I promised reviews of etiquette guides in this column, and never let it be said that I don’t deliver.I happened to find myself in the library this week, and decided to go looking for the most recent Emily Post volume. In case anyone is interested, etiquette is shelved at 395 in the Dewey Decimal system. Between fashion and weddings. In other words, with the lady stuff. Because polite behavior is for ladies. Nowhere is this more evidenced by the other book I picked up: The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy & Vice, by Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro.
In case you were wondering, this book has very little in common with the advice given to us by etiquette go-to, the Emily Post Institute. First of all, this book is a pocket-sized volume of a mere 330 pages, as compared to Emily Post’s mammoth 800-page, double-columned behemoth that is larger than a family bible. (It’s big. For serious.)
And while the size comparison alone is telling, it’s the material within that is really different. (That’s right, this is a “don’t judge a book by its cover” thing. Except in this case, you can kind of judge a book by its cover.) The Modern Gentleman seems more concerned with the appearance of decorum than with decorum itself. For instance, an entire subchapter is concerned with adopting the “cool factor” of the Fonz himself.
“The success of Fonzarelli moves is less about what’s done coolly and more about what’s not performed awkwardly. Learn to drive in reverse, throw a tight spiral, and carry two full martinis without sloshing. Lesser men are boorish; make it look easy.”
In other words, it’s not about making your company comfortable and keeping situations at ease; it’s about showing up everyone around you and being the alpha male in the room.
And of course, if there’s one reason to be the coolest guy in the room, it’s to get the girl. And this book is VERY focused on getting the girl, with chapter titles like:
- How Many People Have You Slept With?
- Your Lover Finds Evidence of Old Flames
- Your Girlfriend Says “I’m Pregnant”
- To the Power of 3 (Yes, it’s about threesomes.)
- The Rock
- The Good Husband
Most of these chapters focus on how to handle women, as opposed to how to treat them like equals, or at least people. And the advice on how to be a “Good Husband” is less “getting along in a marriage” and more, “Be nice to her when she has PMS and then she’ll have kinky sex with you.” I find it especially telling that the engagement and marriage advice takes up the last two chapters of the book, since we all know that for men, life ends with marriage. All the good parts, at least.
So basically, all men have to do is know how to mix a drink, use a jukebox and be interesting conversationalists. This will help them find a girl who will then handle all of the social niceties and they can go back to their natural caveman-like state.
Not that it’s all bad. It provides a guide for tipping, something I find most men don’t always understand. It also provides a guide for writing a good toast and making sure a party you’re hosting stays within approved bounds, depending on the setting and people involved. It covers dress codes, a topic which I am sure all ladies wish their gentlemen of choice knew more about. (There’s nothing like multiple texts asking what someone else should wear. I don’t know. You’re 150 miles away.)
On the other hand, The Guide seems to say that a gentleman really just needs to be able to mix a cocktail and it gives advice like, “For propriety’s sake, look out for loose barrettes and stray undies.” Because a modern gentleman is having so much sex that panties are just all over the place.
The fact is, I expect more from men than just trying to get laid and eventually married so that they can give up. Gentlemen, just like ladies, have to know the basics of how to behave in polite company as well as how to appreciate fine liquor. It’s not just about the polish, it’s about the substance underneath.
Modern Gentleman, I give you a C. You’ve barely scratched the surface of what “essential manners” mean, but at least you’re trying.
Got an etiquette question? I’ve got an etiquette answer. Leave it in the comments or
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*I know I have written this from a straight lady perspective. I am a straight lady. It’s all I know.