how to be a gentleman

The A-Z of being a gentleman

Being a gentleman is easy; that's why it's so bloody difficult. Presenting our cut-out-and-keep guide to The Done Thing — an alphabetiquette for the modern man...

Twenty-six letters — a lifetime of useful (and sometimes downright beautiful) advice. Allow us to present our A to Z of the traits, characteristics and concepts that make a true gentleman in these tricky times. Consider it a lexicon of The Done Thing. An ABC of your 123s. An alphabetical etiquette guide. Yes, why not — an ‘alphabetiquette’. 

A is for Après-ski

Let’s start as we mean to finish (i.e semi-dressed with a magnum of dubious Alpine spirit in someone else’s hot tub.) Because it’s important that a gentleman knows how to enjoy his time off — whether that be on the slopes, in the quiet of his lunch break, or dangling from the mast of a yacht. A man is not his career. Whether your hobbies include woodwork, the French horn, or consuming a cubic foot of fondue at short notice, throw yourself into the extracurriculars with the same gusto you’d show in the workplace. ‘Work hard, play hard’ is fine as a mantra — but it’s better still to work smart and play smarter. And remember: there’s no endeavour more serious than having fun.

B is for Bravery

Quitting your day job to follow entrepreneurial dreams? Standing up to a gaggle of no good louts attempting to relieve an old lady of her handbag? Bravery comes in many forms but, when called on, a gentleman knows when he must step up and make a difference. And if it all ends badly? It’ll simply make for a richer obituary.

C is for Chivalry

Yes, in the modern world it may well be considered old fashioned, but we’re not proposing shooting a rival suitor’s grey matter out on the cobbles at dawn. Instead, we’re pulling out her chair at dinner (not for a prank, you understand), taking his or her coat without a thought, and holding open the door for all and sundry. Who said gallantry was dead?

D is for Dexterity

Can you perform a nifty coin trick to pacify a gaggle of shrieking toddlers at a wedding? Can you do up a bow tie with one hand while lighting a passing doorman’s cigarette with the other? Are you able to re-fix the dangling button on your shirt from the deck of a speeding motorboat? Can you shuffle a deck of cards like a grown up, or do you do it like a five year old with mittens on? Can you untangle a young lamb from a thicket of barbed wire with hands frozen by the highland wind? No? Well practice will make perfect, so get to it.

E is for Effort

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, etc etc. Only you’re terribly talented anyway, so just imagine how far you’ll go if you slip it into fifth gear once in a while. Effort is the honest bread in the sandwich of life. Sure, everyone goes on about the meat and the condiments. But without that base-level bread (we’re too deep in the analogy now, bear with us) you might just end up with mayonnaise all over your face. Nailed it? We thought so.

F is for Fiction

Because the real world is overrated. And anyway, fiction’s far more accurate. Novels are like travel: an excellent education in perspective and empathy (only without all the security checks and clumsy carry-ons). They make you more interesting and more interested in the world around you. They’re also an unparalleled pleasure that, ironically, is hard to articulate with words alone. So we’ll leave it to a master of the form: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library,” says Jorge Luis Borges. We couldn’t agree more. (Though perhaps there’s a little burgundy and a fresh deck of Gauloises Blondes there, too).

G is for Gravy

You can tell a lot about a man by the quality of his roast dinner (or any other down-to-earth, homemade cuisine). And nothing captures the essence of this Sunday ritual quite like the gravy that sits, unsung, in that little boat. Yes, the roast potatoes, beef rib and caramelised parsnips may be nice. But they’re largely just vessels for that meaty, meaty juice. So how do you make yours? If it’s with granules and an electric kettle, off you pop to your grandmother’s house for a cookery lesson and a good ticking off. Because sustaining the juices of your joint into the rich, flowing lifeblood of a roast dinner is as fine a culinary task as any man can hope to perfect. Time to get basting.

