How to be a proper English gentleman

February 17, 2011 7:00 pm 4 comments

Graphic: Rachel Obordo

Traditional British etiquette is hard to find in today’s modern society. As Sir Patrick Moore once said, the height of Englishness is “good manners”. Many of us would like to think that we are quite polite: holding the door open for others, veiling one’s mouth whilst yawning. Yet, it seems the ushering in of the modern era has long deteriorated the British etiquette we find in films such as Brief Encounter and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

According to a survey carried out by Future Inns, 41% of British businesspeople consider it acceptable to regularly use their phone whilst in a meeting. Despite this, a surprising 70% of them believe it to be rude when others do the same. Society has become lackadaisical when it comes to etiquette. Too lazy to show some manners, and yet too busy “blackberry-ing”. Is it really too much to ask to put your phone away when with a friend? All it says to your companion is, “I’m not really listening to what you have to say.”

Wouldn’t it be a pleasant change to revert back to old-fashioned manners from the days when horses roamed the streets and moustaches were the “new black”? Creating a Facebook event, for example, takes less than 10 minutes. It is much more exciting to find a handwritten invitation being slipped through your letterbox.

In the early 1900s, it was frowned upon to be noisy in public. Making the minimal amount of noise was a trait appreciated by society. Nowadays, you just need to walk down Market Street to hear: “HEYYY! I haven’t seen you in aaagees! How ya been?” at around 80 decibels. Whatever happened to “How do you do?” or a simple (quiet) “Hello”? Likewise, swearing is often too commonplace in daily conversation. It shows a “lack of control over your language”, so unless one is inebriated, there really is no excuse.

The website debretts.com names itself as “the authority on etiquette, taste and achievement.” It has a number of tips where the modern citizen can brush up on their manners. One noteworthy example states that a man should stand up when a woman enters the room. However, there is no need for him to act like a Jack-in-the-Box every time she decides to leave the room. Under the topic of fashion, Debrett’s clearly states that “baseball caps are … a ‘youth’ fashion. They should never be worn back to front.”

Good manners are an asset to have. They make you feel as if you are part of a well-mannered society, and as a result, you feel good about yourself. Perhaps the lack of hat-tipping is due to our increasingly passive lifestyle. If anything, the decline of etiquette shows how we’ve changed as a society. How we’ve developed – or, as some would argue – have relapsed back to being monosyllabic, prehistoric beings.

Either way, we are living in a different time to that of the early 20th century. “Everyone for themselves” seems to be the mantra nowadays. This is not to say that British etiquette no longer exists, just that only a small percentage of people still practice it. Manners cost nothing to give, are a pleasure to receive and are even better when there is an equal exchange. Perhaps we will see less people outside The Tailend eating chips with their fingers. Who are we trying to kid? At least the art of queueing still exists.

Rachel Obordo

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4 comments

  • Nathan Holding

    I completely agree with everything that is posted here. It is a crying shame that we no longer have our etiquette taught to us in public schools. It gives us a structure of how one should behave and makes us better people as a whole.

    I used to be labled a “chav” or “asbo”. However, I have grown since my teenage years and want to know how a “Man” should really behave. My father left when i was thirteen and i never had a male role-model.

    So, here i am. Trying to find the path that makes me a respectable and admirable person. so that i can teach my children (if and when i have them) how to show other people respect and courtesy, and give them structure in their life.

    It is sad in a way, that I look towards Japanese culture rather than my own country – supposedly, “Great” Britain – in order to find how a person should behave or what a real Gentleman is.

    One more thing that strikes me, we’re all (men and women) corrupted by the images of sex and other disgraceful things shown either on TV or advertisements. There is a serious lack of “elegent” women in our society today. You never see a woman act womanly. Nothing is about the Courtship and romance of a relationship, it is ONLY about the sex.

    There is no modesty in how they dress, how they act and above all else a complete lack of self respect and also pride.

    Futhermore, I also believe it is HUGELY important to speak proper English. There is nothing wrong with regional accents ofcourse. However, our language is butchered by the “Mandem slang” Or the “gangsta scene”. I could go on about how we have changed for the worst, rather than the better, but i do not wish to come across as an extremist or anything.

    I am just a disheartened person, watching our once glorious country, slowly diminish into an uncontrolable mess with no morals or standards. You may not believe i am only 22 and already think this.

  • I was touched to discover this article in the midst of my dissertation research. I was beginning to think perhaps it’s just me, I’m just too old fashioned for this world, that’s what it is. But to actually find like-mindedness amongst my generation truly brightens the future horizon. Firstly, Rachel, your article spoke to me in relation to the study of today’s lost etiquette and secondly Nathan, you epitomise that the ‘gentleman’ can be revived, today!

    I feel strongly that we ought to bring back respectability, morality and tradition to era which is vulgar. Traditional values are lost on the young generation of today. But where do we begin? Perhaps I’ll just continue with studying Chivalry and the representations of the English Gentleman and go from there…it’s been a very refreshing to read, thank you both.

    Let there be more than just “a small percentage of people that still practice” good manners, together with enough encouragement there might even be a renaissance of Chivalry!

    Yours faithfully,
    Rachael

  • Your’e basing this article on the premise that everyone in the Victorian era was a respectable gentleman, and that no-one was ever rude or immoral (slavery anyone?). You may find that the percentage of people who practice ‘British etiquette’ has not changed, you just see the other side more. You also seem to think that being polite means that you have to pretend the last hundred years of social and technological progress never happened. People wear baseball caps, that doesn’t make them a bad person. I’m sure the Victorian era was filled with people who believed they were witnessing moral decay, and that back in the Georgian era people were more respectful. As much as old people and self proclaimed moral protectors like to claim, people really aren’t getting any worse.

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