What is a gentleman?

The term has long been lodged in our vocabulary, and perhaps weakened with time. We use it, sweepingly, to address crowds, to define historical figures, to sell $300 sunglasses.

But when we asked five Twin Cities area men what the word meant to them, they steered the conversation past the trendy and the antiquated definitions to a decidedly inward direction.

Being a gentleman simply implies a conscious, carefully considered approach to life, they said. Their tenets? Courtesy, respect and kindness — old-school concepts, applied to modern existence.

“It’s about the way you treat people, and the way you carry yourself,” said Chris Foster, founder of the Libation Project, a St. Paul-based wine importing and distributing company. “It’s a person who operates with integrity, selflessness and genuineness.”

With smartphones and other technological noise constantly vying for our attention and time, abiding by those rules can be harder than it sounds. Our five local gents — Foster, Keith Dorsett, Drew Beson, Keith Wyman and Jon Oulman — helped us create a guide to the up-to-date definition of the “g” word.



Make eye contact

The rule: Even when you’re having a seemingly meaningless interaction with the mustachioed dude behind the coffee counter, take a second to actually look at him and smile.

Why it matters: “It means you’re attentive,” Dorsett said. “It means whatever you’re saying matters or whoever you’re listening to matters.”


Get out of your seat

The rule: Stand up to greet someone or say goodbye.

Why it matters: “Greetings and departures are really important,” Beson said. “They are punctuations in a nice line of prose.”


Think about your handshake

The rule: A handshake should be firm, but not crushing. Do not offer a drooping appendage, aka “the limp fish.”

Why it matters: “A bad handshake is like a bad kiss,” Foster said. “It’s so off-putting and distracting. It makes it seem like you’re disinterested or dismissive.”


Make plans

The rule: Don’t text a pal to make last-minute plans on a Friday night because you’re bored. Instead, look two Fridays out and suggest something: a show, an art exhibit, a new restaurant or a sweatpants date in your kitchen with a massive bowl of guacamole.

Why it matters: “It’s not about what you do, but it’s about the ritual and showing people you’re interested in spending time with them,” Foster said.



Remember the big things

The rule: Your pregnant gal pal is having an ultrasound? Your buddy is preparing for a big presentation? Remember those things and bring them up.

Why it matters: “Asking shows you’re curious about the things that are important to them,” Beson said. “That’s the way to really perpetuate friendships.”


Give a compliment

The rule: When you like someone’s watch/shoes/apartment/light saber collection, say so. (Example: “I love your sweater. I’m really into cashmere right now.”) But stay away from the creepy zone. (Example: “Your sweater looks so cozy I want to lock you away and hug you forever.”)

Why it matters: “It makes people feel good,” Foster said. “And it allows you to leave on a high note.”


Repeat after me: “I’m sorry”

The rule: Use those two little words when you make others upset or just do something dumb.

Why it matters: “It’s about admitting that you’re not perfect, and it’s about considering the feelings of others,” Dorsett said.


Keep an even tone

The rule: Stay calm, even when your neighbor is blasting Justin Bieber so loudly you want to punch holes through the wall.

Why it matters: “You really can get your point across without yelling and screaming,” Dorsett said.


Ask questions

The rule: When you’re chatting with someone at a gathering, come stocked with as many questions as answers.

Cheat-sheet questions:

• If you were an alcoholic spirit, what would you be?

• What do you think — is Bigfoot real?

• Do you know the way to San Jose?

• Where are you from, what do you do and how do you know [so-and-so] are good, too.

Why it matters: “It’s important to contribute to the conversation and make efforts to keep it going,” Oulman said.



Be on time

The rule: Be punctual, even for parties and casual get-togethers.

Why it matters: “If you say you’re going to come at 9 and you show up at 9:30, it tells me that you clearly don’t value my time,” Wyman said.


Keep your word

The rule: Do what you say you’re going to do, even if it means going to that 6 a.m. Monday running club you were pressured into by your sister.

Why it matters: “It’s so meaningful,” Beson said. “It sounds simple, but it’s really hard to do.”


Keep learning

The rule: Be a pupil of life. Always look for inventive skills to add to your repertoire, whether it’s playing an instrument, learning a language or a new way to fix mac and cheese (try it with bacon and Brussels sprouts).

Why it matters: “You can better relate to more people that way,” Oulman said. “I think it best not to be an expert at anything, but proficient at many things.”



Keep a bottle of bubbly in the fridge

“You never know when there will be an occasion,” Beson said. (For under $40, we suggest Arnoux Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs, available at Solo Vino, St. Paul. For over $50, we suggest Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, available at most wine stores.)


Write thank-you notes

“Take the time to actually write something down,” Beson said. Minnesota’s Old Tom Foolery (­oldtomfoolery.com) makes some sassy cards.


Have a good joke in your pocket

Here’s one from Oulman:

Q: What’s invisible and smells like carrots?

A: Bunny farts!


Know how to …

Fold an omelet

The key is to use butter and keep the eggs moving.


Clean and filet a fish

First, find a good knife, maybe from Minnesota Fillet Knife (mnfilletknife.com).


Build something

How about a wooden six-pack carrier? Check one out at Upstairs Circus (upstairscircus.com), which is supposed to open soon in Minneapolis.


Roast a chicken

To make it more succulent, put duck fat under the skin.