They say that manners make the man. But how do you display good manners without coming off as awkward and in a way that elevates life both for yourself and for others? Today I bring back writer David Coggins to discuss etiquette and manners in the modern age. I had David on the show a year ago to discuss his book Men and Style. He’s now out with a new book called Men and Manners. Today on the show, David shares how style and manners are connected and why good manners are like good poetry. We then discuss best etiquette practices concerning tipping, greetings, attending parties, and texting. We end our conversation highlighting the grace and power of handwritten notes.
- How are style and manners connected?
- David’s take on roller bags when traveling
- Style staples that are also comfortable
- How manners are like poetry
- Tipping etiquette (including baristas)
- How to physically give a tip gracefully
- Why a man should always carry cash
- Party etiquette — when to arrive, bringing a gift, RSVPing, etc.
- Why greeting people has become awkward
- How to make a good first impression with your place
- Decorating without breaking the bank
- Does a man use emojis?
- What’s up with exclamation points? Why are they so ubiquitous?
- Social media etiquette
- Bringing back the handwritten note
- Why David strongly dislikes the appearance of bare feet in public
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- My first show with David about men and style
- How Manners Made the World
- The Importance of Good Manners
- AoM’s style archives
- How to Fly Like a Gentleman
- My podcast with Walker Lamond
- Digital Manners and Etiquette for the Modern Man
- The Gentleman’s Guide to Tipping
- How to Use Valet Parking Without Looking Like an Idiot
- A Gentleman Never Arrives Empty-Handed
- How to Make a Good First Impression With Your Place
- Put Away Your Smartphone: Propaganda Posters for the Modern Age
- Paris in Winter by David Coggins (David’s father)
- The Art of Letter Writing
- 7 Letters to Write
- How to Open a Door for a Woman
Connect With David
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness. They say that manners maketh man, but how do you display good manners without coming off as awkward and in a way that elevates life both for yourself and for others? Today on our show, I bring back writer David Coggins to discuss etiquette and manners in the modern age. I had David on the show a year ago to discuss his book, Men and Style. He’s out with a new book called Men and Manners.
Today on the show, David shares how style and manners are connected, and why good manners are like good poetry. He then discusses the best etiquette practices concerning certain tipping, greetings, attending parties, and texting. And we begin our conversation highlighting the grace and power of hand written notes. After the show’s over, check out the show notes at AoM.is/menandmanners. David joins me now via clearcast.io.
All right. David Coggins, welcome back to the show.
David Coggins: Thanks Brett. Great to be here.
Brett McKay: We had you on, I think last year about your book, Men and Style, where you gave your take on what style or stylish man should be doing, but you also interview a lot of your friends and taste makers about their take on style. You got a new book out, Men and Manners this time. What was interesting about the book, it’s about etiquette, it’s about manners, but you also tie it into like the Men and Style book. How are style and manners connected to each other, you think?
David Coggins: Well, that’s a good question. I think they both say something about … Well, the manner how you dress says a lot about you, and how you conduct yourself in public says a lot about you. I think it says about how you think you fit into the world. I think clothes are probably more superficial but there’s definitely meaning there, and manners are really how we interact with strangers and people we know or like. And so, having thought a lot about clothes, not really about specifics about the clothes, but what they tell us about ourselves.
How our fathers dressed, that was a big theme in the last book, what we learned from our fathers. I think that sort of holds over into the new book, the manners we learned from our dad, kind of the traditions that are worth carrying forward, and also how we have to evolve because manners are not the same as they were certainly not 100 years ago or 50 years ago, or even when we were kids.
Brett McKay: Right, because we have cell phones now, that didn’t exist.
David Coggins: Technology is a huge issue. Everybody knows it. I think having a computer with us at all times, an iPhone changes the way we interact with people. And our sense of self awareness, I think, too often it maybe makes us feel more isolated or makes us feel like we’re at the center of our world, walking around with our earphones, we don’t look up, and I think that’s sort of a metaphor for a lot of how we are in the public sphere.
Brett McKay: We’ll, we’ll get back into your take on technology and etiquette. But what I thought was interesting point, we hit on it in our last conversation, but you made the case that the way you dress isn’t just for you, but it’s also for other people. It’s a way to show that you care about them. So in a way, dressing well is a way to show … it’s a form of etiquette in a way.
David Coggins: Absolutely. In the simplest sense, it shows a sense of occasion. That’s why people dress up to go to church, to parties, to work, to interviews, to court, on a first date. All those things are hugely consequential to varying degrees, and how you dress for them shows a lot about who you think you are, but also your respect for the people around you. And I think somehow we’ve gotten into this zone where it’s all about being comfortable. And as long as I’m comfortable, I’m fine, and that’s why you have people in track suits everywhere you go, especially on airplanes.
But that’s also why … Maybe you look to try to be comfortable in something that’s a little more elegant, and that’s nice too. And think we can challenge ourselves to ask a little more about what makes … a level of comfort we can have and how we dress.
Brett McKay: Yeah. My father-in-law, he always talks about that. Back in the day when you flew on an airplane, like you had to get dressed up, like you wore a jacket at least, and a pair of slacks. But now, you’re wearing yoga pants and shorts and sandals.
David Coggins: When I see a man wearing a suit or a sport coat on an airplane, I feel a little elevated in a way not to get carried away, but it’s nice to see someone making an effort. I think that makes us feel like we can make an effort too. And just on top of all that, if you don’t feel the need to do it for those reasons, I read that Delta and some other airlines, there’s a small chance that they’ll upgrade you people who are well dressed and sort of dignified and well mannered. So if you need any more reason to do it than that, I don’t know what it could be than getting a better seat on the plane.
