She comes to her desk on time every morning as fresh as a daisy and as inconspicuous. The relation that she bears to the president's secretary is much the same as the relation that he bears to the president. She gets the letters that are addressed to him and sorts them in the same way that he does those of the president. On days when he is absent she takes care of all of his work, in so far as she is able, as well as her own.
Her employer is considerate of her always. He does not make a practice of taking ten or fifteen minutes of her lunch hour or five or ten minutes overtime at the close of the day, but when there is a good reason why he should ask her to remain he does so, asking courteously if she would mind staying. If she is genuinely interested in her work—and this young lady is—she will stay, but if she has an even better reason why she should go she explains briefly that it is impossible to stay. He never imposes heavier burdens upon her than she can bear, but he does not hesitate to ask her to do whatever needs to be done, and he does it with a "Please" and a "Thank you," and not with a "See, here" and a "Say, listen to me, now." She is a very pretty and attractive girl, but the man she is working for is a gentleman. To him she is his secretary, and if he were ever in danger of forgetting it she would be quick to remind him. She does not go around with a chip on her shoulder all the time, and she talks freely with the various men around the office just as she does with the women and girls, but it is in an impersonal way. She never permits intimate attentions from her immediate employer or any one else.
Executives. "Executive" is a large, loose word which rolls smoothly off the tongue of far too many business men to-day. Office boys begin to think in terms of it before they are out of knee trousers. "I could hold down the job," said a youngster who had hurt his hand and whose business was to carry a bag of mail from a suburban factory into New York, "if I could get some one to carry the bag." "I can do the work," say smart young men in the "infant twenties" (and many others—there is no age limit), "but I must have a man to look after the details."
The way to an executive position is through details. Work, plain hard work, is the foundation of every enduring job, and the executive who thinks he can do without it has a sharp reckoning day ahead. In most places the executives have worked their way up slowly, and at no time along the way have they had that large contempt for small jobs which characterizes so many young men in business. They have been perfectly willing to do whatever came to hand.
But after all this is said, the fact remains that an executive is successful not so much because of his own ability as because of his power to recognize ability in other men. He is—and this is true of every executive from the president down—the servant of his people in much the same way that the President of the United States is the servant of the American people. This means that he must be readily accessible to them, and must listen as courteously to them as if they were important visitors from across the sea or somewhere else.
Many executives—and this was true especially during the war—have surrounded themselves with a tangle of red tape which has to be unwound every time an employee (or any one else) wants to get near enough to ask a question. This is absurd. Sensible men destroy elaborate plans of management and find they get along better without them. The Baldwin Locomotive Works, which has a hundred years of solid reputation behind it, has no management plans. "There is about the place an atmosphere of work, and work without frills or feathers," and this is essentially true of every business that is built to last. Look at the organizations which, because of war conditions, rose into a prosperity they had never enjoyed before. Most of them have collapsed, and the little men who rose with them (so many of them and so much too small for their jobs) have collapsed with them.
In the big reliable concerns, and the small ones, too, the high executives are easily approached, especially by the members of the organization. In many of the open offices—and open offices have done much to create a feeling of comradeship among workers—the desk of the general manager is out on the floor with the desks of the rank and file of the employees with nothing to distinguish it from theirs except the fact that there is a bigger man behind it. A real man does not need a lot of elaborate decorations. They annoy him.
There are two sides to this, however. Visitors from the outside are not the only ones who are likely to waste the time of other people, and a busy man has to protect himself from indoor nuisances as well as those that drift in from the outside. Some do it by means of secretaries, but a good executive needs no barrier at all between himself and his own men. They learn soon enough—we are speaking now of a good executive, remember—that there is no use in going to him unless there is some definite reason why they should, and that the more briefly and directly they present their problem the more likely they are to have it settled.
When an executive receives a caller (or when any man in a business house receives a caller) he should receive him and not merely tolerate him. A young advertising man who began several years ago had two very interesting experiences with two gruff executives in two different companies. Both consented to see him, both kept on writing at their desks after he entered and gave him scant attention throughout the interview. Apparently they were both successful business men. Certainly they both held positions that would indicate it. Yet both of them a few years later came to the young advertising man at different times looking for jobs. Needless to say neither found a place with him, not because he held a grudge against them, but simply because he knew what kind of men they were and that they could not help in the kind of business he was trying to build.
From the beginning of the interview the host should do all he can to make his visitor comfortable. You see a lot in certain magazines about setting the visitor at a disadvantage by giving him an awkward chair, making him face the light and grilling him with questions. It is pure nonsense.
It is very gracious for a man to rise to greet a caller and extend his hand, especially if the caller is young and ill at ease. It is imperative if it is an old man or a woman. He should ask the visitor to be seated before he sits down himself.
"Well, young man, what can I do for you?" is hardly a polite way of opening an interview. The host should wait with a cordially receptive air until his guest begins, unless he is in a great hurry. Then he frankly tells the caller so and asks him to make his business brief.
