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In The Street And In Public Places

AMERICAN women are so much accustomed to receiving courtesy and consideration at the hands of American men, they are so well used to breathing the air of freedom from their very birth, that they some-times forget how great are their actual privileges, and grumble because they have not others which would no doubt be pleasant to possess, could we have everything as we would like to have it in this transitory sphere,.

American men are more truly chivalrous than any others upon earth; their respect for womankind is not only very deep, but entirely unaffected. It is a part of their education, almost of their nature, and to it we women owe among other things that priceless boon, the freedom to go about where and in whatever way we please.

In no large European city is it proper for a young girl to walk abroad alone; yet in America our women not only enjoy this inestimable privilege, but many others of the same kind. How great would be the surprise of a foreigner of distinction if he should happen to catch a glimpse of the interior of a Boston trolley-car, at that time in the evening when the performances at the theatres and concert halls have just come to an end! If you should tell him that those groups of ladies without any attendant cavalier belonged to " Boston's best," and that the friendly trolley-car would carry them safe and unmolested almost to their very doors, he would scarcely believe the testimony of his ears! In New York, with its large foreign population, many ladies do not like to go out in the evening without an escort; but it must be said that the use of electric lights in our cities is making women less timid. Where the streets are brilliantly lit and well-policed, there is little danger of annoyance. It goes without saying that I am not now speaking of very young girls, who should always be under the charge of some older person.

Since we have this most desirable privilege of going out whenever we please to breathe the fresh air, we certainly ought not to abuse it. Few things are more distasteful than a party of young women making them-selves conspicuous in public places by loud talk and laughter. If they are careless enough to attract attention in this way they must not be surprised if they bring upon themselves rude notice from the passers-by.

Great freedom of taste in the matter of street costume is certainly allowed in this country. Fifty years ago Charles Dickens commented on the bright colors and silk dresses worn by ladies in the streets of our cities. The same phenomena, may still be observed. 'Ladies of good taste and innate refinement, however, now avoid wearing showy costumes and brilliant colors when they go out, especially when on a shop-ping tour, or a visit to the business part of a city. For walking or paying visits in the residential quarter of a town, it is allowable to dress more handsomely; but the tendency of fashion during the last few years has been undeniably in the right direction, namely, toward wearing quiet and simple attire in the street.

In this country a lady does not take a gentleman's arm when walking with him in the daytime. The protection it gives is unnecessary, and American women always prefer to be independent so far as possible. It was formerly the custom for a married or betrothed couple to walk arm-in-arm; but it is now thought old-fashioned to do so, especially for two fiancés. In the evening, a gentleman should always offer his arm to the lady he is escorting, and she may accept it or not, as she chooses; in large cities, it is customary for her to accept the courtesy. If a gentle-man is walking with two ladies, one only should take a walk on the same side of a " Lynn couple," or a thorn ys makes people smile. Where ection, however, or where the elderly, or the walking very hould not hesitate to offer an en if it may make him appear so. An English contemporary gravely remarks that no lady should ever take the arms of two gentlemen t once, - we might add, unless she were learning to skate. When walking with a lady, a gentleman takes the curbstone side of the street and offers to carry any parcels she may have in her hands. In a crowded thoroughfare he takes the left side, to shield her from the elbows of passers-by. If she bows to any lady or gentleman, he bows also, and removes his hat, even if it be to salute a person with whom he is entirely unacquainted. He does this as a token of respect to his companion and her friends. He also lifts it, when in the company of a man who bows to a woman. A gentleman should always remove his hat when bowing to a lady. He should do so with his so with his left hand in order to leave the right hand free, where he has reason to expect that she will shake hands with him. If he has no such expectation, he will take off his hat with the hand that is farthest from her, unless it is especially inconvenient to do so.

