How To Be A 21st Century 'Gentleman'

Sep 12, 2014
Originally published on September 12, 2014 7:40 pm

Back in 1967 the rules for dating were fairly clear-cut whether you agreed with them or not. Check out this U.S. Navy instructional video, How to Succeed with Brunettes. (What is UP with that title, anyway?)

The suggestions: Be on time, make it easy for her to slip her coat on and off, pull out her chair, stand when she enters a room, sit after she sits, and don't you dare forget to open the door. As the narrator in the video says, "Doors afford a continued supply of chances to make an impression on your companion."

Not so much, these days.

"I can open my own door," says college freshman Chiamaka Njoku, 18. "I don't see the point of opening up the door; most of these doors are automatic anyway."

Njoku recently took an etiquette class at Farm Stand restaurant in Los Angeles with 11 other students from the South Central Scholars. All in college or college-bound, they're here brushing up on how to behave during meals with prospective employers. Rachel Isgar, of Please Pass the Manners, is teaching the class.

Chinonso Anokwute was quick to express his frustration.

"It's the opening-the-door thing," he says. "It's like, you're either getting an attitude with me, or I open it and you don't say thank you, and I'm not opening it for no reason, I'm trying to be nice."

Anna Phutisatayakul sits across from Anokwute and says she likes having doors opened for her and chairs pulled out. She goes so far as to say she wouldn't mind if her date offered to carry her purse. But other women in the group disagree. They don't want a man doing any of that, because they can do it for themselves, they say.

Njoku has a different very attitude when it comes to the check.

"If a man wants to pay for the whole meal, I will not stop him," she says.

Chris Polk II says all the different expectations and requests keep things interesting. "You've got to do research in order to be a gentleman with certain people."

Or, you can take a class. There's one coming up in late November in Dallas called "The Power of Being a Gentleman," taught by Deborah King, who founded the Final Touch Finishing School. She says what to do when you approach the door is always a hot topic.

"We actually have to close the conversation down about who should open the door because it can drag out, there's such confusion about it," she says.

King says on a date — unless a woman says otherwise — the gentleman opens the door, offers to pay, suggests good options on the dinner menu, asks his date what she'd like and places her order. She's been getting more requests from young people eager to bring back that kind of old-fashioned civility. "I am so excited; I don't think there's a better time in history to model being a lady and a gentleman," she says.

Steven Petrow — aka Mr. Manners — says the definitions for "lady" and "gentleman" are outdated. He writes the Civilities column for The Washington Post and has a website dedicated to LGBT etiquette.

"In the gay community, you didn't have that tradition to fall back on," Petrow says about how to be a "gentleman" dating a "lady." So, the rules are different. And those same-sex-dating guidelines can help opposite-sex daters make sense of the confusion that accompanies changing gender roles today, he says.

"Everyone listen up: The one who gets to the door first, please open up the door for yourself and the person who's behind you."

And take a cue from same-sex daters on paying, too, Petrow says. If you invite, you pay the bill. If gestures like pulling out chairs and helping with coats are done with the right intentions, he says, there's no harm in trying.

"Respect, kindness and civility," says Petrow. "Guys, ask yourself, 'Does it fit into one of those three?' and if it does, then you're cool."

At the end of that U.S. Navy instructional video, the narrator echoes that advice. "Consideration for others, kindness — this is being a gentleman."

So, there are a few things that haven't changed since 1967.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Men - we've heard from a lot of them this summer - single men, married men, men who are extra small, men who are extra large.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Men who don't eat meat and men love their cars.

CORNISH: Men who juggle work and family to a degree their forefathers never did.

SIEGEL: Well, today our series on men comes to an end, but not before we address something that concerned many of you, whether emailed us, tweeted or posted a comment in an online discussion.

CORNISH: It's this question - what does it mean to act like a gentleman these days, especially on a date?

SIEGEL: It's an aspect of modern life many of you characterized as confusing. If men and women aspire to operate as equals, does a man still pay the bill? Should he open a door, pull out the chair? We asked NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji to investigate.

