The pithy, opinionated, and sometimes brutally frank Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke challenges average guys to live a life less ordinary and embrace classic style in the broadest sense. it's time to rise above the trite, the boring, the predictable, the mundane, the banal, and the commonplace. It's time to stop behaving like barnyard animals at the trough and leave behind the perpetually sloppy man-child aesthetic of the last two decades or so. It's time to learn once again how to present and conduct yourself like an adult with some grooming, finesse, and sophistication. And here is where you can learn how.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Christmas Week Vintage Christmas Card Style. . .

Here we are three days post-Christmas, but I hope you might be able to find a few quiet moments to sit down and actually chat with friends and loved ones sans electronic devices in your hands or on the table in front of you.  Or the TV blaring in the corner or (shudder) over the fireplace).

Instead, let's look at each other!  Talk to each other!  Be mentally present while you do.  Respect the views and ideas of each other.  Practice basic civility.  

Your talk needn't be about anything consequential or of substance.  You needn't discuss anything as ponderous as U.S. politics, Donald Trump. . . or Duchess Meghan.  Just talk about whatever comes up and see where the conversation leads.  

Before you know it, three hours will have passed by, and you will have reconnected to each other.  Hopefully over a mug of something warm, or a nip of something medicinal.  Try actually talking TO each other rather than AT each other.  You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas from Classic Style!

Wishing everyone peace, goodwill, and maybe a even a bit of joy this Christmas season.  Merry Christmas!

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Monday, December 24, 2018

It's Christmas Eve at Classic Style. . .

Three more wonderful vintage images that seems, somehow, a bit more like Christmas ought to be  in stark contrast to the media- and retail-driven circus, um, cycle that now so colors the festive season.  And on the morning of December 26th, it's on to the next big thing.  Surely, there is more to the Christmas season, and the actual point behind it, than that?
If you observe and celebrate, Merry Christmas.  Peace, joy, and good will to all in any case.  Goodness knows we are in dire need of more civility and basic decency in the 21st century.  A pessimist by nature, I nevertheless maintain a glimmer of hope that we might get our collective act together at some point.  

If you are in the mood for some lovely and traditional Christmas carols with a church organ and choir, give a listen to the rebroadcast of annual The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from the chapel at King's College Cambridge via BBC Radio 4.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas Morning Style. . .

A Christmas gift from The Grand Duchess in 2016.  Although I wear and enjoy these pajamas all the year 'round, they seem especially right for Christmas Day.

Gentlemen, whatever your preferred sleeping attire -- pajamas, in your underwear, sweats and a ratty old college t-shirt. . .  or au natural -- it is hard to go wrong with a crisp pair of pajamas on Christmas Morning.  At least until it's time to put on some actual adult clothes for visiting, guests, and/or the celebratory meal.  Add either a wool flannel robe, or a silk dressing gown over top, and you've got a winning casual combination as you enjoy coffee, check your stockings to see what Santa Claus or Father Christmas have left for you, and nibble on some of Great Aunt Waltraud's legendary Dresdner Stollen.

The Grand Duchess makes us an authentic Dresdner Stollen each December, and it lasts about six or seven days.  It's a bit late in coming this year since Sonja has been very busy the last few weeks, but she has promised to whip one up during Christmas Week.  There is nothing better with that first mug of coffee in the morning.  But, I digress yet again!

Returning to the point at hand, the moral of today's story?  If you can bring yourself to do so, press a pair of pj's ahead of time, fold, and stow 'em in your dresser draw to pull out and put on before you appear on the morning of the 25th.  Don't forget to brush your hair and run a warm washcloth/face flannel across your mug either before you head downstairs to wish the rest of the family a Merry Christmas.  Your S.O. will appreciate it even if he, or she says nothing.  Trust me.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Smooth Christmas JAZZ (Traditional Carols and Songs)

There Is a Certain Something. . .

A very colorful vintage illustration of Father Christmas.

There is a certain something about those old-fashioned images of Santa Claus and Father Christmas that used to be on Christmas cards well over a century ago, long before the now familiar Coca-Cola Santa Claus in red began taking over the world from the late 1940s onward.  Periodically, I cull the web and collect various old images into a folder on my computer desktop.  A digital scrapbook of Christmas long past if you will.  Anyway, here is a very natty version of ol' Saint Nick that is one of my favorites.  I hope you might like it too.  

Now, I've got a pie to bake and a couple of dishes to assemble in the kitchen (it's just after 10am here) for our Christmas Eve Dinner tomorrow.  So, after a second mug of coffee, no more sitting around wasting time.  We will again be having, among other things, a goose as the main part of the meal for the second year in a row.  Our son Young Master Paul enjoyed it so much last year that he suggested, before the meal was even concluded, we have a Christmas Goose every year.  Good man!  That was all we needed to here.  So, a goose it is.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, December 21, 2018

Winter Soltice Style. . .

Yours truly, just back from running a few Friday morning errands as we enter the last few days before Christmas 2018.  This particular combination of clothes is what I like to call my out-of-work Off Broadway actor's uniform. . .  which is to say my waiter's uniform*. 

