Etiquette: Being a Gentleman in a Modern World
December 28th, 2015
Having great style extends far beyond the wardrobe. It has little to do with current “fashion” and much more to do with carrying oneself with respect, dignity, and kindness.
In past generations a tailor wasn’t just a clothesmaker, anymore than a barber was just a haircutter. These professionals in matters of appearance were also trusted sources of advice concerning all matters of “style”. This included socializing, dating, professionalism, etc. In the age of elegance it meant nothing to be well-dressed without the strength of character to back it up.
Today, in a world of Iphone addicts and digital social lives, I find that when guys step out into the world they are often confused as to which “rules” to follow. So with the resurgence of fine tailoring and classic menswear, I ask, what defines proper “etiquette” in the fast-changing digital world?
Well, as we close-in on the beginning of a new year, I thought it would be a great time to jump on my soapbox and share some thoughts on matters of modern day manners. As always, these are simply my opinions based on my personal experiences and observations. I can’t say that I’m a perfect gentleman or that I follow all of these rules all the time. Being a gentleman, like being a decent human being, takes discipline, awareness, and consistent effort. But having ideals to live by is a good start.
These articles are always better as a discussion, so I invite you to share your own thoughts and opinions on “modern day etiquette” by participating in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
A gentleman never puts his cellphone on the dinner table, the bar, or any other shared communal space. Nor does he pull it out in the midst of a conversion with another person. A cell phone is a private device used for making plans. Once you’re in those plans, be present and connect with those you are with. If you think you have a problem with this, experiment by taking some time away from your phone. Try turning it off or leaving it at home for the evening. For some of my colleagues, this has been life changing.
Talking Politics & Religion
This is never a good idea in a social setting. You likely don’t have enough time, or a well-rounded enough argument, to sway the deeply-rooted opinions of others in a short-form conversation. If you must say something, keep it personal and about your experience. Avoid any high-level generalizations that could make others feel uncomfortable. It’s very important to remember that your views on these matters are strictly a by-product of your personal experience. In most cases, if you are “right”, you’re also saying that half the world is “wrong”. Tread carefully, or better yet, keep your thoughts to yourself.
Nobody wants to hear about 1) how tired you are 2) how much you drank last night or 3) how bad the weather is. Silence is golden, especially if the alternative is hot air.
When you bring someone new to a party, or a gathering of friends, it’s your job to introduce them and make everyone feel comfortable. Start with the host of the gathering, as he/she is now welcoming strangers into his/her home on your behalf. Before you start a round of introductions, it’s also a good idea to ask your new friend how they would like to be introduced.
The Lost Art of the Phone Call
In a world dominated by texting and facebook messages, the good ‘ol fashioned phone call was never had a greater personal impact. Want to show someone you care about them? Use your phone to actually make a phone call. There is an intimateness and a subtleness to a live conversion that can’t be replicated by passively typing.
Paying for a Date
If you invited him/her, you should pick up the tab. It comes with the invitation. You don’t invite someone to spend their own money. If you’re broke, do something cheap like a coffee date or something free like a walk in the park.
One good squeeze and one good “shake” (up-and-down), with eye contact. Don’t linger. I prefer to offer my hand out, lower than the other person’s hand, palm facing upward. Think of it as a suggestion or offering that the other person can choose to accept. I find it strong-handed when someone puts out their hand higher and downward facing, as if to make a suggestion that your participation is not voluntary, but demanded. You shouldn’t be in a position to be “kept hanging”, because you shouldn’t be “up top” in the first place, unless it’s someone you know well. Down low is less intrusive and more inviting.
When your glass clinks together with another person, you should be making eye-contact with them. A cheers is meaningless without a personal moment of connection to go along with it.
I have one friend in particular who gives fantastic goodbyes. I think he lost a friend once and didn’t get to properly say farewell, so now he makes a point of making eye-contact, saying how thankful he was for sharing great company, and closing with something like “I wish you well until we get to meet again”. I always think about his goodbye later that night and it makes me appreciate his company and the rare times we get to spend together.
We don’t want to be in the background of your snapchat story. Respect people’s right to privacy.
Meeting New People
Remember their name. It sounds easy, but it’s not. My trick is this: the first time I speak with a new person, which I try to do soon after we are introduced, I use their name. It can be as simple as “it’s nice to meet you Jeremy“. This will help you remember and can go a long way with people you’ve just met.
“So, what do you do?” should never be your icebreaker. In my opinion, this question is inherently judgmental. Be honest, the reason you’re asking a person’s profession is to put them in a box and decide whether or not they are of value to you. Most people don’t like to be defined by their work. That’s why it’s rude. To break the ice, rather than asking a question that segregates people into classes of employment, start with something more personal (“where are you from?”) or something that you obviously share with the person (“what brings you here this evening?”). Through the course of conversation, if they want to talk about work, you will know relatively quickly.
Chances are you’re addicted to social media. Here’s a experiment for you. Tomorrow morning when you wake up, make a point to carry a piece of paper and pencil in your pocket. Yea, those still exist. Every time you check social media (instagram, facebook, twitter, etc), note the approximate amount of time on the paper. For example: 9:30am – “spent 12 minutes on instragram”. Then, at the end of the day, add up all the time you’ve spent and compare it to how many waking, off-duty, expendable hours you actually had available in that day. If you’re shocked, you’re living in the matrix.
Take her/him somewhere non-threatening and non-committal. A coffee or a drink is very easy to put down and walk away if a personal connection is not being made. A fancy dinner or a lengthy show on a first date can feel trapping and put unnecessary pressure on both parties to see it through. Dress well (but not too formal), have a stiff drink to take the edge off, try to relax, ask about her/him, and try your best to remain humble when answering about yourself.
Hats & Sunglasses
Should be removed indoors. Without exception.
The comments you make online, or on social media, are real comments. Increasingly these comments can be traced back to you, and once you put that energy out there, it’s out there forever. A basic rule of decency here is don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say directly to a person’s face. Because one day, inevitably, you will meet face to face and have to stand behind your online comments. When the grass is cut the snakes will show, and the grass is getting shorter and shorter all the time.
Should not make other gym members uncomfortable. It’s not the beach. You don’t need to show extra skin to get buff.
Staying consistent here is one of the absolute best things you can do to step-up your style in 2016. Schedule your barber shop visits for every 2-3 weeks and I bet you will start to see a difference in the way people react to you. Strangers love clean and neat looking people.
Listen More, Talk Less
“The quietest man in the room is the most confident”. This can relate to understated style of dress, as well as the rare quality of listening more than speaking. Don’t boast. A conversion is not a time to showcase your accomplishments. A professor of mine once told me something that I will never forget: “by your deeds and not your words you shall be remembered”.
The follow-up email (or text message) is the modern day version of the Thank You Note. Believe it or not, back in the day, thank you notes were a regular thing, especially in the South where people took manners and politeness very seriously. If someone invites you into their home, takes a meeting with you, or does something kind for you, the least you can do is send a thank you message. It’s very easy to do and it goes a long way.
Yours in style,