asks you for a fourth date. Be friendly and firm. You enjoyed your coffee dates, and you enjoyed the lunch, and you were glad of the opportunities to get to know him better. But there's no spark, and you're sorry. You hope there are no hard feelings.  

Mrs Maclean (1962) believes that the easiest way to let a man down is tell "a white lie" and say that there's someone else. However, Mrs McLean (2023) thinks lying never pays--especially as the man might ask you who he is. 

By the way, if you have had a splendid lunch/third date with a different man and are looking forward to a fourth with him, you can say in good conscience that there is someone else.

Courtship is not just a coffee

When in 2006 I began my first blog, Seraphic Singles, my intended audience was female. I was surprised when I discovered that men had begun to read it. Nevertheless, I continued to write to women, and I think I added "No Boys Allowed" to the comments box, or something amusing like that. However, for the sake of this series, I am trying to be evenhanded. 

Thus, I am addressing both sexes when I say that it is best for everyone if you figure out within three or four dates if this could be a viable courtship. 

Coffees are no longer just a coffee. Lunches are no longer just a lunch. 

I know that this does not sound like a lot of dates, but my well-founded fear is that young people, out of fear of being alone, or of enjoyment of the social status that accompanies having a "boyfriend" or "girlfriend," or of an addiction to restaurants, will begin just to take each other for granted for months or years, flirting with mortal sin the whole time, before one or the other gets bored and they break up. 

But let's assume the young man and young woman have become terribly fond of each other, and each thinks the other is the bee's knees. If you are both devout Catholics over 21 and under 30, I think a full calendar year is probably long enough for a courtship in peacetime (unless all your friends and relatives are yelling "Don't do it!"). If you are both over 30 and absolutely convinced God brought you together, six months before popping the question may suffice.* 

If she accepts a fourth date invitation from the same chap, I think the young woman--if she has a salary or an ample allowance--should at least offer to pay her share from then on. That way, if she doesn't agree to marry the man in the end, she can sleep with a clear conscience. Mine occasionally wakes me up at 3 AM to sneer.

Women are also real

If a young man initially pursues a woman, and then loses interest after he gets to know her better, it is not okay to string her along. He must stop asking her out.

Women should not ask men out. If you pursue a man, you will never know if he might have had the gumption to pursue you. Worse, you won't know if he is really interested in you, or merely flattered to be courted by you. While chasing him, you won't meet the man who would walk 500 miles and then walk 500 more just to be the man who'd walk 1000 miles to fall down at your door. 

It is not kind of a man to give in temporarily to a young woman with whom he could never see himself marrying because her courtship of him is so darn flattering. There are better, fairer ways to enjoy female companionship: holding and/or going to parties, joining Catholic young adult groups, taking language classes, being the only marriageable man at beauty school, tagging along with the girls after work, or  asking out a woman in whom he really is interested for coffee.    

Although it is terrible for women to string men along, it is obviously worse for men to string women along, especially those women who hope for chaste marriage and children. Normal, healthy female fertility begins to decline at 30, and it falls off a cliff at 35. It hits the ground at 45. 

If you are a seminarian on a break, it is absolutely abysmal behaviour to lead a woman on and then dump her when you go back to the seminary or, worse, just before you are ordained to the diaconate. A woman's disappointment should not be the punchline of your Vocations Sunday homily. 

I once heard such a homily in Canada, which is why I mention it. 

*B.A. and I famously married about 7.5 months after we met, having fallen in love 8 days after my arrival in Scotland. But it should be stressed that we were in our late 30s and have so much in common we're probably 4th cousins.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

Ladies and Gentlemen (Part Two)

House of Worth evening gown, 1897

I will continue my series by repeating the following two points: first, that the foundation of good manners is understanding that other people are real and, second, that my context is the East Coast of Scotland in 2023.

I will add that when it comes to "the done thing," there is a difference between fashion--changing ephemera, like what sells best in Primark--and behaviour. Naturally, one influences the other. The shortening of skirts, cutting of hair, and baring of backs in the 1920s did not usher in an age of chastity. 

It is tempting at this point to write at great length about women's clothing: a sure attention-getter on the internet and beyond. Let us see first what Authority says. 

