More questions of etiquette in 1939


Jot 101 etiquette doffing a hat picIf Everybody’s Best Friend ( 1939) is to be believed, people were still debating the propriety of men giving up seats to women, whether or not it was necessary to doff a hat to a lady or where a man should walk on a pavement when accompanying a lady, as they had done for centuries before and perhaps still do. On the question of who should pay on a night out, to an earlier generation brought up before the advent of Women’s Liberation,  there is no question that a man should pay for everything. Notice that it is tacitly assumed that once the man and woman are married, it is certainly the husband who must pay for a meal and for seats in a theatre or cinema, even though the wife may have an income from her job. But have things changed that much ?


1 ) Giving up your seat to a ‘lady’.


There seem to be mixed views now on the question of whether a man should give up his seat to a woman in a crowded conveyance. Some men do, others consider it unnecessary. Has the custom changed ?


Custom in this respect has not changed and a courteous man has no hesitation in standing so that a lady may be seated. The exception is that no would desire an elderly man to give up his seat to a girl. A young man should be ready to offer his eat to an elderly man as well as to a lady. Similarly, in a crowded bus  or railway compartment in which only the women present are seated, a young woman may well offer her seat to an elderly woman, to a woman with a child in her arms, or to an old man.


When offered a seat a woman should always accept it readily, with a smile and word of thanks. To decline the offer is to slight a man who is doing the right thing. If a lady accompanied by a man is offered a seat, the man should utter a word of thanks for the courtesy shown his companion.


An interesting little point arose recently when my fiancée and I were travelling in a bus. The bus was full and men were standing down the centre. A lady got in. I offered my seat and had to go along the bus, with the result that my fiancée had really to travel the journey alone. Did I do right in offering my seat in these circumstances?


Yes; you showed a courtesy which you would like another man to extend to your fiancée in similar circumstances. In the ordinary way a man should not readily leave his companion along, but here you were showing what might be called the greater courtesy.


2 Escorting a ‘lady’.


Where should a man walk when escorting two ladies near the edge of the pavement, or in the centre?


The man should walk on the outside, near the edge of the pavement, as when with one lady only. Where two ladies vary to any extent, the more elderly if the two should be in the centre


3) Raising a hat.


I know that when meeting a lady whom he knows well, a man should raise his hat. But what is the position when the lady is the merest acquaintance?


The matter rests with the lady. If she gives  sign of recognition, at once raise your hat; otherwise take no notice.

When meeting a male friend accompanied by a lady, raise your hat, even though the lady is unknown to you. Do not expect the lady to make any acknowledgement, however. Also raise your hat when walking with a lady who sees someone she knows, and when walking with a man who has occasion to raise his hat to someone of his acquaintance.

It is not customary for a man, when in a bus or other such vehicle, to raise his hat to a lady of his acquaintance who happens to be a fellow passenger. A smile or nod is sufficient.

It might be added that when using a private lift—in a hotel, or one which serves, say, a block of offices—a man should remove his hat if ladies are present. He need not do this in a public lift—one belonging to an underground railway, for instance.


4) Entering public vehicles


I have noticed in some continental cities that at bus stops it is not unusual for the men to stand aside until all the ladies have entered the vehicle. Should we not be equally courteous ?


Where but a few people are awaiting the bus, you will find that as a rule men do stand aside until all the ladies have mounted the steps. Where there is a crowd the men cannot do this if they would; to do so would merely add to the confusion.

Where there are queues obviously people must take their turn, otherwise the purpose of the queue would be negatived. When a man and a lady are at the head of the queue and there is only one vacant seat, then obviously the man should stand aside.


5) Sharing expenses on a night out


I know that when taking out a girl the average man feels it his duty as well as his pleasure to meet the expense of the outing. But girls like myself fortunate enough to be in a fairly good position, do not think it fair who is just a friend should be called upon to face maybe fairly heavy expense on our behalf. We should enjoy the outings much more if we were paying our share. What is the best way to deal with the situation?


Most men do still regard it as their privilege, when taking out a girl, to meet all the expenses incurred. To suggest any alternative is not altogether easy. One way to deal with the situation is to say quite frankly when asked to share any amusement or outing, that you would love to go , but you must be allowed to share in the cost. In this case do not insist on paying as you go; a man hates a girl to produce her purse when the bill is presented, say for dinner. Settle up later.

Another, and in some ways, better plan is to pay for some particular item in the outing. For instance, if you and a man friend arrange one or two theatre visits you might allow him to pay on the first occasion and, when asked what you would like to see next, say you will get tickets for a show you fancy. Or on an outing you might buy the railway or bus tickets, and leave it to the man to pay the tea bill and the like.

In handling this matter be careful no to infer you want to share because the man’s circumstances are poor, or because you object to accepting his hospitality. Either suggestion would be objectionable. Try to infer that you are two good friends out for a happy time and it will be more fun if you foot the bill together.


  1. M. Healey.

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