Brett McKay: Traveling is already … flying in airplane is already miserable, one thing we can do is just, everyone dress up a little bit so it feels a little bit more dignified, because it already is like an undignified experience.
David Coggins: Well, traveling and there’s a whole chapter in the book on that, because I think it’s where we deal with the most people, the most strangers. And there are these rules and some of them seem arbitrary, some of them are sort of long standing and it kind of descends into a free for all. And I’ve been, as someone who travels a fair amount, I’ve been trying to monitor myself and see what I could do to behave a little better and not … I think somehow it seems like everyone’s got to rush onto the plane and get the last overhead bin or get the less outlet in the lounge.
And I was trying to figure out ways to just avoid putting myself in that position and hopefully … We’re all going to get on the plane for the most part and five extra seconds, I think if we all took five extra seconds, we would be in a better spot.
Brett McKay: I want to get your take on this, because we had podcasts, people on the podcast talking about this when it comes to traveling, what’s your take? And it’s controversial, what’s your take on wheelie luggage?
David Coggins: It’s funny you asked that. I’m one of the last people who is not for roller bags. I really believe in packing light. I think you need way less than you think you need. I actually think you learn more about how to dress well if you bring a limited collection of clothes. I think you’ll always wish you’d pack less and you look just more dignified. You can move more quickly. There’s a time in every trip where you wish you just had a light bag and not a roller bag, whether you’re going over cobblestones in a European street or when you have to go further from the taxi to the airplane.
I personally am not for them. I realize that puts me in the hopeless minority, but even if you carry a wheelie bag, I definitely say, bring way, way less than you think. Find some shirts that you can wash yourself and don’t get wrinkled. I love a well dressed man who does his own laundry while he travels, I think that’s a very elegant solution.
Brett McKay: Walker Lamond, he wrote Rules For My Unborn Son. That was one of his rules. No wheelie luggage.
David Coggins: Co-sign, strong co-sign on that. But I think I’ve lost that one.
Brett McKay: Yeah, we’ve lost. Talking about, it’s possible to be comfortable while looking good. What are some style staples you recommend that every guy should have that you can throw on, it feels like you’re wearing a sweatsuit, but you look good?
David Coggins: That’s sort of the grail, isn’t it? I always tell people that an unstructured blue blazer is just really the first thing to invest in. I think partly because it’s so versatile, you can wear it with a shirt and tie to a job interview or an event, and you can wear it with jeans. So I think that … and an unstructured one isn’t going to … If it’s in kind of a, I guess you’d say a three season wall, not to get too technical, isn’t going to wrinkle as much. I’m really against things that wrinkle when I travel and that helps, I think.
Like I mentioned before, an Oxford shirt is really good. You can literally wash it yourself and let it dry. I was just in Italy and doing that and I felt a little bit like a neapolitan housewife from the 1920s or something, I loved it, hanging laundry outside my hotel window on the shutters. I also think trousers that, like a Chino, I guess you’d say, something that maybe even the matching color as the sport code, so then you’ve got something that you can wear casually and comfortably.
And slip on shoes are really a good way to go. Some sort of loafer or something like that. You’ll find the thing that makes sense for you. I think you just start there and then it evolves as you evolve. I think so many people when they’re young, they think they’ve got to get all the answers all at once. That’s a hard thing for to do for any of us. That’s why your tastes in music changes, your taste in literature and film changes, and how you dress changes as well. You don’t need to have it all figured out, but if you make a good faith effort, I think that’s a really good start.
Brett McKay: All right. So, dressing well is one way we can show etiquette to others. I love this. You have this section where you talk about how manners are like poetry, which I thought was an interesting, because I’ve never heard of manner spoken like the way, how our manners like poetry?
David Coggins: Well, that’s an interesting question. I asked a handful of people to contribute to the book, people who are experts in given topics, so there’s a bartender, there’s a man who owns a few restaurants, there is someone who makes stationary and I asked a poet, a man named Dobbie Gibson who’s from St Paul, Minnesota. I’m from St Paul as well. And he’s the one who said manners are like poetry, and I loved that idea.
And he says that in some way that we find them lacking in our lives far too often, both manners and poetry, but then they invariably come back when you least expect it or when you’re not expecting them, meaning, you find poetry in everyday life or you need manners, you’re called upon to do the right thing. And that they will always be with us even when we can’t see them. So I loved that idea. And so that had a sort of a prominent part in the book.
I also say just, we don’t know a lot of poets. I think the people who know the most poets are poets probably, and so it’s nice to hear from someone who is a successful person and a professor and a really nice man, and his section in the book was really nice. I thought that was nice to think about it because I don’t think manners are just transactional. I think it’s about being the best version of yourself. I think that’s really a theme throughout the book.
Brett McKay: Another way, after I read that I was thinking about it, another way I think manners are like poetry, like there are some really hokey poems, but there’s also like really hokey … you can be really hokey with your manners and where it comes off like stilted and awkward. The best poems of the ones that are just like, it’s super subtle then it just wallops you without even knowing you’re being walloped.
And I feel like that’s with manners too. There’s some people who it’s very awkward when they’re trying to be polite, but there’s some people who just, it comes naturally and you just feel good after interacting with them and you can’t really pinpoint why that is.
