“… A Complete Guide To A Gentleman’s Conduct And All His Relations Towards Society”

Well here I was thinking I had all this research to do and Mr. Hartley got there first.

An ill-mannered impeccably Ivy-dressed person is… … … an ill-mannered person.    I shouldn’t have to sell you on the idea of wearing Ivy rather than Ivy wearing you, and that the difference between Ivy as cosplay and Ivy as wardrobe isn’t the Ivy, it’s the person wearing it, right?

I am a product of the foster care system and as such inherited, well, nothing.  Further, as such, I wasn’t exposed to all that much either.  Even before entering high school, I worked 30+ hours a week at a deli.  And I will never forget this.  We took our breaks out on a loading dock, dangling our feet off of the edge like that Paul Stuart logo.

He has a book, I had a sandwich, but you take my point.

One afternoon we are out there for lunch and this guy Pete G sits down, throws his feet over the edge and pulls out a sandwich.  And a napkin, which he unfolds and places in his lap.  I knew napkins go in people’s laps from I guess a movie or something, but what I didn’t know is that real people did that.  I always thought of Pete not as a worker but as a person with self-respect and exposure to great parenting.  And it was there that I resolved to teach myself “all that stuff.”

No internet in 1978 though.  There were books on etiquette but to be fair I had no idea what etiquette was so I didn’t know to get a book on it as such.  I knew what manners were though.  Deli’s are 50% service industry so manners were taught.  Or your got your ass kicked.  There are no dining tables in the deli, or at least not the good ones, so I had to wait until I graduated high school, at which time I took some of that deli money and went to a finishing school.

After finishing school I had a gym bag of clothes and a guitar and a scholarship to Iowa.  More specifically, a church college in Iowa where there finishing school tips paid off as much or more than anything else.  I wasn’t comfortable in the dorms (I spent my adolescence sleeping alone mostly in a 1970 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Station Wagon), I wasn’t comfortable in class (unless it was music or writing), I wasn’t even comfortable in rehearsals (music scholarship).  BUT, I was comfortable in front of people in the cafeteria, in front of ALL the people, professors, students, guest lecturers, everybody.  There I could talk and joke without the sense that I was somewhere where everyone else knew something I didn’t.

And from all that, this.  So I guess I did spend a few seconds selling you.  Sorry.

The grip is worse than the tie.

While the table is the sodium pentothal of personal comportment, post undergrad was my first entry into the “real world” where it took more than good dining manners to round out the presentation.  And I was going to cobble the manners and the comportment together, but Mr. Hartley was so good at the latter that I will just quote myself on the former in this list, which, if followed, will get you through 80% of things:

  1.  It is okay to put your elbows on the table in between courses.  No never do it is almost off putting.  To do it during a course is a tell.
  2.  “The really courteous man has a thorough knowledge of human nature, and can make allowances for its weaknesses.” – Cecil B. Hartley
  3. You know the outside in rule for all that silverware, but what about the fork and spoon on top of your plate?  Those are for dessert.  You won’t see those much anymore at restaurants.  Less silverware=more tables when the Fire Marshall is not present.  You will see them though at weddings.  Great game, now that you have read this article.  Next wedding, as you are seated, look around at the people looking around at people to see what fork to grab first.  In this one instance and this one instance only, you want to be the watched.
  4. “One of the first rules for a guide in polite conversation, is to avoid political or religious discussions in general society.” – Cecil B. Hartley
  5. Your napkin, if you excuse yourself from the table, goes on your chair, not the table.  Enough with your DNA already.
  6. “Pride is one of the greatest obstacles to true courtesy that can be mentioned.” – Cecil B. Hartley
  7. Your glass is the one above your knife, which better be on the right hand side of your setting.  Their glass is the one above their knife.  And so forth.
  8. “The principal rules of politeness are, to subdue the temper, to submit to the weakness of our fellow men, and to render to all their due, freely and courteously.” – Cecil B. Hartley
  9. There are two ways to eat.  American and Continental.  American is where you swap back and forth between your hands the knife and fork.  It’s risky.  Continental is where you hold the fork upside down in your left hand all the time.  It is elegant, it is less distributive, and you get to look like Pierce Brosnan in The Thomas Crown Affair where he is eating a melon the morning after and says,  “That depends upon a rather large presumption.”
  10. “To sum up, it may be said, that if you wish to possess the good opinion of your fellow men, the way to secure it is, to be actually what you pretend to be, or rather to appear always precisely what you are. Never depart from the native dignity of your character, which you can only maintain irreproachable by being careful not to imitate the vices, or adopt the follies of others. The best way in all cases you will find to be, to adhere to truth, and to abide by the talents and appliances which have been bestowed upon you by Providence.”




