In Essential Manners for Men, 2nd Edition, Peter Post published the results of a 2011 survey conducted by the Emily Post Institute in which respondents were asked to describe areas where men have significant problems with personal appearance. Foul body-odor, smoking in the presence of non-smokers, foul language all emerged as significant problems.
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We might lament this crudeness as a reflection of the decline of Western Civilization; but we may take heart in knowing that rules of proper conduct were being written and disseminated by the grandson of Ptahhotep, an Egyptian official during the late 25 century B.C. and early 24th century B.C. in the form of the Maxims of Ptahhotep.
Clearly people were behaving in ways others deemed alarming, even 4300 years ago. That concern has never left us. In 1595 the pensionnaires at the Jesuit College of La Fleche (France) wrote a treatise entitled Bienseance de la Conversation entre les Hommes (The Propriety of Conversation Between Men). They sent this treatise to their brothers at Pont-a-Mousson.
Once there, a certain Father Perin translated the maxims into Latin and added a chapter on proper eating at the table in 1671. This edition was later translated into German, Spanish and Bohemian. In 1640 a precocious eight-year-old named Francis J. Hawkins translated the French version into the English Rules of Civility. His pleased father found a publisher, William Lee, who published the English version in 1640. A second addition did not appear until 1646. The book found favor among Protestants, Romanists and Cavaliers alike as way to a path to finding favor among more connected men. Nine more editions appeared by 1672.
With each edition, historians surmise the text was altered. Indeed, in 1664 the Puritanist bookmaker Robert Codrington added a second part entitled “Youth’s behavior, or Decency in Conversation amongst Women.” Maxims and chapters were added, simplified and rearranged by people or persons unknown. From Hawkins original translation a person or persons culled one hundred and ten maxims, edited and arranged them, into a version which became pivotal for a young George Washington.
When he was 16 years old, George Washington, first president of the United States, wrote out a version of the Rules of Civility in what has come to be known as the 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. These rules influenced his behavior and expectations of others throughout his life.
Our more modern notions of courtesy and manners in the West all derive from behavior focused on or about the royal court. The word courtesy is derived from the Old French. Chivalry comes from chevalier, a knight, a man who followed prescribed rules of behavior. What Washington sought to do was practice the rules of civil behavior among men as equals. After all, the American Revolution sought to dismantle the royal family as a method of rule. But even for Washington, manners and civil behavior became an important feature of his leadership and could not simply be discarded, even in an emerging society where informality among men became the preferred practice.
Cell phones, email and a more relaxed attitude about public dress – particularly in America – may suggest we are living in a post-manners society, and, if we are not, we should be. But manners are still necessary.
Manners allow us to be comfortable around others and others to be comfortable around us. Without manners, we may inadvertently offend other people. Our offense may cause us to lose an important client, be denied a promotion or be given the cold shoulder after a first date.
Respect and Consideration
Manners thrive in environments where a man respects others and also himself. A well-mannered man gives his full attention to another, asks open-ended questions, resists laughing at jokes uttered at another’s expense and offers assistance to a stranger. He has impeccable hygiene and is well- and appropriately dressed.
If a man chooses not to bathe and wear ratty shorts on a first date, then he alone is responsible when his date chooses not to see him again. A man alone is responsible for his lack of career advancement if he shoves food into his mouth at corporate events or repeats off-color jokes.
The Post Institute’s 2011 survey results suggest education about manners, etiquette and courtesy is still necessary. Manners may be learned at any age by anyone, regardless of their standing in life. How to conduct oneself in public, how to converse, how to listen well, how to eat at a table, how to write a proper thank-you note – in essence how to act in such a way as to make all comfortable around one – are questions to which men today may still seek answers. Furthermore, these questions are not answered by rote, and, once answered, must be practiced repeatedly, knowing we will be challenged constantly.
A gentleman who competently displays courteous manners and strong personal grooming may find himself with an edge in his chosen career. He will also find himself well-liked and well-remembered. Gentlemen who are quite simply nice in as many situations in which they find themselves will distinguish themselves from others in their peer group.
Culture Drives Etiquette
Culture drives etiquette. Whether it is a wedding where no alcohol is served nor dancing permitted or a formal Japanese banquet where chopsticks are used, what is considered correct with regard to manners is always contextual.
Hence, a gentleman always knows his context. In Ethiopia he knows he is expected to eat with his right hand; in Korea, he knows how to use chopsticks; in France, he knows not to butter his bread. Understanding these differences – and executing them with style and aplomb – can make the difference in winning the partner of your dreams, making a fine impression on a potential business partner or advancing within your career.
Etiquette trainer Marci Lash, founder and Chief Etiquette Officer of the Contemporary Etiquette Institute, has worked with clients whose careers have stalled or been derailed because they ate like cavemen or struggled with basic hygiene. “Often when a man fails at or struggles with manners he had no appropriate role-modelling from parents. If his parents failed to instruct him on which fork to use for which course or the value of sending a thank-you card, he probably won’t act in these ways as an adult. Such parental failings cut across all incomes and ethnic backgrounds.”
While it may be easy to dismiss manners as nattering uttered by uptight, stuffy people, people will judge others. They will judge others based on how they eat and what they wear and whether or not they cover their mouth when they cough. We may not like such judgements. But judgement regarding failed manners is universal. The man without manners makes others feel uncomfortable. We must understand how such failings cost us.
Over the next several months, Gentleman’s Gazette will be publishing a series of articles on The Rules of Civility. Manners may be learned, and this is good. We need look no further than the great Cary Grant to remind us that manners may be learned at any age. Gentleman’s Gazette, among other things, can instill in a man a high-degree of self-respect. By dressing well and pursuing strong personal hygiene any man is well on his way to improving his self-care and consideration. The Rules of Civility seeks to carry this self-respect into daily living. Through a variety of topics, The Rules of Civility will provide comprehensive guides that will provide a man with the behaviors he needs to be always be remembered as a gentleman.
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