Not Saussure

December 14, 2006

Gentlemanly behaviour

Filed under: Blogroll, Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 3:58 pm Higham, at nourishing obscurity, reproduces 17 rules for gentlemanly behaviour, and asks whether they be as dead as a dodo or not.

I hate to sound as if I am blowing my own trumpet — very ungentlemanly behaviour, but nowadays one just can’t get the staff (are Bulgarian trumpeters any good, does anyone know?) — but they’re all pretty much how I behave anyway.

Some of them are common courtesy and some — particularly behaviour with ladies — are a result of early training; of course you stand up when a lady enters the room, help her on and off with her coat and so forth. That was drummed into me when I was a child; it’s as much a Pavlovian reaction as it is good manners.

All of them, though, are very prudential. Quite apart from giving you a reputation — somewhat undeserved in my case — for being a nice, quiet, well-behaved sort of chap, not swearing, speaking loudly or visibly losing your temper serve very well to lull the other chap into a false sense of security, or so I always find. Shouting, swearing and so forth also tend to risk escalating a situation when you don’t want it escalating at that time and place; if you have to fight, I’ve always found it best so to do when you’ve chosen the occasion, having first arranged suitable back-up. Michael Corleone, in Godfather III, somewhere tells a younger and more impetuous mafioso ‘you should never hate your enemies; it clouds your judgment’. To that I would add, never lose your temper with them, either, for the same reason.

And as to the rules for behaviour with ladies, I have never yet met anyone who’s been offended by my opening doors for her, helping her into her chair at dinner and so forth. Rather the contrary, in fact; the reaction’s usually pleasant surprise. This can, of course, not infrequently ease the path to rather less formal, though equally considerate and courteous, behaviour later in the evening it that’s what you have in mind.

I think that many chaps behave oafishly because they’re nervous; they’re nervous because they don’t quite know how to handle a social situation and they’ve heard horror stories about enraged feminists tearing a strip off men who’ve had the temerity to open doors for them (possibly they’ve read this in the Mail or Express) and they cover their nervousness with a deliberate loutishness. In reality, or so I’ve always found, it usually works to stick to the rules — good things, rules; always to be observed unless it’s downright inconvenient.

As to James’ rule number 7,

Do not spit. A lot of men do this almost subconsciously. Were you raised in a sewer?

The Magistrate’s Blog recently had some very sensible advice on the consequences of such behaviour.

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  1. …if you have to fight, I’ve always found it best so to do when you’ve chosen the occasion, having first arranged suitable back-up…

    This is especially so over where we are. You never pick a fight. If you are caught in one, tell them you’ll be at this spot tomorrow morning at 11. Bring your artillery but it’s usually not necessary. So far I’ve been lucky and not had to resort to this.

    Comment by jameshigham — December 14, 2006 @ 9:32 pm

  2. Times change values don’t. There ought to be a GSCE in this stuff.

    Comment by Jeremycj — December 14, 2006 @ 9:39 pm

  3. James, my job back in the early to mid-1990s took me frequently to St Petersburg; I had Russian mores and business practices very much in mind as I wrote parts of that post! As you must have found, it’s an environment where politeness and self-control are absolutely essential, because if a fight starts there, you’ve got to be prepared to finish it. Thank God, I didn’t have to resort to the artillery, either, though you do have to be prepared to use it or have others use it your behalf.

    You forgot to add, of course, that in the circumstances you describe, you actually have your chaps turn at 10, if not earlier.

    Jeremy, you sort of pick it up as a survival skill at some schools. Did at mine, anyway. They were a bit vague on how to treat ladies, at least ones of your own age, but having a girl-friend, in my late teens, who was the daughter of a former Guards officer taught me some useful things about several aspects of life. I don’t know if the education budget would run to providing such educational aids for all sixth-formers, though.

    Comment by notsaussure — December 14, 2006 @ 10:30 pm

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