Up and at 'em early today getting the Young Master breakfasted and ready for school, which I've done since classes ended on December 7th, to help The Grand Duchess a bit.  Typically, I also get our son up and serve him breakfast on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the school year, and daily during summer vacations, so no hardship there.  It's all fairly routine.

Anyway, after he climbed aboard the school bus, it was off to his school myself to drop off a fruit platter, strawberries, and bananas for his class' Christmas breakfast.  Finally, it was onto one of our local big box supermarkets to assist ol' Saint Nick by picking up a few things for the Young Master and Grand Duchess to discover in or below their stockings on Christmas Morning next week.

But I digress!  Let's get to the attire for today.  

The ensemble you see above is a pretty typical variation of my weekend and/or running errands "uniform" during the cooler half of the year when I am not on campus.  If it's not a tweed jacket of some kind over an oxford cloth button-down shirt, then it is either a rugby top or Norwegian sweater on the upper half with corduroy jeans in one of several colors, a surcingle belt, and those same chocolate suede camp moccasins that have been mentioned in previous posts.  

The scarf came from Ryder & Amies in the United Kingdom and is in the colors of my alma mater, the mighty University of Wisconsin-Madison.  As far as I know, we do not have quite the same tradition of scarves in school colors here in the U.S. (maybe within the Ivy League?).  Nevertheless,  I have wanted such a scarf for years, already being a fan of long wool winter scarves anyway, and finally ordered one during the winter of 2015-2016.   

Yes. Perhaps a bit of silly and pretentious Anglophilia, sure, but you could say I come by it honestly.  My maternal grandmother's family came to this country from England during the first half of the 20th century, my maternal uncle and mother both lived outside London and Southampton, respectively, for several years each, and we still maintain fairly close ties to that area of the world although I have not been back for 30 years.  Indeed, my professor step-father is a Welshman. 

Although we don't hold that against him.  After all, this is the season of goodwill and forgiveness. . .  Even with all of his tired, long-winded stories about the heyday of Welsh rugby during the 1970s and the old TV series of a similar vintage, The Likely Lads.  My mother, long ago, forbade ol' step-dad  from talking anymore about either subject in her presence.  It is, admittedly, much more interesting to hear him hold forth on jazz, single malt scotch, Asian temple bells, Kendo, and American politics. . .  not to mention the work of Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster.  

Now, how's that for circuitous?

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Another vintage Christmas card this morning, this tome an illustration of rather old-fashioned --  Dare I say traditional? --  glass tree ornaments.  While we don't have any that look exactly like these, we have quite a few ornaments with similar shapes hanging from the boughs of our larger tree in the living room.

*I've been dressing this way, more or less, for almost 40 years now since good ol' Mom presented the almost 13-year old me with that very first herring bone tweed jacket to wear with tan cords, a blue ocbd shirt, and Fry boots during a day-trip with her to Manhattan in October 1979.  While Dad was a stockbroker -- his company at one time was "bullish on America' -- my mother worked for many years as a buyer, department, and later store manager in clothing retail, making twice monthly visits to the Garment District in New York City.  Often, we accompanied her for the day to get a taste of The City That Never Sleeps, which would also include lunch somewhere special (sometimes joined by our father or grandmother), and visits to one or another cultural attraction in Manhattan.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Getting in the Christmas Spirit at Last!

The Holstentor Gate on the way from the train station into the old city center of Lübeck, Germany, the one-time leading city of The Hanseatic League, a trade federation centered on the Baltic Sea and North Sea but with a reach tat extended well into Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Britain and the Low Countries.  Situated just a mile or two from the old internal border between the DDR and the communist GDR (you could almost see across the border from a high point), the city looked very much like this in January 1986 when I first visited.  I was instantly captivated and have loved the place ever since, visitingg again in 1990 and with my wife 2009.  In the winter of '86, there was still considerable coal smoke hanging in the air, and I even happened upon a young, tall blonde guy all dressed up in 19th century chimney sweep clothing with a top hat and smudges on his cheeks with all of his chimney-cleaning gear looped over a shoulder while walking along a quiet side street.  One of my biggest regrets is that I failed to ask if I could take his photograph. 

The main Christmas market in Lübeck nestled in between next door to the Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church) just visible in the left rear of the photograph  and the city Rathaus (city council) at center right with all of its cupulas.  Many years later, the Grand Duchess and I had a delicious lunch in the restaurant that now looks over the square where this 'Weihnachtsmarkt' sets up every December during the Advent period leading up to Christmas. 

Well, things are slowing down here at Classic Style.  I've signed off of university email until after the first week of January, most of the gift shopping is done, the Christmas trees and house are decorated, and that wonderful winter quiet seems to have settled over everything a day or so before the season begins in earnest.  No snow yet, but I've got my fingers crossed, and the skis stand ready by the back door.  It's dark and chilly in any case, which is fine by me.

Otherwise, not much happening for the next few days until we journey all of five minutes around the corner and up the road to our neighborhood Episcopal church for the 5pm Christmas Eve service.  In the meantime, throughout the season proper, and into the new year, I'll share a few vintage seasonal illustrations, one of my many side interests.  