What Authority Says

Mrs Humphry (1897) devotes a chapter to defending the "irrational dress" worn by women of her time, arguing that women who adopt "rational dress" (promoted by early feminists) risk being called "dowdy" by their male acquaintances and never escorted by them to restaurants. She also suggests that wearing "eccentric" clothing leads the wearer to become "eccentric" herself. Above all, she condemns the "intense vulgarity in dressing in loud colours and glaring styles in order to attract attention to herself."  

Ward, Lock & Co (1930) rules that the "true lady is always well, because suitably, dressed. She sacrifices extremes of fashion to comfort, puts her clothes on carefully and properly, is scrupulously particular about shoes, gloves and neckwear, and then never gives them another thought. She displays little jewellery out of doors, reserving her diamonds for evening wear, and never wears anything which would attract undue attention either to her appearance or her conduct." 

Sarah Maclean (1962, no relation) states that "the basis and first rule of all good dressing remains what it has always been: to wear the right thing at the right time and place." She then writes several sensible pages about what to wear at various times and places in 1962 and (third edition) 1963. Civilization in the United Kingdom then fell off a cliff, so if you're a woman at one with me on the project of restoring it, I invite you to follow her advice, except for the wearing of hats and gloves. There are few hats you can get away with wearing now without attracting "undue attention," so choose very carefully. Wearing even white cotton gloves in the heat of the summer anywhere except a wedding or the King's Garden Party may attract quizzical looks and, in Scotland, rude remarks. 

Why God cares what you wear

Unlike podcast moralists, these Authorities have nothing to say about women's clothing leading men to perdition. (They leave the Care and Feeding of a Lady's Reputation to other chapters.) My own view, which is certainly different from the one I held before I understood that men are not deformed women, is that we are our brothers' keepers. Good manners between the sexes is the understanding that members of the opposite sex are real and have their own real challenges. 

Women-in-general find it difficult to do a pull-up on the chin-up bar. Men-in-general find it difficult not to look lustfully at a woman in tight, revealing clothes. It is very bad manners to wear skin-tight leggings and a crop top to class and then, when challenged, say that men need to learn custody of the eyes. The woman who says this does not understand that men are real and have their own real challenges. She has made the same error as the man who neglects to see a female friend safely to her doorstep, train or bus at night--or thinks it is a terribly funny joke to put her in a headlock or to creep behind her on the street and grab her arms. 

I seem to have strayed from my intention to instruct men how to ask a woman for a dance and women how to accept or reject the dance gracefully. I shall leave that for next time and just tell my interested audiences  what men and women wear to the TLM in Edinburgh.

Clothing: The Right Thing at the Right Time and Place

TLM in Edinburgh

There is no longer a canonical requirement for women to cover their heads at Mass; I am not sure if the Code of Canon Law still states, as it did in 1917, that men must remove their hats upon entering the church. Nevertheless, boys and men almost invariably do and should remove their hats upon entering any Christian church (among other places, like the parish hall, a ballroom, or a private home). 

At diocese-approved Traditional Latin Masses in Scotland, most--but not all--women cover their heads, either with a chapel veil (mantilla), a scarf, or a hat. Most--but not all--women wear a skirt and top, or a skirt suit, or a dress. The hemlines of these skirts and dresses stop at the knee, the ankle, or somewhere in between. 

It is worth noting that the majority of women in Edinburgh who wear trousers to the TLM and remain bareheaded are over 60. But even if you are a young woman visitor and don't have a scarf, a veil or a hat with you, just come on in. (If you go to the SSPX chapel, however, you will be required to borrow a veil, and if you are wearing trousers you will be the only woman so attired.) You risk making a poor impression if you appear at a Sunday TLM in sloppy athletic wear, a short skirt, or leggings (unless you are wearing a long skirt over the leggings). You will stick out like a baboon's blue bottom, distracting both your brothers and sisters in Christ.

For the same reason, I hold that you should never be the only woman at a Novus Ordo wearing a chapel veil. If you feel you simply can't go to Mass bareheaded, tie a scarf around your hair, pull on a beret, or find a seasonal hat. Taking care not to distract Catholics at the Novus Ordo is honouring the fact that Catholics at the Novus Ordo are real. 

