Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Chivalry and Courtesy

I was talking to somebody who said that he feels women are too easily impressed by chivalry. After screaming herself hoarse about the equality of men and women (he said), the same woman swoons over a chivalrous man. He accused women of double standards.

A bit of thinking led me to the conclusion, that yes, we do like chivalry. In fact, everybody does. But not in the sense of men holding doors open and offering their chairs to women. Everybody appreciates courtesy, good manners, and concern towards fellow human beings, regardless of the sex of the courteous person, or of the person at whom the concern is targeted.

Maybe I can explain better with examples.

Situation: A group of us are passing through a self-closing door.
I don't expect - Anybody to hold the door open for me.
I expect - The person who has already passed through, to pause and hold the door for that one second longer to prevent it from swinging back, so that it does not bang into my face, and I can pass through it elegantly and safely, and in turn, hold the door for that one second longer to facilitate the person behind me to pass through unhurt.

Situation: I enter a conference room for a meeting, and see that there is one chair short.
I don't expect: Anybody to get up and go out of the room, and get me a chair.
I expect: That when I go out and get a chair for myself, and am struggling to get the bulky swivel chair into the room through the self-closing door, my colleagues should not stare at me blankly, chewing their pen caps, but get up and hold the door open so that I can get my chair inside.

Situation: Getting on to the bus.
I don't expect: Anybody to stand aside and allow me to climb into the bus first.
I expect: That s/he should not shove me aside to get into the bus first.

Situation: Waiting (like at the doctor’s), where there are a number of chairs, all occupied.
I don't expect: Anybody to get up and offer their chair to me.
I expect: Somebody to get up and offer their chair to the pregnant lady/the lady carrying a baby/old people/the person with a crepe bandage around his ankle.

Actually these are very small things. It is common sense, and basic courtesy, which should be followed by everybody without a second thought. But an unbelievably small number actually practices it.

So naturally, when someone, be it male or female, displays such little gestures of thoughtfulness, it is very natural to be drawn to him/her. And the insensitive ones, who don't understand what is happening, accuse women of falling for chivalry. All I can say is, wake up, and smell the coffee.


Sunil said...

The Coffee smells Just Perfect.

Viky said...

Spellcheck Alert: (before bellur spots it out for me) - Your expectations in the bus scene are not boldfaced or italicised.

Comments follow. :D

Anonymous said...

Same Old Anon: Like someone said "Chivalry is the most delicate form of contempt" - Period.

anumita said...

Women are impressed by any act courteous or even humane, performed by men or women. So does it occur, why do we have to wait so long to be impressed with a man?
I better hide for cover now!)

Shruthi said...

Sunil, good for you ;)

Viky, what would I do without my spellchecker! :) And where are the comments? ;)

Same old anon, Ah! If being mildly contemptuous of each other results in more concern and goodwill all around, then I am all for it :)

Anumita, ha ha!! :))

chitra said...

Hmmm....small things...yet big difference....c

Supremus said...


No wonder women are drawn to me :D :D :D hehehehehe - I practice all of this with mucho gracias :)

Nice post.


Older Bangalorean said...

I would expect a self respecting "female liberation activist" to turn down _all_ forms of offerings by a male.

If that is not the case, that person (the lady in question) is either a "wannabe female liberation activist" or at best a pretender.

I don't know how many of you were on this planet in the 60's and 70's to understand what I'm talking about..

Viky said...

I feel men ought to be a wee bit chivalrous. Women's lib, equal rights and everything under the sun in place, the average Indian male has a long distance to cover. And chivalry is not even on the horizon.

The following is just to give you a few examples where, forget chivalry, even courtesy goes for a toss.

Take for example you are in a multiplex, waiting for the doors to open, after being vacuumed from the previous show. You spot a PYT near the vending machine. How many of us males, if not in the right company, will NOT make an effort to move towards her?

Forget all the beating around the bush. How many of us can maintain eye contact with a lady acquaintance who is ... ahem ... showing some skin? How many times have we made someone feel conscious by staring at them, making her feel "What a jerk!!!"?

Forget all that, I'll classify it as juvenile. Allright, we did it in college, we did not know our Ps and Qs. Fine.

Now we are white collared "corporates". How many times have we held our drink to ourselves in an office party? Office parties are formal affairs where people are with their families.

Yet when Mr.Jack Daniels is introduced, people act as if they have seen him for the first time, and will be the last time ever. Trains start running around. Ties go for a toss even as shirt tails come out and show their wrinkles. Dinner starts and yet a hand is holding the glass.