Stay tuned, and wherever you are, I hope you have some time to put up your feet and relax with a drink of something warm, or warming (if you know what I mean), and those nearest and dearest to you.   Gifts, food, and sweet treats of various kinds are fine, but it's the visiting, chatting, and whiling away the hours together that is the best thing about the Christmas season in my view.  Although we're still a few days, allow me to wish you and yours the compliments of the season.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

A Christmas card from 1910 according to accompanying online information.  Quiet, old understated greetings like these resonate more with me than much of what is churned out by greeting card companies today.  That either makes me an old soul, or a fuddy-duddy.  Probably both.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Mid-December Dentist Visit Style. . .

Not seen here, a pair of Allen Edmonds 'Cavenaugh' penny loafers and navy Merino wool dress socks with tiny red polka dots.

The semester has been over for about ten days now, so I have not been on campus much other than for a couple of brief meetings last week.  Most days, are now spent in corduroy jeans and rugby tops here at home along with some chocolate suede Allen Edmonds camp moccasins, which are my house shoe of choice (sans socks) during the colder months.

In any case, I had a session with the dentist this morning early, followed by a few Christmas-related errands afterward.  So, why not have a bit of fun and jazz up an otherwise mundane morning a bit with some understated festive attire then?  You know,  instead of shambling and schlepping around in public like a huge basket of wrinkled laundry on legs.  As others have commented elsewhere, people tend to treat you better when you present yourself well.

The L.L Bean 'no iron' ocbd shirt pictured is a concession of sorts.  I have a four or five of these, and for those days when one is in a real hurry, it can be very handy simply to pull a shirt off the hanger and put it on without pressing it first.  Of course, even these will look better after pressing with a hot iron.  

I'm still not a huge fan, and these types of shirts do not breath as well as the 'must iron' variety, but there you are.  Today was my morning to get The Young Master up and ready for school, so this shirt made my own morning machinations easier once the school bus picked him up, I grabbed my car keys, and headed across town for my appointment.

And to paraphrase the late Joan Crawford (and the nine-year-old Young Master), "No ugly sweaters, ever!!!"

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Throwback Sunday. . .

Yours truly in mid-September 2012, wearing a tweed jacket by Magee and a pair of loafers that I used to wear on rainy days given their corrected grain finish.   The jacket, while a nice specimen, was always just a bit green and mustard for my taste, so I donated it to our local thrift/charity shop along with some other things that weren't quite right before we left Illinois in June 2015.

The Young Master, taken at the same time, at play in his old room on the second floor of our old Craftsman house.  He was nearing his third birthday here and already sported some rather stylish autumnal tones of his own with a rather natty rugby top.  Perfect for constructing improvised Space Needles in imitation of the real item in Seattle where one set of grandparents resides.

Looking through some other older photographs this afternoon, I stumbled across these two from mid-September 2012,  Yours truly is slightly heavier now and with a bit more gray in his hair, while the Young Master, now 9, is much taller than he was in this photograph.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

As luck would have it, I managed to score a vintage Polo Ralph Lauren camel hair-wool blend polo coat, very like the one pictured above, via Ebay for a very reasonable price.  Pennies on the dollar really.  The coat is on the way, and after the usual dry-cleaning, will become a part of the regular winter rotation.  I've wanted one of these for a number of years now, so this late birthday-early Christmas gift to myself is kind of exciting.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Minimalist Advent Style. . .

My take on an Advent wreath this year sans the violet or purple candle for the fourth Sunday.  Sadly, I could not find one that is unscented, so white it is.  Of course, the red berries are fake (I know, I know), but they provide a bit more visual interest than simply four white candles sitting there at the center of the table.

The Advent period is almost upon us, so I took a couple of hours today to hang some honest-to-goodness evergreen wreathes on either side of the front door outside, set up the Young Master's Advent house, and put up some white icicle lights along the eaves at the front of the house.  

We don't go crazy with Christmas decorations here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold, and we get a few weeks closer to Christmas before putting up and decorating a couple of trees, but it's nice to have a few seasonal items around the interior of the first floor to help brighten the dark mornings and evenings between now and the first few days of January when we put everything away and get on with the job of winter. . .  plus the start of the new semester (Groan!).  

In the meantime, here are a couple of photos showing how we brighten up December in the run up to the solstice and the start of the Christmas festival in earnest.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Finding Poinsettias small enough to fit on the mantle is always a challenge.  We've got cats, and these are highly poisonous to felines, so they need to be small enough to keep out of easy reach.  So, two small plants in each basket, which, along with the Advent star in the window, dresses up the library a bit until we put up the trees later in the month.  No sense in rushing things.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Advanced Edge and Heel Care. . .

Winter Sports 1935 Style. . .

An interesting vintage winter sports poster from the mid-1930s.  Can you tell where my thoughts are this morning?

