The Modern Man (& Woman) & Manners

A reader wrote me recently to say that I need to comment more about the modern man’s condition. We both agree that men are caught between what they want to be and what they think they have to be, so they’re essentially lost.
In not so many words, I’ve recently alluded in an email with him that I feel the modern man is some kind of throwback to a troubled Winslow Homer painting, a boat being tossed about a churning sea, straight out of Good Will Hunting. Any port in the storm, boy.
Let it be said: I hate the divide between the sexes as it presently exists. I hate what this so-called “feminism” has done to the modern guy, but I wouldn’t give up any of the advances my sex has made, and I feel there is more for us to achieve, too, but without continuing to erode masculinity. That’s a bigger topic, that’s a fucking book, for god’s sake. We’re not going there. Yet.
That said, there’s absolutely no reason we can’t have old style manners and charm and etiquette make a comeback while we’re striving to find both genders’ new identities.
I hate that etiquette is a thing of the past. I hate that chivalry is practiced almost apologetically. I hate that the black-and-white movies seem to be more an anthropological reminiscence than a cultural record.

“And exhibited here in this celluloid document is the now-extinct Homo Erectus, a classical beast with style and grace not seen in today’s beaten, confused specimens. Note the confidence in the gaze, the subtle mannerisms of gesture, the attentiveness shown with a slight tone of deference yet dominance toward the female of the species. See the strength and prowess he exhibits in stride. The species was noted to have danced precipitously on the edge of extinction in about 1965, as seeming collateral damage in the Battle of the Sexes. Fortunately, the species has held on, if even barely so. Scientists today are working with remnant DNA in an attempt to create a hybrid of the Homo Erectus Pastus and the Homo Erectus Presentus for a species to be dubbed Homo Erectus Potentius.

Someone somewhere got everyone drinkin’ the Kool-Aid that somehow being polite to women meant you were disrespecting them. This is the most ludicrous bit of irony to ever be swallowed by the masses. By demonstrating respect, you are disrespecting. Say what?
And the funny thing, chivalry went out the window, and since then, everyone’s forgotten what the hell manners are. Look around you! We’re ruder than we’ve ever been. Road rage, aggression, never looking passers-by in the eye, never saying hello, yammering on your fucking cellphone as some person assists you at a counter, not reserving in advance for parties – fewer people than ever understand basic manners at all.
Being well-mannered isn’t just for patsies, man. It’s necessary for the human condition.
We’re a tribe, people. We need to get along. We need respect. We need a code. It gets us through.
I’ll tell you one thing, I’ve declined dates based on manners. I don’t associate with people who lack them. It’s unpleasant and uncouth. Behaviour is the best bit of evidence anyone has as to the kind of person you are. What does yours say about you? Your body language, the way you carry yourself, the way you defer to others, speaks volumes louder than your words. How’s your posture? Do you speak clearly? Do you make eye contact? Do you know the proper way to shake hands?
Men and women today both need to learn better manners. Women need to be gracious and accept a door being held open for them, and they need to return the favour. The only way men will feel welcomed to begin being gracious to us like in the old days is if we reciprocate and we say thank you. There’s no damned reason we ought to feel threatened by chivalry. If so, what the hell does that say about the woman? She’s too insecure to allow for assistance? Pfft.
I practice what I preach. I thank men for holding the door open, I smile. I’ll pick something up for a guy if he drops it. What’s the problem? When did it become a competition? It’s like we’re waiting to see who’ll crack first.
My manners make my life more pleasant. Sure, when I say thank you or have a nice day or make small talk, half the time I get looked at like I’m some homeless bitch begging for a crack fix, and the rest of the time I get these warm, grateful smiles that I’m bringing some old-style charm back into the mix. I make a friend for two minutes and I wander on.
And I don’t care what the world expects, I know what I expect, and furthermore, what I demand. I don’t compromise my standards just because the world’s too fucking stupid to adopt them. And you know what? I’m part of a growing minority. But where do you stand?
So, here’s the deal. This stuff may seem mundane and stupid, but manners count. If you’re on the rise professionally, if you work with the public, if you’re trying to woo a woman just outside of your class, what have you, then you need to know this.
This is my introduction to what’ll be a truncated guide on basic etiquette for dinner dates and such. Some of this is perceived as old-fashioned, out-of-style, and that pisses me off! Gah! That’s so stupid I can’t even see straight, man!
It’s like these people who go to expensive restaurants wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Can’t some things be left exclusive? Sigh. Nothing is special anymore. Jesus.
These will be the kinda things I want my men doing. I’ve been turned off just by a guy who left his napkin on the table during a meal. I’m a hard-ass, but then you’re learning from the right chick, aren’t you? And you know I’m more fun to party with than Miss Manners, so, don’t think this makes you out-of-date.
This will make you retro cool. It’ll give you a classy mystique the other dicks you know don’t have. In the future, I’ll be returning to this topic of the modern man and how he can better find his place in today’s world with today’s woman. The sensitivity post of last Saturday was only the tip of this large iceberg.
Oh, and if you’re thinking, “What’s this got to do with sex?” Well, it’ll teach you how to say pretty-please, for starters, and it’ll get you to the end of the date in one piece. We’ll get to that part another time. It’s a big fucking topic.
Those tips start tomorrow. It may be two more postings. (On restaurant etiquette for men, primarily, with some tips for women thrown in.)