Cultural programmes are done to empty chairs while the bartenders serve people who are so sloshed that they don't know what went into their Bloody Mary - Vodka or White Rum.

We are techies aren't we? It's either 0 or 1. Either we are not drunk, or we are on the floor. Jagjit Singh says in one of his ghazals - Peene gaye the chalke, laaye gaye uThake. And the teetotallers wonder, "What a jerk!!!"

Forget office parties. Almost everyone gets a call from telemarketers, for cards, for loans etc. How many of us shout at them, and how many of us actually say that we don't want their services? The person at the other end is, in all probability, a student earning his pocket money or a disabled army man eking out his living. He is doing his job, he's got a number to call, he does it. You don't want the service, refuse it POLITELY. No!! Bola na be, nahi chahiye??? He is left wondering "What a jerk!!!".

A man's character is determined on how he treats people who are powerless in front of him. Allright, you shouted at the guy...did it improve your situation? A few times, yes, but in general?

How many times have we hung up on a person? How many times have we answered a phone saying "Boliye" or "Haanji"? How many times have we bossed around the support staff - canteen guys, courier guys, delivery boys - as if they were children of a lesser God?

I can go on and on and on. Sometimes I do some of the above myself, and end up feeling reproachful. Sometimes I take pride in the small things I do to make people who are less fortunate than me comfortable. But one thing is sure, what goes around, comes around. How many times have we felt happy because someone much higher than us, much more accomplised than us, lent us some time, and spoke without inhibitions.

Let us learn courtesy first, chivalry can wait.

Viky said...

accomplisHed, third line from the bottom. :D My mistake.

Rk said...

If only coffee solved things, world would have been a better place :)

shark said...

These are small thing but make a lot of difference. Don't men expect to be treated well...? So why when women expects the same thing it gets classified either as "lib" or "attracted to men's chivalry" ?

But things are changing... I see a lot of difference in men these days. They respect women more now. Specially if they have gone overseas.. sad but true! Anyway as long as we take the good things of the west and improve on it.. what is the harm!

maverick said...

nice post. i actually expect both men and women to do the same (refer to exmaples of yours). you will find how weird it is that people with no basic courtesies change when they land up in US or some other land...apne desh mein they are different creatures of habit...i find it very weird! and most of ure examples are not too much to expect from people of either sex but as you say, so few actually live up to it.

Amodini said...

I agree. I don't expect to have someone open doors for me - I have 2 hands - I can do it myself. If the person ahead of me holds the door for me, it is courtesy - I do the same for men/women behind me. Gender does not matter; it is upto both sexes to be courteous.

Shruthi said...

Chitra, precisely!

Suyog, why am I not surprised? :) Thanks!

Older Bangalorean, that is extreme, and I think that is pretty silly :) And no, the earth still did not have me at that time, so I will refrain from commenting further! :)

Viky, Ah! Back with a postworthy comment! :) You know, I have a piece on the topics you have broached in your comment. It is amazing how rude people are. Just yesterday I came across a very very rude person, who prides herself on being frank. Frankness is ok, madam, I wanted to tell her. Rudeness is not. Bah! And I have seen all the specimens that you have talked about... makes me grieve.
Politeness, grace, courtesy - nowhere to be seen!
Fantastic comment, Viky!

Shruthi said...

Rk, heh heh.. wish it were that easy :)

Shark, Maverick, oh, our people turn into saints and paragons of perfection the moment they step on foreign lands! But it is not that we in India do not have a history of being gracious and polite. I mean, look at the famous Lucknowi tradition, for example. I wonder ... is rudeness becoming a fashion?

Amodini, absolutely. Irrespective of the sex, courtesy is a must!

Vittala said...

Agree with Viky, same applies to traffic in Bangalore. No sign of courtesy anywhere.
If the traffic lights are not working, vehicles honk and everybody wants to go at the same time. Everybody ends up at the centre of the road. Instead, if people had shown some courtesy (rather sense), and followed a fcfs scheme, things would move smoothly.
Pedestrians are crossing the road and vehicles just zoom through without waiting for them to cross.
Not even kids, aged people or disabled are spared.

Anonymous said...

It is rather strange to see a chivalrous woman... But men would lap up anything that comes their way ;;)

So ladies - how chivalrous you all are to men out there ?

Anonymous said...