Interruptions come even in the midst of conversations with important visitors, but no visitor is so important as to permit neglect of one's employees. These should be met courteously and dispatched quickly. The host must always ask the pardon of the guest before turning to the telephone or to a messenger, and if the guest is an employee the rule is the same.
At the conclusion of the interview the host rises and shakes hands with the departing visitor but does not necessarily go with him (or her) to the door or the elevator, as the case may be. This is an additional courtesy in which a busy man cannot always indulge. The essential part of every interview is that the visitor shall state what he wants, that the host shall give the best answer in his power, and then the sooner the visitor departs the better for all concerned.
The Rank and File. This is the largest group in every business. It is the one that fluctuates most. It is the one from which the discards are made. It is the one from which officers are chosen. It is the one in which the real growth of a business takes place. And by the same token it is the one, generally speaking, where there is most discourtesy. Promotion depends upon the possession of this quality much more than people realize. Many a man with actual ability to hold a high position is not given an opportunity to do so because the men who employ him realize that he would antagonize those who worked under him.
There are among the body of employees in every concern (even the very best) discontented members. In most cases, indeed, in nearly all cases except where there is a chronic grudge against life which is not affected by external circumstances, these are weeded out, and those with habitual grudges are weeded out along with the others or else are kept in minor places. Perhaps it would be more nearly correct to say they keep themselves there. Sometimes a subordinate feels that he is unfairly treated by his immediate superior. He wishes to go to the man above him in authority. Is it right for him to do so?
It is an unwritten law that each worker shall be loyal to the head of his department. Suppose the head does not deserve it?
There are three courses open to the worker. He can leave the job and find another in a different organization. He can go to the head of the department and state the case to him. If this should fail he may appeal to the man above him, but he should never go over the head of his own immediate superior without first telling him that he intends to do it.
This is an important rule. It holds whether one has a grievance to present or a suggestion. Constructive plans should first be talked over with one's immediate superior, and with his approval carried to the next man, or he may carry them himself. If this superior is the sort of man with whom you are constantly at loggerheads, you had much better get out and get a place somewhere else. And if you find that continually you are in hot water with the men who have authority over you, you may be very sure that the fault is not altogether theirs.
Subordinates usually have an idea that the heads of their departments leave all of the work to them. Well, as a matter of fact, they do leave a large part of it. If they did not they would have no excuse for having subordinates. The reward of good work is more work. This is less of a hardship than it sounds. Sir James Barrie once quoted Dr. Johnson's statement that doubtless the Lord could have made a better fruit than the strawberry, but that he doubtless never did, and added to it that He doubtless could have created something that was more fun than hard work, but that He doubtless never did.
The subway guards in New York City say that the rush which comes just before five o'clock (the closing time of most of the business houses) is as great as the one which comes just after. They call the persons in the former rush the clock watchers. They have left work about fifteen minutes early, and to-morrow morning—business experience has taught this—they will come in fifteen minutes late. For the most part these are the discontented workers who spend "60 per cent of their time in doing their job, and 40 per cent in doing the boss."
It has always been considered a breach of good manners to pull out one's watch and look at it in company. It is true in the office as well as in the drawing room. The clock watchers are impolite. It has also been considered a breach of good manners to hold a guest against his will against the conventional hour for his departure. The employers who habitually keep their employees after closing hours are equally impolite. It is a question of honor, too. Time is money, and the time grafters, whether employers or employees, are dishonest.
When one employee goes over to the desk of another it is not necessary for the second to rise. The first should wait until the one at the desk looks up before speaking unless he is so absorbed in his work that he does not glance up after a minute or two. Then he should interrupt with "I beg your pardon." It makes no difference if one of the employees is a woman and the other is a man. Work at an office can be seriously impeded if every time one person goes to the desk of another the other rises. So many times the whole conversation covers less time than it takes to get out of one's chair and sit back down again. In some places subordinates are required to stand when a superior speaks to them, but as a general thing it is not necessary. In such houses it is correct to play the game according to the general standard and to act according to the rules set down by the men who are in charge of affairs.
There is no person so wretched or so poor or so miserable but that he can find other people who are more wretched, poorer, or more miserable. At the same time there is no person so superior, so wealthy, or gifted but that he can find other people who are more superior, more wealthy, and more gifted. It is a part of good manners to recognize superiority when one finds it. Youngsters entering business can sit at the feet of the older men in the same business and learn a great deal. Knowledge did not enter the world with the present generation any more than it will depart from it when the present generation dies. It is just as well for young people to realize this. Age has much to teach them. Experience has much to teach them, and so have men and women of extraordinary ability. "I have never met a man," says a teacher of business men, "from whom I could not learn something." All of us are born with the capacity to learn. It is those who develop it who amount to something.
Petty quarrels should be disregarded and grudges should be forgotten. This piece of advice is needed more by women in business than by men. Men have learned—it has taken them several thousand years—to fight and shake hands. They have a happy way of forgetting their squabbles—this is a general truth—after a little while, and two men who were yesterday abusing one another with hot and angry words are to-day walking together down the hall smiling and talking as gently as you please.
