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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: 5 Ridiculous Victorian Etiquette Rules | What the Stuff?!

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- Ah yes, Miss Havisham.

But let me introduce the topic

by pointing out that in London,

it's not the custom to put the knife in the mouth,

for fear of accidents.

- All cultures have their own unique

customs for etiquette and protocol.

They usually seem strange from the outside,

but normal on the inside.

But from the 1830s to 1901,

the culture of Great Britain and the British Empire

came under the influence of Victorianism.

Named after Victoria, the reigning queen at the time.

The Victorian era is infamous for exhausting expectations

of piety and mannerly behavior.

- That it's not usually considered necessary

to fill the mouth to its utmost capacity.

- Oh, sorry. I'm so into this.

- You'll be glad that nobody cares

if you follow these five Victorian etiquette rules today.

Unless they do.

In which case, you have our sympathies.

(violin music)

Are you a lady?

Well, hope you like wearing lots

of constricting and cumbersome gear,

because yes, it's totally expected of you.

You probably know the Victorian era

was a high time for corsets.

- It may give you the shape you desire!

Tighter please, Miss Morton, tighter!

- But you might not realize how far

this tight-laced obsession went.

Corsets weren't just for high-society

ballrooms and royal court, they were everywhere.

Corsets were so common, that you'd find women

wearing them in workhouses and prisons.

And believe it or not, the word

"maternity corset" refers to a real thing,

that real pregnant ladies put on their torsos.

Also popular during the Victorian era were crinolines,

which were stiff, domed cages designed to hold

women's skirts out in a wide radius away from their legs.

You can probably imagine the loss of agility

you experience when wearing a six foot-wide

steel birdcage under your dress.

In other words, you can't fight crime in a crinoline.

And of course, there were plenty of rules

about what to wear and when, such as

which kind of dress you wore to each different occasion,

and how long you had to wear black

after the death of a family member.

Fashion police like these made you wanna call a lawyer.

- Mr. Bingley!

- Mr. Bingley?

Oh, my goodness! Everybody behave naturally!

Do not appear overbearing!

- Quick, think of all your friends.

Do you know exactly how many levels

below the queen and the archbishop of Canterbury

each one resides in terms of social rank?

No?

Such ill grace would never fly in Victorian England.

See, in Victorian times, you couldn't just like

walk right up and talk to somebody.

You had to be introduced first.

And who got introduced to whom

depended on the order of precedence,

a system of social ranking.

So, you'd introduce a lower-ranking baron

to a higher-ranking duke,

and not the other way around, you fool.

And you can't do this flawlessly

unless you know the rank of everybody in your social circle.

And frankly, that just sounds exhausting.

Constantly comparing your acquaintances

like they're poker hands just to see what beats what.

And then there's the issue of how to address everybody.

I forgot, is Jimmy the Right Honorable or of the Most Noble?

(violin music)

So, imagine you're an unmarried lady

out for a stroll in 19th century London.

(chuckles)

Well, first of all, you'd better not be alone.

That's right. You need an escort.

But what happens if you see a man you recognize?

Well first of all, he is not allowed to talk to you

unless you make a gesture of recognition first.

Which, okay, I can kinda see the appeal of that.

You don't have to pretend to be

doing something on your phone

to avoid making eye contact, et cetera.

But let's say you really want to stop and talk to this guy.

Well, you can't. Or at least you shouldn't.

If you want to talk to him,

instead of stopping, you can offer him your hand,

which he can take, but only after lifting his hat

using the hand farthest away from you.

Then once he takes your hand, he has to walk along with you,

but even then, you can't just gab away.

According to Cassell's Househould Guide,

"strict reticence of speech and conduct

"must be observed in public."

And that means no loud talking or animated discussions.

And if you see a gentleman you'd like to speak to,

but he's smoking a cigar, tough luck, sister.

It's amazingly rude for a man to smoke

in the presence of a woman.

So if you acknowledge him, he'll have to put out his cigar.

And for all you know, it might

have been a really expensive cigar,

and now you've just ruined his morning.

Nice work, Myrtle.

- I...

I cannot.

I cannot be your wife.

- Do you ever have that problem

where you wanna date the neighbor's daughter,

but you don't know if she's technically "on the market" yet

or if her parents still consider her a child?

- Will you marry me?

- Are you mocking me?

- No? Good, because that's amazingly creepy.

Fortunately, the Victorians had a formalized

system for avoiding this problem.

Presentation at court.

If you were a respectable family

who wanted to announce that your son

or daughter was ready for courtship,

you could do this at a specialized event.

Young men could be introduced at events called levees,

which were held several times a year.

Young ladies could be introduced

at presentation events held at St. James's Palace.

And these events did not skimp

on the pomp and protocol either.

Men had to wear buckled shoes and swords!

Ladies had to stick feathers in their hair

and drag three-yard trains behind their dresses.

But once the kids are ready to start dating,

that's when the etiquette fangs really sink in.

- I imagine that since your change of fortune,

you have naturally changed your companions.

- Oh, yes, naturally.

- Lots of parents get weirdly strict

and judgmental when their kids start dating.

Thanks a lot, mom and dad!

But Victorian England really took it to another level.

First of all, etiquette manuals of the time

advise young lovers that technically,

you're supposed to look for partners

only within your own social class.

Because we all know how awkward it is

when you're a baroness and you're

trying to chat up a nice viscount,

and his mother is just right there on the fainting couch,

looking at you with eyes that say,

"Trash!"

Now, even if you can't get a nice courtship going,

you're gonna have to deal with

the elephant in the room, which is, let's face it,

people marry for money.

And social status.

- You think you are better than me?

- Not.

- Victorian England operated under the law of primogenitor,

which meant that when Ol' Moneybags passed away,

his entire estate went to the oldest son.

So, it was just kind of expected

that eligible ladies would seek oldest sons.

Meanwhile, young noblemen with troubled assets

would try to court rich heiresses,

sometimes from a lower social rank.

Say, the daughter of a highly-successful crinoline merchant.

On top of all these awkward expectations,

the courtship itself had more

chaperones than a middle school dance.

And young couples could never expect to be left in privacy

basically until they were married.

Oh, and here's another one.

Pop quiz!

What do wild turkeys, mule deer,

and marriageable young ladies

in Victorian England have in common?

They all have a season for hunting!

Young men looking for ladies to court

would search at social events during the Season,

which lasted from January through June.

If a lady didn't find a husband after three Seasons,

everybody knew it was spinsterhood for Agnes.

What's one etiquette custom

you hate being expected to follow?

Or, what's one that you wish people

would pay more attention to?

And does anyone have a suitable match for Agnes?

Let us know in the comments.

And if you liked this video, would you kindly

click on yonder button and then subscribe?

And if you want to learn more about Victorian customs,

check out 10 Ridiculous Victorian Etiquette Rules

at howstuffworks.com.

(violin music)

Courtship etiquette.

Somebody say courtship etiquette?

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