A lady always bows first in this country, as in England. On the continent of Europe the reverse is the case. Where a lady and gentleman know each other very well, the recognition is of course practically simultaneous; but in the case of an ordinary acquaintance the gentleman always waits until the lady bows. It has been suggested that young men should recall themselves to recollection by bowing first to ladies who have entertained them, and who are older than themselves. This might perhaps be permissible as an acknowledgment of past hospitality; but if the lady were young, it would be considered a great liberty. Some men solve the difficulty by raising their hats without looking at the lady. If a man has a cigar in his mouth, he always removes it before bowing to a woman, or if he is very polite he throws it away. If his hands happen to be in his pockets (a most ungraceful attitude) he will, of course, take them out.

A gentleman should never stop a lady and keep her standing in the street while he talks with her. If he has something he wishes to say, and if he knows her sufficiently well to warrant his doing so, he may ask leave to walk with her in the direction in which she is going. This does not oblige him to accompany her to her destination. A man removes his hat when speaking to a lady in the street. She should ask him to resume it, but if she does not, he is still at liberty to do so, perhaps with a gesture of apology. On parting with a lady, a gentleman must always raise his hat.

It is still considered bad form for a gentleman to smoke on streets that are used as promenades, at the hours in which he will be likely to meet many ladies. The same thing is true of public drives. A gentleman should never smoke while walking with or, talking to a lady in the street. Indeed, he should never smoke any-where in the presence of ladies, unless he has received especial permission to do so.

It is very rude to " cut " people, and one should never do it without very serious reasons. To return another person's bow with a blank stare is simply inexcusable, unless that person has committed some grave misdeed. It costs very little to make a civil bow, and does not necessarily involve even a calling acquaintance. Young people are sometimes unnecessarily sensitive regarding street salutations, and imagine themselves to have been slighted when they have only not been seen. Absent-minded and near-sighted persons frequently " cut " their friends with-out the least intention of so doing. Particularly is this the case in the crowded streets of a great city, where, unless one recognizes a person beforehand, one often does not look at him as he passes, and therefore his bow, if he makes it, goes unseen. It is a great mistake to fancy one's self " cut " when one is simply not recognized. On all these accounts it is well to bow in a decided manner, so that there may be no doubt about it. Some people have a way of making such a slight movement. of the face it can hardly be called of the head that they virtually do not bow at all; and this is not always done from haughtiness, but often from extreme shyness.

When bowing in the street, ladies bend the head only and not the body, according to modern usage, unless they wish to show great respect, or more than ordinary attention, to some person. One should always return the salutations of servants or tradespeople whom one meets in the street. In the city it is not usual to recognize in this way the clerks or salesmen of dry-goods stores, nor would it indeed be considered proper for a young lady to do so. In small towns and villages, everybody knows every one else, and recognitions are more general. In the country, all who met on the road, saluted each other, according to the old usage, which still prevails to some extent, in certain localities.

A gentleman can never, under any circumstances, " cut " a lady. He must always return her salutation, even if he does not recognize her. If he does not wish to continue her acquaintance, his only resource is to avoid meeting her eyes; even this would be very ungentlemanly conduct, unless he should have some very strong reason for it. He would have no excuse for thus treating a lady who behaved and dressed as a lady should. If a gentleman escorts a lady to her house he should wait until she has been admitted before taking leave of her, especially if it is after dark, and should not be content with seeing her to the foot of the steps only. He should not enter unless on her invitation, and if the hour were late, he would not do so in any case.

When walking or driving on a public walk or promenade, where the same people pass and repass each other many times, it is not necessary to bow every time one meets a friend or an acquaintance. It is sufficient to bow once. One gentleman does not usually remove his hat in bowing to another gentleman, unless the latter is a clergyman, or is much older than he, or Unless either is accompanied by a lady, when he removes it out of respect for her. Young men should always be careful that their greetings to men older than themselves are sufficiently respectful. You may nod to a contemporary in age, who is also your equal in position, if you know him well, but to one who is your superior in social or official position, or who is your elder, it would be decidedly improper to do so. A man raises his hat when introduced to another man, or when the latter gives up a seat or shows some special courtesy to the lady under his charge.

