Manners: Chivalry, Yes Ma’am and Gentility

Grace Kelly

Recently, in a conversation with my style coach, I suggested a particular clothing brand and she responded, “that’s just not sophisticated enough for you.” It got me thinking, “am I really sophisticated?” So, in true Kim-fashion, I started researching sophistication, which led me to the chivalry of men, respect for our elders and the gentility of women. A natural progression of thought, don’t you think?

At first glance, you may not recognize these attributes in those around you.

Whitey Tighties and a Guitar Does Not a Gentleman Make
Whitey Tighties and a Guitar Does Not a Gentleman Make

But, as I’ve begun to pay attention to my own manners, as well as those around me, I’m finding that chivalry isn’t dead, “naked cowboys” are few and far between, (thank goodness), some of our elders are held in high esteem, and genteel women may be a thing of the past.

The first thing I’d like to do is bust the myth regarding chivalry. It is NOT at all about treating a woman as the “weaker sex.” It’s not a sign that a man thinks a woman is weak if he opens the door for her. It’s quite the opposite. It is a silent compliment that she is a lady worthy of respect. If a man pulls out your chair, helps you with your coat or offers to carry your bags, it’s an act of kindness, not an indication of how feeble you are.

Opening Door for a Lady
Opening Door for a Lady

As I visited my son in New York City recently, I was the happy recipient of chivalrous acts. My son held the door for me, carried as many shopping bags as his arms could hold and was polite to my friend, Wilma. Now many people would say, your son doesn’t count, you taught him to be that way. I would have to disagree. Once they are adults they choose their own way and for a young man to choose chivalry is indicative of his character, not my parenting skills.

My parents taught us girls that every yes and no was followed by a ma’am or sir to all adults who were older than us. Some believe this is a misguided attempt by southerners to keep the old south alive and keep those less fortunate in their place. A class warfare sign, if you will, but NO! That is not why southerners say ma’am or sir. Once again, it is respect that causes us to express these words. It is respect for the wisdom the elderly possess, the trials they’ve overcome that we may not have yet faced, and it is another silent compliment that we acknowledge their importance in our world.

Yes, Sir.
Yes, Sir.

If I ever answered my daddy with just a yes, I knew before the s got out of my mouth, what was next out of his. “Yes, what?”  “Yes sir,” I would reply. I also know now what I didn’t know then. My daddy wasn’t demanding respect for himself, because that is something earned. He was demanding it for all of the ladies and gentlemen that I would encounter in my lifetime.

Now, I know that not all continue to use sir and ma’am, and not all men and women deserve to be treated as gentlemen and ladies. That is expected, but good manners are not contingent on the behavior of others. A little fact that I have to remind myself of a lot lately. When someone hurts a family member, don’t I have an excuse to put my manners aside and tell them off?  I mean, as long as I don’t answer a question with huh? what? or yeah, will I be excused? I think that if I whisper the word a..h…., I’m being much more genteel than if I shouted. That’s sophisticated, right?

And speaking of gentility, how do you spot a genteel lady? Do they still exist?

Jackie Kennedy
Jackie Kennedy
Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly
Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn

What are the qualities that mark a genteel lady?

  • having an aristocratic quality
  • elegant or graceful in manner, appearance, or shape
  • free from vulgarity or rudeness
  • polite
  • maintaining or striving to maintain the appearance of superior or middle-class social status or respectability

As you can see these characteristics do not include performing on a wrecking ball, using foul language, or making obscene gestures in public.

Obscene Gestures by Women
Obscene Gestures by Women

How’s this for sophistication?

4 thoughts on “Manners: Chivalry, Yes Ma’am and Gentility

  1. thank you for the gentle reminder that chivalry exists (and should exist) while true ladies have proper Etiquette and mannerism that a lady defines. Morals, values, and beliefs in this create a much better exchange in relationships and in society. Sadly, not being around this much and having the majority of people behave with the obscene gesture above, it eliminates the true quality of a person’s true identity.

  2. Good article. I think that all schools should have a Manners class as part of their curriculum. The other day a man held the door open for me and when I said, Thank you”, he replied, “It was my pleasure”. I thought that was a rather nice comeback.

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