I can make a pretty good omelette. In fact, with fresh eggs, fresh herbs and the right cheese, I can make a very good omelette. Some discerning people even say they’re the best omelettes they’ve tasted. I thought this simply meant that I could cook an omelette. But yesterday, thanks to Country Life magazine, I learned that this is a meaningful skill, and what it means is this: it is one of the 39 signifiers of whether you are a gentleman or not.
Yes, there it is at number 25 – a true gentleman “cooks an omelette to die for” – some way below “can undo a bra with one hand”, and slightly above “would never own a Chihuahua”.
Taking its lead from Debrett’s, Country Life is attempting to provide some ground rules for men to negotiate the modern world with class and distinction, and while some of the steps are a little esoteric – “tipping a gamekeeper” – and others are blindingly obvious – “turning his mobile to silent at dinner” – it provides a rather interesting and valuable commentary on contemporary life.
For instance, according to this list, a gentleman “knows when to use an emoji”. Until quite recently, I didn’t even know what an emoji was, much less how and when to use one. In fact, I’d only used an emoji once in my life, and I’m not sure it would strictly fit into the guidelines Country Life had in mind. It was six years ago, and I was in a hospital bed when an acquaintance of mine texted me to find out if I was all right. “Wot u got”, he asked using text vernacular. I responded in like fashion. “Cancer!” I wrote, and just to be mischievous I added a smiley face. I didn’t hear back from him for some time.
Now, I send emojis all over the place, a wine glass here or a thumbs up there, but I don’t think this makes me refined. More likely a sad old man trying to get down with the kids. And as for the question of when a gentleman should use an emoji, the answer, surely, is never.
There are some skills on the list that I do wish I possessed. I’ve always wanted to be able to tie my own bow tie, and have watched on with envy as my friends complete a task with insouciant ease that, to me, is akin to splitting the atom. Equally, I can’t sail a boat or ride a horse and, at my age, I’m hardly likely to learn now. They don’t say anything about knowing how to ski (I can’t) or fish (never tried) or shoot (don’t want to), so maybe I should accept that whatever gentlemanly attributes I have will come from the softer skills, like having read Pride and Prejudice (No 30 on the list), saying my name when introduced (No 12) or never blow-drying my hair (No 38).
But what’s this at No 21? A gentleman, it states, “is not a vegetarian”. Can that really be so? I am not a vegetarian myself, but this really is at odds with the overall flavour of the list, given that many of the entries relate to being kind and caring to one’s fellow humans. Should this not also apply to our attitude to animals? And by this criterion, Gandhi wouldn’t have been a gentleman. And nor would Tolstoy or Lord Byron. Or indeed George Bernard Shaw, who had his own definition of a gentleman as one “who puts more into the world than he takes out”.
Of course, we shouldn’t take seriously a list which also says that a gentleman would never go to Puerto Rico. What’s wrong with Puerto Rico, or have I missed something?
Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist going through the list, ticking off the attributes that I felt applied to me. Negotiates airports with ease. Tick. Avoids lilac socks. For sure. Can prepare a one-match bonfire. Curiously, I can. Arrives at a meeting five minutes before the agreed time. Always.
“There is no higher accolade than to call a man a gentleman,” said Mark Hedges, the editor of Country Life. In a metrosexual world, I admire his fidelity to old-fashioned virtue. I think that the hegemony of technology has created a generation of screen addicts who are losing the ability to connect with others in a courteous and meaningful way. Anything which promotes Oscar Wilde’s belief that a gentleman is one “who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally” is to be applauded.
To Country Life, I send my second smiley face.
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