The Anatomy of Etiquette: How to Be an Old School Gentleman From Head to Toe

From Esquire Etiquette: A Guide to Business, Sports, and Social Conduct, 1954

Here are the bare essentials of everyday etiquette in everyday social intercourse – the firm skeleton which remains after all the impractical embellishments of other days have been stripped away:

Your Head

Take off your hat (civilian, that is) whenever you are indoors, except in a synagogue and except in places which are akin to public streets: lobbies, corridors, street conveyances, crowded elevators of non-residential public [amazon asin=1600614620&template=*lrc ad (left)]buildings (department stores, office buildings). Apartment house elevators and halls are classed as indoors, and so are eating places!

Take it off whenever you pray or witness a religious ceremony, as at a burial, outdoor wedding, dedication. Take it off whenever the flag goes by. And fergodsakes take it off when you have your photograph taken for the place of honor on her dressing table – and take it off before you kiss her!

Lift it momentarily as accompaniment to courtesies when hello, goodbye, how do you do, thank you, excuse me or you’re welcome are expressed or understood. The gesture is to grasp the front crown of a soft hat or the brim of a stiff one, thus to lift the hat slightly off and forward, and simultaneously to nod or bow your head as you say (or smile) your say.

Whenever you perform a service for a strange woman, or ask one—when, for example, you pick up something she has dropped on the sidewalk, or ask her (indirectly) to get her bundles the hell off that vacant bus-seat—you tip your hat to acknowledge her thanks or to give yours. Whenever you greet in passing or fall into step with a woman you know (your wife included), you tip your hat. In fact, the tip of the hat is a must for all brief exchanges with women, known or unknown.[amazon asin=B00HN1ETQK&template=*lrc ad (right)]

A man rates your hat-lift, too, when he has performed some service for the woman you’re with—when he’s given his bus seat to your wife, for instance (in which case you should give him a card to your psychiatrist, as well). And also when he has been greeted by your woman companion, you tip your hat whether or not you know him. If she stops and if she introduces you, your hat comes off—but this is because you are standing and talking with a woman.

Ordinarily, you don’t lift your hat to and among men, when no women are present. It would be awkward to lift hat and shake hands, and men usually shake hands in greetings and goodbyes. A polite young man lifts his hat to an older man, however, and an abbreviated hat-tip (more like a loose salute) is always a friendly gesture from one man to another.

[amazon asin=1401604730&template=*lrc ad (left)]Your Feet

Hop to them whenever a woman enters a room where you are sitting, and stand on them until she sits or goes. An old school gentleman never sits unless and until all women in the room are also sitting; and then, unless he is in his own house, he sits only on invitation. A modern man adds a layer of good sense to that layer of good manners. He sits down at crowded cocktail parties when the standing women and the standing hostess are in groups apart. He only half-stands when, pinned behind a restaurant table, a woman pauses to say hello to anyone in his group. (To stand all the way would be more comfortable for him but less comfortable for the woman, because she would have to apologize for causing a big table-moving fuss.) He doesn’t hop up and down every time his wife passes through the room during a quiet evening at home. (But he does act the gentleman-in-good-standing when outsiders are present, or when he’s trying to set an example for his sons, or when she makes her first entrance or greeting.) And he probably has a separate, lesser set of manners for strange women in public places: he keeps his seat on the subway except for an old or pregnant or obviously overburdened woman (but he doesn’t knock even the youngest woman down in a race for the seat!) . . . he keeps his seat in public lobbies unless a woman greets [amazon asin=B00BSDWZQK&template=*lrc ad (right)]him or speaks to him from on high . . . and he doesn’t interrupt his work to stand for non-social exchanges with women.

Stand up for men, too, for introductions, greetings, leave-takings. This “comes natural”; it’s not comfortable to shake hands from a sitting position, so you stand whenever a handshake is imminent.

Stand up when someone, man or woman, is trying to pass in front of you in a row of theatre seats. Only a very small child can squeeze between your knees and the next row of seats in the usual theatre, no matter how tight you think you’ve drawn yourself up.

Walk on the street-side of the sidewalk when you can do it gracefully. There are few run-away horses, these days, but there are still splashing puddles and other terrors of the street from which you can “protect” your woman companion. It is better, however, to walk on the inside than to convert a simple stroll into a ballet: don’t cross back and forth behind her or be forever running around end just to get into position. The rule is supposed to be for her comfort and her safety; she finds nothing comfortable about talking to a whirling dervish, and nothing particularly safe about leading the way through traffic while you’re running around her heels. Keep her on the inside and/or on your right if you can, but remember that it’s better to have her on your left and on the outside than to shift positions every ten feet, as strict observance of the rules might sometimes require.

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