(SOUNDBITE OF U.S. NAVY INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Be a gentleman.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: That old-timey voice is from a 1967 U.S. Navy instructional video called "How To Succeed With Brunettes."

(SOUNDBITE OF U.S. NAVY INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How about starting by being on time. Make it easy for her to slip into her coat. Yes, doors do offer an excellent chance to make a good impression. It's a way to show your respect for ladies.

CHIAMAKA NJOKU: I can open my own door. I don't see the point of opening up a door. Most of these doors are automatic anyways.

MERAJI: Now, that voice belongs to 18-year-old Chiamaka Njoku. She's a college freshman taking etiquette class with other students at a restaurant in Los Angeles. They're all in college or college-bound and brushing up on how to behave during meals with prospective employers. It's taught by Rachel Isgar of Please Pass the Manners. She graciously let me interrupt for this story and Chinonso Anokwute was quick to express his frustration.

ANOKWUTE: It's the opening the door thing. It's, like, you either get an attitude with me, or, like, I open it, and you don't say, thank you. It's like - I'm not opening this for no reason. I'm trying to be nice here.

MERAJI: Anna Phutisatayakul likes the old dating rituals - opening doors, pulling out chairs and...

ANNA PHUTISATAYAKUL: I know don't like to carry girls' purses because they think it's too feminine, but I really appreciate when my guy will, like, carry it for me.

MERAJI: Now, remember Chiamaka Njoku? She's not into doors being open for her, but...

NJOKU: If a man wants to pay for the whole meal, I will not stop him.

MERAJI: Chris Polk the Second says all different expectations and requests keep things interesting.

CHRIS POLK: You got to do research in order to be a gentleman with certain people. You have to, like, ask, like, so what you like? Oh, I like it when so-and-so does this. Sometimes girls will drop hints. Like, I like this. Don't do that 'cause it bothers me.

MERAJI: If you're not good at picking up on cues like that, there are classes that may help. Deborah King founded the Final Touch Finishing School and has one coming up at the end of November in Dallas, Texas. It's called the Power of Being a Gentleman.

DEBORAH KING: We actually have to close the conversation down about who should open the door because it can drag out because there's such confusion about it.

MERAJI: She says, on a date, unless says otherwise, the gentleman opens the door, and he offers to pay, suggests good options on the dinner menu, asks his date what should she'd like to eat and then places her order. King says she's been getting more requests from young people eager to bring back this kind of old-fashioned civility.

KING: I am so excited. I think there has never been a better time in history to model being a lady and a gentleman.

MERAJI: Stephen Petro - AKA Mr. Manners - says the definitions for lady and gentlemen are outdated.

STEPHEN PETRO: In the gay community, you didn't have that tradition to fall back on. And you can't say, well, it's this man or that man, or it's this woman or that woman.

MERAJI: Petro has a website dedicated to gay and lesbian etiquette and writes the civilities column for The Washington Post. And he says same-sex dating rules can help opposite-sex daters make sense of the confusion that accompanies changing gender roles.

PETRO: Everyone, listen up. The one who gets to the door first, please open the door for yourself and the person who's behind you.

MERAJI: He says take a cue from same-sex daters on paying, too. If you invite, you pay the bill. And Petro adds, if gestures like pulling out chairs and helping with coats are done with the right intentions, there's no harm in trying.

PETRO: Respect, kindness and civility. Guys, ask yourself, does it fit into one of those three? And if it does, then you're cool.

(SOUNDBITE OF U.S. NAVY INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Consideration for others, kindness - this is being a gentleman.

MERAJI: See, there are a couple of things that haven't changed since 1967. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF U.S. NAVY INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Enjoy, but be in good taste. Show respect...

SIEGEL: Stephen Petro answers more questions about manly manners on Reddit. To find the discussion, head to @npratc on Twitter or ATC's Facebook page. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.