Gaolan : I have read your “I Could Have Danced All Night” post (see post) : what about the boys? How do you turn a boy into a gentleman for a night?
FONDAMENTALLY : That’s a very broad subject!
Gaolan : Let’s start with how the gentlemen should dress.
F : The basic dress code, should the invitation not be specific, is for the men to wear “Black Tie”, which means a tuxedo, white shirt, bow tie and black shoes. If this is the dress code, the men demonstrate their individuality through accessories such as coloured braces, fancy bow ties, elegant cufflinks and (if they want some bling) a watch. The invitation could also specify a particular dress code for the event. There’s no reason why a ball cannot have a theme. A particularly elegant and attractive theme is a masked ball, where people hide their faces behind an elegant mask. White tie balls require a white tuxedo, but they are rare. Typically, the person in the white tuxedo is there to serve the champagne. Aside from the general rule, a gentleman should dress so as not to cause discomfort to, offend or embarrass his entourage. This means being clean and well-groomed, not flamboyant or over-affected, and not blatantly outside the general guidelines of the dress code.
Gaolan : Could you give me an example of how a gentleman gets ready.
F : The details matter. A man needs to be clean, well-groomed, with freshly-laundered and ironed clothes in good condition, clean hands and nails, polished shoes, etc. You can have the nicest tuxedo in the room, if your breath smells, your hands are dirty or you haven’t washed, nobody will notice the effort you made with the clothes.
Gaolan : What are the general rules of behaviour?
FONDAMENTALLY : A few rules that may not be obvious if you’ve never been in this kind of social setting before: When arriving at the venue, it is appropriate to thank the hosts and the people who have invited you (if they are not the hosts). You should feel free to introduce yourself to people who are there, it is a social event after all, but it is best to be introduced by someone else if possible. If you’re introducing yourself, as a general rule, don’t interrupt conversations, greet people when they are available. There are circumstances when people should not be disturbed : for example when interrupting them or greeting them by name could cause embarrassment. As a general rule, men should take the initiative in conversations with women and young people should greet their elders with respect. Under most circumstances, it will be the person with the higher social standing who will naturally take the initiative in a conversation. These rules may be obsolete nowadays, but knowing them is always a comfort when facing a social situation.
Gaolan : I have watched étiquette shows and I still have questions because I did not learn them in China. For instance, that is a question not only for boys but for girls too. What questions should not be asked?
F : Never ever ask a lady if she is pregnant. Never ever talk about politics, religion or money, and if someone else has initiated these questions, be as concise, discreet and as inoffensive as possible.
Gaolan : In this case, what type of topics may a gentleman address?
F : Anything besides politics, religion and money. As usual, nothing that could offend someone part of the conversation. You could, for example, discuss current affairs, history, art, designers, technology, TV shows… even the weather!
Gaolan : And how should a gentleman woo someone he fancies?
F : This is a tricky question because it depends so much on the people and the circumstances.
Gaolan: Often I meet ladies and I am not sure how to give them a compliment.
F : You can always give inoffensive compliments. A lady will always accept compliments graciously, even when she does not want them. A compliment is free. Good behaviour demands that a man not embarrass a girl, or make her uncomfortable by giving too much unwanted attention. Young men I know would make their intentions clear to a girl by paying particular attention to her. They will, for instance, open and close the car doors for her, make sure her belongings are in a safe place, bring her drinks, bring her a chair when she is tired, and so on. If they are very interested, they will strive to create a romantic context. A gentleman should be tactful and patient when declaring his feelings. In any case, a gentlemen should never insist.
Gaolan: Thank you! There are so many differences with Chinese decorum. Of course, we hope the Chinese guests speak a little English or French should they attend a ball.
F : That would help.
This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)