18 thoughts on “The Modern Man (& Woman) & Manners

  1. mhorts

    Excellent topic Steff. I know I often feel guilty for trying to be polite. I heard recently that people in China think of everyone else as family members, so they always look at the way they treat others from that perspective. I don’t know if its true, but it certainly is a code I can live by.

    I’m looking forward to more topics on this subject.

    Today’s word: qkkepva

  2. Beth

    Rock fuckin’ on, Steff. (Oh, excuse my language!)
    I am astonished and deeply saddened that basic human behavior has become so remarkable when it’s exhibited.
    My mother taught me well: Be polite, hold doors, if you see something on the floor in a store, pick it up and put it on a shelf, say “please” and “thank you” …
    It ain’t rocket science. Like you said, it’s a code. So when did so many people drop out of polite society?
    Thank you for tackling an important topic, Steff.
    (See? Not at all difficult, saying “thank you.”)

  3. Anonymous

    Sad but true…as a man the funniest things happen when you open a door or help a woman with her coat, it is almost always commented on…and it’s usually a form or leading to Why?

    My answer why not…both daddy and grandaddy would roll over in thier graves if I disrtespected a woman as a woman..

    Male and female roles are all messed up, I want to be a guy, yeah I have my sensitive side but damn straight I still want to do guy shit and watch hockey, get dirty and drink beer with the boys…

    This could be interesting…NA is messed up, it needs a kick in the ass…

    Who knows, maybe I will learn a thing or three…

  4. scribe called steff

    Morts– yeah, but…

    I mean, the Chinese also participated far too willfully in the Cultural Revolution, turning their parents into the gov’t etc, so they have a lot of healing to do with each other, too. Some Asians are incredibly gracious, and some are dicks. They have the same culture of distraction problem over there, too, and that’s a lot of what’s causing our grief. No one’s paying attention anymore.

    I try to never feel guilty for being polite. I KNOW I’m right. They have to live with kindness, or take me out back and deal with me, but one way or the other, it’s going down MY way. 🙂

    Beth — Apologize for swearing in my house? NEVER! I cuss like a seaman who’s been swilling Jim Beam nigh on three days, and you feel awkward? I LOVE IT! 🙂

    Glad you appreciate the topic. I was getting worried when six hours passed without a comment. I thought I might’ve touched a nerve or something. Anyhow, I totally agree about the sadness of all this behaviour having become “remarkable.” It’s ridiculous.

    Anonymous — I’ll give some thought to witty things you boys might be able to memorize and sputter when STUPID women can’t handle the help. I admit, I’m still shocked when a guy helps me with my coat, but I’m always thankful. I can’t believe it sometimes when you have that Vengeful Sleeve that won’t cooperate, and no one helps! GAH! Assistance! Is good.

    And I think guys can totally still get dirty and drink beer with the boys and still live a balanced good life where you feel like a man yet still have class and style. It’s doable. We just gotta figure out how.

