Ask the Gentleman

Being a modern gentleman isn’t just about dressing well and knowing which dinner fork to use at a party, so we asked The Gentleman to chime in and answer the tough stuff. Here’s his expert advice on everything from removing hats to avoiding inappropriate questions.

illustration of gentleman's dress shoes chattanooga

 

Q. My son just graduated college and is entering
the workforce, and I’m going shopping with him for business and dress attire. I’m assuming he needs a black suit. What else?

A. Great question! Many assume that a black suit is the first dress item a man needs, but it’s actually not. A navy or charcoal suit is the most versatile. Only bring out a black suit for funerals and formal occasions. Same with shoes – a black shoe should be used sparingly. If he wants a shoe that goes with his navy or charcoal suit and everything in between, he should buy a nice medium brown brogue. With a navy suit and brown shoe, he can build from there with different colored shirts, ties, and pocket squares.

Q. My extended family is having a reunion next month, and I know that I will get questions from aunts and uncles that I don’t want to answer, like how much money I make or why I am still single. How do I respond to these busybody questions?

A. Everyone has that family member or acquaintance who asks them inappropriate questions. The most important thing to remember is to not answer rudeness with rudeness. You can respond honestly but kindly and say you’d rather not answer. However, my best advice is to have some pat answers on hand that add a little levity, while also making it clear you will not give specifics. For example, if your uncle asks how much you make, respond with, “Enough to pay the bills, but not enough for that private jet I want.” And if your aunt questions you about still being single, say, “I haven’t found someone I want to subject to a family reunion yet, but if I ever do, you’ll be the first to know.” Then change the subject. Have some questions on hand that will give you something to say after their nosy question to kindly remind them that it’s none of their business.

illustration of a top hat for the southern gentleman chattanooga

Are you still supposed to remove your hat when you enter a building? Sometimes I see people doing it, and sometimes I don’t. What are the rules?

Wearing and removing a hat was originally a necessity. If folks walked around dusty roads or in industrial cities where there was a lot of soot, it would be necessary, first, to wear a hat to protect oneself from the elements, and then, to remove it once indoors to protect the furniture from the dirt it had collected. It was also seen as a sign of respect, and for many, it continues to be a sign of respect. The rules are definitely changing though as our society has changed, and I’d say it also depends on the type of hat you are wearing. Here are some rules you can hang your hat on: First, always remove your hat during the national anthem. Second, remove your hat when it will obstruct someone’s view, like in a church, theatre, or concert setting. Third, if you are going to your mother’s or grandmother’s house, I would suggest removing your hat, as she will probably consider it rude if you don’t. Beyond that, use your best judgment, taking into account the type of hat, the setting, and the company. And if you’re not sure, I’d recommend removing your hat so you do not offend.

 

illustration of a blank nametag for the southern gentleman chattanooga

Q. I seem to be the worst at remembering other people’s names. I do try, but all too often I find myself in a situation where I am embarrassed because I’ve forgotten someone’s name. Any advice?

A. Simple memory techniques can usually help. First, pay close attention when someone says their name, and then immediately repeat it out loud (e.g. “Nice to meet you, John.”). If repeating it out loud doesn’t do the trick for you, try making an association in your mind (e.g. John mows the lawn) while imagining John mowing the lawn to place a mental image in your head. If all else fails, you can try a song or write down new names. If you’ve already forgotten their name, and you’re about to interact with them, try introducing yourself again: “Hi, I’m not sure if you remember me, but I’m Matt Morris from church.” The other person will probably take the hint and also give their name. They might appreciate a refresher on your name as well! If for some reason they do not reciprocate, continue talking, hoping something triggers your memory. You can always try honesty and apologize, asking their name. However, if you’ve known them awhile, try asking someone else first.

Q. I’m about to start a new job that will involve a lot of travel and dining out with clients. I want to make sure I know the rules surrounding tipping, so I don’t embarrass myself or my company.

A. The rules around tipping can be confusing, and they also vary from country to country. In the United States, it’s generally expected that you tip your restaurant server 15-20%. For exceptional service, feel free to tip more. There is no need to tip your host or hostess, unless you’re at a higher-price establishment and they paid particular attention to you or got you a table when it was unexpected. If so, a $10-20 tip is appreciated, but give it discreetly. For food delivery, 10-20% is routine, depending on if there is already a delivery charge. You can always ask when you order. At a buffet restaurant, you can leave a $1 per diner or 5-10% of the pre-tax bill. For valet service, nothing is expected upon arrival, but upon leaving, $2-5 is customary. Don’t forget to tip your bartenders: 10-20% depending on how long you’ve been there. At the hotel, give $1-2 per bag to bellhops, $1 per coat for coatroom attendants, $2-5 per night for housekeepers, and $5-10 for the concierge if they obtain tickets or make reservations for you. In many other countries, tipping is not required, or it is built into the bill. Since it varies from country to county, it is best to look up the particulars before traveling.

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