Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On Etiquette ... and forks.

Manners. Etiquette. They are different, but they both have a lot to do with forks. Etiquette tells one which fork to use and manners tell one how to deal with a boorish slob once he's used a salad fork to eat his steak.

If you don't know the difference between a salad fork and steak fork, it's because there is no difference. Also there is no such thing as a steak fork... that is, until you use your salad fork to eat a steak. Then it's a steak fork.

Once the steak is finished, the steak fork becomes another type of fork altogether. The Wrong Fork. That's my favorite type of fork to use. The wrong fork is so versatile. Equally adept at picking up lettuce as it is at opening a jar of pickles.

But Etiquette can't be all about forks right? A quick Wikipedia search reveals that sadly, yes. it is. Etiquette is all about forks.

The fork. It's a big deal. Which fork do I use? When do I use it? How many forks should i have? On which side of the plate should I put how many forks?

Something tells me that all these fork worries weren't such a big deal until people became rich enough to own so many forks that they needed rules to justify why they owned so many forks in the first place.

There was a time shortly before the Fork Rules Era where the simple act of using any fork in any way would mark you as an elitist douche, worthy of an ass beating ... like the kids who had Palm Pilots back when I was in High School, in the mid 90s.

Nowadays, when you take a look around the world we live in, it seems that forks aren't as important as they used to be. There's finger foods, chopsticks, 100 calorie packs, squeezable potato salad, sporks, splades, breakaway lid pieces that can act as scoops, and even scoop-shaped corn chips that take silverware out of the salsa-eating equation altogether.

The decline of the fork has dragged down Etiquette, the science of fork rules, along with it. Now instead of worrying about which fork to use, people worry more about not getting murdered and which parts of facebook they should keep private.

What's that you say about Soup spoons? Never heard of them. How can we think about silverware when everyday is 9/11 all over again, and people are wearing sweat pants to work?

So what happened to etiquette? Where did it go? What does it look like today? What kind of fork should I use to scratch my balls?

I would ask God these questions. Etiquette would dictate that, but I can't, because God is dead, and since cleanliness is next to Godliness it would follow that cleanliness is probably dead as well, and since etiquette is all about cleanliness (of forks specifically) it would follow that etiquette might soon be dead too.

Etiquette was, in its heyday, largely a set of rules for classy people to live by so that they can have a nice and tidy society full of classy people who know all about forks. Nowadays we just make do without the nice and tidy, and classy part. Looking around the room, it's obvious that we all know to wear pants when in mixed company. That's etiquette. But most of us don't care if those pants are too long, too short, too dirty, or too tight anymore. If Blue is the new Black, then Camel Toe is the new Tuxedo.

How did this happen?

10 years ago, I paid Etiquette a visit at The Yacht Club in Marblehead, MA. If you've never been to Marblehead, I can tell you, it's a little Peninsula on the North Shore of Massachussets, where everyone owns a shitload of fancy forks.

I went to the Yacht Club fresh from a boating excursion which left me horribly under-dressed. So they forced me into a blue blazer with gold buttons. I had to wear that blazer so that everyone would know that I was a broke loser who had to borrow a jacket to eat dinner with the wrong fork ... Etiquette dictates that.

I paid Etiquette another visit recently, and it looks a lot different now. I was in Western North Carolina, a part of North Carolina so upside down that it's actually South of South Carolina. We were planning on going to the Yacht Club there. I was nervous. Would they force me into another jacket? Would I know which fork to use? Did I inherit enough money from my grandparents? The worries were endless. So I got as dressed up as my vacation wardrobe would allow, and parted my hair very squarely.

As it turns out this The Yacht Club on the Georgia - North Carolina - South Carolina border was much different from the Yacht Club I had been to a decade earlier in Massachusetts. The Etiquette had changed. Gone were the yachts, the well heeled New England prep schoolers, the pink polo shirts, the white slip-on boat shoes. In their place were Buckets of LandShark beer, the putrid stench of floor vomit and many fried finger foods. I didn't need a sport coat, just a towel around my waste and a flourescent green bikini top to house sun wrinkled tattooed cleavage.

Now I'm willing to admit that this Yacht Club in Appalachia wasn't the same type of place as the one I had been to, in Massachusetts. But I think it's more likely that 10 years ago it was a nice and tidy place, full of well mannered and well dressed men. And at some point in the past 10 years everyone traded their Blue Blazers for sleeveless Hulkamania T-shirts and threw away all their forks. It's a forkless world now. I think it's time we get used to it.