In entering a morning exhibition, or public room, where ladies are present, the gentleman should lift his hat.
In going upstairs the gentleman should precede the lady; in going down, he should follow her.
If you accompany ladies to a theatre or concert-room, precede them to clear the way and secure their seats.
Do not frequently repeat the name of the person with whom you are conversing. It implies either the extreme of hauteur or familiarity. We have already cautioned you against the repetition of titles. Deference can always be better expressed in the voice, manner, and countenance than in any forms of words.
If when you are walking with a lady in any crowded thoroughfare you are obliged to proceed singly, always precede her.
Always give the lady the wall; by doing so you interpose your own person between her and the passers by, and assign her the cleanest part of the pavement.
At public balls, theatres, &c., a gentleman should never permit the lady to pay for refreshments, vehicles, and so forth. If she insists on repaying him afterwards, he must of course defer to her wishes.
Never speak of absent persons by only their Christian or surnames; but always as Mr. ---- or Mrs. ----. Above all, never name anybody by the first letter of his name. Married people are sometimes guilty of this flagrant offence against taste.
If you are smoking and meet a lady to whom you wish to speak, immediately throw away your cigar.
Do not smoke shortly before entering the presence of ladies.
A young man who visits frequently at the house of a married friend may be permitted to show his sense of the kindness which he receives by the gift of a Christmas or New Year’s volume to the wife or daughter of his entertainer. The presentation of Etrennes is now carried to a ruinous and ludicrous height among our French neighbors; but it should be remembered that, without either ostentation or folly, a gift ought to be worth offering. It is better to give nothing than too little. On the other hand, mere costliness does not constitute the soul of a present; on the contrary, it has the commercial and unflattering effect of repayment for value received.
A gift should be precious for something better than its price. It may have been brought by the giver from some far or famous place; it may be unique in its workmanship; it may be valuable only from association with some great man or strange event. Autographic papers, foreign curiosities, and the like, are elegant gifts. An author may offer his book, or a painter a sketch, with grace and propriety. Offerings of flowers and game are unexceptionable, and may be made even to those whose position is superior to that of the giver.
If you present a book to a friend, do not write his or her name in it, unless requested. You have no right to presume that it will be rendered any the more valuable for that addition; and you ought not to conclude beforehand that your gift will be accepted.
Never refuse a present unless under very exceptional circumstances. However humble the giver, and however poor the gift, you should appreciate the goodwill and intention, and accept it with kindness and thanks. Never say “I fear I rob you,” or “I am really ashamed to take it,” &c., &c. Such deprecatory phrases imply that you think the bestower of the gift cannot spare or afford it.
Never undervalue the gift which you are yourself offering; you have no business to offer it if it is valueless. Neither say that you do not want it yourself, or that you should throw it away if it were not accepted. Such apologies would be insults if true, and mean nothing if false.
No compliment that bears insincerity on the face of it is a compliment at all.
To yawn in the presence of others, to lounge, to put your feet on a chair, to stand with your back to the fire, to take the most comfortable seat in the room, to do anything which shows indifference, selfishness, or disrespect, is unequivocally vulgar and inadmissible.
If a person of greater age or higher rank than yourself desires you to step first into a carriage, or through a door, it is more polite to bow and obey than to decline.
Compliance with, and deference to, the wishes of others is the finest breeding.
When you cannot agree with the propositions advanced in general conversation, be silent. If pressed for your opinion, give it with modesty. Never defend your own views too warmly. When you find others remain unconvinced, drop the subject, or lead to some other topic.
Look at those who address you.
Never boast of your birth, your money, your grand friends, or anything that is yours. If you have traveled, do not introduce that information into your conversation at every opportunity. Any one can travel with money and leisure. The real distinction is to come home with enlarged views, improved tastes, and a mind free from prejudice.
Give a foreigner his name in full, as Monsieur de Vigny—never as Monsieur only. In speaking of him, give him his title, if he has one. Foreign noblemen are addressed viva voce as Monsieur. In speaking of a foreign nobleman before his face, say Monsieur le Comte, or Monsieur le Marquis. In his absence, say Monsieur le Comte de Vigny.
If you can, converse with a foreigner in his own language. If not competent to do so, apologize, and beg permission to speak English.
This is taken from The Laws of Etiquette.
Copyright © D. J. McAdam· All Rights Reserved