ACCORDING TO AN OLD ADAGE, “a man’s manners make his fortune.” In other words, he who shows respect and courtesy to everyone from a co-worker to a grocery store clerk is sure to prosper. The English language refers to this type of man as a “gentleman,” a term originally reserved for an Englishman with inherited property or incredible wealth—one noble enough to not have to work. In the United States the term enjoys a much looser interpretation, referring to any man who exhibits high values, impeccable manners, and a kind disposition toward everyone he encounters—especially women.
Such qualities, when combined with a hefty display of masculinity, found a revered place among cowboys. Teddy Roosevelt praised such virtues: “A cowboy will not submit tamely to an insult, and is ever ready to avenge his own wrongs; nor has he an overwrought fear of shedding blood. He possesses . . . the stern, manly qualities that are invaluable to a nation.” Roosevelt adhered to the principles himself and was dubbed “that damned cowboy” by political enemies when in 1898 he rounded up a group of rough riders to participate in the Spanish-American War.
The nineteenth-century cowboy followed a strict code regarding the rare lady of the West. In fact, cowboys chose the term “lady” to distinguish morally sound women from those employed by brothels, dancehalls, or saloons. A cowboy was expected to treat a lady with the highest degree of respect, and a violator of the code faced severe punishment. For instance, any cowboy who failed to escort a lady traveling alone on the range might be “staked out”—bound by his hands and feet to wooden pegs and left to go mad or die in the scorching sun.
While modern-day rules of etiquette are less stringent and often deemed old-fashioned or unnecessary, some Texans pride themselves on keeping tradition alive. But for those in need of a refresher or ladies wondering whether their men live by the code, the list below provides some age-old rules for the true Southern gentleman.
A gentleman takes off his hat outdoors during introductions and good-byes, during conversations with women, when the National Anthem is played, and when the flag is passing.
Indoors he always takes off his hat—except in public buildings, hotel or office corridors, and stores.
A gentleman should tip his hat when a lady who is a stranger thanks him for a service, when he excuses himself to a woman stranger, and when he asks a woman for directions.
When there’s a lady nearby, a gentleman should walk on the curbside of the street, hold open the door for her, and offer to carry her packages or suitcases.
When walking single file, a gentleman walks behind a woman, unless he must lead.
On buses and trains a gentleman lets a woman precede him when entering, but he exits first so that he can offer his hand to help her down.
He should offer his seat to pregnant women, women with small children, women carrying a heavy load of packages, and the elderly (he does not have to extend the same courtesy to young, able-bodied women unless, of course, he wants to).
A gentleman shows courtesy to a woman who is a stranger: if she drops a book, he picks it up for her; if she is struggling with the weight of a package, he always should offer assistance.
When introduced to a lady, a gentleman rises if seated and shakes her hand when it is offered.
A gentleman also rises to say good-bye to a lady.
When he invites a woman on a date, he should pay all expenses. However, when a lady makes the date, she is obligated to pay.
He should open the car door for a lady and close it after her. He should open the door for her to exit the car.
A gentleman rises when a woman enters the room and remains standing until she sits down or leaves.
A gentleman holds a woman’s chair for her when she sits down at the table and ensures that she is served first (if the bread is passed to the man, he should offer some to the lady before taking a piece for himself).
After a date, he should always walk a lady to the door but never go in unless invited.
A gentleman avoids touching a woman unnecessarily and understands the difference between friendliness and pawing.
A gentleman never discusses his conquests.
A true Southern gentleman never visits a lady’s home when he has had too much to drink.