H is for Humility

“In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility,” said Henry V. And look how he got along at Agincourt! Hard to imagine the French adopting that pose, which may or may not have been their problem. Sometimes, the best answer to a question is simply, “I don’t know.” Vulnerability, honestly and self-deprecation are far more endearing traits than their polar opposites. You are not perfect. But that’s what makes you so interesting. (If Shakespeare’s not your thing, by the way, here’s Kendrick Lamar being slightly more direct on the same topic: “Be humble.”)

I is for Integrity

The cornerstone of every gentleman’s character, and one of those nebulous words that is desperately overused. But, essentially, integrity means simply this: knowing who you are, and knowing what is right. It doesn’t mean, of course, that you aren’t open to change. But it means you have a strong internal compass, and a reliance on true north. And who doesn’t need that?

J is for Jeeves

Ah, the inimitable gentleman’s gentleman. Sadly, the tradition of the personal valet has gone the way of spats and swordsticks — but that doesn’t mean the principle of Bertie Wooster and his trusted man can’t stand fast. We should all have a bit of Jeeves about us — either to warn ourselves away from our worse instincts, or to help out our friends in need with ingenuity and sympathy. After all, whether real or strictly figurative, we all have some terrifying aunts looming over at us at one point or another.

K is for Kindness

Because kindness is the new kool. Anyone can be fashionable, or avant garde, or well-connected. But there’s nothing more enduringly stylish than being nice. In today’s fractured world, simple acts of kindness have more power than ever. We ought to do away with the macho platitudes about nice guys finishing last — this isn’t Wall Street in the 1980s (though some of those Armani power suits wouldn’t go amiss). The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself. What type of man do you want to be as you cross the finish line? Something to think about.

L is for Lists

To-do lists are a wonderful way to measure (and encourage) success. In fact, Sir Richard Branson has often spoken of his ‘love of writing lists’, and how he believes that, as a young man, they were incredibly useful in unleashing and guiding his ambitions. “Lists not only provide great structure for getting things done,” he says. “But they also help us to set goals and achieve our dreams.” You heard the man: get scribbling.

M is for Manners

They maketh the man, or so says Colin Firth. So just imagine how important they are to the gentleman. Etiquette guides are often overly ornate, or old fashioned, or obsessed with the hierarchy of oyster forks. But really, good manners are about one thing: making others feel comfortable, respected and seen — no matter the situation. Don’t downplay their value.

N is for Noble

Oh, you weren’t lucky enough to be born a baronet? Not a problem. Because nobility doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with your position in society. Rather, it can refer to your quality of character and moral compass. So, if you’re honourable, honest and can manage to keep yourself on the magnanimous straight and narrow, thoughts of aristocrats and archdukedoms will slip your mind faster than you can say ‘hereditary feudal dignitary’.

O is for Old Fashioned

The cocktail, as much as the personality trait. And whilst a little bit of timeless decorum is a welcome touch (just look at how your grandfather dressed as a Bright Young Thing for more clues) it’s your skills with the bourbon and the bitters that will really stand you in good stead. A good, bold Old Fashioned is the height of manly drinking — straightforward, rugged, yet refined and aromatic, it’s like Ernest Hemingway in black tie.

P is for Poker face

(Not the Lady Gaga song — though a quick karaoke rendition of something similarly campy is certain to get you out of a tight spot or two.) No, this one’s all about temporarily disguising your true emotions. No dishonesty, mind — just think of it as a little white lie of the face. Whether you’re deep in salary negotiations or officiating the flash beach wedding of a frumpy cousin, a cleverly applied masquerade is indispensable to the modern man. Do bear in mind what Oscar Wilde said, however: “Worn long enough, the mask becomes the face.” But then he did get pretty serious about this kind of thing.

Q is for Quick

In the inimitable, soft rock-inflected words of Billy Joel, the Piano Man was “quick with a joke or to light up your smoke.” And just look at how things went for him (ignore, for a moment, all that existential angst and the undertones of alcoholism). Speed is an incredibly useful thing, not least with humour (if it’s not funny, make it quick). After jokes and smokes, we’d also add a couple more to Billy’s list: compliments, French exits, icebreakers, relevant quotes, restaurant recommendations and the 100-metre dash.

