Ask the Gentleman

Being a modern gentleman isn’t just about dressing well and knowing which dinner fork to use at a party, so we asked The Gentleman to chime in and answer the tough stuff. Here’s his expert advice on everything from dreaded small talk to boating etiquette.

Illustration of a man with a mustache and beard wearing a top hat

I’m attending a work event with my wife and her colleagues and have trepidations about making small talk with people I don’t know. Any tips?

Starting a chat with a new acquaintance doesn’t have to make you sweat. Never underestimate the power of friendly intentions. Simply introducing yourself with a smile and a handshake is a straightforward way to strike up a conversation. Chances are, the person on the other end is just as wary as you are. Being well-prepared never hurts either. Do a bit of homework on the event or attendees. This way you have a few statements or questions ready if the conversation is slow to start or lags. It’s also common knowledge that people love to talk about themselves. Asking appropriate questions about the other person, then listening intently and showing genuine interest is an endearing behavior in any setting.

I’ve heard ladies at work say they dislike it when a man holds the door open for them because they don’t want to be seen as helpless. Is holding the door an offensive gesture now? I was always taught that a gentleman opens doors for women.

It is possible that some people could be offended by this act. Proper etiquette is certainly more gender neutral today than it used to be. However, the real question is, do you mean it offensively? If not, then hold that door open every chance you get. Hold it for the elderly, for people with their hands full, for someone following closely behind, and for women all the same. Nine times out of ten, people will recognize and appreciate kindness.

My wife’s parents took us on vacation with them a few months ago. My wife asked me to send them a thank you note afterward, but I forgot. Is it too late now? Is that something that even requires a thank you note?

A good and simple rule of thumb is: It’s never inappropriate or too late for a kind gesture. Sending a note of gratitude is an action that will undoubtedly brighten the receiver’s day, so there’s rarely a good reason not to. If it is later than you meant for it to be, think of this – it shows that whatever they did for you or gave to you is still on your mind. As long as you have something sincere to say in response to a gift, it’s appropriate to send a note. A few times where not sending a thank you note is entirely forgivable would be: in times of grief, whether from the passing of a loved one, a failed marriage, a job loss, or something else; or after the birth of a new baby. For most others, including a family vacation, a thank you note is a great idea.

I check my phone regularly to stay informed. I really believe it adds to the conversation. But my buddy got irritated with me for checking it last week. Is it really rude or was he being overly sensitive?

While smartphones are an amazing addition to daily life and offer many benefits – including fresh topics to discuss – basic manners dictate that if you’re spending quality time with someone, or they are speaking to you, they deserve your full attention. Scrolling during a group conversation when no one is addressing you, while possibly off-putting, is not necessarily rude – unless you do it all the time. Looking up the answer to a question in your current conversation is also fine, especially if you let them know that’s what you’re doing. However, if you and your friend (or anyone) are spending time one-on-one, or you’re engaged in any conversation, your phone can wait.

With warm weather approaching, I wish I could look forward to getting my boat out again. However, it seems that proper boating etiquette has fallen by the wayside. Any advice?

Acquiring a boating license is one of the easier processes to undertake now-a-days. In fact, a person need only be 11 years old to take the exam. With that said, the actual rules and right-of-ways on the water are a complicated collection that require real study and practice. So naturally, the best advice is to be prepared for anything. While it is your responsibility to man your own craft carefully, others on the waterway may not be as thoughtful. Just like a defensive driving course for the road, view your time at the helm as a time to ensure yours and your passengers’ safety: Let others go first, be ready to stop even if you have the right-of-way, leave plenty of breadth between your vessel and any tubers or skiers, and drive slowly past other boaters.

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