Most men at the diocese-approved Traditional Latin Mass in Edinburgh seem to wear their traditional "Sunday best," whatever that best happens to be. Some wear ties. Some do not. Some wear jackets. Others wear pullovers. Some wear jackets AND pullovers. Some wear jackets and waistcoats. Others just wear dress shirts tucked into their trousers. Some wear corduroy trousers, a woolly jumper, a tie and a tweed jacket. A few wear a matching jacket and trousers with a tie (e.g. the classic navy blue suit), which I believe is the lay male TLM uniform in some parts of the United States. 

It goes without saying that men do not wear T-shirts, shorts, or athletic wear to the Edinburgh TLM. (Little boys and girls wear whatever their parents succeed in struggling them into, but in general little girls wear skirts or dresses, too, and they look very sweet.)

The custom of unmarried girls wearing white mantillas and married or widowed women wearing black mantillas is observed in Edinburgh but not stringently. I'm not sure we all even know about this custom or if it should be called a "custom." It may be merely a "fashion."

It is the height of bad manners for someone to reprove a stranger for his or her attire at Mass. (I suppose a priest might have a word with a man.) If the inappropriately dressed stranger is female, she realized her error long before the Kyrie, guaranteed. If she can overcome her embarrassment--and nobody is rude to her--she will be back the next week in a maxi-skirt and scarf. 

Here, by the way, is my favourite mantilla maker.  

Trad Tea Dances/Waltzing Parties

To my great joy, the guests all decided to come to my first Waltzing Party dressed smartly. From photographs taken at the event, I see that most of the men wore dark suits and ties. All the women wore skirts or dresses. One young man and one young lady even wore white gloves. They did not set a fashion for white gloves at waltzing parties, but everyone seems to have agreed that Mrs McLean's Waltzing Parties are dress-up events. 

Everywhere Else 

The overarching rule that seems to govern clothing worn in public in Scotland is that the clothes must be clean and, in the city, be new, look new or come "distressed" from the manufacturer. (In the country you can wear your wool-and-tweed and waxed-thread raincoat to rags.) It is much easier to wear cheap new clothes than to repair good old clothes because cheap clothes are so very cheap. (This is, of course, problematic for reasons I won't get into today.)

Football clobber

The one taboo I know of is the wearing the uniform (or "strip") of football teams in certain bars and pubs.  I would also advise visitors to Scotland not to wear association football jerseys in the street. There's a whole protocol around Scottish football that you probably don't know. 


Having consulted a Edinburgh Uni student, I can safely say that you can wear anything you like to class, from cashmere and tweed to the same sweatshirt and joggers every day. This makes it easy for Catholic girls--and any other girls--who wish to wear modest, feminine clothing to do so.


Regarding lack of clothing, men can legally go bare chested in Scotland and women cannot. A very few very young women sometimes take their tops off in public anyway to flout the law, or show that they are just as good as men, or to further the decline of Western Civilization. 

In the immortal words of the American comedienne Laura Horn, "Try that in a Trad Crowd.

Restoring Western Civilization

On Sunday afternoons I often stare out the top of a double-decker bus at the shoppers walking up and down Edinburgh's Princes Street. To relieve the gloom, I play a game called "Spot a well-dressed person" or "Find a woman wearing a skirt." 

In winter especially, this is a challenging game. Almost everyone on the street is wearing blue jeans or black leggings and a dark casual coat. For contrast, have a look at photographs or films of Edinburgh in the 1950s, 1960s--even the early 1970s. I get the sense from these artifacts that back then people dressed as though they thought other people were real and very likely judging their attire from the tops of passing busses. 

Princes Street even takes on a slightly sinister atmosphere on Saturday nights as women in stiletto heels, low-cut necklines, and high-cut hems (or the ubiquitous black leggings) totter onto Frederick Street. In winter they sometimes drape wooly scarves around their necks in place of overcoats, bosoms open to the elements. What their masculine counterparts are wearing I couldn't tell you, as I'm too intimidated to look at them. 

As I wrote above, women readers interested reversing our societies' downward spiral could do worse than find a copy of Sarah Maclean's The Pan Book of Etiquette and Good Manners and decide if they can follow her advice without attracting undue attention. Men readers, however, should ignore the 1897 fashion tips in Mrs Humphry's Manners for Men. 

