On Getting Older: Ladies and Gentleman

on getting older Oct 27, 2022

Ladies & Gentlemen

As I mentioned earlier, my grandfather was a prominent businessman in the Italian community, with a location downtown New Haven.  My mother worked for him off and on doing the books, and I’d often go in with her and grandpa would find some small task for me to do.  One day the task was to take a mis-delivered piece of mail to the bar across the street.  I’d never been in a bar (parents were both teetotalers), but my mother assured me it would be okay, and she stood watch as I crossed the street, entered and exited the bar, and returned.  I explained to grandpa that I handed the piece of mail to a lady in the bar, to which grandpa replied, That was no lady. 

Fast forward many years.  I now have a young daughter of my own.  She pointed out that lady over there who was behaving badly in public.  To which I replied, That’s no lady.  Your mommy is a lady. 

Downton Abbey

I suspect the root of these concepts of ladies and gentlemen goes back to the British social hierarchy.  Everyone has seen Downtown Abbey and the goings-on of Lady Mary and all the rest of them.  But I watched with interest:  what made a woman a lady?  I’m convinced that a lot of it is carriage:  these women held themselves perfectly erect, shoulders back, no slumping, and head facing forward.  Just that alone gives any person, man or woman, a commanding presence.  Most people walk around slumped.  But a lot of it is attitude, too:  I value myself; I know you find me attractive, and require that you treat me a certain way. 

And the gentlemen?  Gone are the days when a man would tip his hat to a lady while walking down the street because, well, no one wears hats.  Even gone, for the most part, is the tradition of a man rising as a lady gets up from the table or is seated.  I happen to still do this.  I think its classy and women love it. 

But there was always more to it.  At a social engagement, say a dinner, everyone gathered for cocktails.  No children, and the conversation was adult conversation – news of the day, business, or anything else non-sexual.  At the table children were included, so conversation needed to extend to their level.  No religion or politics.  Wit and witticisms were valued. Hence Lady’s Crawley’s famous line:  vulgarity is no substitute for wit.  Afterwards the ladies went one way, and the men another.  Gentlemen reserved salty language to the company of other gentlemen.  Sounds so stilted now, doesn’t in, in these days of the open concept floor plan and common dropping of f-bombs?

Read what I wrote in the Airports and Tattoos post.  To my way of thinking, a lady holds herself in a certain way that is very attractive to men:  it says, I know I am desirable, and you may approach me if you think you can.  But what do I see when out in public?  Those horrible yoga pants, worn 2 sizes too small, that show absolutely everything.  Bare midriffs. Halter tops down to here.  Modesty is far more alluring than leaving nothing to the imagination. 

And men – to be a gentleman means certain courtesies.  Open the car door for her; hold out her chair; honor her presence, in other words.  And take a shave!  Harry’s must be on to something, since so many men don’t seem to own razors anymore.  3 days' growth is now a fashion statement.  At my age I see it as merely lazy.  No one needs to see your armpits nor whatever’s under your sweatpants.  Smarten yourself up, and put a little effort into your public presence please!

In my view, there has been a tragic coarsening of public manners over the years.  Each year seems to get worse.  And yet I’m well aware that every elderly generation says the same thing.  Plus ça changeplus c'est la même chose, as the French expression goes.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  But I LOVE it when a woman is a lady, and lets me be a gentleman.  

Best to all,

--Glenn J. Downing, MBA, CFP®

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