The Amazing Origins of 15 Etiquette Rules

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Nowadays, they’re just considered good manners, but some of our most familiar etiquette rules have long and surprising histories.

1. Saying “Bless You” After Sneezes

This practice dates back to at least 590 CE, when Pope Gregory I commanded that anyone who sneezed immediately be blessed out of fear that it was a sign they had contracted The Plague.

2. Shaking Hands

Shaking hands upon greeting was originally adopted several centuries ago in England as a means of establishing that neither party was armed.

3. Tipping Your Cap

Removing or tipping one’s hat as a sign of respect has a similar origin to that of shaking hands. Knights would flip up their visors and render themselves more vulnerable as a display of friendliness and submission in the face of superiors.

4. Taking Your Hat Off Indoors

In earlier eras, men regularly wore hats outside to protect them from the elements. They removed the hats indoors so these same elements (rain, dirt, etc.) would not fall onto meals or other people.

5. Keeping Your Elbows Off the Table

At medieval feasts, space was at a premium for people looking to dine with lords and ladies, and the long tables were packed to capacity. In such settings, there was simply no way to prop up your elbows without invading your neighbor’s space. Additionally, hunching over your plate of food, with your elbows up, made you seem too eager to eat, like a hungry peasant and not a well-fed member of society.

6. Covering Your Mouth to Yawn

There have been many reasons cited historically to cover your yawns. Yawns were thought to be the soul escaping the body, the evil spirits entering, and yet another sign of the Plague. As early as 1653, yawning became considered a sign of boredom, and thus a rude comment on your present company (and therefore something you’d want to stifle or hide).

7. Allowing a Lady to Walk at a Man's Right Side

The matter of where to walk has been a hot topic in the history of etiquette. Some sources say that the right side, which historically would have been away from a right-handed knight’s sheathed sword, is the honorary side on which a woman or other person deserving of respect should be allowed to walk.

8. Giving a Lady the Interior of the Sidewalk

Today, the rule of allowing a lady to walk at a man's right side is superseded by the practice of granting women the “interior” side away from the perilous road so as not to subject her to splashes or runaway carriages.

9. Bride's Parents Paying for Wedding

In the current and slightly informal era, rules of etiquette seem to matter most in times of matrimony. For example, the bride’s parents are typically expected to foot the bill for the whole affair, a practice which stems from when parents had to come up with appealing dowries in order to entice men to take their daughters off their hands.

10. Showering a Bride with Gifts

Friends of the bride, not her family, traditionally host showers because, long ago, it was a way for a woman to obtain the necessary dowry for a marriage her parents did not approve of. Historically, if a father rejected a man’s request to marry his daughter, the girl’s friends would call on others to “shower” her with gifts so that the marriage could go forward.

11. Touching Glasses for Toasts

There are a couple of explanations for why it is customary to “clink” glasses together as a way of finalizing a toast. The first is that the gesture is a subtler form of spilling a little of your beverage into your neighbor’s glass, a practice that was developed as a sign of faith—if you were trying to poison your dinner companion, you too would be poisoned. A slightly less cynical origin comes from the middle ages; when alcohol was thought to contain literal “spirits” that made those who partook behave outrageously. Bells were thought to drive away such evil sprits and clinking of glasses was the closest approximation on hand.

12. Giving an R.S.V.P. to an Invitation

Why do invitations written in English inevitably include the initials of the French phrase Répondez S’il Vous Plaît? The French phrase for “respond if you please” became a staple of high society’s invitations in the 18th and 19th centuries because French was considered a classier alternative to English for social occasions. Although this habit of using French for everything fell by the wayside, by 1845 these four letters were standing alone on English invitations to request a response.

13. Not Pointing at Someone

Almost all cultures throughout history and around the world consider it to rude to point at someone. The belief is so entrenched that it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact origin, but many explanations center on the ancient idea that you could transfer evil spirits to someone by staring at them with negative thoughts in your mind, a so-called “evil eye.” By pointing at someone, you direct attention and possible “evil eyes” at them.

14. Not Wearing White After Labor Day

Wearing white before Labor Day just makes sense given that lighter colors are the cooler option in the warmer months. But avoiding white after Labor Day is a little less logical. The rule first came about in the late 1800s, when wealthy, high-society women established a series of arbitrary fashion dictates to weed out the new money from the old money, and avoiding white in the winter was just one of them.

15. Pulling Out a Lady’s Chair for Her

Many small chivalrous acts towards women—such as opening doors and pulling out their chairs—stem from the elaborate outfits worn by high society women years ago. These clothes were so restrictive that anyone wearing the fashionable styles required assistance with such things.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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The 12 Best TV Shows on Amazon Prime Right Now

Stephan James and Janelle Monáe in Homecoming.
Stephan James and Janelle Monáe in Homecoming.
Ali Goldstein/Amazon Studios

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you’re entitled to free expedited shipping, free Kindle downloads, and lots of other perks. But some customers are perfectly content to relegate their use of the service to the company’s considerable streaming video options. Check out our picks for the best TV shows on Amazon Prime right now.