I have little hope of bringing white gloves back into fashion, but if enough of us tried hard enough, we could Make Edinburgh Look Like a House of Bruar Catalogue Again! 

Update: What are the clothing customs or fashions of your TLM community? 

Sunday 10 December 2023

Ladies and Gentlemen (Part One)

"The words 'lady' and 'gentlemen' are a bit 'cringe'," said my husband Benedict Ambrose, who loves to make his birthplace sound like a slum out of Dickensian London, only colder and wetter and more violent. His school was founded by a man who was so horrified that guttersnipes might be allowed to go to his own beloved school that he stumped up the money to open Guttersnipe Academy. (I think that's the story.) B.A.'s accent, once unintelligible to anyone two miles from his home, was changed forever by a Harrow Old Boy choirmaster who literally went to prison afterwards, although not for that. 

"'Lady' and 'gentleman' are not cringe in North America," I said in the same tone I use for explaining why space travel is not a waste of money. "They aren't a Class Indicator. They merely mean people who have good manners. If you had a daughter, would you not tell her to 'Sit like a lady'?"

"It's a bit 'cringe'," B.A. insisted and later added, "It's complicated."

Before I start writing about Please and Thank you and small-talk and always-bring-a-bottle, I should address our geographical and historical context. We live on the East Coast of Scotland, it is 2023, and although the class system was elasticized under Margaret Thatcher, not that she ever gets any thanks for that, it still haunts us all.  

As a matter of fact, Maggie was a Grocer's Daughter, as nobody ever stops mentioning, which more-or-less puts her in the most hated social class in the United Kingdom, which is Aspirational Lower Middle. The most hated woman is not, in fact, Baroness Thatcher, but the fictional Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bucket by her fictional husband, but bouquet by her fictional self) of a 1990s TV show called Keeping Up Appearances.  

What makes Hyacinth so incredibly loathsome to the right-thinking Briton is that she was a snob and a social climber who pretended to belong to the upper-middle-class when she didn't, faking her accent and doing other unforgivably pretentious things like--. 

Well, I'm not sure, for  I've never watched Keeping Up Appearances. But perhaps one of her disgusting crimes was wearing vintage hats anywhere not a wedding. After being harassed for my horrific vintage hat wearing behaviour,  I finally gave it up. (The traditional working classes and the very poor seem to have been united in their hatred for my vintage hats. They were triggered by my hats.) And when I, as a bride, suggested that I could adjust to life in Scotland by modifying my flat Toronto accent (example!) to something more like his, B.A. almost died of horror.

Henry Higgins in reverse, Benedict Ambrose taught his Eliza Doolittle that any kind of accent modification or fakery of origins was complete social death and, by the way, her Canadian tones saved her from any class associations whatsoever. She was totally exempt, darling, and we don't talk about class, we talk about values. 

One of our values is good manners although B.A.'s are better than mine because I am a writer. When he was feeling less cringe about the word, B.A. told me that a gentleman is someone who never unintentionally gives offence. Writers unintentionally give offence all the time. (Of course, I have also received a message from a man who thought the romantic hero in one of my stories was him, and he was greatly flattered. He was also greatly wrong. If he reads this, he will probably be offended. You see?)

But to return to the theme of my earlier post, the foundation of all good manners is the understanding that other people are real. If you stabbed them, they would bleed, just as you would if they stabbed you. Incidentally, one reason for the elaborate rules around eating in public is the presence of all the knives on the table. 

Now, after this extremely long intro, here is Part One to a small guide to good manners in Scotland in 2023. 

The Basics

Wash regularly and wear clean clothing.

Use "please" and/or the conditional mood when asking someone to give you something or to do something or if you are asking them if they would like something. 

"Would you like coffee or tea?" and not "Wanna coffee?"
"I'd like some coffee, please." and not "Gimme a coffee."


"Would you like coffee?"
"I'd love some coffee!"

Thank you is used as often as possible, sprinkled about like salt on an icy pavement. Everyone likes thanks--although not too much. Once per occasion. It makes the other person feel that their efforts on your behalf have been appreciated. 

"Here is your coffee."
"Thank you."

"Thank you for coming to my concert."
"Thank you for telling me about it!"
"It was lovely to see you."

