As long as you are at an age when watchful parents are at hand to ensure that you attend to matters of personal cleanliness, especially when you are to appear in public or meet your friends, you are not likely to run into trouble over some of the points that are discussed in this chapter. Small boys are traditionally indifferent to the unseemliness of dirty hands and dirty faces. They are equally unconvinced of the social value of soap and water and bathtubs. It is just as well that they have some member of the family or of the school staff to march them off to the wash-basin at regular intervals in order to transform them to that primal, scrubbed freshness by which even the grubbiest little delinquent can become a charmer for a short hour or two.
It is not long, however, before this daily duty becomes your own responsibility. Your early home training, together with the increasing desire to be accepted and respected by others, should render easy and natural what you once submitted to as just another evidence of adult tyranny.
Self-respect is closely linked with personal cleanliness. It is fundamental for anyone who wants to be recognized as a gentleman. We all want to be respected by others, so we must begin by respecting ourselves. This entails at the very least, careful attention to all matters concerning the cleanliness of the body and our personal habits.
There is an important difference between failure in these matters and failure in other aspects of courtesy. Long after we have outgrown the supervision of home and school we may still be fortunate enough to have some friend who will draw our attention to more obvious lapses in etiquette. We should be thankful for the timely word of advice. But even our best friends will hesitate to speak to us about matters concerning our bodily cleanliness or our personal habits. The result may well be that we go on for years unwittingly giving offence by our very presence. We may only begin to suspect the trouble when we find people rather obviously withdrawing from our company. The remedy must be applied quickly if we hope to re-establish ourselves.
Personal habits, perhaps more than any other kind, tend to become firmly fixed as part of our nature. Sound home training and systematic care to avoid any personal habits that are even mildly offensive will save others and ourselves much embarrassment.
The opposite extreme is equally to be avoided. Some people make a positive fad of personal hygiene and cleanliness. With them washing, shaving, showering, manicuring, pedicuring and hair-brushing become a serious ritual occupying a sizeable portion of their day. Those afflicted with this boudoir complex are less concerned with cleanliness than with satisfying their own vanity. There is a manly, Christian attitude to this whole matter of cleanliness of the body, good looks and physical fitness. Realizing that our bodies were created by God and that they are the Temples of the Holy Ghost, we should treat them with respect and give them reasonable care. We should have a sane and healthy reverence for our bodies, avoiding the extremes of vanity and body-worship on the one hand and lack of careful attention to hygiene on the other.
Now let us turn to some practical points on this matter of cleanliness. The most essential aid to body-hygiene is the bath or shower. The genial, warm climate of Southern Africa attracts us to many forms of sport and outdoor activity. This makes frequent washing and showering very necessary. We should make it a regular practice, when at all possible, to shower or wash ourselves thoroughly after sport or any form of vigorous outdoor activity. Many people are in the habit of taking a daily shower or bath as a matter of routine. There is much to recommend this practice.
It is particularly necessary to take care that we always come to the dining table with clean hands. Washing the hands before meals should be a regular practice with those whose hands are even slightly soiled by whatever work or play they have been engaged in. Reasons of hygiene as well as the comfort of others at the table demand this. If we have been handling pets, it is very necessary to wash our hands afterwards, especially before eating. Failure to do this can result in serious infection.
Good health depends greatly on personal cleanliness. This is especially true of the cleanliness of the skin, the pores of which must be kept clean and open. This is why it is necessary, when washing, to make good use of a suitable soap. Merely plunging into a bath or standing under a shower is not enough to ensure the cleanliness of the skin. Physical exertion tends to clog the pores with surplus oils and perspiration, which need the thorough cleansing action of soap and water for their removal. Failure to attend to this matter can lead to skin infections.
Any lack of personal cleanliness is likely to be offensive to others, but none more so than body odour resulting from insufficient attention to bath or shower. Those whose daily occupation involves a good deal of physical exertion need to be particularly careful on this point. The difficulty is that the person himself is usually unaware of the offence he is causing, while others are not inclined to confront him with the blunt facts. It is therefore best to play safe and by thorough daily washing and frequent changes of clothing ensure that you are always acceptable in polite company.
