The rules were simpler in bygone days, but technological changes have caused seismic shifts to the cultural landscape of 21st century. Do the rules of common courtesy still apply?
Social media and smart phones have shaped communication in unprecedented ways, and increased connection has created a global melting pot. Social norms that were once understood now feel uncertain. How should a sophisticated man conduct himself in the diverse environments he may encounter? How to Be a Gentleman is an indispensable guide for men of all ages who aspire to become gentlemen, including tips and guidelines such as:
- How to respond to those with whom you disagree
- When and where it is appropriate to use your cellphone
- How to dress for various formal events
- Rules for conducting yourself at the gym
- How to engage respectfully with different cultural and religious contexts
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
How to be a Gentleman
A TIMELY GUIDE TO TIMELESS MANNERS
By JOHN BRIDGES
Copyright © 2008 John Bridges
All right reserved.
A GENTLEMAN EXPERIENCES REAL LIFE
A gentleman knows how to make others feel comfortable.
* * *
If a gentleman has a cold, and especially if he is running a fever, he declines all social invitations. If it is possible, he even stays away from the office.
* * *
Even if he lives alone, a gentleman never drinks milk directly from the container.
* * *
A gentleman knows that unseemly habits, although they may seem innocuous, can easily become hard, or even impossible, to break.
A gentleman and his cell phone
Although cell phones have become ubiquitous in the modern world, a gentleman does his best to use his cell phone in the most unobtrusive manner possible. He knows that, while many may consider a cell phone to be a necessity, there is no reason he should be obnoxious when using one. In fact, cell phones, and even wireless headsets, have become so common that no one is likely to be impressed by the fact that a gentleman owns one. He need not flaunt his newest gadgets, no matter how expensive or cutting-edge they may be, in hopes of impressing others with his social or professional status. A gentleman who seeks to shore up his self-image by the use of gadgetry, especially among strangers, is a very needy gentleman indeed.
A gentleman knows that incessant use of his cell phone can only make it clear that he values the person on the other end of the telephone conversation far more highly than the persons who are in his company. Such behavior is, at its best, ill-mannered and irritating. At its worst, it grows tedious and may well lead to unpleasant confrontations with total strangers, theatre ushers, train conductors, or airport security.
A gentleman's telephone calls-whether they concern business or private matters-are still his personal affair. He does not force others to listen while he negotiates a real estate deal, while he makes plans for a Saturday-night outing, or while he recreates, in vivid detail, every play of the past weekend's rugby game. Other people, after all, are probably no more interested in the dealings of his day-to-day existence than he is interested in theirs.
If a gentleman finds that he truly must initiate, or receive, a phone call while he is in a public place, he moves to the place where he is least likely to become a nuisance to others. He knows that it is virtually impossible to conduct a "quiet" cell phone conversation-especially when he is in a crowded restaurant, the aisle of a grocery store, or the lobby of a theatre. If the person on the other end of the conversation can hear him, a gentleman had best assume that every other person within earshot can probably hear him, too.
Even in a business meeting, or when he is conducting business at mealtime, a gentleman still says, "Excuse me" before answering a call-even if it is related to the business at hand. He does not make phone calls during a business meeting, unless they are pertinent to the topic that is currently on the table and unless it is appropriate for the content of the conversation to be shared by everyone else within hearing distance.
A gentleman would never be so rude, or self-important, as to cover the phone with his hand, turn his head away from the rest of the table, and mutter, "Excuse me, folks, but this isn't something everybody here needs to be in on."
A gentleman knows that it is appropriate for him to use his cell phone ...
if he is alone
if he is certain that his conversation will not disturb or annoy others
if he is a doctor, receiving a call from his answering service or from his office
if he is a father, expecting a report from his children or from their babysitter
if he is at a raucous event such as a football game, where his shouting will only add to the general uproar
if it is truly necessary for him to bring another person into the conversation at a business meeting, at that very moment
if he truly believes there is a chance that an emergency is in the offing
A gentleman does not use his cell phone ...
when he is behind the wheel of a vehicle, of any type
in the midst of a church service or during a theatre performance, a movie, or at a concert
at a table in a restaurant of any type-be it fast-food or first-class
in the waiting room, or in the examining room, at a doctor's office
when standing in line at the grocery store, the post office, a deli, or any other place where customers may find themselves trapped as unwilling witnesses to his conversation
in an elevator, unless he is alone, or in the company of only friends or coworkers
in the workout room at his gym
on the "quiet car" of a train
in the cabin of an airplane, unless some actual, dire emergency demands it
in any place where signage, or a public announcement, notifies him that the use of cell phones is not permitted
A gentleman who happens to be a doctor checks his pager with an usher or changes it to the silent setting. However, if he is a real estate agent out for an evening at the theatre, he turns off his pager and his cell phone entirely. A real-estate closing is not a life-threatening emergency.