Gentlemen keep on their hats when they are in shops or the lobbies or entrance of a theatre, etc., because they are supposed to be passing through these places, or at best, making a very short sojourn there. The etiquette in regard to the hat, therefore, is like that of the street, and the same is true of the offices of a hotel. But in an elevator where there are ladies, a gentleman must always remove his hat, because the elevator is so small that it is like the room of a private house, — where no one would think of keeping his hat on. In hotel corridors the same rule applies. In the lifts of railway stations and business buildings, how-ever, in railway ears or the passageways of steamboats, in skating-rinks and picture .galleries, a man usually wears his hat. If he is presented to a lady, if she speaks to him or if he has occasion to address her, if he offers to give her his seat or to do her some other service, if he wishes to apologize for stepping on her dress or passing in front of her, he raises his hat. It is courteous for him to do so, if he passes a lady on a stairway, or makes way for her in a narrow passage.

The question whether or not gentlemen should give their seats to ladies who are standing in the cars, is such a vexed one, and one that is so often discussed in print, that it is not worth while to enter into it here in all its length and breadth. Suffice it to say, that there are few, if any, truly polite men who are satisfied to sit while women are standing around them. They may argue against being obliged to give up their seats, but in practice they do it. It would seem as if there ought to be a little mutual forbearance and politeness on both sides in this matter. Young men, unless they are very tired after a hard day's work, have little excuse for keeping their seats; old men should not be expected to leave theirs under ordinary circumstances. A man should always offer his seat to an old woman, or to one who has an infant in her arms. If he does not, he may feel rather ashamed to see some woman show the politeness which it was his place and privilege to extend. Women should never seem in any way to claim a seat where there is none vacant. It is very impolite to look at a man in such a way that he shall feel compelled to offer his seat. Unless one is ill or very much fatigued, it is better to accept the situation cheerfully, and wait till some one gets out. If there is a small boy in the car, a bribe of a few pennies will usually secure his seat. A lady should always be careful to thank a gentleman audibly when he offers her his place. No gentleman should think of taking a seat that becomes vacant in a car, until all the ladies who are standing are provided with seats. A Boston woman, young and handsome, was riding in a New York car recently, patiently awaiting her turn to sit down. A seat was vacated, and she was on the point of taking it, when a young man dexterously slipped past her and into it, smiling at the girls who were with him, as if he had done a very clever thing. The Bostonian said to her friend, " I wouldn't have believed that; but then, we are in New York in the twentieth century! " The rude youth heard her words, turned scarlet, and looked sheepish enough. If one gentleman gives his place to a lady who is under the escort of another, the latter should not sit down in the next seat that becomes vacant, without first offering it to the man who has shown courtesy to the lady.

A great deal of selfishness is shown on our railroads in the matter of taking up an undue amount of room. Two or three people will turn over seats, thus converting them into a sort of private box, and will be very much provoked if some other person claims the empty place, though there may not be another one in the car. Others fill up the vacant half of a seat with bundles, and look daggers when asked whether it is engaged. If conductors would make it a rule that people should pay for all the room they occupy — personally or with bundles it would be an excellent thing. " Is this seat engaged? " said one woman to another. " No; but there are plenty of seats in the next car," said the seated one, in a disobliging tone, calmly ignoring the fact that the train was already moving! Commuters have a cheerful way of taking up a whole settee for each man through the length of an entire car. A party of ladies will enter, but it will seldom occur to these gentlemen to change their places and allow the ladies to sit together.

It is very difficult to ventilate a car in a way that will suit everybody. Some people feel that they must have fresh air, while others are at the same time shivering with cold. Any one who wishes to have a window open should always remember that, owing to the cur-rent made by the rapid motion of the car, the person in the seat behind feels the draught much more severely than the one sitting beside the open window. It is neither polite nor right to expose another person to the imminent danger of catching cold in this way, without first asking him whether he objects to having the window opened. The forward part of the car is always better ventilated than the rear, because the fresh air is constantly drawn in there by the motion, and the bad air is driven to the farther end of the conveyance.