The Office Boy. If the office boy in a big business house where much of the work is done at a white-hot tension—the office boy in a busy Wall Street office during the peak of the day's rush, for example—could write his intimate impressions they would make good reading.
The temper of the great American business man is an uncertain quantity. Famous for good humor and generosity as a general thing, he is, for all that, at his worst moments the terror of the office boy's life. Nervous, worried, tired, and exasperated, he is likely to "take it out" on the office boy if there is no one else at hand. There is no defense for such conduct—even the man who is guilty would not, the next day in his calmer moments, defend it. Meantime, what shall the office boy do?
A hot, tired man with papers fluttering over his desk, his telephone ringing, and three men waiting in line to talk to him about serious problems connected with the business, yells, "What do you want?" when the office boy comes to answer the bell.
"You rang for me," the boy answers.
"I rang half an hour ago," the man snaps.
In reality he rang two minutes before. Shall the office boy remind him of this?
Not if he values his job!
Of course it is unjust, but one of the first laws of discipline is to learn to be composed in the face of injustice, and the first law of courtesy for the office boy (and other employees would do just as well to follow) is: Don't be too harsh with the boss!
It is said that the grizzly bear, who is a very strict mother, often spanks her cubs when she herself has done something foolish. Julia Ellen Rogers tells a story of an explorer who came suddenly upon a bear with two cubs. He was so frightened that he stood still for a minute or two before he could decide which way to run. Meantime the bear, fully as frightened as he, turned and fled, spanking the two cubs at every jump in spite of the fact that each was already going as fast as its legs could carry it. "It was so unexpected," continues Miss Rogers, "and so funny to see those little bears look around reproachfully at their angry parent every time they felt the weight of her paw, helping them to hurry, that the man sat down and laughed until he cried."
It was not funny to the cubs.
Cases in which the office boy is maltreated are exceptional, though cases in which he is misunderstood are not. Most office boys have not one boss but many. There should always be one person from whom they receive their general orders and to whom they go with their troubles. (A youngster should have very few troubles to report. It is usually the worthless ones who report.)
In most places the several office boys are stationed at a certain point, a desk or a table, with one of their number more or less in charge. The rule is that one person be always at the desk.
All right. Six office boys. Five out on errands. One at the desk. The bell rings. The boy keeps his place. The bell rings again. The boy keeps his place. The bell rings a third time, long and insistently, but the youngster, with a steadfastness worthy of the boy who stood on the burning deck, still keeps his place.
A second later an angry official bounces out and wants to know what on earth is the matter and declares that he will report the desk to the manager. Meanwhile one of the missing five has returned, and the youngster who had held the place so long under fire takes the message from the man and delivers it.
If the boy should see an opening—and most business men except those funny little executives puffed up with their own importance are ready enough to listen—he may explain how it happened, but if he has to enter a shouting contest it is best to stay silent.
The law of business courtesy—no matter how far away from this a discussion goes it always swings back—is the Golden Rule. The subordinate who feels himself neglected by the men in positions above him might check himself by honestly asking himself how he appears to those beneath him. It is interesting to know that the one who complains most is usually the one who is haughtiest when he enters into conversation with the employees, who, he thinks, are not quite worth his notice. He feels blighted because the president does not stop to say "Good-morning" in the hall, but it is beneath his dignity to say "Good-morning" to the girl who collects his mail or "Good-night" to the janitor who comes to dust his desk when the day's work is over. The means of attaining courtesy—and if you have it yourself you will find it in other people—is by watching your own actions. Teach no one but yourself. Worry about no one's behavior but your own. That is job enough for any one.
IN A DEPARTMENT STORE
Let us now see courtesy at work in a big department store.
Mr. Hopkins has taken a morning off to do a little shopping before he goes away on his summer vacation. He wants to buy two shirts, a trunk, a toy for his baby, and a present for his wife. He is not sure what he wants for the wife and baby.
Mr. Hopkins does not like to shop. He remembers his last expedition. A haberdashery had sent him a cordial letter asking him to open an account. He did so, but one morning later when he went in to buy a waistcoat the rude and inefficient service he met disgusted him so that he has not been back since. He knew exactly what he wanted and asked for it. "Oh, no," answered the smart young clerk. "You don't want that. People have not been wearing waistcoats like that for years. This is what you want," and he exhibited a different style altogether. It happened that Mr. Hopkins knew better than the clerk what he wanted, and the fact that people had not been wearing waistcoats like it made no difference to him. As a matter of fact, the only reason the clerk made the remark was that he did not have them in stock, and thought perhaps he could sell by substituting.
There are other haberdasheries where the service is distinctly good, but Mr. Hopkins decides to go to a department store instead. Haberdasheries, however excellent, do not carry toys for one's baby nor presents for one's wife.
Helpem's store has been warmly recommended. He will go there. It is his first visit.
When he enters the door he is bewildered by an array of women's scarfs and gloves and perfume bottles, handkerchiefs and parasols, handbags, petticoats, knick-knacks, and whatnot. He almost loses courage and begins backing toward the door when he catches sight of a man in uniform standing near the entrance. He sees that this man is directing the tides of shoppers that are surging in, and approaches him.