The _system_ in foreign countries force people to behave. So you can not blame our brave men and women for not bringing disrepute to this country.

We have it in our culture to be courteous and graceful; But we have long forgotten that.

Older Bangalorean said...


Glad to know that generation-X thinks differently.

I hope it is the turn of men in the next generation (X+1) to step up and become role models.

I don't wish to write more about the liberation movements of 60's and 70's either. I'm glad it is not the burning issue of this decade.

Shruthi said...

Vittala, well said, and absolutely correct. Road etiquette is totally missing!

Anon at 10 38, well, speaking for myself, since I was the one who wrote this post.... you know!

Anon at 11 25, precisely.. why forget our tradition of culture, and go and practise it elsewhere? :(

Older Bangalorean, you seem to have had some pretty bad experiences with women's libbers of those days! ;)

Older Bangalorean said...


Oh, you are making me write :-( Argg..

Anyway, I was never affected personally; I had good time all through. But I felt bad to see several well-meaning-woman getting *distracted* by what I thought a useless issue. There was so much negative energy - some of them affected their personal lives, ruined careers and turned out to be one unhappy bunch in the end.

A lot of successful woman from those days, on the other hand, never bothered about this issue (rather didn't waste time and energy on it) at all. For example, I had worked for several woman bosses from those days - their focus was on the job and never the gender. No wonder they were quite successful in life.

Does anybody know the quote that went something like .. "Realization, repentence, reconciliation, and recogniztion always come later ????? "

That's probably something how it all went.

Over to generation-X now :-)

Raj said...

Abt Situation 3 - I would expect the same but I dont think its possible in India cos there are too many people. Thats why I dont take the bus ever!

But ya, people need to learn to be courteous. And yes, I do hold doors for others. But I also expect a smile or a thank you or some acknowledgement from them in return which i dont get at times.

Oh, and btw, I am a Lakhnavi (in case u dont know that already) but sadly, people in Lucknow aren't very different from the ones in other cites now but they're still better.

Older Bangalorean said...


It's nice to know that people of Lucknow are better. When I was first embarking on my first north indian trip of my life, a close friend of mine from Varanasi totally scared the me by describing how things work in North India ! I remember him advising me to be careful if some one is walking around with a cobra or a snake, for he could very well put the snake on my head and demand money to get freed :-)

A friend of mine once had to sleep on the floor in a train because a north indian hit him and pushed him out of his reserved seat !

Being a non-hindi speaking guy, I was extremely scared during my trip. Even though nothing life threatening happened, I felt that it was not a very safe place to travel.

Shruthi said...

Older Bangalorean, Well, since I don't know much about that, I'd better not comment. But I do feel that if they were so vehement, there must have been a reason. I only hope they succeeded in their endeavours, even slightly!
And, yes the people of Lucknow are famous for their courtesy, at least that is how it has been traditionally. And err.. lets keep discussions about safety for some other time :)

Raj, you are right. When we don't receive any acknowledgement, it can be very irritating. That can be a lesson to learn too - when somebody is nice to you, smile or say thank you! :) They will not hesitate to do it yet again!
And yes, I knew you were from Lucknow.. and it kind of makes me sad to hear that it is not the same any longer. Anyway, I am sure some of the effects of the past can still be seen, nonetheless!

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Shruthi said...

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And I would appreciate it if you would not post any more comments on this blog, Ramanean, thank you.

Madhooo said...

As usual, I enjoy reading your posts.:) U make the simplest thing sound so interesting.Way to go.:) BTW, I second what @anumita says. :J

Shruthi said...

Madhooo, Thank you! :)

travel plaza said...

I loved reading the comments for this post as much as the post itself. Seems courtesy and politeness have long since been forgotten being replaced with rudeness in the name of frankness. I agree that courtesy is not gender oriented, it is person oriented. Men don't have to be the only ones to be curteous, women have to be curteous too. I have, sadly, seen innumerable times, a pregnant lady struggling to stand in an overcrowded bus, an old man being shoved and pushed while trying to get on a bus....the list is endless. I could go on and on on this topic, but wouldn't want my comment to be longer than your post:))Great work bringing thses simple but much forgotten topics to the forfront.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmm .... must I turn around and say Chivalry is but display of courtesy ? Quoting Webster's definition of "Chivalrous" a : marked by honor, generosity, and courtesy b : marked by gracious courtesy and high-minded consideration especially to women

I am not trying to prove these terms are synonymous.

