Darling, how fabulously lovely it is to see you... (mwa, mwa)
- Credit: Archant
What is a gentleman?
It was a question asked by a national newspaper recently and readers have been energetically contributing to the debate.
One correspondent mooted that a gentleman always uses a butter knife even when dining alone.
My twopen’orth, for what it’s worth (approx .83p in metric) is that gentlemen can only function happily when ladies are ladylike.
For example. If a man holds a door open for a woman and she says: “Outta the way, buster, I’m quite capable of opening a door for myself,” it can scupper the best intentions of the well-mannered male.
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The urban dictionary defines a gentleman as: “A man of calm demeanour (I added the ‘u’ there, American spellings, eh?), strong preserve, intellectual thinking, polite yet meaningful speak and a good upbringing. A fighter for the cause of right with words, not guns.”
The online advice shop WikiHow offers a six-point plan:
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1. Personal hygiene and pride in appearance (ie have some).
2. A true gentleman is polite to everyone..
3. Partakes in polite conversation.
4. Is courteous to women
5. Respects his girlfriend
6. No fighting
These could equally apply to being a lady, I think. There is little merit in being a smelly, rude, foul-mouthed, disrespectful, female scrapper.
And no, I don’t have anyone in mind although soap operas occasionally offer a role model.
Traditionally, a man takes off his hat indoors, stands when a woman enters a room and always carries a laundered and pressed handkerchief. Three out of three of these are no longer common practice.
Without firm rules governing social intercourse certain things can get confusing. The etiquette of kissing and hugging has me in a quandary. Being of a theatrical bent and thus compelled to make physical contact with thespian associates, I am never quite sure of the conventions governing kisses.
There’s the “mwa, mwa” air kissing commonly exercised by women who are wearing too much make up to risk actually touching. Among some groups it has become ironic and the “mwa” is simply spoken from a distance, a simple acknowledgment of friendliness. It can be called out on approach.
“Hello! Mwa, mwa.” It’s the Ab Fab Patsy solution to preserving all-day lipstick,
I am a single peck-on-the-cheek kisser. I like to throw my arms round people I know well and give them a hug and kiss them once, on the cheek (on the face). But some of them turn out to be French kissers, by which I don’t mean use of tongues and promise of intimacy, but a peck on both cheeks, comme les Français.
But who decides? I tend to move back after the first kiss which means an unexpected second kiss can land on my mouth, nose or, worst of all, on my glasses, smearing them up. But this is better than going back in again which can lead to a painful head butt.
One chap I know, moving in for the kiss greeting, announces the number he will be requiring.
Normally, I would expect to gain sponsorship for accomplishing that many of anything but, being a lady, I comply without comment... hoping of course, that he is a gentleman and has wet shaved. No one should suffer bristle burn for being well-mannered.
The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, by Cecil B Hartley, published in the mid-19th Century and online courtesy of Project Gutenberg is most specific on all issues. On conversation, he says: “One of the first rules for a guide in polite conversation, is to avoid political or religious discussions in general society.” So that’s politicians out, then.
“When asking questions about persons who are not known to you, in a drawing-room, avoid using adjectives; or you may enquire, “Who is that awkward, ugly girl?” and be answered, “Sir, that is my daughter.”
“Avoid gossip; in a woman it is detestable, but in a man it is utterly despicable.”
The chapter devoted to table etiquette informs: “Use always the salt-spoon, sugar-tongs, and butter knife; to use your own knife, spoon, or fingers, evinces a shocking want of good-breeding.”
Other such gems include, in street etiquette: “Do not smoke in the street until after dark, and then remove your cigar from your mouth, if you meet a lady,” and: “Avoid touching any one with your elbows in passing, and do not swing your arms as you walk.”
Meanwhile, at the ball: “If the ball is given in your own house, or at that of a near relative, it becomes your duty to see that every lady, young or old, handsome or ugly, is provided with a partner, though the oldest and ugliest may fall to your own share.”
Looks as if I might be in with a chance, then...
And let us not overlook the chapter titled Manly Exercises. Interestingly CB Hartley does not mention fly fishing... presumably he left that to his descendant JR Hartley.
In a final miscellany of gentlemanly advice, the author writes: “Nothing is in worse taste in society than to repeat the witticisms or remarks of another person as if they were your own.”
That’s shut me up.