"Where can I find the trunks?"
"Third floor. Elevator in the rear," the man answers briefly (but not gruffly). People who have to answer thousands of questions must be brief.
As he passes down the aisle Mr. Hopkins, who is very observant, notices that all of the girls—most of the clerks are girls—are dressed in a pleasant gray. This gives an agreeable uniform tone to a large establishment which would break up into jarring patches of color if each clerk were allowed to wear whatever color happened to strike her fancy. Good idea, Mr. Hopkins thinks, very necessary where there are many, many clerks.
He does not have much trouble getting the trunk. He knows pretty well what he wants, and the obliging salesman convinces him that the trunk will probably last forever by assuring him that an elephant could dance a jig on it and never make a dent. He asks Mr. Hopkins if he wants his name on it. Mr. Hopkins had not thought of it, but he does. No, upon second thought, he will have only his initials stenciled on in dull red, W. H. H. The trunk will be delivered in the afternoon and he goes away well satisfied.
The shirts are somewhat more difficult. He is attached to a certain kind of collar and he likes madras shirts with little black stripes or figures in them. The man shows him white ones and wide striped ones and colored ones with the right collar, and he almost decides that the place does not keep madras shirts with little black figures in them, when he suddenly realizes that he was so intent on getting the collar that he forgot to say anything about the material or color. He begins again, tells the clerk exactly what he wants, and in a few minutes the proper shirts are before him and he is happy. While the clerk is folding them, he asks about ties. It is a good thing. Mr. Hopkins remembers that he has forgotten ties. They have great bargains in ties. He drifts over to the counter and presently has three lovely ones. One is red, and Mr. Hopkins resolves to be more careful than he was with the last red one. His wife burned it. He must keep this hidden.
The ties remind him that he needs a bathrobe. An agreeable clerk sells him a dull figured bathrobe, comfortable and light for summer and guaranteed to wash, and tells him that a pajama sale is in progress about four counters away.
When he has bought six pairs of pajamas he begins to think of the baby's present. Toys are on the top floor. The girl there—a wise department store always chooses carefully for this place—is very helpful. She asks about the baby, how old he is, what toys he has, what toys he has asked for, and so on. Mr. Hopkins tells her, and after showing him several ingenious mechanical contrivances, she suggests a train with a real track to run on. Mr. Hopkins is delighted. The girl asks if the youngster likes to read. He does not, but he likes to be read to. "Why don't you take him a book?" and in a few minutes he has the "Just-So Stories" tucked under his arm. As he leaves the girl smiles, "Come back to see us," she says.
All the clerks have said this. The clerk who sold the shirts said, while they stood waiting for the change, that he could depend on them. They would not shrink and the colors would not run. "We are here in the city," he continued (the store was in New York), "but we have our regular customers just as if we were in a small town. We don't try to make just one sale and get by with it. We want you to come back."
The girl at the toy counter tells Mr. Hopkins that there is a woman downstairs who will help him select something for his wife. He goes back to the man in uniform to locate her and finds her in a secluded booth on the first floor. She asks several questions about whether he would like china or silver, furniture or linen, but Mr. Hopkins wants to give his wife something personal—something she can use or wear. He has been married several years but not long enough to know that this is a dangerous thing to do, but the woman is wise. She suggests a silk parasol, a kimono, or a dozen handkerchiefs.
Such a service as this is not possible except in very large shops, but in most places clerks are quick to respond with suggestions for gifts. There is a pleasure about buying them and selling them that does not go with ordinary transactions.
When he buys a parasol the clerk suggests that they have a very large assortment of handbags, but Mr. Hopkins's day's work is done, and the clerk does not insist. None of the clerks in a good department store is insistent. They offer suggestions and stand ready to serve, but they do not try to impose their ideas or their goods upon the customers. Mr. Hopkins leaves well satisfied with himself and his purchases. He will come back.
The trunk is delivered in the afternoon, not by the regular wagon, but by an express company. It is a busy season. Mr. Hopkins is still further delighted. These people keep their promises. And as he tips the man who brought it up—he had to climb three flights of stairs—the man gives him a card. "Here's one of the boss's cards," he says, "in case you want any hauling done." Without doubt the man has been instructed by the boss to distribute his cards, but he does it with such a grace that it seems to be on his own initiative.
It rarely happens that a business man or woman can shop in the leisurely manner described above. Most of their shopping has to be done during the half hour after lunch or during a frantic few minutes snatched at the beginning or the end of the day's work. One morning Mr. Hopkins had to leave home without a collar because he forgot to send the dirty ones to the laundry (his wife was away that week) and dashed into a little shop to get one on the way to the office. He would have felt like murdering a clerk who wanted to show him something nice in the way of gloves or mufflers, and he would have had a hard time to restrain himself from violence if the clerk had started in on a eulogy of a new shipment of English tweeds.