Well, we've had four or maybe five inches of crunchy snow on the ground since Monday here in Mid-Michigan.  Not quite enough for cross-country (Nordic) skiing, but we are certainly thinking in the direction.  The Young Master is due to receive some new skis, boots, and poles from ol' Saint Nick this Christmas since he has outgrown his inaugural pair from Christmas 2014, which he has used the last four winters (he's actually a pretty good skier at this point).  Time for some longer waxless Fischer skis with normal step-in NNN bindings.

I too have a pair by Fischer that are really fast, but my go-to skis are a pair by Madshus that I purchased in Norway many years ago when I learned how to schuss-schuss-schuss through the snowy forests outside of Trondheim.  These got a bit slow last winter, so I've just ordered some Swix base cleaner to remove almost 20 years of dirt from the kick zone and old glide wax from the rest of the ski bases.

Naturally, we are supposed to have somewhat warmer temperatures and rain for a few days before another cooling trend with the possibility of more snow, but we have almost a month before Winter begins in earnest.  Plenty of time to clean my ski bases and those of the Grand Duchess, apply some new glide wax, and wait for the Young Master's new gear to arrive.  Come on Winter!

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Snowy Tuesday Tweed Suit Style. . .

 Above, featuring a vintage wool challis necktie hand blocked in England.  I found this several years back for a couple of dollars in one of my three old thrift/charity haunts in Central Illinois before we decamped for Michigan in June 2015.  The shirt is a Land's End Original Oxford, purchased way back in 2003 or '04 when the company still sold mostly 'must iron' shirts.  The pocket square is a silk number from Put This On and features flowers in mid- and light blue that look more like snowflakes to me, so it seemed fun to add it to the pocket of today's suit before I ventured out the door and into the cold early this morning.

And the bottom half, featuring red SWIMS overshoes atop the usual Allen Edmonds long-wing brogues.  Not visible are the gray Fair Isle socks from Dapper Classics and the braces I wore with today's suit in lieu of a belt.

Quite cold with about 5 inches of crunchy snow underfoot here in Mid-Michigan, which made it an ideal day to trot out this tweed suit by Chipp for the first time this season.  It is easily the heaviest suit I own, and it absolutely must be cold outside before I can wear it comfortably.  I topped everything off with a tweed overcoat, a long maroon and white wool scarf, and some green fleece gloves from REI, which were given to me by the Grand Duchess for Christmas four or five years ago.  I'm sure I look bizarre to most whose paths I cross, but ah well.  If I can give a few people something to laugh about, so much the better.  To me, that is far preferable than simply blending into the crowd.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Monday, November 26, 2018

Holiday Dinner Style. . .

 The Young Master, already a bit silly and eager to sit down to the Thanksgiving table here.

 The Young Master and yours truly, the old so and so.

The Young Master and his mother, the bright lights of my life.  He has, for better or worse, inherited his father's sense of humor and class clown approach to the rest of the world.  As my wife observed last night at dinner, living with both of us is like living with a combination of Peter Sellars, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Martin Short, and Jerry Lewis.  Good.  We'd be big in France.

Three photographs taken a few minutes before Thanksgiving Dinner was served last Thursday evening here at  Totleigh-in-the-Wold.  The Young Master, as always, was the star of the show, but ol' Mom and Dad look pretty good too.  Accumulating snow today (Monday morning), and school has already decided to close due to the weather, so the long Thanksgiving weekend will last a day longer than expected.  Not a bad thing at all.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

 The view up our street from the front stoop this afternoon just after running the snowblower for the first time this season -- it started like a charm -- and shoveling out a few tighter spots. 

 And down the same street. 
L.L. Bean 'duck shoes' and Bean Boots, ladies and gentlemen.

 And the woods across our back yard.  I never tire of the winter landscape here in Mid-Michigan.  While we have some wonderful places for cross-country skiing not too far away, it is possible to set a reasonably interesting course around the house for those times when we can't get away.

Friday, November 23, 2018

A Late Birthday Gift. . .

 A wrist-selfie featuring my new Bulova wristwatch, which arrived the day before Thanksgiving.

One of the few acceptable pieces of visible jewelry that a man can get away with, besides a wedding band, or perhaps a signet ring, is a nice, understated wristwatch.  Now, some guys with big wrist bones and muscular forearms might be able to pull off a sports watch, a Rolex, or one of the many Rolex wannabes out there.  I have always felt, though, that this type of watch -- unless you actually happen to be an oceanographer, a fighter pilot, or an astronaut -- is on the ostentatious side and even veers wildly into needlessly garish territory depending on the model of watch and how prominently it is on display for the world to see.  Thank you, Mr. Agnelli.  

And an Apple Watch is just so. . .  I don't know.  Intentionally obsolescent after about a year?  They don't exactly scream classically stylish either.  More like Dick Tracy meets The Jetsons.

No.  Far better to err on the side of something more subtle and traditional.  Hence the acquisition above, subsidized by my in-laws for a recent birthday at the beginning of the month.  I already have and routinely wear a gold tone slim dress rectangular Seiko with an oxblood leather band, a 36th birthday gift from good ol' Mom back in 2002, but I've been on the lookout for a similar silver tone watch with a black leather band for ages.  This one nails both requirements, not always easy to do.

