Death of the gentleman’s code

It’s hot here, hot like you don’t have in California.  I don’t mean it’s hotter here;  it’s not, of course.  I mean good, big, moist, heavy, Great Lakes hot, with the air full of water, and the sweat pouring off your body, and the heat pouring off the trees so you can smell their sweetness, and the occasional heat storm for relief.  It’s storming right now, a torrent, but still hot;  the rain is sweeping down in huge gusts, and there are girls clad in little bits of gauze running down my street and screaming.  There is nothing like this glorious weather.

Right.  So a couple of weeks ago, Jake applied for a sales job at a sporting goods store.  When they hadn’t called him about it after a week, one of his parental people encouraged him to call them.  He resisted, then he called.  And — get this — the manager of the store said:  “You passed the test. Anyone who doesn’t follow up by calling us doesn’t get the job.”

From this experience, Jake has learned the critical lesson of the contemporary working world.  Be pushy; bother people; shove your way to the front of the line. I wonder why he resists this lesson.  Oh yes!  It is because he is a dignified and honourable young man.  He doesn’t whine for a better grade.  He doesn’t worm his way into a teacher’s good graces.  He does what he’s called on to do;  he rises to the occasion;  and he doesn’t make special demands.

The motto of my family when I was growing up was:  Never Complain, Never Explain.  At the very least this means:  wait until the store calls you.  You tell people what you want, then you step back.  You perform to the best of your abilities, but you don’t call it to people’s attention.  This is why I cannot respond to the monthly email I get from my college asking me to list my accomplishments so that they can be publicized.  I am quite simply unable to do this; it would violate a deep seated taboo.

It is a good way to be.  And I am glad Jake is learning not to be this way, since this is not the way the world works these days, if it ever did.


7 thoughts on “Death of the gentleman’s code

  1. The first Canuck I was close to insisted that a sense of reserve, restraint, and horn-nonblowing was THE critical Canadian trait.

    Since then I’ve known many Canadians without that trait, but it’s gotta be more common the norther you go. Or the souther, now that I think of it — pushing yourself forward is something my grandmother would consider very Yankee.

  2. Canadians and Southerners. And some of the English. And surely there are other European countries where this code is not unknown. (I could name countries where it is, but I won’t.)

    It’s probably cost Canadians lots of academic jobs. I remember my first job letter, years ago: “I’m writing to apply for x. I’ve enclosed the materials you requested. Three reference letters will arrive shortly. Yours sincerely.” Quite funny really. It took a Yankee friend to teach me how to write a proper letter. But writing them always made me physically sick.

  3. Muh, get started already! Or maybe sometime we’ll have wine and chat in private. I have lots of thoughts about the new pushiness too.

    Agnes MacPhail always linked the two ideas. But I think the crusader and the gentleman are actually quite different characteristics. Both can be honourable. And probably one has to be a bit of both. Still, the posish of the gentleman is more of a bottom line — then you can add “getting it done” on top, if you have something you need to get done.

  4. You inveterate opener of cans of worms, you! In a way it is, yes. And so there! Because the Talmud’s explicatory mode isn’t about clarifying things into the ground so as to justify oneself — and, in another vein, the Yiddish kvetch isn’t about bothering people and making them take notice so they give you things. All of this is about taking no notice of the reactions of others, putting them off so you can make a space to live your life decently.

  5. Hold on a second. As you say, Jake is a dignified and honourable young man. If this is true (and I heartily believe it is) then his follow up call could not have been pushy or bothersome because that would go against his character. His enquiry, when the phone was picked up at the other end was no-doubt not: “WTF man, why haven’t you called me? You a-hole, I’ve been sitting here by the phone all week missing out on life’s pleasures including basketball practice and it’s all your fault!”

    The gentlemen’s code is about follow up calls as much as it is about diplomacy and tact. For how can one exhibit these qualities without engaging with one’s world, without communicating with it? Checking in? Or is it fundamentally Canadian that we percieve the very coming out of one’s little hidey-hole to engage with the world as being pushy? By that view it would be pushy to submit a job application in the first place. What’s the difference?

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