An intelligent clerk can usually tell when his customer is in a tearing hurry. It is an unpropitious time to make suggestions. The clerk must see things from the customer's point of view. It is permissible to suggest something else in place of the thing he has asked for but it is not good manners to make fun of it or to insist upon a substitute. Recently a woman wanted to buy a rug for her automobile. She knew just what she wanted, but the bright young clerk insisted that she wanted something else. She finally bought the rug, but it was in spite of the clerk rather than because of him. Too many salesmen kill their sales by thinking and talking only of their product. The customer is not half so interested in that as he is in himself. Good salesmanship relates the product to the customer, and does it in such a way that the customer is hardly aware of how it is done.
A WHILE WITH A TRAVELING MAN
In a Big City. We will suppose that our traveling man has his headquarters in some big city—New York, Chicago, San Francisco, it does not matter—and that he has several calls to make before he goes out on the road.
There are two kinds of salesmen, those who make only one sale to a customer and those who sell something that has to be renewed periodically. The first sell pianos, real estate, encyclopedias, and so on; the second sell raw materials and supplies. The salesman whom we are to follow is in the second group.
He has—and so have most men who do this kind of selling—a regular routine that he follows, adding new names to the list and deleting old ones as seems expedient. At this particular time he has several old customers to visit and one or two new prospects to investigate before he leaves town.
It is unnecessary for him to make arrangements beforehand to gain access to the old customers. They know him and they are always glad to see him. But if there is a chance that the customer may be out of town, or if it is during a busy season, he telephones ahead to make sure. He prefers indefinite to definite appointments, especially if he has to see two or three people during the course of a morning or an afternoon; that is, he would rather have an appointment to come some time between ten and eleven or between three and four than to have one for exactly half past ten or a quarter of three. It is impossible to tell how long interviews will last. Sometimes when the salesman counts on staying an hour he is through in five minutes and sometimes when he thinks he can arrange things in fifteen minutes he finds himself strung up for half a day.
The new prospects—there are three on this particular morning—he handles in different ways. To one he has a note of introduction from a mutual friend. To another he has written a letter stating why he wishes to call and asking when it will be convenient for him to do so. The third, whom he knows by reputation as a "hard customer" (in the slang sense of the word) who will have nothing to do with salesmen of any sort, he decides to approach directly, trusting to his own presence to get past the girl at the front door and whomsoever else stands between him and the man he wants to see. He does not write, because he knows that the man would tear up the letter and he does not telephone, because he knows that the man would not promise to see him and that if he were to call after such a telephone conversation his chances for success would be lessened.
Our salesman is careful with his appearance. He bathes and shaves every morning and takes special care that his linen is clean and that his shoes are polished. He does not ornament himself with a lot of jewelry, and the material of which his suit is made is plain. He presents, if you should see him on the street, the appearance of a clean, solid, healthy, progressive American citizen. He is poised but he is not aggressive. He is persistent but he is not obstinate.
The best public speakers, it is said, never get over a sinking feeling of fear during the few minutes just before time for them to speak. It vanishes as soon as they get to their feet or a very few minutes afterward, and, strange as it may seem, it is this very fear that gives them their power on the platform. The fact that they have the dreadful feeling nerves them to strenuous effort, and it is this effort that makes the orator. In the same way the best salesmen are those who never get over the fear that perhaps they have not thought out the best way to handle the situation ahead of them. They forget the fear as they begin to talk to the prospect, but the fact that it is subconsciously present makes the difference between the real salesman and the "dub."
Did you ever get to the door of a house you were about to enter and then turn and walk around the block before you rang the bell? Did you ever walk around the block six or eight times? So have we. Especially on those Wednesday and Sunday evenings when we used to go calling. There are not many salesmen who have not had this experience and who have not, upon hearing that a prospect they dreaded was out, turned away from the door with a prayer of deep thanksgiving. All of which is by way of saying that selling is not an easy job.
The salesman whose career we are following for a short time always has that little feeling of nervousness before an interview. It is deeper than ever when he approaches the "hard customer," and it is not lessened in the least degree when he finds a painted and marceled flapper at the door who looks at him without a word. (Incidentally, she likes his looks.)
He takes out his card and asks her to give it to Mr. Green and say that he is calling.
"He won't see you," the girl says.
"Will you tell him, please, that I am here, all the same? Wait a minute."
He takes the card and scribbles on it, "I want only five minutes of your time," and hands it to the girl again.
She carries it away and presently returns saying that Mr. Green is busy and cannot see him.
"I knew he wouldn't," she adds.
"He must be very busy," the salesman says. "When shall I be most likely to find him free?"
"He's no busier now than usual," the girl responds. "He's smoking a cigar and looking out the window."
"Will you tell him, please, that I am coming back to-morrow at the same time?"
The girl sees that he is very much in earnest. She respects him for his quiet persistence and because he has not tried to "kid" her. She would most likely have joined in heartily if he had, but he would never have got past her.