Thank you notes of an electronic nature follow parties (and therefore in this case you thank twice: once on the way out, and once the next day). In Edinburgh, people often send thank you cards instead. Paper thank you notes should also be sent after receiving gifts and after overnight stays. But if you are really horrible at getting things in the post, be sure to remember to send thanks over email or social media. Sending a card through the post definitely makes the giver/host feel appreciated, though. 

Always bring a bottle to a house party.  This may surprise you as a basic, but this is Scotland, and if an adult invites another adult to a party at their house, and it's not a "dry [teetotaler] hoose," that other adult must bring a bottle of something to drink. Table wine is fine. Dessert wine is generous. A bottle of gin or some other pricey spirit is impressive. 

Apologies should be simple, short, and not repeated. When you break something or step on someone, you simply say "I'm sorry" or "I'm very sorry." The offended person should say "It doesn't matter." If you can't help yourself and say "Sorry" a second time, the offended person might say, "Please don't mention it." Obey them.  


This is one of the thorniest and most complicated topics in British guides to good manners in part because there used to be very strict rules about not introducing certain kinds of people to other people. In 1897 (see Mrs Humphry), if a university student were enjoying a private flirtation with a shopgirl, he was absolutely forbidden from introducing her to his mother should the latter come upon them chatting in the street. To a certain extent, this principle might still apply today, but for better reasons. Many of us have amusing friends or well-loved relations whose morals we privately deplore. As much as we like them, we would not introduce them to an impressionable teenager or a dazzlingly lovely 20-something in a white mantilla. 

Nowadays, of course, a bigger issue is that people forget to introduce themselves or others at all, leaving other people feeling neglected or at sea. If you bring a friend with you somewhere, often it is up to you to introduce them to other people. And traditionally in Britain this is complicated again because there is a certain order in which you are supposed to do this. However, don't let the tricky details put you off making introductions. Once again, it is about understanding that other people are real. Just like you, other people hate standing there feeling like a lemon while a friend has a chat with his or her other friend without bothering to introduce you. 

Here is a very quick guide to the order of introductions, which I invite you to read twice and then forget:

A man is introduced TO a woman first: "Mary Beth, this is Peter. Peter, Mary Beth."
EXCEPTION: Catholic priests, bishops, VIPs/guests of honour (like the King, the Prince of Wales, Dukes in general), the CEO of the company the woman works for: "Father O'Brien, may I introduce Claire? Claire, this is Father O'Brien." "Bob,  this is Jane from Accounting." 

A younger person of the same sex is introduced TO an older person of the same sex first: "Dad, this is Scooter. Scooter, my dad." "Karen, this is Emily." 

At social events, you must always introduce friends to other friends, especially to female friends, as traditionally a strange man can't talk to a woman without first being introduced. In traditional circles, young women are also often constrained by worries about looking "too forward." They might want to welcome a stranger but not be sure they should.  

On the street, it's a different story. You can stop to say hello to someone and then keep on going without introducing your companion. If you stop for a protracted conversation, however, you should make an introduction. But if either your companion or the person on the street is someone who, for moral reasons, you wouldn't introduce to your mother and/or sisters, don't stop. 

Incidentally, in the UK, an appropriate way to respond to an introduction to someone older than you goes like this:

"Dad, this is Scooter. Scooter, my dad."

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Stewart."

"Pleased to met you, Scooter. Please call me David."

You can get around the difficulty with surnames by telling your friends right up front how the older person prefers to be called. 

"Mum, this is Joanne. Joanne, this is my mother Susan."  

House & Dinner Parties

Always bring a bottle to a house party even when the host says not to bring anything. When you're invited to a party, it is polite to ask if you can bring anything. This helps you figure out what kind of party it is. It might be the kind of party where everyone brings a dish. If the host or hostess tells you not to bring anything, they do not literally mean not to bring anything at all. You still have to bring a bottle of wine. Six guests bringing a £6 bottle of wine saves the hosts £36 on their lengthy grocery bill and makes them feel that their invitation to dinner was much appreciated. 

Always answer RSVPs in a timely fashion. At last I come to the deeply unfashionable RSVP. 