Special care is needed to see that the feet are always kept clean. Here again cleanliness is essential for good foot-health. Those who perspire freely need to wash their feet often and change their socks at regular and frequent intervals. Even a daily change is not too much in warmer weather.
Make sure that you do not give offence by bad breath. This is another instance in which you can be an embarrassment to others without knowing it. A person afflicted with halitosis can often go for quite long periods without noticing the discomfort he causes others. You need not fear that you are offending in this way as long as you take the normal precautions – regular daily habits, especially care of the teeth.
Sometimes the food you eat can cause unpleasant breath. It is inconsiderate to come close up to others while eating or after eating food that has a strong odour. Before taking any food that might cause this trouble it is well to give some thought to the company you are likely to be in immediately afterwards.
Our eating habits being what they are, there is no alternative to constant daily attention to the teeth to ensure their health and cleanliness. Any lack of attention to the teeth is quickly noticed. To keep the teeth fresh and bright it is necessary to brush them. It is more than worth the trouble.
The brushing, to be effective, must be done thoroughly and scientifically. Men frequently show by the dull film on their teeth that they have not attended to this important matter. For many people daily dental drill is far more necessary than physical jerks to ensure their good health. Good dental habits cultivated in early life will bring their reward in later years.
Besides their close link with a person’s general health, the teeth can have a psychological importance. They form one of our most prominent features, especially when we speak or smile.
Therefore, unless we want to be like the sad, tight-lipped people in the afraid-to-smile advertisements, we ought to take the best care we can with the equipment nature has blessed us with. We may not risk the feline grin of the toothpaste models, but at least we can face others and converse without any teeth-consciousness.
Often a man’s clothes will be spotless, his hair carefully arranged, even his knees and the back of his ears looking uncommonly clean — but look at his finger-nails! Those ten crescents of dirt show that the job has not been thorough enough in spite of all the showers, soaps, detergents and brushes. Finger-nails need attention every day. They should be cut back regularly. Often it will be sufficient to brush the nails with a good stiff brush, using soap and water.
Care should be taken to preserve the natural shape of the nails. Nature never intended the disgusting form of cannibalism which, after years of biting and chewing, renders nails ugly and shapeless. It has become usual to regard nail-biting as a sign of emotional upset. Surely it is possible to obtain relief for pent-up feelings in some less objectionable way.
Men, as well as women, are often more sensitive about their hair than about any other aspect of their personal appearance. Its capacity for attracting attention, if not admiration, has been exploited by all types from primitive, feathered savages to powdered kings and dukes, not to mention the terrible social misfits of the modern “get with it” gang. Men at any rate may be conscious of the fact that nature may not allow them their proud plumage for very long and that therefore they had better make the best of it. Whatever the reason, there is a good deal of foolishness where hair-styling is concerned.
Sometimes boys and young men have their hair trimmed in a manner that is grotesque or effeminate. They may get some peculiar personal satisfaction out of this, but they are not likely to improve their reputation for common sense by this practice. Aping the hair-style of a prominent sportsman or film-star, whether it suits oneself or not, is a form of hero-worship that calls for no great intelligence. The hair should be cut in an accepted practical style, avoiding everything that is abnormal, affected or merely designed to show off. At the opposite extreme is the tousled youth who finds the use of brush and comb and regular visits to the barber a troublesome imposition. The average boy needs a barber’s attention at least every three or four weeks. The effect of a shaggy, unkempt mop of hair can undo all the attention given to dress and personal cleanliness. The well-groomed look is expected in the gentleman.
Those who are subject to dandruff should keep their clothes well brushed and avoid unnecessary touching of the hair, especially in company. Careful washing of the hair and massage of the scalp can do much to relieve the dandruff condition.