She goes back into the office and returns with word that the salesman may come in if he will not take more than five minutes. He thanks the girl and goes into the office where the "hard customer" is seated. He does not rise, he does not say "Good morning," and he does not take the cigar out of his mouth, but this does not disconcert the salesman. He wastes no time in preliminaries, but after a brief greeting, plunges at once into his proposition, stating the essential points clearly and in terms of this man's business. He knows what the customer needs pretty accurately for he has taken the trouble to find out. He is not broadcasting. He is using line radio, and everything he says is directed against a single mark. The prospect is interested. He puts the cigar aside. The salesman concludes.
"I'm sorry," he says, "but my five minutes are up. Will you let me come back some day when you are not so busy and tell you more about it?"
"Sit where you are," the other says, and begins firing questions.
Half an hour later the salesman pockets the order he wanted and makes ready to depart, feeling that he has found another friend. The "hard customer" is ashamed of his gruff reception and apologizes for it. "I've been so bothered with agents and drummers and traveling men that I've promised myself never to see another one as long as I live," he says.
"I can well understand that," the salesman answers. "It is one of the hardest things we are up against, the fact that there are so many four-flushers out trying to sell things."
He goes next to see the man with whom he has made an appointment by mail and finds that he has been called out of town on business. He talks with his secretary, who expresses a polite regret that they were unable to locate him in time to tell him that his visit would be of no use. He asks if there is some one else who can take charge of the matter, but the girl replies that all such things have to come before Mr. Thompson. He will not be back until next week, and by that time the salesman will be out on the road.
"I'll have another representative of our house, Mr. Hamilton, call," he says. "He will write to find out when it will be convenient for him to come."
The third man on his list is the one to whom he has the letter of introduction. This is one of his best prospects. That is why he took such pains to arm himself with the letter. He has no trouble getting inside. The man is very busy but he thrusts it completely aside for the moment. He does not have to say "Be brief." Our salesman has been in the game long enough to know that he must not be anything else.
"Frankly," he says at the end of the talk, "I am not interested. I have no doubt that what you say is true. In fact, I have heard of your firm before and know that its reputation is good. But I buy my material, and have for years, from Hicks and Hicks."
"It is a good reliable concern," the salesman responds, "and there is no reason why you should desert them. They depend upon you as much as you do upon them. But if they happen to be short of something you want in a hurry, please remember that our product is as good as theirs. You can depend upon it with as much certainty."
"Thank you, I will," the prospect answers and the interview is over.
Did the salesman act wisely? Would he have gained anything by proving that his house was superior to Hicks and Hicks? Not if the customer was worth having. This salesman never forgets that his part of the job is to build up business for his own firm, and not to tear down business for other firms. As it stands, he has in this case established a feeling of good will for the house he represents, and has placed it in such a light that if the rival concern should be afflicted with a strike or a fire or any of a hundred or two disasters which might lessen or suspend its output, the customer will probably turn to the salesman's house. And if Hicks and Hicks should sell out or go into bankruptcy the salesman will have won for his own house a steady customer of great value.
In the Sleeping Car. The wise traveling man—and our salesman is wise—always engages sleeping accommodations on the train in advance. This time he has the lower berth in No. 9.
When he comes in to take his seat he finds that a woman has the upper berth in the same compartment. He is reading a newspaper and she is reading a magazine. He says nothing until toward evening, and then he offers to exchange places with her. She thanks him cordially, explains that she was late in securing a berth and that this was all she could get. She is very grateful and the transfer is made.
He goes into the smoking car and meets there several men who are talking together. He joins them and the conversation runs along pleasantly enough until one of the number begins to retail dirty stories. Some of the others try to switch him off to another subject but he is wound up and nothing short of a sledge hammer will stop him until he has run down. Our salesman has a healthy loathing for this sort of thing. He has a good fund of stories himself—most traveling men have—and in the course of his journeyings he has heard many of the kind that the foul-minded man in the smoking car is retailing with such delight. He never retells stories of that nature, and he never, when he can avoid it, listens to them. He knows that he cannot stop the man, but after a little while he gets up quietly and leaves. Another man follows him and the two stand on the rear platform of the train until time to go to bed.
Men who are traveling together often converse without knowing one another's names, and it is correct that they should. Only a prig refuses to speak to a man on a train or a boat because he does not know his name. Opening conversation with a stranger is not always easy, and should be avoided unless it comes about in a natural way. The stranger may not want to converse. It is correct for a man who wishes to talk to another first to introduce himself. "My name is Hammond," he says, and the man to whom he says it responds by holding out his hand (this is the more gracious way, but he may omit this part of it, if he likes) and pronouncing his own name. The same rule holds when the travelers are women.
Our salesman goes to bed early.
Two men have the compartment across from his. They seem very much interested in each other, for they continue to talk after they have gone to bed. In order to make themselves heard they have almost to scream, and the raucous sound of their voices is much more disturbing than the sound of the wheels grinding against the rails. It is hard to sleep on a train even under favorable circumstances. Our salesman has a strenuous day ahead of him—most of his days are strenuous—and the noise is keeping him awake.