David Coggins: That’s so true. I love, I think something about poetry is that it starts in a very personal way, but it also is universal as well. That’s how we connect to it, like a pop song or something. And there’s something to be said about people who put you at ease, and you can’t always put your finger on how they do that. And that’s something I’m trying to improve on as I get older and interact with more people.
How do we make someone feel comfortable? And we do that in 1,000 different ways. Eye contact, tone of voice, smiling. A lot of things we were taught and maybe forgot or our lives are moving so fast or whatever it is that we think they don’t matter, and then when you’re around someone who’s good at that, it’s just such a wonderful thing, and it kind of makes you want to be a little bit better too at that.
That’s sort of where the idea of being a gentleman is in the first place; a gentleness, a kindness, and a way of putting other people at ease. And when you can do that, that’s a pretty good place to be.
Brett McKay: All right, so let’s get into specifics because this is the fun stuff. Everyone loves to talk about, because everyone has their take on what’s proper etiquette in certain situations. Tipping is a uniquely American phenomenon, but there’s a lot of debate about what’s a proper tipping etiquette. So what’s your take on proper tipping etiquette? Like should you tip everybody? Should you be generous? Is it 10%, 20%? What is your take?
David Coggins: Tipping is huge. It’s the first chapter in the book for that reason. I think it drives us crazy because we have to make mental calculations. It’s a social interaction sometimes. I honestly think one reason that Uber and certain online search apps are popular is because it takes service out of it. You can just get out of the car and you don’t have to do that. I think it’s important to be a good tipper, I think that’s the first thing. I think you want to be a man who tips well, not just because you’ll get better service though I think you will, but because of what it means and how you view the way you interact with people every day.
And so, you don’t want to be the person who’s trying to give a dollar less, you want to be the person who gives a dollar more, and if everyone gave a dollar more to the waitress or the bartender, then he or she’s had a good night, and you want to be that person. So if you start with that idea, that’s the best place to do it. Then you can get into rules. And I think when I was younger, you gave someone a dollar a drink and now that seems wrong, so you give them … I start with a few dollars a drink if I’m at a bar, maybe more, and then I tip a dollar after that, and at the end of the evening, I give them a little more above that.
It depends what type of place it is. I think if I ever sit down to a restaurant, here’s a little rule, even if it’s a diner, anytime on seated at a table, I will always tip at least $5 even if the bill was let’s say 10 bucks. I just think $5 is a nice thing, and I also take into account of let’s say I’m on one of my not drinking phases and I’m just having a mineral water at a bar, I’ll tip more than just 20% because that drink is cheap and I’m taking up real estate. If you’ve logged a lot of time at a bar or a restaurant, I think you want a tip for the space that you’re occupying.
You just want to do the right thing. I think you generally … People have all these rules and rules are a good place to start, if you want to ask me, do I tip 20% at a restaurant, I do. If I have a really expensive wine, then I probably tip a little bit less than that because I don’t think you need to tip 20% on bottles of wine that are really expensive. And I think if you’re at a hotel, do you want to be a person who is welcomed back? Everyone is going to know about your habits at a restaurant you go to a lot or a hotel.
So when I leave a hotel, I’ll leave a little bit of money for the maid. If the concierge has helped me a lot, I leave an envelope for him. I always think it’s better to leave money in an envelope. At the end of the year if there’s a place that you do a lot of business with, if you have a barber, a dry cleaner, anyone who … if you have a doorman in your building, put some money in an envelope and give it to them. It’s a nice thing to do.
One of the themes of the book is when you have arrived at the age where it’s time to do these more mature things, and I think for a long time, that’s the sort of thing your dad did while you were a younger guy. But then now it’s your turn, it’s our turn to make the more generous overture to the people in our lives. That even means giving money to a charity. Those seems like the sort of things your grandparents did. And now as we get older, it’s the sort of thing we should be doing too.
Brett McKay: What about tipping barristers where people have tip jars?
David Coggins: This is really tough because I think if the person is engaging with you, I don’t think every tip jar needs to be filled. I think that’s important too. If you go into a place and someone’s sullen and you’ve already paid a lot for some sort of juice way more than you should have, then you don’t need to be giving money on top of that. I think if it’s a place you go a lot, it’s a nice thing to do and I think they recognize it.
If you have a nice interaction, it’s positive and you say thank you, and if you don’t, maybe you take a pass or just give some loose change, but that that’s the toughest one of all because you’re so close to the person and there’s usually a line behind you.
Brett McKay: Right. And they’re looking at you, “I just gave you change.”
David Coggins: Absolutely. Well, I think that’s the tough one. If you feel some sympathy and some frequency to this place, I think it’s usually a good idea. But not everything deserves a tip.
Brett McKay: The other thing that I find awkward sometimes, I’ve gotten better about it though, is handing off a tip directly to somebody. Because like leaving a tip for a waiter is easy, you just leave it there and you don’t have … But like when you’re like, “Hey, thank you,” and you hand the person money, for some reason it just feels really awkward or you just kind of feel awkward. How do you do that where you are you like, you don’t want to be sleazy about it where you shake their hand and you pass the money without anyone noticing.
What’s your take on handing off a tip gracefully?
David Coggins: It’s such a classic situation. I think somehow it’s from bad cop TV shows where they’re sticking $20 in the chest pocket of someone, and he just couldn’t be worse. I think you should just say, “Thank you. We had a great time.” If I get my beard trimmed and I usually give them $5, I just say, “Thanks a lot,” and I hand it to him and I shake his hand. I don’t put it in my hand, I just hand them folded up bill. It’s an inherently awkward situation.
