The Non-Negotiable Guide To Being A Gentleman In 2019
The future is now and it’s confusing – here’s how to be chivalrous in a thoroughly modern way
Last week, I came very close to screaming at someone on the London Underground – on the Victoria line, if you must know. This wasn’t because the punishing heat made my blood literally boil – although, thinking about it, maybe? – but because a man had blithely parked himself in the centre of the double doors, briefcase between legs, and refused to move as harried commuters squeezed around him to get off the train. If I’m honest with myself (and with you), I might, in fact, have actually screamed a little bit. Or, rather, a lot. The words: “Could you please move out of the way?” may have escaped my lips at, shall we say, outdoor-voice volume.
This episode really got me fired up. Why are men – it’s almost always men – so rude in this particular space-hogging way? While my London commute is better than my old commute in New York, where manspreading on the Subway was effectively a pandemic, it’s still endlessly frustrating. The human race is, let’s face it, bad at commuting with grace.
Perhaps it’s not our fault, we don’t know any better. Our modern world involves several scenarios that Ms Emily Post or Debrett’s couldn’t have imagined, let alone prepare us for. Packing ourselves like sardines into Tube trains, for example. Or onto long-haul flights. Or, of course, navigating the soul-crushing theatre of online and app-based dating. Men and women (and those not on the binary) are struggling to be their best selves in tricky new social situations and, largely, failing. Shorn of the old, outdated rules (a man always pays for dinner on a date, say), it seems we don’t know how to act.
But there are several, small ways that we can all be better to our fellows. Things such as: thanking your Uber driver, or chewing with your mouth closed… you animals. But then there are stickier bits. The situations that provoke heated debate (don’t ask me how I feel about waiting one’s turn at the bar, you won’t like it – because I don’t wait my turn, sorry) or stump even charm-school graduates.
For your convenience and mine (mostly mine), I’ve put together a modern guide to being chivalrous because, ultimately, we can all do better. Here are five ways to be a gentleman in 2019.
Get. Out. Of. The. Way.
Here’s the tip: open your eyes, look up and pay attention. We get it, the spot next to the handrail is convenient and once you get to your stop (eight stations away), you want to be the first off the carriage. But, stop it, really, stop. Pick up your bag, move aside. Be the person we all want you to be: an alert participant in this thing we call polite society. Thank you.
Best guest ever
When someone graciously invites you to their home, be gracious in return.
Step one: bring a gift. It doesn’t need to be big or pricey. (I once arrived at a dinner party hosted by a friend’s parents armed with a jointly-purchased bunch of flowers. Another guest was toting a giant box from Tiffany & Co – don’t do this, this is too much.) A bar of artisanal chocolate, a scented candle, an elegant pack of cards – these items are enough.
A colleague mentioned that he’s been to dinners where no one compliments the chef, but simply packs away the free food. Compliment the chef! Be the first one to do so. And then, get up after dinner and offer to clear plates (unless there’s hired help, then by all means, stay seated). I’m sorry to say that I’ve been to too many dinner parties with modern, forward-thinking people, where the women leap up to clear and the men remain in their seats and pat their bellies. Goodness me, is this 1950? Trust me, if you’re trying to impress your host or a date, offering to help goes a million miles.
Finally, post-event: say thank you. If you’ve stayed at someone’s home, say thank you. If you’ve had dinner at someone’s flat, say thank you. If someone has treated you to a meal, say thank you. I will allow non-handwritten notes (although they are unbelievably charming), this is the future, after all. Send an email to your host or pick up the phone and (gasp) call. At the very least you must send a text. I command it.
OK, this one’s controversial: don’t ghost. I know, I know, 90 per cent of the time dating is an exercise in open-air torture where the person you’ve exchanged a couple of witty messages with on Tinder ends up being a professional couch-surfer, or several decades older than claimed, or the leader of their regional Harry Potter fan-fic writing club.
I’m going straight out on a very skinny limb here, but don’t ghost them. If you’ve been on an enjoyable date (or dates) with someone who is lovely and kind, but perhaps doesn’t light your fire, just tell them. A light survey of the MR PORTER editorial team resulted in mixed results about whether you should be blunt or soften the blow, but I think a nice: “Had a nice time last night, but I don’t see this going anywhere,” is a good middle ground. Don’t leave them guessing, don’t make them feel crazy by responding to a nice drink with abject silence. Dating is hard enough, and ghosting is callous. Even fan-fic writers deserve your respect.
Fly with style
Don’t walk around barefoot or do anything similarly unseemly on a plane. That’s it. That’s the tip.
Lend a hand
This one feels similar to the old-school, gender-normative approach to manners, in which women are considered the weaker sex. So, let me just say at the outset: this tip is not about women being weak or pathetic or generally in need of a prince to save them. No, this is about helping people.
If you see a someone (often a woman) at the top of the stairs with a pushchair, offer to help them down. If you’re on the train and someone is struggling with their bags as the doors are threatening to bisect them, help. If an elderly, disabled or pregnant person boards a train and the people in the priority seats don’t see (or ignore them), get that seat open for them. See someone fall and hurt themselves? Help. Witness an accident? Help!
We’ve all been guilty of spectator syndrome (“Surely, someone else will step in”, or “I’m not part of this”) at some point in our lives, but it really is life-changing to be proactively helpful. Sure, you might lose a little time in your day if you stop to help someone who needs it, but it’s worth it to, well, do the right thing. Go on, be a hero.
We can be heroes
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