Here's an menswear accessory savings tip.  If you're looking at various company, or department store websites, be sure to check Amazon first before making the purchase.  Often enough, Amazon will offer the same item but at a substantial savings.  Such was the case with the watch featured here, meaning that I was able to cover the purchase price and tax -- free shipping thanks to our Prime membership -- with the birthday funds sent to me by the in-laws.

The watch is one of Bulova's more modest men's models, fairly understated, about 6mm in depth and 40mm across.  The strap is black calfskin.  The watch itself required only setting to the correct time before it was ready to put on my wrist.  No days, dates, or any other superfluous gadgetry to tinker with and get right before use.  

If you too are after a fairly plain, easy to set up model of wristwatch, I recommend this one, or another model similar to it.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving 2018!

A vintage Thanksgiving greeting from many years gone by that seems appropriate on at least a couple of levels for today.

Gentlemen, start your engines!  The 2018 holiday season has begun in earnest.  To any U.S. visitors dropping by Classic Style today, Happy Thanksgiving!  

Please remember, gentlemen, to dress nicely for dinner, place your napkin in your lap, chew with your mouths closed, don't talk with your mouths full, ask for things to be passed to you (no boarding house reach), and keep your elbows off the table during the meal.  Now, pass that pumpkin pie and coffee!  

As for me, I'm off to make the green jello salad.  I know, I know.  But it's actually pretty good.  Happy Thanksgiving!

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Say "No!" to Another Holiday Season Fraught with Stress. . .

Not overtly seasonal, true, but this vintage dinner party illustration helps set the right tone for the last seven weeks or so of 2018.  Can you believe it?

Although it is just November 21st, and Thanksgiving Day is not until tomorrow here in The United States, the annual holiday season, as it is called here, is upon us.  It will last, in some instances, until after January 1st.  So, you might be excused for feeling exhausted by the prospect of almost two months filled with all of the preparation, travel, and planned festivities either real, or imagined.  

I suggest, in my usual contrarian way, that we strive for a more relaxed and understated holiday period than has become the accepted norm for many people between the end of October and the beginning of January each year.  Here is a short list of ways we might achieve that aim:

1) Don't leave things until the last minute.  
Enough said really.  You can fill the blanks here, but taking care of things ahead of time is its own reward, and hopefully will result in fewer Billy The Singing Bass chatchkes, or similar, being purchased as last minute gag gifts.  To my way of thinking, any physical gifts you might purchase for someone ought to have more thought behind them than that.

2) Learn to say , "No, thank you.  Not this year."  
And stick to your guns.  You don't have to accept every invitation to every party, open house, or extended trip somewhere if the prospect of fighting holiday traffic and/or air travel fills you with dread at the mere thought of packing your roller bag one more time.  Especially if your Monday through Friday job involves frequent time on the road.  Hopefully, Aunt Belva and Uncle Homer will understand.

3) Scale back a bit on the shopping, gift-giving, and decorating.  
Likewise, you don't need to feel like absolutely everyone you know needs a physical gift of some kind.  Often, a handwritten Christmas or holiday card with an actual note inside (not the impersonal mimeographed annual Christmas letter you understand) is fine and might be even more appreciated.  For those closest to you and for whom you plan to buy gifts, keep your shopping time and spending within reason, and do that online to avoid the throngs.  It might also be a good idea, in the name of reducing stress, to cut back just a wee bit on the sheer amount of seasonal decor your erect outside on, in front of, and around the house.  Some quiet white lights, maybe a lone wicket reindeer or two in the front yard, or a lovely wreath or swag hanging from your front door.  But do we really need one more house featuring a 20-foot inflatable snowman in the front yard, huge illuminated candy canes, enough colored lights to be discernible in satellite images, and signage out near the mailbox to the effect of "Santa stops here!"?  Remember, when your house resembles the inside of big box arts and crafts stores like Hobby Lobby or Michael's, it takes that much more effort and time to take down and put away everything after the first of the year.

4) Don't rush right back out into the fray the day after.  
Thank about it for a moment.  Is that really necessary in the delightful lull that follows Christmas?  Of course, people will be eager to spend those online gift cards and gift certificates as soon as humanly possible after the big day, not to mention make the inevitable returns and exchanges, but give yourself a break.  As an adult, I find the quiet of December 26th and Christmas Week to be as wonderful in its own way as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are in theirs.  Take some time to mull over the possible purchases to which you might apply those gift certificates and cars.  Enjoy the daydreaming in other words, and the exchange of that hideous Christmas sweater for something more understated and practical can wait a day or three.  Tune out, turn off, and unplug for a few days.  AI is already here folks, and we should be concerned.  We're practically cyborgs already.  How about making a more concerted effort to remember what life was like, and how delightful, it was before we were all 'wired' around the clock?

