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Opinion: Bill Walton, Dear Emily’s Grandchildren

Searching for ball cap etiquette

Thank you for the updated version of grandma Emily Post’s book on Etiquette. I grew up under the tutelage of an aunt who used the original book as a societal behaviour guide. This was back in the days when you opened a car door for ladies; did not seat yourself at the table until the women, including sisters, were seated; said please and thank you, and if you were a Canadian, said excuse me at every opportunity.   

We learned later that many of these social customs were from the Victorian age and before the suffragettes got the vote for women.

Nowadays one must make a quick on-the-fly assessment of one’s new companion before opening doors for her lest she takes it as a slight on her capabilities of opening doors, holding a chair for her, or walking on the splash side of the sidewalk as if she was some delicate creature, not a modern woman who is very capable of looking after herself. The grandchildren of Emily Post have made adjustments for these modern times.

Our aunt reinforced, many times, how to set a table: where the forks went, the soup spoon, the dessert spoon, and the tea/coffee spoon. The fish fork went above the plate when fish was served but was absent when beef was on the menu. The bread plate, the water glass, and the wine glass all had their place. Even the lemon-scented finger rinse bowl (to the right side above) in case there was finger food, although no decent host would serve food that could not be handled with a fork or spoon.

If you could not remember what to do with the butter knife after taking too much butter for your dinner roll, you ate the bun dry. All these etiquette rules or suggestions were lost on a farm dinner table where the objective was to get a share of the food served in communal bowls and eaten as quickly as possible if you wanted seconds.

The plus side of all this was that dear auntie would take us to lunch at a fancy restaurant to test our etiquette skills. As children I am sure we thought all this was all great fun and coming from a lower-middle class environment, learning table skills we would never use. Sort of like Algebra and Trigonometry.

However, when in a few years we were invited to the Officer’s Mess for Dinner, I was comfortable with the array of cutlery that the Corporal laid out for us. There was, however, one thing that Emily had missed – or my aunt had forgotten: what to do with your dinner napkin when you needed to leave the table mid-meal. This happened at my first Mess dinner and as I hesitated upon standing, napkin in hand, the Corporal unobtrusively took the napkin, folded it, and placed it on the chair cushion. Lesson learned.

What I was looking for in the book that promoted consideration, respect and honesty, was the chapter on headwear. Specifically, when one should remove one’s ubiquitous ball cap.  The section, presumably for clarification, went back in history looking for customs, mainly in the religious teachings and protocols. Apparently, knights used to remove their armoured head helmets so the King or those running a tournament could ascertain who was that Black Knight.

It was a courtesy to doff, or at least touch one’s cap when meeting a person of higher class or a woman. Christian men removed their hats when entering a place of worship, whereas many other religions required men to wear a head covering. Women, when entering a place of worship had to cover their heads. I recall as a tourist in Paris when the women in our group wanted to enter a church to see the paintings and stained-glass windows, they had to borrow a man’s handkerchief to cover their heads.

Times and fashions changed. Men used to remove their hats when entering a private residence or even a place of business, such as a restaurant or a lawyer’s office. Women could leave their hats, headdress, fascinators or ball caps on, unless in a movie theatre and their hat obscured the view of others or the veil hindered eating in a restaurant.

Ball caps have a special section. One must remove the cap during a National Anthem (American)  or when the American flag is leading a street parade. This includes a sporting event like the Superbowl. Canadians, on the contrary, can leave their ball cap on if the weather is inclement, even at the Grey Cup game. There is no longer a requirement of doffing headgear when one sees the Maple Leaf flag since there is much confusion over when one displays the national flag as a patriot or as a protestor.

Men and women may leave their ball caps on in Sports Bar restaurants, malls, and places of business or even residences.  For clarification, a Sports Bar or casual restaurant is one that presents your eating utensils wrapped in a paper napkin, has numerous TV sets blaring, and generally expects its patrons to shout conversations at each other.

Emily’s grandchildren were wistful in their hope that men and women would remove their ball caps in a fine-dining restaurant. Alas. There was a chapter on the use of cell phones but the authors left a blank page as there appear to be no rules of courtesy in the use of these devices.

Another thing that is going the way of the brontosaurus is the men’s necktie. Even a loosely knotted tie is an unworthy accessory to a pair of jeans and a sports shirt. What am I to do with my tuxedo, bow ties, and derby? Donate them to a museum or just keep them for a formal funeral?  Oh yeah – ball caps are acceptable at funerals but should be removed if the deceased is a parent.

Just saying.

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

Retired from City of North Bay in 2000. Writer, poet, columnist
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