Monday, November 22, 2010

The Fox and The Crane

Of all of Aesop's fables, I suppose my favorite is this one. Like many of his fables, it can be interpreted in variety of ways. A lesson in true hospitality?

I have included this delightful illustration which I found Here

   illustrator: Niroot Puttapipat


The Fox and the Crane

At one time the Fox and the Stork were on visiting terms and seemed very good friends. So the Fox invited the Stork to dinner, and for a joke put nothing before her but some soup in a very shallow dish. This the Fox could easily lap up, but the Stork could only wet the end of her long bill in it, and left the meal as hungry as when she began. “I am sorry,” said the Fox, “the soup is not to your liking.”

“Pray do not apologize,” said the Stork. “I hope you will return this visit, and come and dine with me soon.” So a day was appointed when the Fox should visit the Stork; but when they were seated at table all that was for their dinner was contained in a very long-necked jar with a narrow mouth, in which the Fox could not insert his snout, so all he could manage to do was to lick the outside of the jar.

“I will not apologize for the dinner,” said the Stork: “One bad turn deserves another.”

A bit of revenge in the animal kingdom. I particularly like the smoothness by which the stork handled the obnoxious joke the fox initially played. There are, of course, rules of etiquette and courtesy for both the guest and the host.

We in the West used to set a standard for proper behavior. Victorians, for all their obsessive fussiness, certainly knew how to conduct themselves. Looking over the rulebook- that is, the Victorian guides to etiquette, you can clearly see many of their ideas are extraordinarily well-reasoned and designed prevent any unintentional slights or accidental snubs. 

Here are a few of my favorites:

You should not treat your friend's house as if it was a hotel, making your calls, visiting, transacting business about the town, and coming and going at all hours to suit your own convenience.

So obvious but I have seen this mistake so often, it's practically become normal behavior.

You should, in shopping or transacting business, when you desire to go alone, select the hours of the day when your friends are engaged in their own duties.

Should a secret of the family come into your possession while on a visit, you should remember that the hospitality and privileges extended should bind you to absolute secrecy. It is contemptibly mean to become the possessor of a secret thus, and afterwards betray the confidence reposed in you.

That sounds very melodramatic to me – (a secret child born out of wedlock? Poor Aunt Grace with the bad case of  hypertrichosis or  the raving ex-wife in the attic?)  I can, however, certainly understand what it is meant. You don't stay for a week in another person's home and then go and blab about their dirt behind the fridge or how poorly the guest cooked your breakfast.  

And, finally, there is this charming but oft-forgotten touch of grace.

Immediately upon the return to your home, after paying a visit, you should write to your hostess, thanking her for her hospitality and the enjoyment you received. You should also ask to be remembered to all of the family, mentioning each by name.

Ok, I admit it. I don't do this, but I know that I should. If you want a complete list of Victorian rules for visiting and the etiquette of hospitality you can find a list here.

Just because we recognize certain rules of behavior while visiting doesn't mean you have to be excessive (you sit here and I sit there and we will drink our tea.. NOW!)  I have endured this and it is not fun. Like visiting grandmother's house.

Turks have a fine sense of hospitality and, although it can often be a bit overwhelming to those who are not used to it, I think many Americans could learn a few lessons about being considerate as hosts and as guests. Before I came to Turkey, a Turkish friend of mine had once told that if you were ever in trouble, robbed, lost and deserted, you could knock on any door to any humble cottage in any Turkish village and proclaim to the greeter, "I am a guest of God." This, apparently, was like some kind of Masonic handshake and you would be treated with as much hospitality as the hosts could reasonably afford.

After living here nearly twenty years, I have yet to try this technique out but, generally speaking, as far as kind treatment of strangers, it seems to be the rule rather than the exception. I have often been invited to join in on occasions which legitimately would be considered private affairs.

At the risk of breaking one of the Victorian mandates about speaking out of turn, I shall  give an example of what happens when cultures clash, as far as hospitality goes.

One time I went to a small dinner at the home of an American couple, along with my wife and my friend, both Turk. It was only the five of us, in fact, The evening, as far as I was concerned, was rather dull, all of us eventually being reduced to talking about the cats and how poorly treated animals are in Turkey.

At the end of the evening, as we were driving away my friends were noticeably disturbed. When I asked them what the problem was, they finally explained that they felt somewhat insulted by the hosts. For some reason, as we were saying our good-nights, (shoes, kissing, more shoes, laughing, waiting for the elevator, whispering and a wave)  the couple had returned the fancy chocolate cake that we, their guests, had brought.  Mind you, the cake wasn't cheap, they explained, and if they hadn't liked it, then why didn't they keep it and throw it away once we had left. I had to admit it was an awkward thing to do. The Turks felt insulted and confused. "Is that normal? In America?"

I shook my head. "It wasn't when I left," I told them, "But who knows nowadays." I suppose if I had been more "stork-like" I could have invited them over for dinner and, with a beguiling smile, handed back their opened bottle of wine.

That is, if they had thought to bring a gift at all.


  1. Returning a cake is the rudest behaviour. Only a socially retarded person can do that. So rude. Unbeliavable. Deerves that cake on her/his face!! That would teach some manners.. :)))

  2. I don't know I would go that far, Vlad. The whole idea behind the elaborate Victorian rules, I suspect, was to give people a very clear which insults were intended and which insults were accidental or due to ignorance. I put the cake event into the second category. I am the charitable type when it comes to social faux pas, having made so many.


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