5) Accept that you can't (and won't) do it all, or be all things to all people.  
So, stop trying.  This gets back to Point #2 above.  Too often, it seems, our decisions and behavior are driven by those around us and their expectations for how and where we should spend the holidays.  We are, perhaps, more reactive at this time of year than proactive.  I humbly suggest that more of us climb into the driver's seat of our own lives a bit more.  If you would prefer not to uproot your own family to drive ten hours each way to spend a frantic two days with extended family, some of whom you might prefer NOT to see if we are quietly honest with ourselves, then don't.  There is nothing wrong having Thanksgiving, Christmas, or another holiday in your own home on your own terms without all of the hubbub.  And others will have to accept your decision.  If not, that is their problem, not yours.  If we look at life in 2018 with absolute clarity for a moment, it becomes clear that there is already more than enough of that clamor and confusion to go around day-to-day.  A few days without that are fine, and it is amazing how refreshing a lack of holiday pandemonium can be. 

6) Set aside ample time for yourself and your closest loved ones.  
With that in mind, do a few things you want to do but don't usually have the time to enjoy.  Read a book.  Stare idly out your front window at the world going by over a fresh cup of coffee.  Amble around a local park on a chilly day with that special someone.  Reconnect with your spouse or partner without the children underfoot for a few minutes.  Turn off the TV or Netflix, and have a dram of something medicinal by the fireside after the kids' bedtime.  Find what it was that first drew you to him or her in the first place all those years ago.  Or pick up the phone and give your parents a call if you have chosen to spend the holidays apart.  If your grandparents are still alive and compos mentis, drop by with a bottle of something festive and spend a few hours just chatting together.  It will make their day.  I used to do this in my 30s when my maternal grandparents were still alive and living not far from my parents in Pittsburgh, where I used to spend the Christmas and New Years period while in graduate school.  We'd sit at their dining table with coffee or hot chocolate and just talk about everything for hours on end.

7) Take pleasure in small, simple, and quiet things.  
Listen to some music.  Take a walk in the snow with a loved on.  Meet a friend or two for a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate and good long chat about whatever (see where the conversation takes you) at your local cafe.  Take the kids tobogganing, build a snowman, or have a snowball fight if snow is on the ground.  Take the family to the beach for the day if it's not.  The point is, turn off those new chirping, burping, buzzing, and vibrating iGadgets for a while.  Find out once again what life was like before the bells and whistles took over, and we had to find other forms of entertainment.  Life is about so much more than that peering at that tiny screen with all of your new gaming apps, boys.  Have you ever sat outside and really listened on a snowy day?  You'll be sure to hear all kinds of sounds besides the new snow landing gently on the ground.

8) Steer clear of toxic people.
Why is it that the holidays seem to bring out the worst in so many people?  Whether family members or acquaintances, too many just plain suck the air out of any room they are in with their whining, nitpicking, victim-playing, bullying, arguing, passive-aggressive dynamics, etc.  The answer?  See only the people you want to see this holiday season.  Steer clear of any gatherings where toxic personalities are likely to be present.  You needn't be so crass as to ask who else has been invited when you receive an invitation to a gathering of some sort, or offer what amounts to a long-winded explanation about why you won't be there yourself.  Just give some careful thought to the invitation before responding, calmly, rationally, and concisely.  Often, you can figure out a guest list of potential invitees pretty well anyway if you have a history with the person doing the inviting.  Anyway, let the hosts know in plenty of time that, regretfully, you can't attend this year.  Just say something along the lines of, "Thank you so much for thinking of us, but Jane and I  have already accepted an invitation to another dinner party that same evening.  Please keep us in mind for next year."  Short, sweet, and it gets the point across without hurting any feelings.  Even better, it gets you off the hook when it comes to enduring, yet again, known boors, belligerents, and sloppy drunks.  Why continue to put yourself through that? 

9) Above all, remember to put up your feet.
It's ok.  Really.  As I have mentioned already in different ways within this post, it seems far too easy to get caught in the undertow of 21st century life before we realize what is happening.  Often, many of us might feel it is just easier to go with the flow rather than attempt to swim against the current and rock the boat.  I suggest, on  the other hand, where the holiday season is concerned, that it is time to grow some backbone and assert more control over our own lives, how we spend the festive season, and with whom.  I am not suggesting complete selfishness and turning our back on others.  Far from it.  But, in the interest of de-cluttering and de-stressing our lives just a bit during what can be, let's be honest, a difficult time of the year, it might, just might, be nice to be a bit more strategic in how we approach things each November and December.  After all, we don't really want our lives to resemble all of those saccharine family holiday disaster films on Netflix, right?

In closing, your first reaction after reading all of the above might be, "Easier said than done, old man."  However, I would counter that, since our world has become so over-connected, busy, and fraught with activity around the clock that MUST be seen to, and very often we never really enjoy time truly away from work anymore, it is vital for us to have more downtime during the festive season than has been the case in recent decades.  We owe it to ourselves and whatever shreds of sanity and calm we have left.  

As for yours truly, I am off to prepare a pumpkin pie and a green bean casserole (Shades of 1940s Betty Crocker recipes there, right?) with The Young Master for Thanksgiving Dinner tomorrow.  The three of us will enjoy a quiet Thanksgiving here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold with good food, a fire in the fireplace, piano music from the hands of The Grand Duchess and The Young Master, who is making great strides in this endeavor, with maybe a brisk walk around the neighborhood before pie and coffee on our return.  