12 Comments on "“… A Complete Guide To A Gentleman’s Conduct And All His Relations Towards Society”"

  1. “7. Your glass is the one above your knife, which better be on the left hand side of your setting.”

    Your knife and glass on the left…really???

    Mistake. Fixed. Perhaps you missed the other ones about civility? – JB

  2. Thanks for this great post! Style is about more than just the clothes.
    Question for you and/or other commenters: I wonder which person or persons in your life, other than parents, most influenced your sense of right behavior and comportment in the world. Has anybody in your adult life inspired you in this way? One such person for me would be my late spouse. Another would be someone who has been a great friend and mentor to me over the years. From them, in one way or another, I’ve learned to listen more and to respect and honor the humanity of people who I might normally be inclined to steer clear of. I’ve become more open and less judgmental. (For the most part.)
    On table settings, one of my aunts lived in London when I was a kid and for some reason I’ll always remember her commenting at the time about how Europeans will keep their fork in their left hand and how silly it is for us Americans to have to swap utensils every time we want to take a bite.

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine. From the changes you describe, your spouse must have been an amazing person, and it is testament that you carry them with you in this way. – JB

  3. @Nevada: The village, as they say, raised me so I share its blended sense of right and wrong; etiquette and manners; and, yes, style.

    Though not entirely apt here, I live by The Golden Rule which, according to my Christian schooling, goes something like, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This ideal isn’t limited to one branch of the religious tree, though; one finds similar words and sentiments in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and more. However, I do not limit the maxim’s principles to positive interpretation alone; I also apply a negative and emphatic interpretation: I do not treat others in a way I do not wish others to treat me, and I hope and want for others what I hope and want for me.

    The “Golden Rule” may not encourage one to display proper dinning etiquette per se. However, it does encourage one to show respect for values and traditions; style and dress; and manners at or away from the dining table. To me, it is the simplest way to teach and exude etiquette.

    Very well said! – JB

  4. With a generation or more raised on drive-throughs and fast food and the casualization of the social and professional workplace, guides such as Mr. Hartley’s are desperately needed.

    Can I get an amen??? – JB

  5. I’m sorry to read about the loss of your spouse. I can’t imagine how much it would hurt to lose my wife, who most definitely has had a civilizing effect on me.


  6. Comment above to Nevada


  7. @Nevada I have no schooling in these things, but I hope to learn. As Elder Prep says, I grew up in a casual world and thought etiquette was for snobs. That is, I considered etiquette a tool for judging and looking down on others. Now I want to offend others as little as necessary; maybe this was etiquette’s goal all along. Who knows? JB may make a diplomat of me.

    There was some dialogue about rules recently. I thought of the writer Cormac McCarthy. He has come up with his own punctuation rules. I’m open minded, but half the time I don’t know who is talking, and I find him unreadable. And yes, he is very popular.

    JB I admire the courage and honesty of your writing.

    Thanks man. And I think you already are crushing the interpersonal skills. – JB

  8. Wasn’t it either Judith Martin who advised that manners [in general] are about making sure others feel comfortable in our company? In any case, thank you for this.


    Thank YOU for everything! – JB

  9. Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke | September 21, 2021 at 10:22 pm |

    Or the original Dear Abby?


  10. Minimalist Trad | September 22, 2021 at 12:56 am |

    A word never used by those who don’t practice it.
    For some of us, wearing a necktie is an act of courtesy.

  11. Nice post. What REALLY resonated was your recollection of having to learn this sort of thing having not had the opportunity to be taught as a child. This was my stepfather’s experience and it did make him an absolute stickler for it (perhaps something to temper, if you have children who grow up more advantaged than you).
    A point of detail: n. 5, at least in Europe, is generally the other way around. Napkin goes on the table.
    I would advise, before placing a used/unfolded napkin on the table, to discreetly check that no obvious stains are showing.

    Thanks! And thanks for the n. 5 info! And finally, you have some real wisdom for me there, the temperance of overcompensating for my own life with my daughter’s. Very wise. – JB

  12. Thank you JB and Will for your kind comments in response to mine. A surprising number of years have passed, and while life has moved on, she continues to be an inspiration to me in a multitude of ways.

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