* * *
A gentleman does not switch on his cell phone and launch into a conversation the moment his plane has landed, simply because a flight attendant has told him it is safe to do so.
* * *
If a flight attendant tells a gentleman to turn off his cell phone, his MP3 player, his laptop, or any other electronic device, he does so immediately. He does not behave childishly, attempting to stay on the phone until he has been singled out for having ignored the safety instructions.
Although a gentleman may be enjoying music, by means of his personal sound system and with his earbuds plugged in, he still keeps the volume turned to a reasonable level, knowing that an earth-shattering sound level may well be shattering the nerves of the persons seated near him.
* * *
A gentleman does not assume that, because his wireless headset is inconspicuous, his conversations are inconspicuous, as well.
* * *
Whenever a gentleman uses his cell phone or his headset on a crowded sidewalk or in the aisle of a grocery store, he still keeps track of where he is going. No matter how important or intriguing his conversation may be, it still does not justify his ramming into another shopper's grocery cart.
* * *
A gentleman does not use his camera phone in ways that intrude upon the privacy of others.
* * *
A gentleman understands that if the taking of photographs is prohibited at any concert or other performance or in an art gallery, that prohibition also includes camera-phone pictures.
* * *
A gentleman does not attempt to walk and send a text message at the same time.
* * *
A gentleman understands that, for good or ill, as he walks down a sidewalk while engaged in a conversation via his wireless headset, passersby may understandably take him for a paranoid schizophrenic.
A gentleman goes to the theatre
Because he respects other people, a gentleman always shows up on time for any performance, whether it is a concert, a motion picture, or a stage play. If he arrives late, he does not attempt to be seated until there is a suitable break in the performance. (In the case of a play or a musical comedy, his tardiness may require him to wait until intermission.) In every case, he follows the instructions of the ushers. If he behaves himself, a gentleman knows, a kindly usher may quietly slip him into a seat on the back row.
A gentleman never forgets that watching a live performance is not the same thing as watching a TV show in his own living room. He does not talk during the performance-even during the very loudest music or sound effects. He does not shift about in his seat unnecessarily.
If a gentleman has a tendency to cough, he always carries a mint or throat lozenge. Should he find himself surprised by an uncontrollable coughing jag, a gentleman leaves the auditorium-both for his own good and for the good of others.
At a concert or any other musical performance, a gentleman does not applaud until the end of a complete musical number. If he is unsure, he is well-advised not to start an ovation alone.
Without even being asked to do so, a gentleman turns off his cell phone or pager as soon as he enters the theatre. (He also understands that, in this case, "off" means the phone is completely silenced-not simply switched to the "vibrate" mode.) Because he knows others may be wishing to study their program notes or simply to prepare themselves, mentally, for the performance ahead, he does not engage in cell phone chit-chat once he has settled into his seat.
When a gentleman makes his way down a row in a crowded theatre, he faces the people who are already in their seats. A gentleman never forces others to stare at his backside.
* * *
A gentleman does not hum along, sing along, or beat time to the rhythm at any concert, unless the performers have invited him and his fellow audience members to do so.
* * *
If a gentleman has left a telephone message for, or sent an e-mail to, another person, he does not leave badgering follow-up calls or insistent follow-up e-mails, especially if no deadline is involved.
* * *
A gentleman does not hesitate to screen his calls.
* * *
A gentleman goes to a wedding
Although it is true that any wedding is technically a public event (since it recognizes the legal union of two people), a gentleman only shows up at weddings to which he has been invited. If his invitation does not say "and guest," he attends alone, even if a reception follows. He arrives on time and sits on the appropriate side of the aisle (the left side, if he is a friend of the bride; the right side, if he is a friend of the groom; if he knows them both, he sits on the side with the greater number of empty seats). During the ceremony, he stands when everyone else does, and he does not chat during the music. At the reception he speaks to the bride and groom and to their parents (no matter how many divorces are involved). If there is dancing, he does his part, partnering as many bridesmaids as possible.