If it’s a valet, I just say, “Thanks a lot,” look at him and hand the money over to him. They’ll take it, that’s part of it. And if you just want to put this awkward five seconds in the middle of a friendly 45 seconds, that’s never going to go away, you just get used to it. I think in general, all of these things we do in our lives are awkward at some point, and just doing them more puts us more at ease.
And the more it is we are, that’s going to put who we’re dealing with more at ease. It’s just like when you dine out at a fancy restaurant and they hand you the menu, I think you want to be slowed down and it will be fine. I think we often are so worried about doing the right thing or following these rules that we sort of lose our level of naturalism. And the more natural you are, probably the better off you’ll be. But it takes work and experience and time to do that, you know.
Brett McKay: Yeah. So it’s going to be awkward at first, but you’ll get … Yeah, that’s how it’s been my experience, I’ve gotten better about it. It is completely normal now?
David Coggins: I’ve tracked down people … Sometimes I’m obsessed, if I’m in Europe, like having all this correct change and bills for all the people you’re going to have to hand them to. You get to a hotel, it’s like you’re facing this gauntlet of different people who need different amounts of money, and sometimes you run out of it or you haven’t changed it yet, or you need Yen or Euros or whatever it is, and I’ll just say, “I’m sorry.”
Someone brings bags up to your room, you say, “I don’t have it now. I’ll come down and give it to you.” You’re not lying, you’re going to see these people again for the duration of your stay and you track them down and you’d give them a whatever, a couple of bucks or whatever it is. Those things happen. They are used to it, but if you follow through, there’ll be happy.
Brett McKay: It raises another point, a man should have cash on him?
David Coggins: I’m a huge believer in cash. we’ve gotten to this point … When I wrote the last book, the issue was just all the things with credit cards, but now we’ve got Venmo, and it’s even more complicated than the last year. You see these people at tables who, they want to pay their bill for ways, but somebody ordered wine and somebody got the steak, and you’d think that it’s like doing your taxes. It’s so confusing. I think sometimes I just like to pay … If you’re with one or two other people, maybe you take care of it and they’ll get you back later and then maybe you leave a tip in cash.
But cash, you’re always comfortable when you have cash and you’re ready for whatever going to happen, I really do believe that.
Brett McKay: Yeah, it comes in handy. Whenever we go downtown, I always make sure I have cash because there’s parking you’ve got to pay, there’s people you got to tip; comes in handy.
David Coggins: And you don’t want to be the one who can, let’s say you end up at a dive bar, they don’t take cards and the first round is on your buddy, the next round’s on you, and you don’t want to be sort of worried about it or not ready to do whatever you need to do or you get involved in a pool game with some other people and you want to be … If you have cash, you’re ready for what the evening might bring.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I have recently invested in a money club, that was my recent acquisition. It’s been great. I love it. Alright. Let’s talk about parties. We’re not talking about just like a hangout party, mut maybe some of this stuff can apply, but we’re talking like someone sends you an invite. What’s the etiquette there on arriving? Should you bring a gift? How RSVP, like people don’t RSVP anymore, but I think … I would say you would argue that, no, you should RSVP.
David Coggins: Well, I think you take a hint from the formality of the invitation. If the invitation is sending the mail and it’s for a wedding or something, then they probably have a card or some sort of RSVP. If the invitation is emailed, then I’d email back and just say, “I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait.” Typically, what happens is you say, “What can I bring?” And they’ll say, “Oh, don’t bring anything or bring wine.” And if someone says don’t bring anything, you still bring something.
Never show up empty handed. Even if it’s a hangout. If you’re going over to watch the NFC championship, to watch the Minnesota Vikings get humiliated, that would be my team, you still bring a six pack or whatever it is. And if you’re going to a party, bring a bottle of wine. If it’s like a sit down party and your host is really particular about wine and you don’t want to like get in the middle of their plan, bring them a bottle of champagne that’s in a box, it’s a gift to them, it’s something they can have later.
It’s not to be had at the party. I think you always want to bring something. It doesn’t have to be like … Or you can bring some flowers, you can bring, if you’re going to the country, you pass a farm stand, get whatever nice looking fruit there is, something seasonal and colorful. Something that says you’re in the mood. You can even bring something really like tonic water or something useful that they might’ve not thought of.
I even sometimes text people when I’m about to arrive, it’s a little different in New York maybe than other places. I say, “I’m at the corner of your street. Do you need anything? Are you running low on anything already?” And then I get them whatever, tonic water or juice or whatever they need.
Brett McKay: How should you arrive, fashionably late, or should you arrive early or on time?
David Coggins: I think from the parties … When I have people over, I always want them to arrive earlier than they do. I don’t think you want to be right on the button, but usually you sense what sort of event it is. If the people are sitting down to dinner, you want to be there when you’re asked. If it’s a a standing affair where they’re going to be a lot of different people arriving staggered, I think you want to come at a reasonable time, partly because it’s the best time to talk to the host.
If you get there after it’s in full swing, the host is going to have a lot on his mind or a lot on her mind, and you’re not going to be able to have a little quality time together. If you really want to get in the spirit, bring a bottle of whiskey, and if you want to get even more in this spirit, I think there’s nothing more fun than a large format bottle of wine. They’re not always as expensive as you think. It really communicates fun and a festivity, it will be appreciated, believe me.