    I’ll post the next installment tomorrow, probably.

  5. just passing by

    class post, you’ve totally nailed it. sometimes i’m so used to not having guys help out/open doors/carry bags etc that i automatically decline their help! its the whole manners business that gets me mad.. simple thank yous or sorrys seem to have vanished. society has made it uncool to be courteous and polite, whaddaya know.

  6. Mad Coyote

    1. Yet. I would like to point out she said “yet”.

    3rd paragraph, last word.

    I am honestly hoping one day that “yet” will turn into “soon”. Followed by “started”. Next comes “halfway”. Followed by a two page monologue of “can’t find a *#@%&^$ ending!!”, after which will finally come a “done!!”.

    And I will be first in line to buy it.

    I will also be first in line to get it autographed.

    (If I may slip out of my masculinity here for a moment and into the soul of a six year old, I’d like to say to everybody who doesn’t live in Southwestern Canada, “Nyah nyah, na boo boo!!!”)

    (OK, I’m done.)

    2. I am looking extremely forward to reading these installments.

    3. Where’s I-10?

  7. Anonymous

    Nice writing. Couldn’t agree more that there’s nothing wrong with being polite.

    You lost me at the napkin, though. Who fucking cares about where the napkin ended up? Putting the napkin in his lap wasn’t a sign of being polite to you, it was showing knowledge of and willingness to follow a social convention. Which, while there is crossover, is not the root of being polite. Being polite is about being considerate towards others. Social conventions are about wearing suits to interviews or calling a fatuous Phd “Doctor”.

    So screw that. I don’t care if she puts the napkin in her lap or occasionally talks with her mouth full. I really don’t care if she’s a “lady”. I’ll open the door for her if I reach the entryway first, because it says “I like you”. And I’ll do it if she’s a he.

    Be interesting. Be fun, be funny, be wanting, be giving. And yeah, be kind and polite. But playing the “retro cool”? Oh come on. I promise you that any guy worth being friends with doesn’t give a shit about how “cool” he comes off.

  8. rachel

    Okay, I’m de-lurking again. Thank you so much for touching on this. My husband and I were talking about manners, or the lack thereof, earlier tonight, due to him not taking his hat off in a restaurant. Bugged the shit out of me.

    I’m from the South, and while I’m not trying to start another civil war, I honestly do think that attention to manners and etiquette is still more prevalent in the south, mainly because the vast majority of southerners still have grandmothers who think nothing of hitting us upside the head and yelling, “You will call me ma’am!” or “You will open the door for her!” or “Please and thank you will be your favorite phrases!”

    That being said, even in the south, manners are dying, and I personally think it’s a tragedy. I may be a throwback (everybody says that even though I’m only 26, I should have been born in the 50’s), but I’m doing my best to raise my son and daughter with at least a sense of propriety. And my husband too, for that matter.

  9. scribe called steff

    Anon — What do you think “etiquette” means? It means social convention, basically. “The practices and forms prescribed by social convention or by authority.”

    I know it wasn’t a slight on me, but it was “uncouth.” It’s ignorant. I was raised dining out, going to plays and shit like that, and wanting someone who grasps all that isn’t some snobbish thing on my account. It’s akin to liking red wine over Coke. It’s a matter of tastes.

    My tastes include someone who understands how to work in those circles. Considering my desire to make it in the media industry, image is everything, and anyone who gets with me, he needs to know that.

    (That said, I’m saying etiquette’s learnable. You don’t need to be “born” with class, you can learn it. I may sound like I was raised with money, but we were broke all my goddamned life. Mom taught me that just ‘cos you are poor doesn’t mean you gotta look it. Same with manners and convention. People need to decide what they want the world to think about ’em, and etiquette’s the first step towards controlling that perception.)

    Rachel — Right on. That sort of thing pisses me off. At Denny’s, well, all right, but it’s still damned annoying. I always loved that episode of The Sopranos when Tony gets pissed that a kid’s wearing a baseball cap in an expensive restaurant.

