You’ve probably seen it plenty of times in movies or done it yourself when playing at being prim and proper – raising your pinky in the air while drinking your afternoon tea. But according to Miss Manners, raising your pinky went out of fashion a long time ago.
According to Miss Manners:
Even that perennially easy target, the pinkie in the air, has provocative implications having to do with international commerce and class strife.
The gesture dates from the 17th century, when tea began to be imported to England from China. It was so expensive that those who could afford it kept it locked up in so-called tea caddies. They drank it from Chinese teacups, which do not have handles but are held in the fingers. Because the thin cups transmitted heat from the tea, it was sensible to put as few fingers on them as necessary — hence the escaping little finger, and sometimes the ring and middle fingers as well.
This habit became a symbol of wealth, when few people could afford tea, let alone imported cups. It quickly progressed, along a path you will recognize, to becoming a symbol of pretentiousness. At that point, the pinkie in the air — no longer necessary because the West had developed teacups with handles — became bad manners.
Miss Manners is amazed that it is still cited, now that tea is one of the least expensive possible drinks available. She would be surprised if you had ever actually seen this gesture in real life.
I’m not sure why Miss Manners has never seen anyone raise their pinky. A simple search on Flickr shows many people raising their pinky, even though it’s most likely in jest. But why does the pinky in the air continue to be seen as something wealthy people do when we’ve obviously have had tea cups with handles for hundreds of years now and tea is readily available in every grocery store? You’d think that the practice would have been forgotten over time. What do you think, is it really a faux pas to raise your pinky? Or is it all part of enjoying your afternoon tea?