Brett McKay: I imagine, don’t put lampshades on your head if you go to a party.
David Coggins: Yeah, no lampshades. And when it comes to leaving, I’ve definitely been the last to leave. If you’re not helping clean up, I think you want to get out of there at a reasonable time and not hijack the sound system and started putting on depressing Smith songs or something.
Brett McKay: Depeche mode. And follow up after the party? Do you advocate for that?
David Coggins: Absolutely. The next morning. I don’t know why, I always sort of feel depressed the morning after a party because it’s usually a hang over, I’ve got a ton of dishes to do. I’m mostly aware of the people who didn’t show up, which is just a weird thing that happens, mostly you just are aware of anything that went wrong or people you missed. I always text someone. And then if it’s a more involved situation, break out the stationary or a postcard or something, write them a note in addition to the text or email, depending on the way you usually communicate, and send them something.
Even send them a bottle of something or take them out or offer to take them out. Again, people, it’s nice to make offers to people to make overtures and to even offer to take someone out and let them know that you’re taking them out ahead of time, not just that you pick up the bill at the end. Just say, “Thanks so much for the other night. Can I take you for a glass of wine or a beer?” Or whatever it is.
Brett McKay: All right. Let’s talk about another awkward part of social life, which is greeting people. I don’t know, for some reason it’s gotten awkward in the past, I’d say 10 years. Because I think we’re out of practice. There’s those moments where you meet someone new, there’s that. But then also the really awkward ones, like when you see someone you kind of know at the grocery store, but then like, “Should I say hello? What do I say?”
David Coggins: Oh my goodness.
Brett McKay: And then like you say hello and you’re like, “Oh goodbye,” and then like you see them again in the grocery store-
David Coggins: Right. In the checkout line?
Brett McKay: Yeah.
David Coggins: These things make me laugh because they’re so human and so recognizable. One reason that I wanted to do the book is to see what we’re all struggling with or grappling with. And I think these things are really human. I think greetings are really important. If you meet someone in particular, introductions, then you want a firm handshake. I mean, you don’t want to shatter anyone’s bones, but a firm handshake, eye contact, smile, say their name back to them, partly to help you remember it.
I don’t understand how anyone could not greet someone well, it’s sort of setting the stage for your future of your relationship, whether that’s professional or romantic or personally. It really says a lot about you, a disproportionate amount about you. As far as when you run into people, I often find myself saying, particularly if I’m not sure about their name or think they may not remember me, if it was someone I met briefly and I see him at a cocktail party or an art opening and I want to reconnect, I say, “Nice to see you, I’m David. We met,” wherever it was.
And they’ll either say, “Oh, right.” Or, “Of course, I remember you. How could you … ” Or whatever it is, you’re setting the stage for them to reintroduce themselves in case you can’t remember their name and also it’s just a nice way to engage. As far as double kissing and triple kissing and all that, you’re never going to solve that. I was just in Italy and I was leaning the wrong way and who knows, some people are hugging and some people are … You just, you try to do the right thing and follow someone else’s lead if they lean in.
Brett McKay: You got to go forward. I like how you mentioned, I think we should make bring back the Cary Grant. How do you do when you meet somebody, it’s so classy and so simple and it’s done. I love it.
David Coggins: My grandfather said that and that always struck me and then I see Cary Grant, “How do you do?” And I just think, how do you do is a very nice, especially if you said to someone who says it back to you, then you feel like you’re complicit in some sort of traditional way of greeting and I think that that’s nice.
Brett McKay: How do you do? And also going back to that idea, when you see people in public that you know and you’re like, “Oh, should I say hello or should I pretend like I’m not seeing them.” I think one thing that’s helped me is like, “Okay, they’re probably thinking the same thing as I am. I’ll just be the guy that just goes forward and says, “Hey, what’s going on? How are you?'” Just take charge, be the host.
David Coggins: I think that’s probably true in almost every one of these things we have discussed, that the other person is thinking the same thing as you, and so you just want make the first move, but be open about it and gracious, and I think it’s nice. I definitely, there are times when you run into someone on the street and you’re in a rush, they’re in a rush, you know them just well enough and they’ll say hello, you say hello and you just barely break stride and you somehow both understand that you’re not going to stop and talk and that sort of sophisticated too, that they recognize this situation and that maybe it’s not the time, you are late for the subway or something. But yeah, I think it’s nice to be a person who’s in the event of a tie engages.
Brett McKay: We talked about the way you dress can be a form of etiquette and says a lot about you. You also said that the way you present your domicile can also be, is a form of etiquette. How so?
David Coggins: Well, I don’t know if it’s etiquette so much as you will definitely be not judged, but assessed by the way your home is, looks and how you live. And you’re correct to be assessed that way. In the case of if you bring, if it’s a woman, of course she’s going to notice what type of sheets you have and towels and the art you have on your wall or if you have the dreaded black leather couch. I think some of these things are also about growing up, when you lived with three other guys in a quad in college and you had the reservoir dogs poster or whatever it was at that time. So that’s one thing.
And now you’ve grown up out of that and you have maybe a collection of books or you’ve bought a rug or found some painting at a thrift store or whatever it is. And I think it’s nice to live in a way, not just for yourself but for the people who’ll come back. There’s nothing … I don’t know if everyone’s experiences, where if you come back with someone unexpectedly late at night and you’re running ahead of the woman trying to clean up your apartment briefly and wondering if you’ve left it in a state of disrepute, that’s better to have it a little bit a tidier.