He could throw on his bathrobe, climb down and remonstrate with the two men across the way. It would be correct for him to do so, but it would hardly be expedient. People who are thoughtless enough to be noisy late at night are often rude enough to be very unpleasant when any one interferes. The salesman has no real authority over them, but the porter on duty at night is supposed to see that a certain amount of peace and quiet is maintained. The salesman rings the bell, and when the porter appears, asks him if he would mind begging the two men across the aisle to lower their voices. The porter has had years of experience. He has developed a soft, pleasant way of asking people to be quiet, and in a few minutes the car is still except for the inevitable sound of the train and the snoring of an old lady near the end of the car. This last cannot be helped. It must be endured, and our salesman composes himself into a deep slumber.
Dressing and undressing in a sleeping car are among the most difficult operations to perform gracefully. There are no rules. Most men prefer staying in their berths to making the attempt in the crowded dressing rooms. Some divide the process between the two, but no gentleman ever goes streaking down the aisle half-dressed. He is either fully clothed or else he is wrapped in a bathrobe or a dressing gown.
When our salesman comes in to breakfast the next morning there is only one vacant place, a seat opposite a young woman at a table for two. He crosses over and sits down, first asking if he may do so. In well-managed dining cars and restaurants, the seating is taken care of by the head waiter. He never places a person at a table with some one else without asking permission of the one who is already seated. It is never permissible for a stranger to go to a table that is already taken if there is a vacant one available. The young lady bows and smiles. She has already sent in her order. They talk during the meal quite as if they had been introduced and had met by appointment instead of by accident. She does not introduce herself, nor does he introduce himself. When she has finished she asks the waiter for her bill. She pays it herself—our salesman has too much delicacy to offer to do so—and tips the waiter. Then with a nod and a smile she is gone.
This salesman is a chivalrous traveler. Whenever there is an opportunity to render a service to a woman (or to any one else) he takes pleasure in doing it. He does not place women under financial obligation to him, however, and he is careful not to annoy them with attentions. He has many times found a taxi for a woman traveling alone or with children when they have had the same destination; he has helped women decipher time tables; he has carried bundles and suitcases and baskets and boxes for old ladies who have not yet learned in all their long, long lives that the way to travel is with as little, instead of with as much, baggage as possible; and he has helped young mothers establish themselves comfortably in place with their children. But he has never—and he has been traveling a good many years now—thrust himself upon a woman and he has never embarrassed one by his attentions.
He does not "treat" the men whom he meets by accident during his travels. They often go in to meals together but each one settles his own bill, and when they come to the end of the journey they are without obligations toward one another. It is much pleasanter so.
The salesman does not, as a rule, tip the porter until he leaves the train, and the amount that he gives then is according to what the porter has done for him. If he has been in the car a good many hours and if he has had to ask the porter for many things, such as bringing ice water at night, silencing objectionable travelers, bringing pillows and tables during the day, not to mention polishing his shoes and brushing his coat every morning, he is much more generous than if he had been on the car only a few hours and had not asked for any special service. Unless the trip is long he never gives more than a dollar. Twenty-five cents is the minimum.
By Automobile. From an economic point of view this problem has come to be almost as large as the railroad problem, and the part the automobile, including trucks and taxis, plays in business is growing larger and larger every year.
Motorists have a code of their own. They—when they do as they should—drive to the right in the United States, to the left in certain other countries. They take up no more of the road than is necessary, and they observe local traffic regulations scrupulously, not only because they will be fined if they do not but because it is impolite in Rome to do other than the Romans do. They hold out their hands to indicate that they are about to turn, they slow down at crossings, and they sound their horns as a warning signal but never for any other reason.
It is often necessary for a man who is trying to sell a piece of property to take out to look at it the man who thinks he will buy it. Needless to say, it is the former who pays for the trip. Other business trips are arranged by groups, the benefit or pleasure which is to result to be shared among them. Under such conditions it is wise (and polite) for them to divide expenses. These matters should be arranged ahead of time. If one is to furnish the machine, and one the gasoline, and another is to pay for the lunch, it should be understood at the outset.
In a Small Town. The salesman is now completely out of the metropolitan district. He is in a small town like hundreds of others over the United States. The hotel is very good in itself, but compared with the one in the city, which he has just left, it is inconvenient. He has better judgment than to remind the people of this. Instead, when he is talking to them—and he likes to talk with the people in the towns he is serving—he talks about what they have rather than what they have not and about what they can do in the future rather than what they have failed to do in the past. It is in this way that he discovers how he can best be useful to them.
He likes to work at the quick pace set by the big cities but he knows it will not do here. He goes around to see Mr. Carter. Mr. Carter is glad to see him, but he has had a bad year. The crops have not been good, the banks have not been generous, his wife has been sick, and one of his children has broken a leg. The salesman listens sympathetically to this tale of woe, leads the conversation away from the bad year behind to the good year ahead, and in a little while they are eagerly discussing plans for business in the next month or so. The salesman shows how he can help, and convinces Mr. Carter that the best time to begin is right now and gets an order for supplies from him. It has taken the better part of the morning, and Mr. Carter asks him to go home with him to lunch. The salesman would prefer going back to the hotel, but he knows that it will give Mr. Carter great pleasure to have him—his invitation is unmistakably hearty—so he accepts.
