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Yes, Good Manners Matter! Thank You Very Much

Trust us, having good manners matters. A modern gentleman should have a solid understanding of proper etiquette under his belt. After all, first impressions count but second and third ones do as well. Whether you find yourself in a business or pleasure situation, you’ll go further when demonstrating politeness and decorum. In a world full of keyboard gangsters, close talkers and cheap creeps just knowing your way around a table setting can truly separate you from the pack. So, we consulted Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley, American’s trusted etiquette expert for a crash course in stellar conduct.

Do you think practicing good manners is an old-fashioned idea? 

To address this question properly, we must draw a distinction between etiquette and manners. Etiquette is a code of behavior that guides us through situations that might be intimidating otherwise. (For example, think of the countless questions surrounding how to throw a wedding.) Etiquette may seem rigid, but in fact, it evolves over time. What was correct etiquette for a specific occasion a century ago may be hopelessly outmoded today. Etiquette also varies from culture to culture. On the other hand, manners are more about being kind and considerate—bearing in mind how our actions affect the people around us. And in that sense, practicing good manners transcends space and time, and will never go out of style.

It seems like bad manners are most noticeable at the dinner table. Is there any easy way to remember which utensils to use? And besides talking with your mouth full, are there any particular dining habits that are a dead giveaway that your manners aren’t up to par? 

 You can tell a lot about someone’s manners by watching them eat. One of the memory aids I like to share in my dining-etiquette workshops is that if you imagine a birds-eye view of your place setting, from left to right, it is like the logo of a BMW, where the B is your bread; the M is your meal; and the W is your water or your wine. With this in mind, you will never again pick up the wrong water glass or the wrong dinner roll. Apart from these lapses, one of the most common faux pas I witness is when people allow servers to clear their plate before others at the table have finished their meal. No matter what the waiter’s agenda may be, you should keep your plate until everyone at the table is done.”

Speaking of dining out, business lunches and dinners are different than grabbing grub with the guys. Do you have any business etiquette tips for guys climbing the ladder of success?

 There are things that can happen over a business lunch that can kill a meal—or a career. Bad etiquette should not be one of them. As a guiding principle, you should bear in mind that your comfort and enjoyment of the meal is secondary to the client’s (or to your boss’s). That means going to their favorite restaurant, not yours; giving them the best seat at the table, the one that’s most comfortable or has the best view; letting them determine the number of courses and dishes they would like; staying away from messy foods like spaghetti, wings or a cheesesteak, no matter how much you might love those dishes; and ordering wine or a cocktail only if they do (though you are not obligated to do so just because they have).

Should you treat female clients and bosses exactly the same as their male counterparts? 

In the United States, we revere rank in the workplace; we should not be acting differently based on someone’s gender. A man should not be standing for a female colleague or a client; this is not a date—it’s business. As for holding doors, I recommend the man who wants to be a gentleman do this for everyone—for men and women alike. By not singling out women for special treatment, a workplace gentleman demonstrates he is considerate with everyone.

Social media seems to encourage bad behavior. How can men practice good manners while posting and sharing? 

I would say it enables rather than encourages. The technology itself is not to blame—it’s how we choose to use it. For starters, follow this mantra, which I created for the digital space: “Put people over pixels.” In other words, if you are in the presence of a living, breathing human being, you should be giving the human your full attention—not splitting it with your phone. Second, when it comes to what we post and share, before doing so, ask yourself: “Would I be okay with my grandmother, my boss, my spouse, my priest or rabbi, my child, and my next-door neighbor seeing this?” If the answer to any of those is no, don’t post it. Once you put it out there, it will be impossible to pull back.

Do you have any etiquette tips for men that are online dating? 

Remember that there is a person with feelings on the other end of that dating profile. Treating dating prospects like commodities, showing interest then ghosting; breadcrumbing; or catfishing; is cruel and coarsens the dating experience for everyone. The terms are clever; the behavior is not. Treat your dates with the respect you hope to receive in return.

Speaking of dating, is chivalry dead? Should men still be opening the car door and picking up the check? And are there any smooth dating moves/manners that can help separate a dude from the wolf pack?

There is no one answer to this question, as some women find this sort of behavior charming; others find it patronizing. Also, as women achieve pay parity with men, the concept that the man must foot the bill is a diminishing one. To use an extreme example, if a struggling actor is on a date with an investment banker who is a woman, should he be expected to pay for her meal simply because he is a man? A better guideline is “Who asked whom out on the date?” If the woman did the asking—and the choosing of the restaurant to boot—contemporary etiquette is that she pays. With that said, in all versions of this scenario, each party should offer to at least pay half, unless or until one party persists and insists on paying for the entire meal. And when that occurs, the other party should commit to paying for the after-dinner cocktails, the dessert, the coffee or the next meal.

As a general rule, I don’t think a man can go wrong with being considerate when out on a date. This includes opening the car door; pushing in her chair at the table; helping her with her coat. The message here should not be: “I’m doing this because you are too frail to do it yourself,” but rather “I respect and care for you, and your ease and comfort are a top priority for me.

What is the number one manners mistake you see men make when it comes to their personal grooming? 

When it comes to our appearance, we show respect (or lack thereof) by how we present ourselves when meeting others. In the area of personal care, I think men have come a long way with everything from moisturizing to brow-shaping, manicures to teeth-whitening becoming a regular part of many a male’s routine. Where I think too many men drop the ball, however, is with dressing sloppily. There is nothing more discordant to see a man out with a woman who is decked to the nines while he looks like he slept in his t-shirt—no matter how sleek his beard looks. Stepping up your grooming game includes stepping up your wardrobe game. Dress for the occasion—whether at work or for a social event—and you’ll be remembered for all the right reasons.

@MisterManners (Twitter & Instagram)

 

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