And I think it also says something about that you take yourself seriously in a way and that you consider yourself an adult.
Brett McKay: There’s kind of interesting tangent about decorations, because I get them and not think about it too much. But you wrote about art for a lot, so you’re into art. I’m like one of those guys, like I want … something I’m interested in, but it’s like, “Man, it’s going to cost a lot of money,” but not necessarily the case. Can you decorate your house with some great looking stuff without breaking the bank?
David Coggins: Absolutely. I think that’s the best way to start, in fact. For a long time, even when I wrote about art, I would mostly acquire things just when I traveled that weren’t even technically art that could be maps or old Argentinian soccer programs that had really cool graphics or all sorts of things, photographs that weren’t necessarily fine art, but that I liked. I would get them framed and put them up and just like your wardrobe or anything else, it evolves over time. I think sometimes people they think too much about, the first thing they do, and so it intimidates them, “I don’t know anything about art. I can’t do it.”
But what’s on your wall doesn’t have to be art, but it can certainly be meaningful to you and it can say something about you and then you learn more about it or you learn more about your own tastes and you find something that does make sense. And I think that that’s really a nice thing, and I think if you want to get more strategic about it and you’ve got a little bit of money to spend, a lot of museums or art galleries will have fundraisers and sometimes they have little silent auctions before them where you can bid on an addition.
Instead of getting a painting or a unique work, you’re getting a print or something that’s part of a run of let’s say 30 things which usually costs much less. And that’s a great opportunity to spend a few hundred dollars and maybe you get one every year. The Minnesota Institute of Art, they have this called the print and drawing fair and something like that exists in many cities and that, it’s a step to do that for the first time. And part of that is a little bit of the theme of this conversation, is growing up and taking initiative.
And I think it’s a good thing, go with your girlfriend or go with a friend who cares about that sort of thing, and you’d be surprised. You’ll know what you like, don’t be afraid of the things you respond to and then you build on that. I think so often, we keep ourselves from doing something because we don’t think we, “Oh, I don’t know a lot about wine, or I don’t know enough about the opera or the theater to have an opinion.” And you know how you get to have an opinion about jazz or classical music? Is to expose yourself to it, and immerse yourself in it.
And not everything’s going to be for you, but some things really will be. So many people discover passionate things in their lives as they’re 30 or even older than that. Whether it’s activities like fly fishing or something they may never have thought they cared about, like the opera. And I think you want to be open minded to a lot more things than you think and let yourself change and evolve and grow.
Brett McKay: One of the things that intimidates me about buying art is that, “Okay, I’m going to buy this thing and it’s going to have to be up in my house forever.” And so I never buy anything because I’m like, “I got to find that perfect thing,” But the way you described that, you can just take out, rip out a page of a book that you think looks cool and frame it, put it up and then you can replace it a couple of years if you want or even a few months later.
David Coggins: Well, if you’ve ever seen how …. My approach to this is, I have a ton of rugs on my floor and a ton of art on my wall, and the more you have then the less importance each one has. So if you have one rug, then that better be a nice rug. But if you have like a dozen, then that’s just sort of reads, is like all are the same. And if you have one piece of artwork on your wall, people are going to look at it. If you have a little grid of a few things, then it lessens the blow. I don’t know if that helps everybody, but that’s a good way to think about it.
And then, you get a little less precious about it because of course, the first time you do something, you think it’s immense decision, it’s like if you just have one piece of furniture, and then you have a little bit and it’s not quite as striking.
Brett McKay: It takes the pressure off, for sure. I like that idea.
David Coggins: Exactly.
Brett McKay: All right. Let’s get into etiquette and technology, because this is something our parents didn’t to deal with, our grandparents. And I think a lot of the etiquette around technology is communication, because again, communication … Like manners is all about human relations and now we relate with other people through our technology. What’s your take like when you have a computer on your phone in your pocket all the time, what’s the gentlemanly thing to do with that?
David Coggins: This is it. This is the world we live in. I think one thing I try to keep in mind, technology has changed our lives in many, many wonderful ways. I love texting, I love Instagram. I love a lot of this. I love having a camera in my pocket, I love all music and podcasts and all those things that they provide us, but I think the danger is that we let them dictate what we’re doing when we’re in public. And I think that means that we’ve all seen a table of four people or two people on a date and they’re both looking at their phones. What’s going on here?
The best things in your life are going to happen face to face with someone, especially as everyone’s busy, it’s harder to see your friends have kids or you’re traveling and when you finally get to be with your friend, keep the phones away as much as you can. I want to hear what my friends been up to, what they’re excited about. And I don’t even just want to see them showing me videos or something on their phone, I’d rather engage with them and that’s going to lead to even more interesting things. I try to keep the phone away.
If you really have to use it, take it outside, just take it away from where people are trying to have a good time. Nothing is more off putting than somebody jabbering on their phone in a cafe or a bar. What’s going on here? Part of manners is thinking about other people other than yourself, of course. It’s one of the first things we learn. And unfortunately, the phone is really inverted that equation, so people think that wherever they are is their office, they’re Facetiming in restaurants, just bonkers loud level. Keep it away when you can or if you really have to use it, take it away from other people.
Brett McKay: Does a man use emojis when he texts?
