Manners maketh man

They – whoever they may be – say that if you want to find a gentleman, you should head to England. With his impeccable deportment, chivalrous commitment and polite manners, the Englishman is apparently the ultimate charming and debonair male.

In truth, of course, for every Cary Grant (try to claim him if you want my American friends, but we Brits all know him as Archie Leach from Bristol), there’s an ASBO-toting Joey Barton-esque knuckle-grazing idiot for whom being charming means offering his girlfriend a sip of his pint of Stella.

The reality is that – in New York at least – whether it’s holding doors open, offering up seats on the bus or pulling out chairs, most American men seem to have an unerring commitment to etiquette. Of course, I’ve not been introduced to the more lairy members of Alpha Tau Omega (and I’m not planning on inviting them round for a – erm – ‘kegger’ just yet), but it seems to me that Americans are just as polite as their English counterparts.

I just wish that I could say as much for most American women.

Whenever I attempt to get off a subway train and am impeded by an impatient commuter desperate to grab an empty seat, it’s never a bloke who nearly knocks me off my feet rather than waiting for passengers to get off first. When somebody has a heavy steel door held open for them, but fails to look back to make sure that they’re not slamming the door in my (now slightly flattened) face, it tends not to be a guy. And invariably when I’ve been waiting ten minutes to hail a cab in the rain, and have the only vacant taxi in Manhattan stolen from me by somebody who only turned up thirty seconds previously, it’s not a man who sneers as he jumps into the car and speeds off. With the cab powering through an adjacent puddle as it disappears into the distance.

Maybe I’ve just been unlucky? Maybe New York women are taking revenge for years of unacceptable behaviour from Wall Street oafs? Or maybe the females of the city are on a collective mission to send me scuttling back to the UK with the tail between my legs?

Thankfully The Special One hasn’t succumbed to this dastardly plot yet. Although if I put my shoes on the newly-made bed one more time, my luck might start to run out.

Anyway, what do I know about etiquette? After all, I’m the man who seized upon an empty seat on the packed train last night, beating a slowly approaching man to the restful prize. Clearly, the fact that he had dark glasses and a white stick didn’t help him get there any quicker.

Despite immediately and apologetically leaping to my feet to offer him the seat, the man refused to sit down and instead stood for fifteen minutes until another seat became available. While all the rest of the carriage stared at me with the look of contempt specifically reserved for people who would deny a partially-sighted men the seat he so richly deserves.

Perhaps I’m just embracing my (New York) feminine side?

12 thoughts on “Manners maketh man

  1. Sarah

    It’s because they’re wearing Manolo’s and their feet are killing them, so just angry generally!

    Btw I find American men far politer than British men

  2. Paul Sheffrin

    While I do agree, I’m finding that, here in Canada, politeness can occasionally become excessive. Saying “Thank you” invariably gets a response “No probs.” You come back: “Well I appreciate it” and you get back “Hey, it’s no big deal”. You try and have the last word with “Well have a great day” and they’ll come back with “See you later” – an interesting statement as they’ve never seen you before and are less than likely to see you again. At least in the UK, a cursory “thanks” gets back the grunt it deserves and you don’t feel any commitment to invite them back for tea!

  3. Karen

    Pushing and shoving is a regular experience here in Iceland, from both sex’s. This is the land where there is no word for please!

  4. Jan

    Oklahomans (and Oklahowomens) are very polite. A thank you is always answered with “you’re welcome,” unlike the statutory “no problem” in California

  5. Alasdair

    Paul – when you feel the need to have the last word in gratitude, your last word *is* ingratitude …

    And a “cursory thanks” *deserves* a grunt … a sincere “Thank you” is more likely to receive an equally sincere “You are welcome” … it’s the sicerity that makes the difference …

  6. Alasdair

    Dylan – don’t despair quite yet …

    A key to the US psyche is to realise that pretty much *everything* is taken personally – equal opportunity taking of offence from stranger or intimate alike … it’s the US form of one-upmanship (for the sassenach version, see Paul, above) …

    If you are going to offer to be chivalrous and yield your seat in the NY subway, then follow through even if the intended recipient declines … you will have done what you know/feel is right – and if the recipient chooses not to accept, then some third party will sit down and the chances are good that that third party will be just as deserving and a whole bunch more appreciative …

    If the intended recipient declines verbally, then by standing up and yielding the seat, you force nothing on them – you merely leave them the opportunity to accept graciously, or to stubbornly refuse the courtesy that *you* have expressed … in either situation, you have done what you know to be appropriate, and others *do* notice a good example …

  7. Alasdair

    Karen – what about “Gjörðu svo vellég biðþig” ?

    Remember that the French don’t have a word for “Please”, either … you need an entire phrase “S’il vous plait” or “Veuillez …” … the Italians need “Per favore” … and so on …

  8. Brooklyn


    Are you a New Yorker? I suspect not.

    As a New Yorker, I (and I believe other New Yorkers) view offering a subway seat as a gesture that is appreciated and respected. But refusing a “No, thank you” to the offer isn’t an act of graciousness. It’s being a “noodge.” (Leo Rosten spells it “nudzh” in ‘The Joys of Yiddish.’)

  9. Alasdair

    Respected Brooklyn – I am neither a New Yorker, nor am I Jewish – yet I thoroughly respect Leo Rosten and his “Joys of Yiddish” … I rank it highly as one of the keys to the US psyche … (not to mention being filled with all sorts of entertaining stories) … “So what I should put in my window ?” being one of my favourites … (and, no, I do not perform the technical skills of a “moel”) …

    (grin) And you are indeed correct that, when one stands to offer one’s seat to a person, and that person refuses, it is not an act of conspicuous graciousness to remain standing … it is indeed a “nudzh” – and, to translate for the other Brits here, it can be viewed as a non-verbal way of maintaining one’s practice of politeness – and is considerably more gracious than the New Yorker’s “So sit, already !” equivalent …

    (It is not for nothing that the Scots are often considered to be of the Lost Tribes)

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