Some men have the habit of carrying a small comb in the pocket. While this has much to commend it, it is highly improper to use the comb in public in the immediate presence of others. In such cases it is better not to bother about your hair at all, unless the state of things makes action on the spot imperative.
To complete the picture of the well-groomed man, it is necessary that he be clean-shaven. The time will come when the daily shave is the only means to ensure a really clean face. It is better to be sure in this matter than run the risk of giving offence by “evening shadow”.
Use of the handkerchief
At the start of each day we should see that we are provided with a clean handkerchief. Normally a man uses a large, plain white handkerchief, although coloured or patterned ones are sometimes in order. The important thing to remember, however, is that the handkerchief is more a sign of human infirmity than a flag of triumph. Therefore it should be as little in evidence .is possible, being brought into use only when necessary.
There are people who are handkerchief-happy; they always seem to have it in their hands. When a real need to use it does arise, they wave it about with the flourish of a toreador. They are often the people who seem determined to let everybody within three hundred yards know that they have gone into action. Nose blowing for them becomes a means of aggressive self-assertion. Most of us have met the person who seems to wait until all is comparatively quiet and then trumpets loudly to the whole company that he is still there and that furthermore he is not to be trifled with. The simple rule to follow in using a handkerchief is: use it when you must; don’t draw attention to the operation; return the handkerchief immediately to your pocket after use.
Sneezing and coughing can be stifled, or at least kept under control, by using the handkerchief. This is important for hygienic reasons as well as for reasons of politeness. There is nothing more discomforting to others than the wet sneeze, which sprays for yards around, spreading possible infection. In normal circumstances there is little excuse for failing to smother a sneeze with the handkerchief. Nature generally gives some notice of the approaching storm, even though we may have to be quick on the draw to forestall it.
Spitting is one of the most disgusting of habits. To spit in a public place such as a footpath or the floor of a bus or tram is an unpardonable offence, well deserving of the penalties that public notices often proclaim against it. The practice of spitting is most unhygienic and shows a disregard for the comfort and feelings of others. Should it be necessary to remove something from the mouth or clear the throat the handkerchief must be used. It should then be returned immediately to the pocket and replaced by a clean one at the first opportunity.
Yawning is often unavoidable. However, there is no excuse for the audible yawn, nor need the act of yawning be so painfully visible as it often is. There is something grotesque in the sudden gaping of the human jaws to expose for several long moments the nether regions of the throat, the whole procedure finishing with a resounding clack as the contrivance springs shut. A yawn should be concealed as much as possible by placing the hand lightly in front of the mouth. Every effort should be made to prevent yawning when someone is speaking to you or entertaining you. No matter how necessary the yawn may seem to be, it cannot fail to give the impression that you are bored.
Smoking can involve so many habits that offend against propriety and cleanliness that it is necessary to say something about the practice here. Fundamentally, smoking is an unnatural habit, and therefore smokers should always be ready to defer to non-smokers. This is far from being the case in practice. Blowing smoke into the faces of others; dropping ash on carpets, furniture and other people’s clothes; stubbing cigarettes in saucers and pot-plants; smoking at table where others are eating; smoking in a non-smoking compartment; smoking in another person’s home or office without first making sure that it will be tolerated — these are some of the liberties that smokers readily allow themselves to the disregard of the comfort of others.
The story is told of a restaurant patron whose meal was being spoiled by an inconsiderate smoker. Thinking that a little sarcasm would help, he leaned across the table and said, “Do you mind my eating while you are smoking?” But the smoker, long hardened in his unconcern for the comfort of others, merely replied, “Not at all, provided I can still hear the music.
Many a smoker has regretted that he ever contracted the habit. It is often impossible to break it off, even when the smoker realizes that it is doing irreparable harm to his pocket as well as to his lungs. Sometimes the habit can be traced back to a bit of foolish schoolboy bravado. It is surprising how many boys seem to think that being grown-up and puffing at a cigarette are the same thing.