Manners for men – a modern guide

From The Daily Express, July 21, 2014

Actress Gillian Anderson complained that men fail to help her when she’s struggling with the overhead locker on her twice-weekly flights. “I don’t ask for help but it’s amazing how people don’t even offer,” she told Glamour magazine. “Only three times in two months has any man offered help. It’s sad.” Are men selfish and useless or just confused? Perhaps it is time for a new rulebook of modern manners for gentlemen (and ladies). Here are some suggestions:



Don’t be afraid to offer a seat or hold open a door to a woman, in reality few are offended although obviously do try to be careful to not confuse the pregnant with the overweight. Chivalry is a much undervalued virtue and a man can be chivalrous without being sexist. It simply means the physically strong showing deference to the physically weaker and treating women in a less aggressive way. Although some call this “benevolent sexism” research suggests that such behaviour is beneficial for all. According to one study “benevolent sexism” was for men “associated with life satisfaction” and for women led “to general perceptions of gender relations as fair and equitable”.



In the space of half a lifetime a whole range of lifestyles have gone from being acceptable to forbidden while others have moved the other way. Hunting, drink-driving, advertising to children and even sugar have all become far less tolerated while other activities (mainly sexual) have become normalised. It’s important therefore not to replace old-fashioned intolerance with new forms. Attitudes to smoking are an extreme example of social change so whereas the censors once banned films from showing unmarried couples in bed unless one of them had a foot on the floor today pretty much any depravity is allowed so long as nobody enjoys a post-coital smoke. But while smoking is unpleasant intolerance of smoking is bad manners so don’t complain when others have a cigarette outside prohibited areas. Do provide ashtrays for guests in your garden.



Social rules have not kept pace with technology and mobile phones are a great source of bad manners. Most of us are guilty and I confess sometimes to looking at my iPhone in the morning before I look at my children but then how many apps does a baby have? It should go without saying that there is no real excuse to play with a phone while in a restaurant nor to force your conversations on to other people on trains. Work calls are necessary but no one needs to know what Dave said to Chloe the other day.



When you get to the front of a queue and are being served at the checkout pause your phone conversation and say hello. This became something of an issue in June last year when a Sainsbury’s cashier refused to serve a customer because she was on her mobile phone – and rightly so. Likewise with bus drivers – why do so few passengers now say hello and even thank you?



On Twitter and Facebook people act in ways that would look completely weird in real life such as throwing insults at random strangers. Well guess what, the internet is real life! Never respond to insults with insults. Simply ignore them or make sure that you reply politely. Avoid showing off if you have lots of followers and avoid using them to bully others or to receive special treatment from service providers. On Facebook if someone posts pictures of their children it’s good manners to press the “like” button however uninteresting they are but one issue that often confuses people is whether to “like” bad news, such as the death of a parent. According to American etiquette expert Steven “Mr Manners” Petrow it is because liking is simply an acknowledgement. Best not to add LOL after it though.



One of the strange things people do on the internet is to over-share their personal life with strangers. Pictures of food are one thing but intimate domestic crises? Discretion is a virtue so also be conscientious about camera phones and the fact some people might not want their pictures shared. Especially if they’ve had too much to drink.



Ending a relationship by email or text is really not on and a handwritten note is the best way to respond to a bereavement. Thank you letters are rare today but go a long way. I know someone who is so well brought-up she sends thank you letters to thank people for their thank-you letters, though a correspondence could go on for ever.



Many of the social conventions that used to mark British life are in decline and one definitely worth reviving is avoiding the subject of wealth, including house prices. The whole purpose of manners is to put others at their ease. Another great convention is the habit of queueing, the very bedrock of British civilisation which has sadly been neglected of late.



Most of us have far more contact with people from overseas than our grandparents did and so naturally there should be more emphasis on avoiding being rude about other countries. We should also avoid sneering at our own. There are some who see disdain for one’s nation and its history as a sign of high status and sophistication. In reality it is merely snobbery dressed in a very thinly-veiled cloak of moral superiority.



Unlike on the continent where burka bans follow a long line of government interference, fashion is not a matter of law in Britain but it is always a question of manners. And as Edmund Burke wrote: “Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them in a great measure the laws depend.” And people do often show a shocking lack of awareness about what is appropriate dress. About 10 years ago I attended Channel 4’s live screening of an autopsy and one member of the audience came dressed in a boob tube. Males are if anything worse for inappropriate dress, especially when it is hot and British men feel an inexplicable urge to walk around showing off their pasty beer bellies, socks and sandals.



There is a difference between etiquette and manners. The former is a stylised rulebook while manners are somewhat deeper and are about respect and civility. Today we don’t bother with the vastly complex system of titles still found in Debrett’s but that doesn’t mean we have to give up and call everyone “mate”. You should still call older people sir or madam or Mr or Mrs X and not by their fi rst name. To elderly people this is not friendly but merely infantilising and it is a particular bug bear for those being treated in hospital.



Many people confuse good manners in political argument with political correctness but this is actually incorrect. For as Australian political philosopher Kenneth Minogue put it: “Political correctness is to decency and good manners what a soy burger is to a good steak.” Do not be afraid of speaking the truth so long as it is articulated politely even if it will be twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.

Finally politics and alcohol do not mix but avoid in particular ever discussing the subjects of immigration, abortion and most of all the Middle East.

Comments so far

  1. Best not to add LOL after it though.

    A friend of mine swears that he received a text from his father saying, “Your uncle is dead. LOL.” Allegedly his old man thought that it meant “lots of love”.

What do you think?