A friendly correspondent says: I can usually infer the breeding of a man or woman by the way in which either takes a seat in a street-car. The individual who sits down carelessly, pushing those on either side, and with no avoidance of such part of their clothing as may be within sitting distance, is underbred. The person who, on entering or leaving a railroad car, neglects to close again the door which he finds closed, is wanting in that consideration for others which is at the bottom of true politeness. Aggravated (and aggravating) instances of this are seen in cold weather, when people will sometimes walk through a car leaving the door at either end open."

At the theatre or opera-house and in some concert-balls, ladies are now expected to remove their hats, unless they are sitting in a private box, where no one's view, will be obstructed by the extraordinary head-gear so much worn at the present time. Even at a lecture, it is well to take off a large hat.

The rule adopted by some managers, whereby late comers are obliged to wait at the rear of the auditorium until the conclusion of a number or a scene is an excel-lent one and reminds us that it is a part of true courtesy to be punctual at the theatre as well as at private entertainments. Talking and whispering during the performance of music or of a play, are flagrant breaches of the laws of good-breeding. We have no right to disturb those who have paid to hear a concert or to see a play. The people who go out between all the acts, making their neighbors rise, are lacking in consideration for others, as are those who cannot wait for the end of the performance, but rustle about, looking for their wraps, or start to go out, as the piece is drawing to a harrowing conclusion.

A man allows the ladies of his party to go first past the ticket-taker, at the theatre or concert-hall. When he reaches the auditorium, he takes the lead, in order to find the seats or to look up the usher. If the latter has the tickets, the ladies may follow him, their escort coming last. The former pass into the seats first, in any case.

At the conclusion of the performance, it is often necessary for the ladies of the party to wait in the lobby, while their escort hunts up the carriage or automobile. A man should make every effort to prevent them from standing in the cold, although sometimes this cannot be avoided. Many people prefer to walk or to take a public conveyance, rather than to submit to the long delay which is so trying in cold weather.

At church, it is a part of good manners to share one's pew with strangers, and to treat them civilly. Service-books should be offered to them, and help in finding the places, if they obviously have difficulty in doing this. The most courteous way is to hand them a book opened at the proper hymn or other part of the service. When we go to a church that is not our own, we should be careful to behave with reverence, even though we disagree with some of the tenets. If we disapprove of any portion of the service, we must avoid showing this in look or manner, thus jarring on the feelings of those who have come to worship. We should join in the ritual, wherever we can conscientiously do so. Where we cannot, we can at least maintain a courteous silence and a reverent attitude. At church a lady enters first. Indeed the rule " ladies first," has few exceptions. Where a man goes in advance, it should be for the purpose of assisting or protecting the women under his care.

It was said, a few pages back, that American men are the most chivalrous in the world. There is no other country where the women are so well treated as we are, in the essentials of life. It must be confessed, however, that our men are so deeply absorbed in their business affairs, that they do not always pay enough attention to the minor courtesies which well-bred Europeans practise and value. They are so anxious to earn money for their wives and children, they are so driven by the competition of our day, that they are growing very careless, and even rude, in their behavior in public places. In suburban towns one sees the men crowd on to the trains first and secure the best seats, leaving the women passengers to follow as best they may. In the crowded waiting-rooms of the stations many men now smoke, regardless of the presence of many women.

In the lobby of the new Boston opera-house, I saw, not long ago, a man push his way ahead of a large crowd of men and women, all waiting to get their wraps. This person may have thought his behavior was justified, because the ladies of his party were waiting. But his profuse apologies showed that he knew he was doing something uncivil. There are a good many people who imagine they are at liberty to do a rude thing, if they say " Pardon me." I am sorry to say that the persons who think it smart to push in front of others, at a ticket office or elsewhere where people wait in line, are not always men. Some women practise this form of incivility and think themselves clever if they can get ahead of other people, no matter by what means.

( Originally Published 1911 )

Social Customs:
Conversation In Society

On Voice, Language And Accent

Gestures And Carriage


Letters Of Introduction

On Dress

Dress And Customs Appropriate To Mourning

Host And Guest

Country Manners And Hospitality

In The Street And In Public Places

Read More Articles About: Social Customs

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