RSVP is an anagram of Respondez s'il vous plait, which is French for "Answer, please." If you get an invitation with RSVP written on it, you have probably been invited to something that takes an unusual amount of planning and perhaps expense. The lovely person who writes the RSVP wants to give you something--dinner, entertainment, an afternoon away from your child--and it is only fair that you tell him or her if you mean to accept it.  

The most obvious example is the wedding. The contemporary wedding takes months to plan and whoever is paying for the wedding often has to pay per guest. The quicker you say yes or no, the more grateful (and less frantic) the bride/groom/parents will be. (If you're terrible with stamps, call them up or send them an email before sending the enclosed card.) The same goes for anyone who, for whatever reason, needs a headcount long before the party begins. 

The RSVP separates the life of the child from the life of the adult. From the moment you're born until the day you leave university, adults arrange nice things for you without asking for anything back except "Thank you." Sometimes you don't even say thank you, or at least you don't say thank you to the real person who lavished you with goodies. 

For example, as a university student I drank endless tea and scarfed dozens of chocolate biscuits at the Newman Centre without pondering who it was who was paying for the feast. No idea. Neither do I recall if I ever was asked to RSVP before coming, but I doubt it. I must have thanked the student host before leaving, but it never occurred to me to write a thank you note to the Newman Centre parish council, for example.  

Incidentally, my sense of entitlement was immense. I'm atoning for it now with all that dishwashing after Mass.

Upon leaving university, the shocked new adult discovers that he is nearer 25 (if not 30) than 18, and that other adults very, very rarely spread out delicious teas, wine-and-cheese parties, and other lavish entertainments before him. When asked to a very fancy event, he usually discovers that he is meant not only to RSVP but to pay £100 a ticket (£190 if he is married). The fancy event will be in aid of some good cause or other, and so he will also be expected to empty his wallet, bid on items he prays he will not win, and volunteer to help run the next fancy event. And thus chastened, the new adult is delighted when asked to a formal party he doesn't have to pay to attend, and he answers the summons of the RSVP within 24 hours. 
In conclusion, if you get an invitation with RSVP written on it, or get any invitation to a party that has a discernible host or hostess, you must decide ASAP if you can/want to go, and let the host or hostess know. They may be sorry to get a "No," but they won't fall into a decline. If given enough time, they might be able to find someone who will jump for joy to get the invitation.   

When you host a party, you have to make sure your guests are all happy. The first thing to do is answer the door personally when they knock, and not leave it to someone they don't know, leaving them under the horrible misapprehension that they have come to the wrong house. Then take their coats and bags and bottles of wine. The coats and bags go in your immaculate bedroom or whichever spare room you happen to have handy, and the bottles go in the kitchen. 

But before you take the wine into the kitchen, you must say, "What can I get you? Wine? Beer? Gin-and-tonic?" If a guest says "Just water, please," which apparently happens in other places, don't push booze upon him but get him a nice glass of water. After taking his drink order, lead your guest into the sitting-room and introduce him to the women and introduce the men to him. (If he's a she, reverse that.) If he's the first one there or he knows everyone, just invite him to have a seat and some snacks.

(Brief aside about food, drink and guests: In countries where Civilization (Western or Otherwise) has not declined quite as much, nobody invites anyone into their home without offering them something to eat and drink when they step inside. Foreign students who come to Edinburgh have been shocked to find, after being invited into a British home, nothing placed before them. To stop Civilizational Decline, we must never keep our helpless guests hungry or thirty.)

According to Mrs Maclean (1962, no relation), at dinner parties ladies women precede men into the dining-room. This assumes there is a dining-room. If there is no dining-room, forget this point. Mrs Maclean also acknowledges that some British dinners still end with the hostess standing up, saying "Shall we?" pointedly at the other women, and then scuttling out the door, followed by her fellow females, to talk rationally in the sitting-room while the men stay behind to drink port and discuss liturgical lace. This is called withdrawing, and their refuge was once called the withdrawing room.  

However, the only hostess I ever met who carried on this strange and ancient custom was me, and I gave it up once I realized that the men were perfectly happy to continue talking at the table, women-free, until they passed out among the walnut shells. In better regulated households, the men would rejoin the women in the drawing room/sitting room after half an hour or so. 

