David Bruce: Etiquette Anecdotes

• Lord Chesterfield was once invited to attend a dinner that was given by the Spanish ambassador. At the dinner, several people gave toasts to their respective kings. The Spanish ambassador compared the King of Spain to the sun. The French ambassador compared the King of France to the moon. Next rose Lord Chesterfield, who said about the King of England, “Your excellencies have taken from me all the greatest luminaries of heaven, and the stars are too small for me to make a comparison of my royal master; I therefore beg leave to give your excellencies — Joshua!” (Readers who know the Bible will remember that the great Hebrew military leader Joshua once stopped the sun and the moon, thus allowing the Israelites to win a battle before nightfall.)

• A week before a scheduled performance of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, conductor Arturo Toscanini became unhappy with one of his singers — a man who was a good man and a good singer, but who was unsuited for his part. Taking thought about how to replace the singer — but without harming the singer’s reputation — Maestro Toscanini composed a letter in which he said that during rehearsals he had noticed that the singer was not well, and if the singer should wish to withdraw from the performance, he would understand. The singer was no dummy — he took the hint and told the Maestro that yes, he was ill, and yes, he would withdraw from the performance. His replacement was better suited for the part, and Die Meistersingerwas a success.

• Hanro was a royal minister who fell into disgrace and was exiled during the Chou dynasty. For a long time, Hanro lived as a recluse, until the king recalled him from exile. Hanro mounted a horse and started to return to the royal court, but then he decided that he liked being a recluse better than being a court minister, so he turned his horse around and headed back to his mountain home. However, he rode his horse backwards, so that he could not be said to have turned his back on the king’s wishes.

• Adelina Patti, a celebrated diva, seldom showed up for rehearsals (she included a no-rehearsal clause in her contracts), so she often first met her singing co-stars on the stages of the opera house she was performing at the time. In a first-act trio featuring Ms. Patti, a baritone and a tenor, the baritone altered the words of the song he was singing on stage to ask her for an introduction. Ms. Patti being willing, the tenor sang the formal introductions.

• Groucho Marx frequently bumped into Sam Goldwyn in Hollywood. Each time, Mr. Goldwyn would ask Groucho how Harpo was doing, but he never asked about Groucho’s health. Finally, Groucho got annoyed and protested, “Why do you always ask me how Harpo is? Why don’t you ever ask me how I am?” Mr. Goldwyn replied, “I’ll do that sometime, Groucho, but right now, how is your brother Harpo?”

• Art Linkletter was once stopped by a man who insisted he had gone to school with him in Moosejaw, Canada. Actually, although Mr. Linkletter had been born there, he had moved when he was little to San Diego, California, where he went to school. However, because the man’s family was with him, Mr. Linkletter was polite and pretended to have gone to school with the man in Moosejaw, Canada.

• Papal Nuncio Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who was later to be Pope John XXIII, once met the Chief Rabbi of Paris at a reception. They talked together for a long time, and when they were summoned to dinner, they were confronted with the dilemma of who would walk through the door to the dining room first. Nuncio Roncalli motioned for the Rabbi to go first, saying, “The Old Testament before the New.”

• In Philadelphia, a homeless person named Carlos was very hungry and wondering what his next meal would come from. A priest appeared and gave him a sandwich. Carlos was so hungry that he ate the sandwich before remembering to thank the priest. After eating the sandwich, he looked for the priest, but the priest had disappeared. After that, Carlos always thanked someone who gave him food, and then he ate the food.

• Mulla Nasrudin was very hungry and dipped all five fingers of his hand into a bowl of rice, although the etiquette of his time stated that one should get rice with only the thumb and the first two fingers. A bystander asked him, “Why are you eating with five fingers?” Nasrudin replied, “Because I don’t have six fingers.”

• Christoph Willibald Gluck revolutionized opera. His controversial style caused much excitement in his opera Armide, whose premiere was packed. An usher requested one man in the audience to take off his hat, but the man replied, “You take it off; it’s so crowded here that I can’t move my arms.”

• Gioacchino Rossini was once a guest of King George IV. Being polite, Rossini invited the King to sing while Rossini played. Although the King sang badly, Rossini tactfully continued to play. Afterward, when the King complimented Rossini on his tact, he answered, “Sire, it is my duty to accompany you — even to hell.”

• In the days of American slavery, General George Washington was walking down the street when an aged African-American saw him and took off his hat and bowed out of respect. General Washington promptly took off his hat and returned the bow. Later, he explained to a shocked white politician: “I cannot be less civil than a poor Negro.”

• Once a society lady sent her card to George Bernard Shaw. The card said that she would be “at home from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday next.” Mr. Shaw sent the card back with this message written on it: “So will Mr. Shaw.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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