    He makes a scene of it, eventually gets the kid to remove the hat, much to the astonished amusement of the diners. Shortly thereafter, the puffy maitre d’ sweeps past and winks a pleased and approving wink at Tony, as if to thank him for purifying the environment.

    I just laughed my ass off when I saw that scene. I seem to recall it being the Sopranos, but it might’ve been another hard-ass series like that. Hmm.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

  10. scribe called steff

    Anon — BTW, I’m not saying a guy should be concerned with how “cool” he comes off, but if practicing proper etiquette results in being cool, isn’t that a nice bonus?

    A lot of, well, sort of rough-at-the-edge guys think etiquette is for mama’s boys or for boys whose balls haven’t dropped, but that’s not the case and I’m just arguing that.

    The fact of the matter is, being yourself is awesome. But can’t you be yourself in a way that adopts a little societal convention, to a degree?

    It’s called tradition, no? And to some of us, it’s as sexy as hell.

    I’ll tell you sexy — sexy is when you see a guy that defies convention.

    I knew this guy with a blue mohawk back when I was 19. Out of every guy I knew then, he was the one that held your door open. I even saw him lift a girl over a puddle without her even beginning to ask “How can I cross that?” He just did it. As soon as you entered a party, he’d be finding you drinks. He constantly thought of others, and it showed, and with that edge of rebellion in the mohawk and the tattered leather, and that classic ’50s sense of style and etiquette, the boy was always, always getting laid.

    I’m just saying, it’s doable.

  11. Anonymous

    Of course it’s doable. And not only is it “learnable” – it is in fact only attained by learning, as there is nothing encoded in human DNA that instinctually tells some of us which fork goes on the outside.

    If you are expressing a personal taste, that’s fine. What bothers me is that you phrase some of this in a way that implies that there is “classiness” in playing this game.

    [And what _depresses_ me is the possibility (please note that word carefully) that your view is not in spite of your self-described poverty, but that it’s actually because of that background.]

    We all choose what sexy means to us. So you like the guy who can button-up in expensive circles, but lets loose at your self-defined right times as well. That’s fine – and I hope you find him. I have my own list of what “sexy” is – it usually starts with intellectual brilliance, meanders through self-confidence, honesty, and creativity, and before too far makes it to ‘asks me to put my finger up her ass while she’s quivering around me’.

    However, when you tell me that this guy you desire has more “class” than the guy who thinks dressing up to play the bourgeoisie is faking it – well, I guess you’re helping me understand why some people like George Bush.

    “Same with manners and convention. People need to decide what they want the world to think about ’em, and etiquette’s the first step towards controlling that perception.”

    Once again – I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, it’s important to recognize that “the world” draws conclusions from our behavior, but a child-abuser who buys you a drink is still a child-abuser, and a conscientious social worker with chewed fingernails is still a conscientious social worker.

    Conflating etiquette with “class” is a scary thing. Class is telling the truth, sticking up for what you believe in, being reliable, being considerate, being a good friend. And that counts for so much more than any trained-seal “manners” that the idea of tossing a good person overboard for failing your napkin test is pathetic.

    Here’s a clue from a guy. I’d assume you’d know this, but just in case – there are plenty of guys out there who understand that the “Looks good in an Armani suit, looks good in his birthday suit” meme is quite popular with the opposite sex. Some people have a bit too much self-respect to act the part. The ones you’re paying props to are 10-1 to be faking it just for your benefit.

    “Image is everything”. Didn’t Andre Agassi use that up about 15 years ago? He figured it out – he stopped worrying about losing his hair and started setting up quality charitable foundations. In my mind, that’s progression.

    James Dean was an ACTOR. A guy who is polite and helpful is nice, and I like nice guys. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt because you find them comfortable is sensible – and if you find them uncomfortable, you should be wearing something else. Gauging someone on what he’s wearing or how often he utters a perfunctory “thank you” is pathetic (and I thank more than just about anyone I’ve ever known). Meaningful appreciation is far more valuable than rote homilies.

    Well, I’m sure you get my drift. Best of luck with your guide to etiquette. For your sake, I hope that in reality you do better than the people you describe.

  12. scribe called steff

    I think you’re reading way too much into this.

