Miss Debrett on... Chivalry
It is an incontrovertible fact that you
can be impeccably punctilious about
all the trappings of manners - opening
doors, pulling out chairs, walking on
the roadside edge of pavements etc.
- but still be appallingly rude.
The 'chivalrous' gent who leaps
to his feet as a woman enters
the room may still be a
who thinks nothing of shouting
at his subordinates. The 'generous'
host who smilingly picks up the check for the lavish meal can still
make his guests feel small by belittling their choices and belabouring them with his so-called wine expertise. Chivalry is not necessarily a failsafe measure of manners.
If your sense of chivalry demands that you walk kerbside, but you find your companion maddeningly oblivious to your efforts, you don't barge and jostle her into position. You simply go with the flow and walk on the side she seems to find most comfortable. If being polite and opening a door for someone means that you have to wrestle your way past them in the first place, almost knocking them flying, then why not stand back, relax and with good manners acknowledge their own kindness in holding the door open for you.
Always be aware of the chivalrous gesture, but wield it with a sense of pragmatism. If it becomes onerous, or makes another person feel beleaguered, then it is self-defeating.
The trouble is, politeness is all too often seen as
old-fashioned; we seem to like our artists, our celebrities, our
politicians and lions of industry to be mad, bad and dangerous to
know, unfettered by the bourgeois standards of chivalry and
It's not too late. We need to preserve politeness as the vital ingredient in the cocktail of manners that makes our world a better place; somewhere where basic survival is finessed into a more subtle pleasure. So why not bring back the doffing of hats, holding of doors, leaping to feet… let's all enjoy some old-fashioned chivalry.
Miss Debrett's Top Tips
- Chivalry is all about the natural gesture, striking a balance between treating a woman like a lady, but respecting her independence.
- Good chivalrous manners should come instinctively, rather than contrived gestures that feel out-dated.
- Chivalrous gestures should not feel creepy - there is a fine line between flattering attentiveness and smothering sleaziness.