1. Undone (2020-)

Rosa Salazar and Bob Odenkirk star in this trippy tale of a young woman named Alma who's struggling with her sister, mother, and boyfriend—and then her dead father begins appearing to her with a request to master time travel. Filmed with actors and then beautifully rotoscoped to lend it an air of animated surrealism, Undone will take you for a spin.

2. The Boys (2019-)

If you've had your fill of both superheroes and superhero meta-analysis, you'll still want to check out The Boys. Supernatural creator Eric Kripke's adaptation of the Garth Ennis comics imagines a world in which heroes are corporate tools, social media icons, and very, very morally bankrupt. The head of the vaunted Seven (think an ethically destitute Avengers) is Homelander, played with red-eyed menace by Antony Starr. When mortal Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) targets Homelander, the full scope of the hero industrial complex is revealed. The first three episodes of season 2 hit Prime on September 4, with new episodes being released weekly.

3. Fleabag (2016-2019)

Phoebe Waller-Bridge created and stars as the title character, a downtrodden Londoner with a too-perfect sister, a wicked soon-to-be stepmother (played by The Crown's Olivia Colman), and a lust for hedonism that masks the fallout of an unresolved emotional crisis. Like Ferris Bueller, Waller-Bridge interrupts the action to address the viewer directly, offering a biting running commentary on her own increasingly complicated state of affairs, including having the hots for a priest (Andrew Scott).

4. Hanna (2019-)

Based on the 2011 film, Hanna follows a 15-year-old girl (Esme Creed-Miles), who possesses combat skills and other traits that make her a person of interest to the CIA. To figure out where she's going, Hanna will first need to discover where she comes from.

5. Homecoming (2018-)

Julia Roberts stars in the first season of this critically-acclaimed drama, which sees her working at a facility that helps soldiers reacclimate to civilian life. Years later, an investigation into the program reveals some startling truths. Janelle Monáe headlines season two, which pushes the story in new directions.

6. Forever (2018)

The less you know going into this half-hour series, the better. Don't let anyone tell you anything beyond the fact that Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph portray a couple in a floundering marriage. Where it goes from there is best left to discover on your own.

7. Goliath (2016-)

David E. Kelley (The Practice) heads up this series about a downtrodden lawyer (Billy Bob Thornton) who brushes up against his former law firm when he tackles an accidental death case that turns into a sprawling conspiracy. Thornton won a Golden Globe for his performance; William Hurt should've won something for his portrayal as the diabolical firm co-founder who keeps pulling Thornton's strings from afar. Seasons two and three up the ante, with the latter co-starring Dennis Quaid as evil California farmer Wade Blackwood. A fourth and final season is expected.

8. Bosch (2015-)

The laconic detective of the Michael Connelly novels gets a winning adaptation on Amazon, with Titus Welliver scouring the seedy side of Los Angeles as the titular homicide detective. Don't expect frills or explosions: Bosch is content to be a police procedural in the Dragnet mold, and it succeeds. The sixth season premiered in April.

9. The Americans (2013-2018)

If Stranger Things stimulated your appetite for 1980s paranoia, FX’s The Americans—about two Soviet spies (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) embedding themselves in suburban America—is bound to satisfy. As Russell and Rhys navigate a complex marriage that may be as phony as their birth certificates, their allegiance to Russia is constantly tested.

10. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017-)

Critically-acclaimed and showered with praise by Amazon viewers, this dramedy stars Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam "Midge" Maisel, a 1950s housewife who takes the bold (for that decade) step of getting into stand-up comedy. Brosnahan practically vibrates with energy, and so does the show, which captures period New York's burgeoning feminism. In Midge's orbit, Don Draper would have a heck of a time getting a word in.

11. Hannibal (2013-2015)

At first glance, Bryan Fuller’s (Pushing Daisies) take on the Thomas Harris novels featuring the gastronomic perversions of Hannibal Lecter seems like a can’t-win: How does anyone improve on The Silence of the Lambs and Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of the diabolical psychiatrist? By not trying. Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter is a study in composure; FBI agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is the one who seems to be coming unhinged. While Fuller has time to explore the finer details of Harris’s novels, he also has the temerity to diverge from them. Hannibal’s brief three-season run is a tragedy, but what’s here is appetizing.

12. Luther (2010-)

Idris Elba stars in this BBC drama as DCI cop John Luther, a temperamental but dogged investigator who runs afoul of some of the UK's most wanted criminals. Ruth Wilson co-stars as Alice Morgan, a charmingly psychotic foil-turned-friend. Amazon has all five seasons, including the most recent season that premiered in 2019.

This story has been updated.