    In no way do I think acting nice and knowing where to put your napkin covers up for being a prick, or worst, a child molestor.

    You take two nice, decent guys, stand ’em side by side, same clothes, same look, and the one who knows how to carry himself will do better. That’s just reality.

    I’ve nowhere said you need to wear Armani, etc, in order to be a person with etiquette. I could care less about the clothes. I’m totally not even into Armani kinds of guys, so where are you reading this?

    And if you’re jumping to conclusions without knowing more of my writing, then fine, but I am ALWAYS talking about communication, ethics, and shit like that. I walk the walk and I talk the talk, but I also know where to draw the line.

    One of my recent dates tried to open his fucking beer bottle in front of me with his teeth. To say that lacks class is literal and true.

    Class, as you’re defining it, is a nice notion, but the historical sense of class speaks of station in life, station in society, and upbringing.

    What you’re talking about is ethics, morality, things I aspire to, day in and day out, and I would hope others do, too. I’m not here to be an ethical nursemaid. I’ve got to pick and choose my battles. And this is one of them.

    My position on this is simple: It would be absolutely shitty for a man or woman who has EVERYTHING to offer to NOT get ahead in life, to NOT get the person they want, all because they’ve never taken the time to learn how to carry themselves. You disagree? Don’t you think that’d be tragic?

    And I agree! A perfunctory thank you is PATHETIC. I absolutely agree! This is why I say smile, put some meaning into it. For fuck’s sake, BE thankful.

    And yes, James Dean was an actor, with movies on tape, that clueless guys can watch and maybe pick up on some of the gestures and moves, if they’re really, really, really lost. It’s called a tutorial. Some guys watch old movies for style tips, I know this because they’ve told me.

    I hate it when people read shit into my stuff that just isn’t there. Sigh.

    I tossed the good person overboard for a few reasons — no chemistry, he wasn’t comfortable in his skin, didn’t feel right, how fast he ate, limited conversation, etc, a whole lot of reasons, but it started with the napkin. Sue me. You have to be living in orbit to think attraction isn’t a complex beast.

    Anyhow, I think you’ve read way too damned much into this. I don’t like the insinuations I see in a couple places, either. And it’d be nice to go and break every thing I write down into subsections that apply to every segment of society, but it don’t work that way. I get to address the mainstream, and that’s that.

    I had this co-worker, for example, who always carried himself with a great deal of etiquette. He always wore jeans and a t-shirt, had a little lousy posture, but he’d look you in the eye when he spoke, he’d light your cigarette before you could find your lighter, etc. And that’s always sexy in a man, money or no. He was raised right and learned how to behave. It ain’t brain surgery, man. It’s knowing how to behave. If you don’t like it, fine, but don’t tell me it ain’t about class. It’s all about class. It just doesn’t come with a title, that’s all.

  13. Anonymous

    How can I insinuate? I don’t know you in any way other than through what you’ve written. I’m reading too much into it? You’re devoting multiple posts to this very subject. If I’m reading too much into it, then it’s because you’re writing too much into it.

    “I tossed the good person overboard for a few reasons — no chemistry, he wasn’t comfortable in his skin, didn’t feel right, how fast he ate, limited conversation, etc, a whole lot of reasons, but it started with the napkin.”

    Not only did it start with the napkin, but _you_ started with the napkin. And they you followed it up by writing “I’m a hard-ass”. Well, I’m agreeing with you on that point.

    Why not start with the important stuff? You had no chemistry. He seemed insecure. He was uncomfortable holding a conversation. If that trumps the napkin, then why’d you bring it up? If the point wasn’t that something as petty as a napkin left on the table is enough to turn you off, then why is that what you wrote?

    Clueless guys who need to learn gestures and moves from James Dean’s movies? That’s one step away from playing Bruce Willis or Arnold.

    I have no doubt that in real life (not to mention other posts) you are much more forgiving. My comments are applied to the persona who comes through your words, and not you, unless you feel those are the same. That’s the curse/blessing of the internet.

    If my negativity is bothering you, say the word and I’ll stop commenting. Your comments gateway says “your thoughts”, not “echo chamber”, so I take that as an invitation to sound off when you write something that I disagree with so, so, strongly.

