A Blog of Personal Thoughts
Alaskan Emily Post Etiquette Rules
After living in Alaska for 25 years, I want to share some rules for living in this great, enormous, cold in winter, hot in summer, snowy, rainy, mountainous, Far North state in between Canada’s Yukon and Russia’s Siberia. Our Emily Post Etiquette Rules in Alaska are different from what I grew up with in New England and New York City. The rules there included placement of the linen napkin on your lap and afterwards on the table; which fork, knife, and spoon to use in which order; no elbows on the table; and too many more bother with. In Alaska, there are more important things to remember than table manners.
- Always wash off ice before using whether they are dirty ones from the fridge or from a nearby glacier.
- Don’t drop a frozen turkey on the in- or out-flow pipe on the hot water heater when it’s in the dead of winter and -10 outside. Also, don’t do it at all as you’ll have 40 gallons of water all over the floor.
- Don’t expect dinner invitations or guests in the summer. Everyone’s working for the tourist industry to earn enough money to get through the winter.
- Have napkins or paper towels available on request. Most guests will wipe their hands on their pants.
- Guests are not allowed do the dishes after a meal. The first week we moved to Alaska, we were told this, and I believed it. Ten years later, two of the people who said this, were at our house for dinner. As they went to do the dishes, I told them they couldn’t…Alaska rule. “Who told you that?” “You did at the dinner in the Quonset.” They laughed as they headed for the sink, saying they were joking.
- In winter, take wood for a gift instead of wine or an appetizer. (Remember. nobody calls them hors d’oeuvres in the North.)
- Tell the person who invited you if you have any food allergies or aversions. Otherwise, be prepared to eat nothing. Allergic to anything like beans and lentils, corn, grains, and cilantro and the meal is tacos, eat the lettuce, cheese, and halibut. Smile while you eat it.
- You never need to buy meat or fish from the store. Depending on where you live, you have moose, deer, caribou, or fresh fish for options. (I have a jar of bear meat on my shelves of home canned goods. Delicious in sandwiches.)
- Before looking for the bathroom, ask if the house has one.
- Ask what the toilet rules are. The first fourteen years we lived in Alaska, we should have posted a sign by the door: Toilet Rules: 1. There is no toilet.
- If there is no posted sign, ask what the rules are. Options: Used paper in the bin beside the toilet. Pee outside away from the house; bring paper inside and put in the wood stove. Use the outhouse to take a shit.
- How to make a Marine major cry at a formal dinner in a North Carolina restaurant. He had asked why we had an outhouse. Did we have a high water table, permafrost, lack of water, lack of electricity. No, I said, it’s by choice. He and everyone else at the table burst out laughing and the Marine used his linen table napkin to wipe the tears from his eyes.
- Don’t tell a Yupik friend from Nome that you have no indoor toilet. “What?” She hollered. “Even Eskeemos have flush toilets!” They went home as she wasn’t about to use the woods. I guess that makes sense, as Nome has no trees.
- One friend’s rule on a hike was to put clean paper in her right pocket and used in her left. After all, you never want to leave paper in the woods. Don’t hand paper to your partner from the left pocket. Or use leaves from a tree.
- When camping in the rain forest, use your lighter to burn the paper. (Never do this in any area prone to forest fires.)
- Give a quick scan for bears or moose before you do any of this.
- Don’t yell at your partner in winter. This person may be the only one you see for the next six days.
- Never get so angry at your partner or anyone else or make anyone so angry that they won’t help you out of the wilderness with or without a broken leg or help you when on the water with a boat problem. You may need them to help save your life.
- Make sure you have at least one deck of cards, board and cards for cribbage, pinochle, or any other games you like. You’ll need them in winter.
- Don’t spit in the kitchen sink when there are dishes in it, especially at a friend’s house.
- Never drive anywhere in winter, even a mile or two, without being prepared for a breakdown.
- When you go to town, remember to drive over 30 mph. If you don’t, a cop will stop you and tell you to speed up 45 mph. He’ll remind you the speed is 55 mph. You’ll speed up to 43 and feel terrified you’re driving so fast. By the time you reach downtown, you’ll feel comfortable at 55.
- If your dog or cat sleeps on the sofa, be sure to tell your company the sofa’s covered with hair. They may care.
- Don’t let a woman housesit for you. She’ll leave the place cleaner than when you left.
- When you leave in winter, and the drain to your washer is disconnected because it doesn’t drain right and you’re fixing it, leave a note. If you don’t, a friend will come by to do her laundry, naïve to the problem. She’ll call you on your cell phone and leave a message you don’t get till the next day. She’ll find out the drain is not connected to the clogged PVC pipe that would normally take the water to the leach field when the machine drains after the rinse cycle and the water comes out on the floor just like it did after the wash cycle. She’ll grab a five-gallon bucket before she realizes that she needs the 50-gallon one. She can’t keep up and ends up with an inch of water all over the carpet, which she rolls up and throws out onto the snow-covered porch. She mops the floor again and again and, once again, you have a cleaner utility room than before you left.
- Keep flashlights with good batteries, candles and matches in the same place. You never know when the lights will go out. I called to talk to a Coast Guard commander about a rescue he did. (This was the first of many interviews for a book about a commercial fishing accident and Coast Guard rescue, The Night Orion Fell.) The electricity went out as he was looking for his logbook. He holleredto his wife, “Get a flashlight! I need my logbook!” No flashlight handy so no logbook. End of conversation and I called him back a few days later.
- Being called a two-bucket woman is a compliment. It means you can carry two five-gallon buckets, each weighing a good 40 pounds, from the well or stream to the house, one bucket in each hand.
- Always stay ahead on your firewood supply. It needs to be cut and stacked a year before you use it to warm your house. Green wood doesn’t burn well.
- Always stay six months or a year ahead on your food supply. You never know when you might run short due to bad weather, a supply chain problem, or some other Alaska reason.
- When you leave the house in winter, always take ice grips and a headlamp or flashlight. It may be dark when you get home.
- When you invite someone for dinner, especially in winter, be prepared they may spend the night.
- In winter, remember to get out of bed before 2:00 pm because it’s dark at 3:00. You’ll want to see some daylight.
- Loan a book or movie in winter and expect not to see it till spring or even the following spring. It has to make it through town before coming back to you. If you really want it back sometime, write your name in it.
- Know that winter starts Labor Day weekend when the tourists leave and ends Memorial Day weekend when they come back.