What is wrong in appreciating a courteous person or even feeling comfortable with her/him ? It is but natural for a human to seek comfort levels for interaction. Courteous conduct definitely a beginning towards that comfort. It is good social etiquette too.

Forget all this .. get to the basics .... how many of us are courteous to ourselves ?

Hmmm .. Deep thought ??

Did I speak too much ? :P

Anonymous said...

Ooops, I got drawn away ... I wanted to point at webster's definition and pick on considerate in the definition. Again, Webster's definition of this word reads thoughtful of the rights and feelings of others

That's the key.

Anyone out there doesn't like being treated with consideration ?

(Sorry for the tailed post ! I should have been careful)

travel plaza said...

Shruthi, hope you don't mind that I've linked you in my latest post on my blog. I really like your post and wanted to share with more people:)

Anonymous said...

Isnt it the case many times when Men show courtesy that a section of womankind thinks that they are "coming on to them"? I am all for politeness and courtesy, but I am sure many men are left confused- show some chivalry and get branded a flirt/ dont show any and get branded a jerk!! there is no way to win at all!!

Anonymous said...

Good point and yes, it happens.

Perhaps they are the less previleged in *understanding* courtesy and have no desire to have an independent opinion. Sad ! They would realise sooner or later that flirting is a state of mind, but being courteous is a way of life.

It shouldn't stop anyone from being courteous and more so, courteous to such less previleged humans.

Ranjit Nair said...

As you said, what's described here is not chivalry; its mere courtesy - acts that don't take even 3 seconds to perform, and yet are rarely, rarely done.

As for real, authentic chivalry, I dunno: Would a guy really give up his bus seat for a gal in today's world? I know I wouldn't - not unless she's carrying a baby or is pregnant. Of course, much of my views on bus-seats has to do with my aversion and contempt to the concept of ladies' seats.

As an aside: do you think the Indian government thinks it is being chivalrous? Our government has separate queues (at cinema halls, reservation counters), separate seats (buses), separate train compartments and even separate Parliament seats for women! If such 'special treatment' is not gallantry, then what is (never mind if it is insulting)!

Shruthi said...

Travel Plaza, glad you liked the post! And thank you for the link :) You are right, sometimes on buses, women themselves remain sitting, even when a pregnant lady is standing. If a woman cannot understand another woman's difficulty, then who will? Its all just "me, me" now.

Anon at 9 26 and 9 32, (who, I assume, are one and the same) - you are not turning around and saying anything. I am saying the same thing. I also saw the dictionary definition of chivalry and found that phrase "esp to women". That's why I worded this post like I did. And you are right - "consideration" is the key. A better word than courtesy in this context, perhaps.\

Anon at 11 23 pm, there is a fine line between a courteous man and a flirt. And believe me, we women can easily make out the difference. Maybe I can put it this way - a flirt is courteous in an exaggerated way - he wants you to know that he is being courteous. Whereas a truly courteous man does what he has to subtly. HE has no point to prove.

Anon at 11 48 pm, well put. Really. That should answer the previous Anon's question beautifully.

Ranjit, authentic chivalry - I don't know, and I don't really care much for it. As for your question, it is certainly food for thought. Warrants an entire post of its own.
I am not entirely against "ladies' seats" in buses - because at least this way, the men are forced to leave ladies alone and not paw them at the slightest opportunity. As for separate queues - I would rather have separate queues for physically challenged people, and for people with babies, perhaps. Whether it is a man or a woman. As for seats in parliament, I don't like the numbers - 33%, etc, but I do feel that there should be women in parliament. Preferably she should be in out of her own ability. Then again, there are clauses in these arguments too, so I will leave this discussion for later.

Pradeep said...

A good one. Sort of reflects the current reality, as far gender roles and expectations go.

Some how I have my reservations on labels like "chivalry". But finally, it is all, as probably you illustrate, much to do with individual situations, that too with respect to the persons involved.

Some people like a bit of formality during the first meeting, others like it downright informality straightaway.

Different people take it differntly, at differnt occasions. I have seen so much of these things happening around, that I tend to be a little sceptical about generalisations.

Shruthi said...

Pradeep, thank you. Yes, it is always good to be wary about generalizations. And informality does not mean that you can be rude and uncourteous and inconsiderate. Actually that is what many people interpret it as, and that is what irks me!

TOI Rules said...

GO PRADEEP !! You rock..

Shruthi said...

Pradeep, You have a big fan in TOI rules! :) [Reference to previous post too!]

