What to Do and What to Say When Paying Visits in Washington

mastery of the rank listIf you are anywhere near Washington, D.C. this week, you know that today, April 23, is “NATO day” ~ trillions of dignitaries and their cohorts are wandering my fair city (by limo, of course). We are so pleased to host their visit, particularly since a majority of federal workers, such as myself, were granted a day off due to security and traffic issues.

I thought it fitting to find some advice for our visitors. So, bless you, NATO, and please mind your manners while in town. We wouldn’t want Emily Post to scold you.

1937: What to Do and What to Say When Paying Visits in Washington

Excepting that you may be ~ unless prepared ~ at a loss to know how to address each official and foreigner, and excepting that precedence is a thing that must never be lost sight of, you behave in diplomatic and official circles as you behave in ‘best society’ everywhere. A man calling upon an ambassador or a minister askes the door if ‘His Excellency’ is at home; but a lady going to see his wife asks if ‘Madame Telque’ or ‘Lady Overseas’ or ‘Countess Thatone’ is at home. Upon being told that she is, the visitor lays her cards ~ one of her own and two of her husband’s ~ upon the tray offered her and follows the servant to the drawing-room. Her hostess greets her and indicates where she is to sit. In New York a visitor would merely take any available seat, but in Washington a visitor should not, with others of higher rank present, sit upon the empty chair on the hostess’s right vacated perhaps by a departed ‘Ambassadress’ but find a place less obviously prominent.

For those who are at the very bottom or very near the top, it is comparatively easy to remember the rank of the almost none below or the equally few above, but for the wife of a new official of medium rank the strain upon her memory for faces and names duly classified is a heavy one. In fact, at first this mastery of the rank list seems to nearly everyone impossible. To some it remains impossible and they are social failures. To others, practise soon gains headway and memory gradually becomes perfect.

An invaluable aid if your memory is not especially good is to carry a book with an attached pencil ~ the whole so small that it can be cupped in the palm of your left hand, and whenever an unobserved chance comes, write quickly the names just heard; or later you can perhaps ask someone present what those you could not hear are. It is a good idea to add if possiblesomething to fix each one in memory:
‘Senator Brown, Montana: very tall, thin, gray beard, black eyes.’
‘Madame Jamand: wife of Finnish Minister, small, round, ash blond, pretty dimpled hands.’
‘Mrs. Mumford: wife of Congressman from New York, tall, thin, dark, wears glasses, nice smile.’

Then when you go home, you find where each belongs on the official list. After a little while your mind gets into the habit of classifying names with appearances. After that, if you have a ‘talent for people’ you elaborate your mere ‘identification’ to a ‘personality’ list.
‘Senator Brown: great love of justice. Convince him a thing is right, and he will stand by it through thick and thin.’
‘Madame Jamand: talks amusingly about people. But not too accurate in what she says,’ etc.

This last habit of testing and listing people’s traits of character is of greatest value to anyone in any branch of public life, not merely because you may some day want to convince the Senator, or to know whether what Madame told you is likely to prove true, but because the ability to read people comes only with just such practise. And the ability to remember names and faces and read the latter at the same time is the ability out of which the stepping stones to unlimited diplomatic and political heights are carved.

Source: Post, Emily. Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company,1937.
~ pp. 694-96 ~