The A-Z of being a gentleman

Being a gentleman is easy. That's why it's so bloody difficult. Here is 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. Here is our A to Z of the traits, mores and concepts that make a true gentleman in these tricky times. Consider it a lexicon of The Done Thing. An ABC of the 123s. An alphabetical etiquette guide. Yes, why not — An Alphabetiquette. 


A is for Après-ski

… so we’re starting 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.


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 you shirt from the deck of a speeding Riva? 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? Good, we thought so.


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 (are you sticking with this analogy?) you might just end up with mayonnaise all over your face.


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 roller suitcases.) 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, 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 quiet like the gravy that sits, unsung, in that little boat. Yes, the roast potatoes and beef rib and caramelised parsnips are nice. But they’re largely just vessels for that meaty, meaty juice. So how do you make yours? If it’s with a sachet and an electric kettle, off you pop to your grandmother’s house for cookery lesson and a ticking off (and not necessarily in the order named). 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 (off the top of our heads). 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 phrases that is desperately overused. But essentially it just means 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.


J is for Jeeves — the inimitable gentleman’s gentleman. And though the tradition of the personal valet has gone the way of spats and swordsticks, the principle of Bertie Wooster and his trusted man remain. 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. And 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?


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. So just imagine how important they are to the gentleman. Etiquette guides can be 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, no matter the situation.


N is for Noble. Nobility doesn’t always have to refer to your position in society. In this case, that doesn’t actually matter at all. Nobility in this instance refers to quality of character and your moral compass – both of which a gentleman should possess.


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. An Old Fashioned is the height of manly drinking — straightforward, rugged, yet refined and aromatic, it is 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 can 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 facial white lie. Whether at a salary negotiation or the flash beach wedding of a frumpy cousin, a cleverly applied masquerade is an indispensable tool 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 word’s of Billy Joel, that lovely 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 such a useful thing, not least with humour (if it’s not funny, make it quick.) To Joel’s list we might also add: a compliment, an exit strategy, an icebreaker, a relevant quote, a 100 metre dash, a restaurant recommendation, a signature dish, a foreign menu, a wine order etc etc.


R is for Rugby. Or any other sport where you might put your body, soul, or haircut on the line for your friend. Wellington said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Do you think he was talking about lawn bowls? Just go to Clubland and see how important these things still are: “Jennings: hopeless minister, terrible businessman… Bloody good scrumhalf, though.” Get your short shorts on and get grubbering.


S is for Style. Look to Mr Hardy Amies 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 benefits of culture, language, cuisine, climate and perspective. The most important thing about travel is not the man you are when you’re away, but the man you are when you return home again.


U is for Understatement — a trait whose benefits are better illustrated by its opposites: the flash, the showy, the naff. Would you rather have a vintage Golf or a gold Lamborghini? A shiny 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 likes a bland casserole. A modern gentleman should be the jack of all trades, and the master of a few. Have a varied repertoire of acquaintances, of interests, of conversation topics, of curiosities and of outlooks. A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing. But a little knowledge about a lot is a wonderful, wonderful trait.


W is for Wine. Life may be too short for bad wine, but it’s nowhere near long enough for all the good stuff out there. The wine world can look intimidating from the 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 wine in it.


X is for Xenial. No, we didn’t know what it meant either (humility, as you’ll have read earlier in this alphabet, is no bad thing, actually.) But this archaic word translates roughly to hospitable, especially to those from other countries. It’s more important than ever to throw upon our doors to different cultures, and to discover the things that unite us, not those that divide us — usually, in our experience, a love of Marvin Gaye and decent rosé. (We’d also like to note that Xylophone would have been a perfectly 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 the 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). But 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 grey.


Z is for Zeal. It’s the butter on the parsnips. The gin in the Negroni. The zest in the lemon drizzle cake. (Another Z for you — see, easy this). Passion and energy are infectious, invaluable and irresistible. Throw yourself into every endeavour with true zeal — from the workplace, to the dancefloor, to the ski slope — and you’ll reap benefits you never expected. On the whole, you get out of life what you put in. So put lots in — and do it with panache, abandon, and good humour. We’ll see you at work.

Further Reading