Vandana said...

Call me old fashioned but I don't mind a little chivalry. It's a nice gesture in the sea of a wannabe politically correct world.

As an independent woman nearing her thirties, I've come to realize that I am a little bit more nurturing and compassionate than most of my male sidekicks. And that they are often a little bit more action-oriented than me...especially when it come to emotional issues. They don't see the grey, just the black and white.

I guess I'm just saying that we should embrace qualities that come naturally to us and not worry too much about being equals (of course, women are better silly) lol! (just kidding). But seriously, I no longer feel that I have to prove myself to be an equal. I embrace the uniqueness that is generally there in the sexes. And if a guy wants to kindly hold the door open...by all means. You will definitely see a big smile on my face. Sweetness is never out of fashion.

Shruthi said...

Vandana, well said! :) I agree with you, we should definitely do what comes naturally to us, but don't you think a little effort to be nicer to the people around us makes everybody happier? :)
I personally am not offended by "chivalry" either. Like you said, you will find me smiling too, if somebody holds a door open for me, for example.
Oh I am not talking about equality - whatever we do, there are still some inherent qualities which make a man and a woman different - not unequal, but different, and that differece is what makes the world an interesting place, what say you?
Anyway, whoever it is, if s/he shows me a little consideration or courtesy, it makes me so happy that I find myself smiling away to myself for the next few minutes. Such a little thing can spread so much happiness around - so why not cultivate it?! :)

Vandana said...

Hi Shruti,

Absolutely, I agree.

I think the word you're looking for might be KINDNESS! Let's all try to kind, kind to our partners, kind to strangers, kind to all those around us. :-)

Silkboard said...

it's for Viky's long comment.

Very well said man (or lady, I dont know). And when some foreign mag called an Indian city the rudest, some of us were fuming.

Courtesy is not a western thing as the press made us beleive then. Words like thank you and please exist in indian languages too. How many times do we hear them though?

But have you ever thought what is the reason for lack of civility all around us?

Viky - you really wrote a post worthy comment there. And I am going to race with Shruthi to write one on those things you said.


Shruthi said...

Vandana, yup! Kindness, and consideration - and voila! Happiness all around!

Silkboard, Ouch! Why do I have the feeling you will beat me to it? ;)

N said...

Well said!

Shruthi said...

N, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Can't agree with you more... Increasingly we are just missing out on the niceties of life. And by we, I mean both men and women. Being courteous is indeed (and very sadly) become a big deal.

Shruthi said...

Emma, you have noticed that too, I see. It is very sad indeed :(

GuNs said...

You are correct here but there are many who take it for granted.

I used to wait for a bus for an hour in the hot sun (no shade and all) all dehydrated and hungry. When I finally got a bus, it would be full. In the 40 minute journey, I used to stand for half an hour and when I got a seat in the last 10 minutes, I was almost exausted enough to pass out. If some lady came to me and DEMANDED that I get up and give her the seat (unless its a seat reserved for ladies), I'd be more than happy to let loose my tongue at her.

I see it very often, ladies who just get into the bus expect people waiting for a seat since half an hour to leave it for them. ITs stupid. I mean, I mostly offer my seat to pregnant ladies, old people and hadicapped but to healthy young ladies?? Nope...go to hell !

A classic example is when we went trekking to Triund (Theres a post I wrote titled "Trek To Triund"), we came back after 5 hours of climbing up and 5 hours of climbing down in TORRENTIAL rain & a hailstorm. Got a seat in a bus and this man sitting beside me wanted me to get up and offer her a seat to a perfectly healthy lady in her late 20s. I'm like "I've come back from trekking for 10 hours in the mountains and I'm utterly exausted. I cannot offer my seat, sorry".

Sometimes women DO expect too much and not everyone is as level headed as you are. I applaud your sensibility...bravo !


GuNs said...

By the way, I see no harm or shame in aplogogizing or thanking everyone who helps me like the doorman, the security guard, the office peon, the college peon, the janitor, the carpenter, rickshawalla etc. Unless the person is younger than me, I speak to them with respect and address them as "aap" even if its just the guy whos sweeping floors at my office.

IF that is chivalry, then yes I am chivalrous. I sometimes hold the door open for a lady if I feel like it and always if I'm the one to go in first (but that I do with everyone regardless of gender) but I dont make it a burden on myself.

I think this was a super post. Brought up such a large issue with minimal fuss. Good work done.


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