The cloved lemon is an SCA invention1. You take an ordinary lemon, and put cloves in it. Then you present the lemon to someone you fancy. They take a clove and bite it, as a momentary breath freshener, and they kiss you. Or you kiss them. Hand, cheek, tonsils, whatever. The recipient of the lemon chooses, although really it’s kind of a negotiation of managed disappointments in practice. Recipient is then the bearer of the lemon and passes it on. Rinse, repeat.
It’s supposed to be an ice-breaker, and it certainly can be. It’s also an opportunity for sleazy old men to leer at fresh young newcomers, although as one correspondent on the Shambles said, it’s not like they lack an excuse. It’s been known to fill with dread people who’ve never seen it in action, to the point that they speak of it in hushed tones and avoid going to SCA events because of it, which I think is probably an overreaction, but maybe they had a particularly bad experience vis-á-vis the sleazy old men.
It’s not all negatives. A lot of people have no problem with receiving and giving cloved lemons. They’re fun, harmless and a little exotic. They suit Australian culture in particular, whereas I imagine any Saudi Arabian branch of the SCA would probably find them a little inappropriate. People have met their spouses over a cloved lemon! Throwing them out completely, just because some people find them variously undesirable, is not an obvious decision. Do these people find them undesirable because they’ve heard rumours that aren’t in fact true? Because past implementations of the Cloved Lemon Protocol have had runtime errors? Because they don’t want to have any kind of social interaction at all? Perhaps. Positives and negatives can be weighed and compared.
I tend to think it’s possible to handle the cloved lemons responsibly, as a feast steward. First, you make sure there are several of them, so that the creeping horror, complete with Jaws theme music, is never part of it. Let them be out and proud and a little ho-hum, rather than a sudden surprise like the Holy Hand Grenade. Second, you make sure people are educated. The recipient controls the kiss, not the other way round. A recipient may decline. People who are in the company of other, more lemon-averse people may decline on their behalf. And if someone appears to be “on the prowl”, so to speak, hogging the lemon and behaving in an overtly sleazy way, then we have an advantage that the mundane world does not: we believe it’s appropriate and even desirable to rescue damsels (mostly) in distress. That’s not sexist, it’s chivalry. And whether that’s a “po-tay-to, po-tah-to” distinction is a valid question!
But if you need to offer more of a user manual than a simple “don’t be a git”, perhaps my proposal for a Cloved Lemon Protocol 2.0 will help. I think this would avoid the sleaziness and stress of the current traditions2. So here you go. Give it a whirl. Let me know how it turns out!
All cloved lemons must be distributed in the first instance by the baron and baroness or their equivalent in your group. So, if you bring a lemon to a feast yourself, you present it to the Pointy Hats and they pass it on. That means you don’t have the opportunity to take control of a lemon when you’d never in a million years be given one yourself, as for example when you’re a hideous sleazy old slimebucket. The designated lemon-minders may, of course, pass the lemon on to whoever they like. It’s good to be the king!
Any lemon found lying around unclaimed must be returned to the baron and baroness. There was someone at a feast I attended once who kept coming past with lemons, and I eventually realised it was because he was “rescuing” them when someone discarded them, and passing them on for his own benefit. That was borderline creepy.
The recipient controls the kiss. If Fred gives Betty a lemon, Betty decides how and/or where she wants to be kissed. She can proffer her hand, her cheek or her tonsils, as she wishes. Fred may, of course, feel disappointed with her choice, but it would not be the done thing for him to complain, or try to press the issue.
Anyone may refuse a lemon, for any reason or none at all. It’s not inappropriate to say “no thanks”. It is inappropriate, very much so, to push the matter after one’s offer has been refused.
Anyone may refuse on behalf of another person. So if Fred offers the lemon to Betty, Barney may step in and advise him that the lady is not open to partaking of the Holy Hand Grenades at this time. Fred must retire gracefully. Should he dare to suggest that perhaps Betty can speak for herself in this matter, he should be considered to be committing a faux pas of epic proportions. The appropriate assumption is that Betty has already spoken for herself — to Barney, well beforehand — which is why he’s speaking now.
And just one for hygiene: Remove the clove with your fingers, not your teeth. Because ewwww.
There’s one downside of cloved lemons, and that is that they don’t work as well as you’d think. Consider this workflow:
- Betty has a lemon. She offers it to Fred.
- Fred accepts, and they kiss, quite snoggily as it happens.
- Betty is now hoping that, the ice being well and truly broken, she and Fred may retire to chat.
- But no! Fred now has a lemon, and he has to find someone else to give it to. Unless the ice was broken in a particularly singular fashion, that’s the end of Betty and Fred’s interaction until later.
How to fix that? I think the best answer is: if a couple have decided they’re happy with each other’s company and don’t need any more ice broken for the time being, the lemon may be returned to the baron and baroness, or whoever the designated lemon-minders are. Hogging the lemon is not on!
There you go. All academic for me, of course, but this arose out of quite a fruitful3 discussion and it’d be a shame to waste it.
1 There have been attempts to find a similar thing in period, without success. Pomanders probably existed, but the Holy Hand Grenade… no.
2 I hasten to add that this will remain untested while I’m in Ynys Fawr, possibly the least cloved-lemon-friendly barony in Lochac.