Thursday, January 17, 2013

Napkin Etiquette & Other Humiliating Tales

Sounds like something a classy woman might say
to her husband when she isn't in the mood.
I spent several days at the Greenbrier Resort earlier this week, and used the time there primarily to edit the most recent draft of my book.  The Resort occasionally does a "Tribute to the Virginias" special where West Virginia and Virginia residents get a discounted rate for the Resort.  I finally took advantage of this, as I had never stayed at the Greenbrier before.  My friend Sarah stayed with me the first night, and we ate dinner in the Main Dining Hall.  I get incredibly nervous at resorts like this, because I know I don't belong.  I feel like I am biding my time until I am discovered as a fraud.  It's the same feeling I get when I go into designer clothing stores, like I am probably labeled a shoplifter or a sightseer based on my poor fashion sense and obvious inability to afford anything in the store.

Store clerk:  "Can I help you?"
Me:  "No I'm just looking."
Store clerk:  "I'll bet you are."

Anyway,  it only took me about three seconds to make my first social faux pas in the Dining Hall.  The hostess asked Sarah and I if we would like dark napkins.  I didn't understand what she was asking, so I just stared at her blankly.  When she repeated her question I said "I'm not sure.  Should we?"  Apparently her answer was yes because she swiftly picked up the white napkins from our plates and laid two darker counterparts in their place.

As I saw the waiter approaching us, my nerves got the better of me.  (Maybe I should specify.  We had a water waiter, a wine waiter, and a food waiter.  This was the water waiter.)  Before he made it all the way to our table I shouted "Hi! How are you doing?" at him.  Then I dropped my head and said "I was supposed to let you ask me that first wasn't I?"  He just laughed.  Luckily, Sarah is a good sport, too.  The last time we went out to a nice restaurant I began my order with "I'd like a glass of your cheapest Chardonnay, please!"

The rest of our dining experience went fairly well because not much was expected of us, and the wine had calmed our nerves.  We knew to work our way from the outside in as far as silverware is concerned, and I tried not to slurp my onion soup.

Sarah and I before dinner, still ignorant
of the existence of dark napkins.
Today, out of curiosity, I looked up this whole dark napkin concept.  I found an entire webpage dedicated to napkin étiquette:

"You should place your napkin neatly next to your plate or if the plates have already been removed, you may place it in the center of the setting. Never put your napkin on your dinner plate. You should neither refold nor wad up the napkin."

"If you must leave, you will find yourself facing an etiquette controversy.  The underlying principle, is that guests should not be subjected to your soiled linens.  The least controversial approach appears to be to leave your napkin, soiled side down to the left of your dinner plate. Some recommend placing your napkin on your chair, but others find this gravely offensive, as you might soil the host(ess) dining chair."

"If the napkin is a breakfast or luncheon sized napkin unfold it completely.  If the napkin is a dinner napkin, it should remain folded in half lengthwise."

"Do not be surprised if your light colored place napkin is whisked about by the host(ess).  During fine dining, you may be supplied with a dark napkin if you are wearing dark clothing."

Research also showed me that these dark or black napkins serve several purposes:  They won't get white lint on dark clothing and they conceal lipstick or red wine stains.  I would have been fine with a lemon scented wet nap or a roll of paper towels.  No high class napkin preferences for this gal.

My most awkward experience, however, came not from dinner, but from my visit to the spa the next day.  I made an appointment for a massage the day before.  When asked what kind of massage I wanted, I said "I'm not sure, but I have trouble with tension in my shoulders and neck."  "We have just the thing for you," they said.  Boy, did they!

Now I've had massages before, but they were very simple.  The masseuse stepped out of the room, while I stripped down and got under the covers on the massage table.  Before I got up, the masseuse would leave the room while I got dressed again.  My experience this week was quite different.

If I had to assign my massage a name, it would be the Car Wash.  In fact, let's run with that theme now.

Part I:  The Soak

My masseuse, let's call her Bubbles, led me into a small room lit only with candles.  In the corner of the room was a bathtub full of steaming hot water.

"Now if you'll take off your robe, I will help you into the bath," Bubbles said.

"Now if I what what?"  I replied.

"Hand me your robe and step into the tub."  So I did.  Bare naked with another human being helping me into a tub of water -- I was four-years-old again.  Only this time, I had already eaten from the forbidden tree and was quite aware of my lack of clothing.  Bubbles left the room and told me she would be back in fifteen minutes or so.

The water temperature was perfect.  The mineral water was soothing and smelled good.  And the candles were relaxing.  But all I could think the entire time was "thank goodness I requested a female masseuse."  In fifteen minutes, the masseuse returned and helped me back into my robe.

"Okay, on to the massage!"  I thought.  I was wrong.

Part II:  The Spray

Our next stop was a large room with an entire wall full of shower heads.  Sixteen shower heads, to be exact.  My stomach churned.

Bubbles directed me to hand her my robe, and to stand facing the wall in the center of the shower heads.  This is when things got weird.

Bubbles went to a contraption about 10 feet behind me and pulled out what appeared to be a pressure washer.  "I'm going to spray you with water," she informed me, nonchalantly, like a waitress telling you to expect your food out soon.

You know those games at fairs where you shoot water from a gun at a target, and win by moving your horse across a racing line first?  That is basically what happened here.  Only instead of a target, it was my back and bare ass, and in this instance, nobody won.

While being bombarded on all sides by water, I lost my mind.  I started laughing uncontrollably.  "If we did this in Guantanamo Bay," I thought to myself, "would it be considered humiliation and torture or a luxurious treat?"  Kudos to Bubbles who kept her composure and professionalism through this entire experience.  Had Ashton Kutcher popped out from behind me yelling "you've been Punk'd!" I would not have been surprised.  It would have actually explained a lot.

Also, please Google image search "scotch shower" and look at the first image that comes up.  It will give you a better picture of the situation.

Part III:  Buffing

I had no issues with the massage itself.  In fact, it was quite relaxing.  The blankets were warm, the music was nice, and the masseuse was very good.  The prep leading up to the massage was by far the worst part (much like a colonoscopy, from what I hear).

Please don't take this to mean that the Greenbrier Spa was anything less than first rate, or that my masseuse wasn't completely competent and professional.  I am just not equipped with the maturity and self-confidence necessary in order to enjoy such treatment.

Hell, I might even open up my own luxury spa.  I will put someone in a bath before turning on the shower head and shooting them in the back with super-soakers.  I'll even do it at half the cost.


  1. An etiquette controversy. I'm just blown away by that statement. And it's good to know that you handled the "massage" in the exact same way I would have -- horribly and with absolutely no refinement whatsoever. :)