Friday, 8 February 2013

Costume dramas and period pieces

On television lately there are plenty of semi historical shows. They serve many purposes and I generally enjoy them. Eighteenth century. Nineteenth century. Twentieth century. Various countries. Various social settings and behaviours are explored.

I tend to favour the shows that are similar to my own cultural background. As a child I lived in a conservative town. Entertainment had not spread so much knowledge of other cultural practices so people had clung to the styles from their own childhood in many ways. Social attitudes were more confining. Following the social redistribution after World War II families were encouraged to have a mother at home and a father at work. Society was reconstructed in such a way to assimilate refugees and to deny differences. The result was that I was brought up with customs that seem laughable nowadays but were considered mandatory then.

Here are just a few examples.

Salad rolls were not considered sandwiches
so we were allowed to have them.
Not this sandwich!!!

You may have two things on your bread or sandwich. Yes, a hamburger was revolutionary because it had more than two fillings. We could have butter and jam or jam and cream, but never butter and jam and cream. Devonshire teas were rigid in this regard. Woe betide the guest who failed the test. Club sandwich? Not in our neighbourhood. The same rules did not always apply outside the house and I was allowed to have a salad roll at school. I suppose the idea was to prevent anyone from being greedy and eating all the food that the family had available.

No first names, and let's be orderly.
Older people are addressed by their title and surname. That's right. The correct form of address was extremely important for young, old, work situations, and shopping. We did not refer to the neighbour as Joan. She was Mrs Harris. The boss did not use your first name until you gave him permission to do so. I still remember when my Deputy Principal used my first name when speaking informally with me in the staffroom and I was shocked. This was the 1970s. He was excused because he had suffered a traumatic event not long before, but he did apologise for his indiscretion. A married woman was known as Mrs Fred Jones not Mrs Amy Jones in order to associate the wife and the husband. Widows and divorced women were known as Mrs Amy Jones because the husband was no longer relevant.

Some conversation is not suitable in front of the ladies. We did not discuss politics at meal times, although it was perfectly acceptable at other times. Swearing was deemed a sign of lower social position. People did not discuss their health problems with other than their most intimate friends and family. Complaining was never a good idea, although it could be approached in a sensitive manner under certain circumstances. Bottles of alcohol were wrapped in plain brown paper when purchased. (Actually, I have seen this done quite recently.)

The list goes on. Sometimes I see customs portrayed in these costume dramas and period pieces that bring back many memories. When I saw this little poster from Downton Abbey it reminded me of the way we used cutlery and gadgets. My parents did not approve of fish knives, but a grapefruit knife was used to prepare the grapefruit before it came to the table. The bread knife was only ever used for bread and the ham knife only for ham.


1 comment:

  1. I am so looking forward to Downton Abbey starting up again. I also love those type of shows. I wish I could implement some of those old traditions back into our lives, (such as respect for our elders) but times change.

    ReplyDelete

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