At some point early in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day, we'll speak to our respective families in Washington State and North Carolina on the telephone, and end the day later with some bedtime reading for The Young Master and myself.  We are currently working our way through Series Five of The Geronimo Stilton books.  Good fun and even educational in places.  Afterwards, I hope for a quiet couple of hours talking before the fire with The Grand Duchess while enjoying a nip or two some nice liquor and/or single malt scotch .  A quiet, calm, and collected Thanksgiving holiday for all.  Ahhhhhhh. . .

-- Heinz-Ulrich

 My helper, The Young Master, earlier this afternoon.  Truthfully, he did most of the work on the pumpkin pie, I simply assisted as necessary and handled the oven.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Annual Classic Style Plea for the Routine Practice of Pleasant Table Manners. . .

A reasonably formal table setting for the coming Thanksgiving holiday in two days' time here in the United States.

The holiday season is once more almost upon us, and with it the annual lead-up to the rather frenetic Christmas and New Year's period in a little over a month.  While I naturally hope that regular and occasional visitors to Classic Style will have the good graces NOT to show up to any special holiday dinners or other events dressed in hoodies, sweatpants, sagging jeans, and flip-flops or sneakers -- or, frankly, any other common attire of the sort -- this post is not about that.

Nope.  Instead, it's a yearly reminder to average guys everywhere to remember and practice polite table manners.  Not just on special occasions either, but everyday.  With that idea in mind, here is a reprise of a post from November of 2012 (with a few small recent edits by yours truly), which presents all kinds of useful tabletop information, most of which used to be common knowledge.  At least in my particular dimension.  Sadly, however, the very knowledge about how to conduct oneself pleasantly at the table seems to have become more arcane and even enigmatic in recent decades.  Much to our collective detriment.  In any case, here we go.


In the blogosphere right now, you'll come across any number of blogs and websites that talk at great length about men's clothing style, grooming, appearance, and how these things contribute to our being/becoming/conducting/perceiving ourselves as gentlemen.  Good.  That's a decent enough goal by itself.  However, it's only one small part of the picture.  There is another hugely important and related topic that no one seems to mention on the many blogs and websites on the subject that I peruse and read each week.  What is it, you ask?

Why, table manners of course.  Shock!  Horror!  Gasp!  Yep, I said it.  And I'm making no apologies.  Table manners should be as much a part of our daily personal style as our attire and grooming, if not more so.  Average guys ought to keep that in mind.  Even when we are at home with the door closed.  Newsflash!  Our close family is just as deserving of polite behavior as people we work with, ride public transport next to, or pass on the street.

However, because table manners are associated with upbringing and/or perceived socio-economic class, they are a potentially explosive issue, prompting knee-jerk accusations of snobbery, exclusion, and arguments about elitism.  Regardless of your position, basic table manners are clearly a challenge for many these days based on what you'll observe in most any restaurant or dinner gathering in which people from different backgrounds cross paths.

Sadly, too many people in the 21st century labor under the delusion that table manners -- or indeed polite behavior and social niceties in general -- are stiff, overly formal, old-fashioned, not genuine, and outmoded with no place in modern society.  And if that's your attitude, fine.  I can't change it.

But let me make a few relevant points.  We aren't talking about state occasions, bowing to our social superiors, curtseying to the Queen, shrimp forks, or finger bowls here.  Just common decency and ensuring that we remain pleasant to have around.  We are not cavemen, dogs, or farm animals eating from troughs after all.  Moreover, actions speak louder than words.  And just like our attire, our behavior speaks volumes about us and conveys a great deal about where and who we come from, as well as the kind of person we are beneath the fancy clothing, excessive education, certifications, and impressive-sounding titles.  

Of course we want to make a good first impression with the various people we meet and those we work with.  But we also want to maintain that positive initial image over time.  Likewise, and I would argue even more important, we want to remain attractive, likeable, and desirable to our chosen mates and partners.  The people with whom we share our lives and selves on a daily basis 24/7.  Why risk spoiling that with crass or even just downright crude behavior?

Finally, if we have them, we want to set solid examples of decent behavior for our children.  We want, hopefully, to teach our youngsters to be gentlefolk with good grooming and at least a modicum of refinement and sophistication before they are unleashed upon the world.  Basic table manners are a part of all that like it or not.  After all, do you really want to come across like a ravenous street cur that knows no better?

So, without belaboring the point any further, here are 15 tips to remember that will go a long way in helping average guys become more pleasant dining companions -- and become more gentlemanly in the process -- whether we are around the family table, having a working lunch with colleagues, or meeting that special person's parents for the very first time with a sit-down dinner as part of the equation.  Here we go:

1) Above all, use the words, "please," thank you," and (if necessary) "excuse me" liberally.  Don't forget it!

2) Sit up in your chair with both feet on the floor in front of you.  Don't slouch in your chair, and keep your feet confined to the space beneath your seat.  Don't swing your feet or stretch out your legs beneath the table into someone else's space.  Keep yourself to yourself.  Finally, keep your feet off the darn chair!  In other words, don't bend one of your knees and rest your foot on the seat of the chair with your bent knee at face level. . .  something that seems to have reached epidemic levels these days.  Buck the trend, and just keep your feet where they belong.  On the floor. 