If he is not invited to the wedding reception, he is not obligated to give a gift; however, he does not consider it an undue obligation, in any case, to help the couple start out in married life. The gift he sends may be as simple, or as elaborate, as his finances will allow.
A gentleman does not bring his gift with him to the church or to the reception. Instead, he has it sent or he delivers it himself, well ahead of the wedding. If he is unable to send his gift ahead of time-because of his schedule, his financial situation, or his simple forgetfulness-he does not fret about sending it late. He may send a gift at any point during the year following the wedding, knowing that a well-mannered bride and groom will appreciate his thoughtfulness and generosity, at any time.
If he is invited to the reception, a separate "reception card" will probably be enclosed with the invitation. That card, if it is correctly worded, will indicate whether or not he is expected to wear black tie. If the wedding takes place in a very large church or a hotel ballroom, and if the invitation is an extremely formal one, engraved on heavy stock, he may assume that black tie will be appropriate. If he does not own black tie and does not wish to rent his formalwear, he can always feel at ease wearing his best dark suit, black shoes, and a conservative tie.
If he remains uncertain as to the dress code for the festivities, however, a gentleman goes ahead and contacts the mother of the bride, telling her straightforwardly, "I'm looking forward to Betsey and Hayworth's wedding on the nineteenth, but I was wondering: Do you think most of the gentlemen will be wearing black tie?"
In no case does a gentleman ever wear black tie before five in the evening, no matter what the invitation requests.
A gentleman at the pool
Not every gentleman has a private pool. He may live in an apartment building, in a condominium, or in a subdivision, where any number of people may have the right to share the swimming pool, all at the same time. If all the residents of the building, the condominium, or the subdivision are adults, a gentleman may assume that the accepted rules of poolside behavior will be respected. He does not snatch the last chaise longue, unless he is certain no other sunbather has established ownership of it. Nevertheless, a bath towel, casually slung across a chaise or a pool chair and left lying there for more than forty-five minutes does not establish ownership of that chaise or pool chair, and a gentleman may claim rights of abandonment, simply by asking, "Does anybody know whether somebody is using this chair?" No matter what the response, he may simply fold up the abandoned towel, in a respectful way, and assume ownership of the chaise or chair. If the affronted sunbather returns, a gentleman simply says, "The chaise had been empty for so long, I simply folded your towels and set them here. I hope I kept them in good order."
A gentleman never borrows another person's sunblock-unless it is offered. And he never offers to share his own sunblock or to slather down the back of a fellow sunbather, unless he has been asked to do so.
If unruly children are disrupting the pool, a gentleman may call this behavior to the attention of the children's parents or their temporary overseers. If nothing else seems to work, and if the children are old enough to understand simple English, he may say something frank, such as: "If you're going to splash people in the pool, please go down to the other end and splash people you know. Please do not splash me."
It is astounding the impact such a remark can have on undisciplined children, especially coming from strangers.
A gentleman knows that the gym is a place for working out, not merely a place for socializing, and certainly not a place for finding a new a love interest or attempting to impress others.
* * *
In the workout room, a gentleman does not hog the weights.
* * *
A gentleman waits his turn before using the workout machines.
* * *
A gentleman respects the time limits set for the use of cardiovascular equipment.
* * *
In the midst of even his most strenuous workout, a gentleman does not grunt more loudly than necessary.
* * *
If a gentleman tends to have athlete's foot, he wears shower shoes at the gym.
* * *
After he has finished with an exercise machine or with a weight bench, a gentleman wipes it down with a towel and uses a spray-bottle cleaner, if such is provided.
* * *
A gentleman may do as he pleases in his own shower, but he does not shave in the shower at the gym. He never takes another gentleman's towel.
* * *
If a gentleman shaves at his health club, he always rinses out the sink.
A gentleman attends a funeral
A gentleman recognizes that a funeral is a time for paying respects. He wears a dark suit, a white shirt, a somber tie, and a pair of black shoes. If there is a wake, a reception, or a visitation with the family of the deceased, he arrives on time and waits quietly in the receiving line. He keeps his remarks simple, out of respect for the grieving person's overwrought emotions. A statement such as, "I am sorry about your loss, Mrs. Magnuson. Your husband was a wonderful person," is appropriate. During the service, a gentleman does not engage the other mourners in conversation. He sits where the ushers tell him to sit. He always signs the book.
Excerpted from How to be a Gentleman by JOHN BRIDGES Copyright © 2008 by John Bridges . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.