Dating Advice From 16th Century France Includes Not Farting

Dating hasn't changed in the last 500 years. The methods of communication may have changed, but the fundamental principles have remained the same: Be on your best behavior. Maintain proper hygiene. And don't fart in public. recently published an article, "15 Dancing Tips From 1529 Proven to Wow Your Date," that shares some advice from Antonius de Arena on how to behave at courtly dances.

De Arena was a 16th-century French soldier, historian, judge, and poet who wrote The Rules of Dancing (Leges Dansandi). It was a guide that not only advised French aristocrats on how to dance, it told them how to behave when they did it.

It's also the earliest known mention of the Cupid Shuffle — "Thous hast a brand new dance, one must move one's muscle. Newfangled dance, christened the Cupid Shuffle."

The French certainly know a thing or two about dating, because the advice in this book has held up remarkably well for the last 490 years. It's valuable information that I've passed on to my own children as they begin dating.

First, says de Arena, you have to know how to dance. Dancing badly is a "great disgrace." Young men who want to "caress the girls and kiss them long and sweetly must learn the correct way to dance."

In other words, if you don't got the moves, you don't get the love. That really should rhyme, but English can be inelegant at times. I'm sure it sounded much more beautiful in French.

Next, keep your mouth shut. Literally.

"When you are dancing do not keep your mouth open; since the flies have a habit of flying about they could easily fly into your gaping mouth and choke you," he wrote.

I know rich people like to think their poop doesn't stink and that there are no flies on them, but it seems French aristocrats were notorious mouth breathers who consumed flies on a regular basis, even at their fancy-pants dances.

How bad was life at court when swallowing flies was something you regularly had to guard against?

"I say, Francois appears to have swallowed a fly."

"Merveilleux! Let's go dance with his date."

You also shouldn't wear gloves when you dance. We're all familiar with the practice of whipping off your glove and smacking a rival to challenge him to a duel — I just settled a small quarrel in the deli line this way — but "you must hold the damsel with ungloved hands when dancing, (I)f you wear gloves you will very soon find yourself all alone."

Besides, you can better swat at the flies if your gloves are in your hand.

Bodily fluids were a serious problem among French aristos. Not only did de Arena have to advise against spitting — "[R]efrain from spitting before the maidens, because that makes one sick and even revolts the stomach" — he had to tell people to wipe their noses.

"Do not have a dripping nose and do not dribble at the mouth. No woman desires a man with rabies," he warned.

Look, I don't care how rich you are, sitting at a fancy dinner with snot and spittle flying everywhere is not going to get you a second date. At least do the gentlemanly thing and pull out a handkerchief, blow your nose, and put it safely back in your pocket where it belongs.

"If you split or blow your nose or sneeze, remember to turn your head away after the spasm, and remember not to wipe your nose with your fingers: Do it properly with a white handkerchief."

Seriously? Don't wipe your nose with your fingers? Proper etiquette has certainly improved in 500 years. Nowadays, eight-year-old children understand not to do this.

And God help you if, in the midst of cutting a rug, you had to cut a fart. Monsieur de Arena advised so strongly against, one is led to believe the French aristocracy were such chronic public farters, they needed a book to tell them not to do it.

"Never fart when you are dancing: grit your teeth and compel your arse to hold back the fart," he wrote. "[T]ake great care, my friend, not to break wind when you are dancing since if you do so you will be a real pig."

Finally, don't scratch where it itches, especially if the itch is lice. As de Arena told the upper crust of French society, "[K]eep your visage composed. Do not scratch your head in search of lice; surely you do not want to scratch yourself for black lice just then."

Or maybe your farts will drive them away.

Photo credit: Ball at the Court of Henry III of France, circa 1580 (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.