When is a Gentleman Obliged to Rise in Deference to Ladies and Other Gentlemen?

When to Rise

One of the surest signs of a man well-groomed in the social arts is his knowledge of when to rise in deference to women of any age and to men of distinction and of advanced age.

The general rule is that a gentleman should rise whenever a lady of any age or man old enough to be his father enters a room in which the gentleman is seated. But as has been shown time and time again in this book, there are exceptions to the general rules of etiquette . And in general, the exceptions pertaining to rising are based on the nature of the room. If, for example, a man is sitting in the waiting area of a doctor’s office, reading the latest issue of Sports Illustrated (hopefully the “Swimsuit Issue”!) or that day’s Washington Post or doing absolutely nothing but “passing time” until his name is called, and a lady-patient enters the room to await her appointment to see the doctor, the gentleman would not rise if the room is relatively large, there are several people in the room, and its character is clearly that of a “public” waiting room, where people are coming and going without even greeting each other or exchanging the most basic of courtesies. If he stood under such circumstances, he might be referred to the doctor down the corridor—the psychiatrist. Nor would the gentleman stand each time the nurse or receptionist enters the room to announce the next patient. After all, a man must always apply basic common sense in determining how to conduct himself in social settings. But if the intimacy of the room is such that it would be impolite to enter it without extending general greetings to those already therein, a gentleman should stand each time a lady enters the room or rises to take leave of the room—unless, of course, he is deathly ill or incapacitated. (No one ever said being a gentleman was easy!) And he should know in his heart that despite the periodic disruptions of his peace and quiet, such a gentlemanly display of manners is likely to be infinitely uplifting for any lady present, whether sick or in the peak of health. But if, for example, a gentleman is seated at a dinner table and a lady must take leave of the table for whatever reason, he, and every other gentleman at the table, must rise, sitting only after she has exited the room. And they must all again rise upon her return to the table, sitting only after she has taken her seat. (Of course it is the responsibility of the gentleman at whose immediate right a lady is seated to assist her with her chair as she rises to take leave and upon her return to the table). A gracious hostess who must from time to time leave the table in order to oversee the service will request that her male guests not stand in deference to her comings and goings. At large gatherings such as wedding receptions, where there are many separate tables, the men sitting at a lady’s designated table will rise when she rises, remaining standing until she leaves the immediate vicinity of the table, and rise again upon her return, sitting only after she has sat. They do not, of course, rise when ladies seated at other tables rise or return, even if the tables are adjacent.

If a teenaged boy is visiting a friend for a weekend-sleepover, for example, he must rise whenever the lady or man of the house enters a room in which the teenager is seated, sitting again only when he is invited to sit, at which point he should say, for example, “Thank you, Mrs. Wilbourn,” and take his seat. The young man should extend the same courtesies to his friend’s sisters, regardless of their age. (Of course, if one of the sisters is a toddler who runs about the house all day, the young man would extend the courtesy to her once—upon being introduced to her on the day of his arrival). Generally, upon seeing a demonstration of a young man’s good manners, most 21st-century families will insist upon more relaxed comportment. But it is not the place of a young man to assume what those relaxed manners should be. Instead, he must wait until specifically informed of the customs of the home by his host or hostess. A young guest should remember to conduct himself correctly—even if his host-friend does otherwise—for every guest should bear in mind that the adage, “When in Rome do as the Romans,” applies neither to house guests nor the help. And a young man’s behavior is not only a reflection of him, but also a reflection of his family, especially his mother.

A gentleman sitting at a table in a restaurant must rise when any lady in his company rises to take leave of the table, sitting again only when she has departed the immediate vicinity of the table. And upon her return, he must again rise to receive her, sitting only after she has sat. Where it is possible and/or it is his responsibility to assist her with her chair, he should do so. In certain situations it would be awkward or impossible for a gentleman to rise fully in deference to a rising lady. In such instances, he should quickly and briefly rise to the extent possible, then resume his sitting position. In other words, the entire table setting should not be disrupted in the process of rising; under logistically problematic circumstances, the indication of the gesture is sufficient and will be much more appreciated.

A man must rise whenever he is being introduced, regardless of the age or sex of the person to whom he is being introduced or is being introduced to him. A man serving in the capacity of host must rise to meet his guests upon their arrival and to bid them farewell. And, of course, a man must rise to greet his host and/or hostess. A gentleman should also rise in deference to a gentleman of distinction or a man of the cloth.

Men (and women) rise for invocations and benedictions as well as for the playing of national anthems, including those of other nations.

A gentleman stands whenever he engages in extended conversation with a person who is standing. If sitting at a bar, however, a man does not have to rise to engage conversation with a person standing at the bar, the rationale being that bar stools are generally high such that the person sitting is already in a quasi-standing position. (Besides, if the bar is crowded, he might lose his seat!) But, of course, if he is being introduced while sitting at the bar, he must rise.

The rules pertaining to when a lady should rise are different, and a gentleman should familiarize himself with them, not only to be in a position to assist his female companion as they navigate the sometimes-treacherous waters of society, but also to know that he is in the company of a lady of his social ilk. A lady, for example, does not rise to meet a man—unless he is her host and she is meeting him for the first time. (After their initial introduction, she does not rise when he enters a room in which she is seated). A lady must also rise when being introduced to an elderly man. There are also occasions when a lady should rise when being introduced to another woman: when being introduced to an elderly lady; and when being introduced to a lady of prominence. Of course, when serving as hostess, a lady must rise to receive her guests—male and female—and to bid them farewell. And when being received as a guest, a lady must rise to meet her hostess.

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