David Coggins: It’s funny, for many years, I wish there were italics that would really have helped me, partly because they’re so expressive and it’s a discreet way of being expressive, I think. And when I realized that people were misunderstanding my text, that they didn’t see what I thought was very bone dry humor, then I might have tossed in an emoji. But I generally think it’s better to be the second person in a text exchange to use an emoji, not the first. I’m always surprised when a serious guy I know we’ll use LOL or something, I’ll just laugh. I think it’s so funny and it’s sort of sweet because that means they don’t care so much.
I personally don’t use those types of formations, but I’ll toss in an emoji if I know it’s an emoji safe environment. I wish I didn’t have to.
Brett McKay: Before even Cormack McCarthy used LOL.
David Coggins: Exactly.
Brett McKay: Emoji is okay sometimes. Are there emojis that you think, “Okay, those are off.” No man, dignified man, would ever use a certain emoji.
David Coggins: Well, absolutely. I think we know what they are, if they’re a vile or vulgar or provocative or something that a 13 year old would use, I think it’s genuinely nice to … if you have to just some sort of laughter face or whatever it is, it sounds absurd to say it, but you know when it’s the right time to use it. But it’s just sort of saying that you’re sharing some sort of joke with someone you like, but I don’t think you want to make a habit out of it. And you probably don’t want to be the first one to toss it out there, especially if it’s with someone you’re hoping to get to know better.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Text is tricky and you wrote about this too and I’ve noticed not only with my texts and my email, but like I’m using exclamation points all the time and for no reason, but it’s just to show that like I’m not mad. Basically, the exclamation point is like, “Hey, I’m not mad.”
David Coggins: That’s perfectly said right. That’s so funny. I didn’t use an exclamation point, not just in text, but in any writing I did for all the times, in anything, in magazines and newspapers, much less texts or emails. And then finally, a few years ago, I did start to use them. And now if I get a text from my mom that just says, “Okay, let’s meet for dinner.” And it just says, “Okay,” all in lowercase letters, I’m like, “Mom, what’s going on? Why are you so sad or angry? Let’s put an exclamation point on the end of that to shows some enthusiasm.”
I think now we’re conditioned. I think it’s going to be really effective, just one will do. And it shows that you’re, exactly like you said, not angry. That’s perfectly put.
Brett McKay: It’s not just sure, it’s-
David Coggins: Sure!
Brett McKay: Exactly.
David Coggins: You can’t wait to be there. I’ll be there on time, early in fact.
Brett McKay: It’s so funny, that’s changed. I find it kind of annoying, but I feel like I have to do that, so I don’t … people may get angry with them. Social media, like Instagram, how old Instagram’s now? 10 years? Not even that, five, I don’t know. But I think there’s like a whole etiquette around that now. Like, “When do you like something?” It means … So what’s your take on that using Instagram?
David Coggins: I think it’s evolving and that makes it complicated. The way we share information is so different than it was even a few years ago. So someone puts something that seems really important on Instagram and you’re sharing this with the whole world. I’ll often write them back by email to say congratulations, if you’re getting married, even though you shared it on a picture of a ring on Instagram to thousands of people. I’d rather keep my communication private, but you’re right, you feel this pressure to show enthusiasm.
I don’t know the answer. I really don’t. I think everyone’s going to have their own approach, when sometimes we think people are showing off their lives, and then usually that’s just because they do something a little bit more than the way we do it or the way we’re comfortable doing it. And I’m sure someone thinks that I do something a certain way. We don’t quite know, I think that we’re how much to be to make our lives public and the way we present ourselves. You’re definitely presenting yourself, there’s no way around that.
It’s like dressing in that regard. You can say, “Oh, well, I just do my Instagram the way I do it,” but that’s like saying, “I just wear what I wear. It doesn’t mean anything.” But of course, it means something, not making a choice, is still a choice. I think we’re going to figure that out. I don’t personally post many pictures of myself, I have a following of people who I don’t know, so it’s more of, I travel a lot and write about that and write about tailoring and those sorts of things.
So I try to share things based on my interests and that makes sense for me and works for me. It’s probably not what makes sense for other people. I’ve followed some friends who have feeds of their children that I’m very close to, but then other people I’m not following them. It’s strange the way we do that and I think it’s still evolving. It’s evolved so much in 10 years. When you look back at what Instagram was when we started, I just signed up because I wanted to make what looked like an old Polaroid. Remember that it’s with like a white border. Oh, my goodness, and sepia toned or something, and now, it’s evolving every few months.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I think we’ll have etiquette books about Instagram here in a couple of years.
David Coggins: Right. But that’d be outdated so quickly. One thing to me that’s nice is that it allows me to interact with people. People write me questions all the time, people I’ve never met about places I’ve been, about suits and tailoring advice that they want, and that’s a nice thing to have I think, this sort of seamlessness. I think you can go overboard with that, but I usually make an effort to read and respond to all the messages I get from people who have questions about, if they see I’m in a certain city and they’re going to go there, they say, “Oh, where should I go?”
Or if they want some sort of advice about shoes or whatever it is, and I do an Instagram messages which literally, have only been around, not that long, has really changed the way we can communicate with people that we don’t know as well and that that can be a nice thing.
Brett McKay: One thing I’ve noticed people do, I’ve noticed in recent years, people are getting more strategic about social media in general. I think before it was a broadcast model, like let the whole world see what I’m doing, but now you’re seeing people have private accounts and they only let certain people see certain images, if it’s like close family through that and then they’ll have maybe, if they have a more forward facing presence online.