In the UK, making light and amusing conversation ("small talk") is a highly prized skill. An easy way to make small talk is to ask questions. This is an excellent trick for shy people. The best thing to do when introduced to someone at a party and left with him or her by your host or hostess is to ask an open-ended question, one that cannot be answered with yes or no. An obvious one: how he or she met the host and/or hostess. If you are a traditionalist Catholic from elsewhere being introduced into another  traditionalist Catholic circle, you could ask if the local ordinary is a kind man. Be reasonably sure the bishop is not in the room, of course. Incidentally, if you and your best pals have been discussing the liturgy since the soup and pudding is now on the table but no woman has said anything in all that time, something has gone seriously wrong.     

You can ask to help but, really, stay out of the kitchen. In Scotland, nobody ever expects a dinner guest to carry his dishes to the kitchen, let alone to wash them. Out of habit, American and Canadian ex-pat females ask hostesses if they can help in the kitchen, and the answer is invariably no. In a private house, stay out of the kitchen unless the party is in the kitchen.

You leave when everyone else is leaving, unless you are an intimate of the host or hostess. That caveat is Mrs Maclean's rule, not mine. I realize that people younger than myself have much larger parties, and groups come in and groups go out. Their nights are still young at 12 AM, whereas mine are old ladies who want to go to bed. One way to indicate that a party is over is to say, "Would anyone like me to look up the bus schedule?" or "Would anyone like me to call him a taxi?" A very traditional way to indicate that the party is just about over is to offer and serve coffee. However, for me coffee is just another dinner course. These days I often say, "Well, good night, chaps, I'm off to bed." That's a very clear signal the party is over, as is "Drink up! Ha' ye not got hames tae gang tae?" uttered in as broad an accent as possible. 

Always bid good-bye to your host or hostess before you leave any party. When you cross a host's threshold, be that their home or the hotel ballroom they have rented, you have symbolically fallen under their protection. If you suddenly disappear, they may worry about you. (This is particularly true if you are teenage, female, or drunk.) You may also overset his/her reasonable plans for you, such as introducing you to the beautiful young person who embodies your most romantic hopes but is not arriving until 10. At weddings, say good-bye to the bride and groom (if they're still there) and their parents (ditto). 

Send a thank you note by social media or email the next day but as I mentioned above, a thank you note, sent first class (£1.25), is particularly thoughtful and, if your hostess is like me, she not only thinks particularly well of you, she inwardly honours your parents. You may have been secretly raised by wolves, but when you give up your seat on the bus, or send a thank you note, or volunteer to do some noisome chore for the community, traditional old people gossip to each other that you were clearly well brought up. 

Next post: How to ask a girl to dance and how the girl accepts (or not) with grace.

Thursday 7 December 2023

The Extremely Difficult Realisation

Etiquette versus courtesy

Etiquette has, admittedly, been used as a weapon. The excellent Mrs Humphry wrote Manners for Men and Manners for Women at a time of class mobility when, through their own intelligence and hard work, talented young men (and their wives) could find themselves a rung up the British caste system ladder. However, not everybody likes newcomers, and cruel people used the sometimes subtle social codes to exclude them. Mrs Humphry's project was to equip her readers with textbooks that would help them fit in. 

There's a famous story about a man being served a slice of cherry pie in which the cherries all had stones. The other men at his table watched intently to see what he would do. Would he complain about the cherry stones? (Bad.) Would he meekly swallow the stones? (Worse.) What the man did was fish each cherry stone out of his mouth with finger and thumb and dot them around the rim of his plate. The watching men relaxed, for this was exactly what they were all brought up to do. (Mrs H. advises something similar with seeded grapes.) 

Incidentally, I was reliably informed that this kind of test was still being conducted in German professional/academic circles in the late 20th century. Leading job candidates would be taken out to lunch and the hiring committee would note their table manners. These were a decisive factor. The German who told me this had very good table manners. 

But true good manners, that is, courtesy, cannot by definition be a weapon, although I suppose they can act as a bucket of cold water over someone who is behaving unreasonably. Twenty-three or so years ago, I answered a client who was giving me absolute hell over the counter at my government job with "I'm sorry, ma'am. I have just learned that my mother has had a stroke." This was, in fact, perfectly true, and although I was out of my mind with worry, I'll never forget the look of shock on the woman's face. She gruffly asked if my mother would be alright, and when I said I didn't know, she quickly concluded our business and fled. 