3) Keep your elbows off the table and your napkin in your lap during the meal.  Oh, and you might want to use it to wipe your lips gently when necessary.  Your napkin that is.  Not your elbow. 

4) Ask for things to be passed to you.  Don't reach.   If serving yourself, don't pile heaps of food on your plate.  Take a small share (a slice or two of meat, and a serving spoon or two of other items), and leave enough for others.  You can always come back for a second helping later.

5) Cut your food -- or if eating a roll or bread, break it -- into bite-sized pieces.  Don't force huge hunks of food into your mouth.  Ick!

6) No one will take your food away from you, so don't hunch over your plate with an arm around it, stabbing at or picking through your food with your fork as though someone will swoop down and steal it.  We aren't vultures, so let's not act like it. 

7) Slow down!  Don't gobble your food as fast as you can.  This is not a pie or buffalo wing eating contest at a summertime county fair.

8) Don't slurp, burp, or make other noises at the table.  Excuse yourself if and when this happens although it really  shouldn't at a table of older children and adults.  Chewing with your mouth closed might help.

9) Likewise, avoid (like the plague) talking with your mouth full.  No one wants to see that. And just imagine how embarrassed you would be if you spit out bits of food in the direction of a dining companion in the middle of relating something to him or her.  Chew it up, swallow, and take a drink before you say anything.  Oh, and try not to leave food particles on the edge of your glass.  Better yet, make sure you don't.

10) Remember not to gesture or point at others with your eating utensils.  We're nearing the end of the meal here, guys, so stay with me just a bit longer.

11) When you finish, don't wipe up your plate with a piece of roll or bread.  Just place your silverware to one side on your plate (the right side in the 10 o-clock-4 o'clock position), and leave any remaining food residue where it is.  By the same token, DON'T lick your plate or utensils clean.  Yes, I know.  I've actually heard of families where this is the norm.

12) Finally, please don't wipe your mouth with your hand or the back of your wrist when you are finished.  Use your napkin!  That's what it is for, but be discreet.  Your napkin is not a washcloth/face flannel for Heaven's sake, so don't scrub your entire face with it.  And it should go without saying that you never, ever blow your nose into it!  If you run into nasal issues during a meal, excuse yourself from the table without going into details and, once again, take care of the problem in private, well out of earshot of your dining companions at the table.

13) Avoid picking food from your teeth with a toothpick or finger while you are still at the table.  I actually once witnessed a young woman engage in the latter yesterday in the dining commons of my former small college where I was holding late-semester meetings with students.  Ugh!  But then, she was sitting with one knee bent and a foot on the seat of her chair, airing her differences to the other three young "ladies" (sarcasm intended) at the table with her, so I should not have been surprised.  In any case, if or when you find yourself with food stuck between two teeth, excuse yourself from the table for a few moments to take care of the matter privately in the restroom. 

14) While at the table, there is certain subject matter (illnesses, certain surgeries, anything having to do with the bathroom, or bodily functions, related jokes, etc. ) that is best left for another time.  If you absolutely need to discuss it at all.  Talking about things like that during meals is just plain crude and will probably put at least one other person at the table off of their food.  Really.  Our mothers raised us better than that, and we are no longer 10-year old boys at summer camp trying to show our friends how gross we can be.  Hopefully, we have left that behind by now.  Right?

15) And here's one last tip to keep in mind.  Silence your iPhones and leave them elsewhere.  Don't bring 'em to the table, guys.  Talk to each other (when your mouth is empty of course) and give your full attention to those with whom you dine this holiday season.  Be mentally present at the table in other words, and leave the digital bells and whistles for another time.  Do you really need to text your best dudebros from your three semesters on a college campus somewhere about the big game during the meal?  And for the love of Christ, remove those damn baseball caps or knitted skicaps before you sit down to the table! 

Remember, guys.  You might be wearing wild new statement socks, those nifty square-toed shoes, your best ripped jeans, and your lucky "going out" shirt (think about it) to Thanksgiving dinner this year at your latest on again-off again girlfriend's parents' house.  But behaving like an ungroomed slob at the table is not attractive (understatement of the year) and will rapidly undermine any decent impression you might otherwise make.

Unless, of course, Dad or her brothers either answer the door, lounge on the sofa, or come to the table clad only in  their underwear.  Then knock yourself out, disregard all of the advice above, and let everyone see the "real" you.  By all means.  Ask your date's mother to pull your forefinger between the main course and dessert if you want.  Go on.  Without doubt, everyone around the table will think the result is terribly clever and guffaw raucously.

On the other hand, it might be somewhat more civilized if you ensure that you are a pleasant dining companion by taking the necessary steps above.  Even when you are alone.  Make considerate behavior during mealtimes a normal part of your routine, a habit that is, and you will be well on your way for many of the situations you'll encounter during the holiday season or, indeed, anytime of the year.

-- Heinz-Ulrich