R is for Rugby

Or any other sport where you might put your body, soul, haircut, teeth or cartilage on the line for your teammates. Wellington said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Do you think he was talking about lawn bowls? Unlikely. But perfect your chip-and-chase and you’ll go far, men. No time to lose, then; slip your short shorts on and get grubbering.

S is for Style

Look to Mr Hardy Amies — may his brand rest in peace — for guidance here: “A man should look as if he had bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care, and then forgotten all about them.” That’s style. Or try this, from Gore Vidal: “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.” And remember: fashion is fleeting. Style is forever. (Just look at our bloody Instagram account.)

T is for Travel

For all the obvious globe-trotting, jet-setting benefits of travel — the odd cigar in Cuba, the occasional red in Bordeaux — travel really does broaden the mind. You’ll dip into different cultures, tongues, cuisines and climates. You’ll see things from new perspectives. Travel is more than holidaying. And it’s more than that loud shirt-wearing, pina colada-sipping man you are when you’re away — it’s about the man you are when you return home again.

U is for Understatement

Life is better downplayed. No-one likes the flash, the showy, the naff. Would you rather have a vintage Golf or a gold Lamborghini? A shiny power suit or a navy fresco number? A bottle of Dompers with a sparkler in it or a bottle of rustic red with a story behind it? A table at Novikov or a table at an nameless Tuscan family trattoria? No wrong answers, but several very right ones.

V is for Variety

It’s the spice of life, and no-one wants a bland casserole of an existence. Rather, any modern gentleman should be a jack of all trades, and the master of a few select ones. He should have a varied repertoire of acquaintances, of interests, of conversation topics, of curiosities and outlooks. A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing — but a little knowledge of many subjects will get you a long, long way.

W is for Wine

Life may be too short for bad wine, but it’s nowhere near long enough to sample all the good bottles out there. The wine world can look intimidating if you’re peering into the vineyard from outside, but the rules once inside are pretty simple: just drink what you want and stop worrying about it. Be curious, be adventurous, be generous. It really doesn’t matter if your glass is half full or half empty — it just matters that there’s some bloody good wine in it.

X is for Xenial

No, we didn’t know what it meant either (remember, there’s no shame in humility). But this slightly archaic word translates roughly to the practice of hospitality — especially to those from other countries. It’s more important than ever to throw open our doors to different cultures, and to discover the things that unite us — usually, in our experience, a love of early Rod Stewart and decent whisky.

(We’d just like to note that the word you were expecting in this slot, Xylophone, would have been an equally acceptable choice here. There’s nothing more becoming than a man who can turn his hand effortlessly to some esoteric instrument. Our personally favourite? ’Chopsticks’ on the bamboo panpipes. Tearjerking stuff.)

Y is for Young

At heart, of course. A gentleman isn’t defined by his age, but it’s essential to remain youthful in your mind. Imagination, curiosity, hope and optimism are all endearing traits in a man. Not that immaturity is to be commended (though a bit of boyish silliness won’t go amiss in the right scenario). Temper your serious ambitions and sincere moments with youthful exuberance and you’ll never age a day in your life — even as you grow old and oh-so distinguishedly grey.

Z is for Zeal

Ah, zeal. It’s the butter on the parsnips. The gin in the Negroni. The zest in the lemon drizzle cake. (Another Z for you there — see, easy this.) And it trips off the tongue, doesn’t it? Passion and energy are as infectious, invaluable and irresistible as the word itself. So throw yourself into every endeavour with true zeal — from the workplace, to the dancefloor, to the ski slope — and you’ll reap rewards that never even crossed your mind. On the whole, you get out of life what you put in. So put lots in — and do it with panache, abandon, good humour and the odd lionhearted leap of faith. You’ll be a gentleman in no time.

You’ve got the basics down. Now find out how you can make yourself more charismatic…

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