David Coggins: Right. That’s probably for the best. Of course, then you get these people with so many accounts and you’re like, “Can you just tell me which one to follow?” I think we’re overwhelmed with feeds. I know a lot of people criticize this, they want the feed that comes in order, the chronological feed, but I actually like how they stack it now. So the 12 or 15 people that I want to see the most, they’re usually right at the top of my feed. But it’s amazing how much this is part of our lives now.
My dad who has the same name as me, he never wanted to get on Instagram and he had a book coming out, a book that some people think I wrote, which I didn’t, called Paris in Winter, and now, he’s on Instagram all the time and he loves it. He’s interacting with my friends, they’re commenting to me about what they’ve seen that he’s up to. It’s a wild new world.
Brett McKay: One thing that can simplify this is going back in technological time and bringing back the handwritten note, which you write about in the book as well.
David Coggins: I believe that we respond to those things in a very strong way, kind of like beautiful ceramics. It’s just a physical, something we are almost hardwired to respond to. When someone sends me a note, I love it. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that, I like getting mail, like the handwritten mail, real mail. And my dad is actually wonderful about that sort of thing. I have envelopes that he’s sent me from probably the last 30 years, it’s some of my favorite things that I have.
And I think it’s nice, also when you get something from someone and you realize that they have personalized stationery, that feels like such a decision they made in their lives that I approve of and the fact that it’s a little bit expensive and not really that practical, makes it even better. I like the fact that it isn’t the easiest way to do something. And so that’s why in the book, we talk to Ted Harrington from Terrapin Stationers, who makes engraved stationary. And he’s very funny and irreverent about that, but his family’s been making that sort of thing for generations.
And it’s really nice to have some stationary, I believe. And a thank you card, once you have it, you find you’ll use it more than you would have thought. And speaking of being strategic and if you’re invited to something, some sort of work event or something where you’re trying to make an impression on someone, to write back to them, “I’m thanking you for being included,” to whatever it was, a press, event or something like that, I think people recognize that.
Brett McKay: Well, what about hand written letters or snail mail? It eliminates a lot of the weird, like unspoken rules of online technology. When you’re using that online, there’s an expectation, “You got to get back to me like today or within a few hours.” When I get a letter from somebody or I send a letter to somebody, I know it’s going to take a day or two to get there. They’re going to get it, and I’m okay if they don’t get back to me for like a week or two or even they don’t even get back to me, I’m okay with that, it just eliminates that weird social pressure we have with online communication.
David Coggins: I love that. I love that sentiment, that kind of open endedness of it, that it doesn’t require that immediate response. I think anything that says red, like a red notification, is just diabolical. I don’t want people to know exactly when I’ve read something and to be honest, I don’t want to know when they’ve read it, because then you have some sort of, just like you said, expectation. But a letter exists in its own space and time. Once you’ve sent it out, you don’t know when it arrives, you don’t know when someone read it and it’s nice to have it out in the world.
I think it’s a wonderful thing and I feel like it is the antidote to that sped up, hyper responsive groove we get into, in our daily lives, that we don’t even realize we’d get into like, yes, text response, five minutes from now. I think sometimes that’s really useful if you’re about to meet somebody or whatever it is, but it also has us dialed into our phones way, way too much.
Brett McKay: Way too much. All right. Are there any rules you came across in your conversations or interviews that they don’t really fit in, like a nice category, like it’s etiquette for social media or etiquette for parties, but sort of rules for life that you really liked?
David Coggins: Well, I have some real issues about men’s toes and people showing their feet in public. I don’t understand men who are just in flip flops in serious places. When one person said that you shouldn’t wear flip flops where you can’t swim, I really like that. I think that was a lesson that their father had taught him. But the reason I say that is that it indicates something more, people propping their feet up and putting them on seats opposite themselves and when they’re on the train or just in other places. I’m very aware of feet for some reason.
I think one thing about this book was about being more tolerant in a lot of ways, but I’m still very sensitive to feet for whatever reason. People talked about spitting, so I should say I asked a handful of people, young men, middle aged men, older men about what questions and opinions they had about manners today. Things that bothered them, questions they had, things they continue to do.
A lot of people asked about what etiquette with women, when is it outdated or when should you be opening doors or pulling out chairs. And that’s a really tricky thing and I know the world has changed in a lot of ways, but sometimes it is nice to still do those things and I don’t feel it shows that you’re behind the times. I think we’re all struggling to balance the best of traditional manners that are worth bringing forward and when things need to evolve and to be a little bit less formal.
I’m all for opening doors and definitely offering the best seat in the house to whomever you’re with, even if it’s a man.
Brett McKay: David, it has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book?
David Coggins: Well, the best way still is the old fashioned, Amazon.com. I mean that’s the world we live in. A handful of places where I’ve done book events, have signed copies of the book, like Sid Mashburn, Stag, a great store in Austin. And there are going to be some at J Press here in New York, and at Three Lives bookstore in New York, they’ll have signed copies of the book, but the best way to get it, Amazon.com. You can see the books, the images from it and it’s just a part of our lives, like everything else, changing world.
Brett McKay: Amazon, I got a love-hate relationship with Amazon, but that’s another conversation. David Coggins, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
David Coggins: Thank you. I really appreciate it, Brent.
Brett McKay: My guest today was David Coggins. He’s the author of the book, Men and Manners, is available at Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. Check out his Instagram feed @davidrcoggins or on twitter at @davidrcoggins as well. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/menandmanners, where you find links to resources where you delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com and enjoy the podcast. I’ll appreciate if you give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. As always, thank you for your continued support, and until next time, this is Brett McKay, telling you to stay manly.