The extremely difficult realization

The English philosopher Irish Murdoch defined love as "the perception of individuals" and "the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real." I would say that courtesy, or authentic good manners, is the indication that one understands that someone--indeed, everyone--other than oneself is real.   

Honouring the reality of other people is not only the basis of good manners, it is the basis of Western Civilization and Part 2 of Christ's answer to the question "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" To love your neighbour as yourself means to recognize that your neighbour is as real as you are. And who is your neighbour? If I understand the story of the Good Samaritan correctly, your neighbour is usually the person right in front of you. 

The first person right in front of you is usually your mother, and she is usually the first to teach you to say "Please" and "Thank you." This is either because she naturally resents being bossed and taken for granted by a two-year-old or because she instinctually knows that her child will not do well in life, which for humans is communal, without these basic courtesies. If she is a Christian or philosophically inclined, she may also want her child to be kind to others for their sake as well as his. 

The thoughtful mother wants her girls and boys to grow up to be ladies and gentlemen, no matter what social or economic stratum they are growing up in. And after you have hit my age and have the privilege of serving hot beverages to others on a regular basis, it is easy to guess who has been well brought up. The lady or gentleman looks me in the eye, smiles, perhaps adds a greeting, says "Please," says "Thank you," and moves away from the table so that other real people can get their tea or coffee. Sometimes they collect their own and other people's teacups and bring them to the kitchen. They volunteer to help with the dishes or to hoover the floor. They never, as did one benighted youth, stalk into the hall before Mass has ended, seat themselves at the far end, and shout "I guess the tea's not ready then?"

Sometimes I think it's amusing, given my CV, that my chief ecclesiastical role is Tea Lady. That was not one of those times.

In this case, I was perceived not as real, but only as Older Lady Who Makes Me Tea. But I must admit that is unfortunately how I originally thought of my predecessors over the pot when I first swanned into the parish hall as a slender thirty-something. I wasn't a barbarian: I said please and thank you and didn't hog the biscuits or block the queue. Nevertheless, I don't remember offering to help wash the cups--which my merry new companions presented as an activity fit only for elderly ladies. Off we went for Gin & Tonic and long lunch parties instead. I did not even, at that time, know all the tea ladies' Christian names. 

Thus, you see, my own coming to the extremely difficult realization that everyone other than myself is real is a work in progress.

There are countless examples of acting as though other people aren't real, or not really real. Employees exasperate managers, managers mistreat employees, employees bilk customers, customers humiliate employees, seated men ignore pregnant women standing on the bus, young women upbraid men for holding open the door for them, callous men tell their partners in sin to "get rid of it." 


A strange and relatively new form of pretending other people aren't real is "ghosting." Ghosting occurs when one withdraws from a friendly or sexual relationship simply by disappearing. It used to be associated solely with seducers--the kind of men who talk women into sex through promises of a rosy future together and then disappear, seemingly off of the face of the earth. Now, however, all kinds of ties are cut by one person without offering any explanation to the other.  

I wonder, however, if this is not understanding that the other person is real or simply not knowing how to behave towards him or her when the relationship is coming to an end. A private tutor recently told me that his students--even students he has had for years--ghost him all the time. It happens so often, he thinks it is part of British culture. Having to choose between an embarrassing conversation (or difficult email or terse text) and disappearing, the timid Brit naturally disappears. 

But I don't think that this is part of British culture. I think that this is part of the decline and fall of Western Civilization--which I am hoping to reverse in my small way. A large part of that decline has been caused by horrible older people encouraging flattered younger people to flush accepted codes of good manners down the toilet. It's one thing to stop wearing gloves and hats, but it's quite another to end a years' long professional relationship without a proper good-bye--or, come to think of it, to scrunch up a party invitation and throw it on the floor for the inviter to find.  

Nature abhors a vacuum, and in place of our gentle traditional courtesy, we have been given the dictats of Woke. The two could not be more different. Good manners as the expression of the understanding that everyone else is real unites society. Ganging up to bully people about their privilege/race/skin colour/heteronormativity divides it.  

What we need is to go over the basic good manners expected in different social occasions--the authentic good manners, the ones that make people-not-oneself feel at ease--and so I'll write about that in my next post.