  14. scribe called steff

    yer entitled to your opinion, you’re right, i shouldn’t have used that napkin example. i do remember being really bothered by it at the time, and made a small, friendly comment about it, that probably turned the tide for the evening, but it wasn’t going anywhere anyhow.

    as for the rest of your comments, you get to beleive what you want to. i’m sick and impatient and feeling sorry for myself, AND not making as coherent of arguments as i’d like, so i won’t bother continuing this.

    i disagree about “class,” and yes, i’m more forgiving in person. i’ve been known to burp on the odd occasion, after all, and i’ve even (gasp) eaten beans. i mean, we are what we are, but i still say behaviour’s important.

    people emulate stars. i don’t like it, but britney spears is everywhere. that’s just life. if people are gonna emulate someone, they might as well emulate someone better. you know, in a perfect world, they’d emulate, oh, i don’t know… (sick/blank/etc) someone with the whole ethical package, but then you’re getting into arguments of the ethical beast, and whether it’s nature/nurture/etc. it’s complicated.

    me, i write in a tongue-in-cheek manner. yes, it’s an image, as you’ve pointed out, and yes, though i do contain this person you see on this board, this is a stylized manner of who i am, and it works for me. but yeah, there are things people can’t take too seriously, but there are also things i should edit out. i’m flippant, and everything you see here arrives in 45 minutes or less, most days, and i should maybe take more time to get it right.

    but then, who has the time, hey? (maybe if i stopped responding to comments, but that’s half the charm, i suspect.)

    in the end, the issue of class is a non-issue. perhaps my wording of a few things was off, but i still stand by the importance of projecting your best self, and i see NOTHING false about it. you don’t need to take golf lessons to be a better golfer, but it sure as shit helps. when it comes to navigating society, that’s what etiquette does.

    anyhow. we disagree, obviously. such is life. bed beckons in anticipation of that elusive goal: 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep. (scoff) right.

  15. Mad Coyote

    I’m sorry Steff…I can’t keep my mouth shut. You’re a full grown woman and you can fight your own battles, but I just have to speak up.

    Anon…I count 7 people (including myself) who seemed quite agreeable with what Steff was saying, some of them men, some of them women.

    I’m not sick, I don’t have the flu, I’m entirely coherent and fairly intelligent, and I think you are very much reading a great deal into Steff’s post, not to mention acting extremely overly sensitive.

    If I may point out, this post is because I asked Steff’s advice on various dating ettiquettes. So far, she has not disappointed. And looking at the other commenters, I’m not alone when I say that.

    This thread was proving to be quite enjoyable and informative until you began your assault on it. Now, no one’s posting- some may not want to get involved, but I’m more inclined to believe that they, like me, were more concerned with treading on Steff’s turf.

    It’s not my intention to do such- but I want Steff and all the others who appreciate what she has to say to know that she is not alone on this matter, and that a decidely “sour” mood has possessed this thread.

    Which is a real shame. I actually feel sorry for you- it must be very lonely when people feel alienated by such a harsh and defensive attitude.
    But hey, there’s always hope, right? I mean after all, counselling’s always an option, right?

  16. scribe called steff

    Readers, FYI:

    A couple folks have asked, via email, why I don’t delete the above anonymous thread essentially attacking my post with what, they feel, is reading far too deeply into what I was saying, etc.

    I don’t believe in censorship. I’ll do it when someone’s disrespecting someone else or me, or if it’s spam, that kind of thing. But dissent is healthy, and being “man” enough to take it and argue it, and leave it for others to read and either support or lambast, that’s something I’m proud of. Too many blog owners either a) don’t share the comments, or b) can’t take criticism.

    I am neither. Thus. The above can stay. I don’t feel he was that rude, I felt there were implications I disliked, but such is life.

    Anyhow. It stays, as much as a little person inside of me wants to detonate an A-bomb on people who don’t get what I’ve said… because I know it’s a petty way to behave, and as much as it’s WORK to not be that petty, it’s work that’s worth the effort.

    I am a shining example for all. (snicker.)

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