Before he came the salesman had discovered, through consulting the directories and by talking with friends of his who knew the town, who were worth going to see and who were not. Mr. Carter he had learned was immensely worth while and that is why he was willing to spend so much time with him. No salesman can afford to stop and talk with everybody who can give him the inside story of why business is no good. This salesman always finds out as much as possible about a man before he goes to see him. He never leaps blindly ahead when there is any way to get a gleam of light first.
Once in South Carolina he was anxious to get a large order from a wealthy old man who, he felt sure, would be a regular customer if he could once be persuaded to buy. The old man paid no attention to what he was saying until he mentioned the picture of a hunting dog that hung above the desk. The old man's eyes kindled. This was his hobby and he forgot all about business while he talked about hunting, and ended by asking the salesman to go home with him and spend the night. The salesman accepted gladly, and the next morning they went rabbit hunting instead of going back to the office. The salesman was out of practice in handling a gun but it was great fun, and the upshot of it all was that he "landed" the order he wanted.
This method is pleasant but wasteful. The salesman never uses it except as a last resource.
Much of the success of this salesman (and of the others who are successful) lies in the fact that he can put himself so completely into the place of the man he is trying to sell. He talks in terms of that man's work, and he tries to sell only where he believes the sale will result in mutual satisfaction. He never says anything about serving humanity, but his life is shaped around this idea, which is, when all is said and done, the biggest idea that any of us can lay ourselves out to follow.
He is working for a firm that he knows is honest—no self-respecting man will work for any other kind—and he wants its financial rating to stand solid. He does not sell to every man who wants to buy. He investigates his credit first, and if there is to be a delay while the investigation is under way he frankly tells the man so, and assures him that it is for his protection as well as for that of the house that is selling the goods. "It is a form we go through with every new customer," he says. "If we did not we'd find ourselves swamped with men who would not pay. And that would work hardship on those who do." Every business man knows that this is the only way in which reliable business can be carried on. And it is reliable business that we are interested in.
TABLES FOR TWO OR MORE
A young banker from Smithville is in New York. It is his first trip.
You would like him if you could see him. Tall, sun-burned, clean-cut, well-dressed, thoroughly alive and interested in everything. He is a bit confused by the city but he is determined to learn everything that it has to teach him. He does not hesitate to ask questions but he likes to find out without, whenever possible.
He goes into the dining room of the great hotel where he is staying, and for the first time in his life is confronted with an array of silver on both sides of his plate. At home he always has a knife, fork, and spoon laid together at the right of his plate, by which you can see that he has not lived among people who place much emphasis on having food daintily or correctly served. He is not exactly prepared for this. When he left Smithville he was thinking more of his business connections than of what he was going to eat, and how. He is embarrassed because, like every sanely balanced person, he likes to do things as they should be done, and not just blunder through them. There is no one he can ask except the waiter, and the waiter seems such a superior person that he is afraid to ask him (though it would have been perfectly correct for him to do so). He gets through the meal the best way he can and finds that when the ice cream is brought the only thing he has left to eat it with is a slender fork with a long handle and three very tiny prongs. He knows that he has tripped up somewhere along the line, but he asks the waiter to bring him a spoon (he should have asked for a fork) and goes ahead.
The next day he is invited out to dinner with a man who has all of his life been accustomed to first-class hotels and restaurants and the dining tables of wealthy and cultured people. He is somewhat older than our young banker and he has had a great deal of experience in entertaining men who have come into the city from small towns. He is thoughtful, sympathetic, an excellent host. He leads the way into the dining room (though they stand together in such a way that it seems that neither is leading) and chooses a table. This nearly always means accepting the one the head waiter indicates, though it is quite correct for the host to suggest the table he would like to have.
"Does this suit you?" he asks the young banker before they sit down.
It suits him exactly. He says as much.
"Now, what will you have to eat?"
The waiter has given him a menu card, containing, so it seems to the young man, a million things that he might have. A dinner served in courses was something beyond his knowledge until the night before, and the dinner then was table d'hote instead of a la carte. He flounders through the card and is about ready to thrust it aside and say, "Just bring me some ham and eggs" when his host sees his predicament.
"Blue Points are usually good at this time of the year," he says. "Shall we try them?"
The young man has not the remotest idea what Blue Points are but he thinks it will be very delightful to try them.
"What kind of soup do you like?" the host continues when the waiter has departed. "I see they have vegetable soup and consomme."
The young man clutches at the familiar straw. He will have vegetable soup.
Throughout the meal the host makes comments and suggestions and guides his guest through to the end, and does it so graciously that the young man from Smithville is not aware that he is doing it, and feels that it is all due to his own quick observation that he is getting along so well. No business man is a perfect host until he can accomplish this.
Our young man knows already that one should sit up at a table and not lean forward or lounge back, that he should not take large mouthfuls and that he should not snap at his food, that he should eat without noise and with great cleanliness. He knows that his napkin should be unfolded (it should be unfolded once and not spread out) and laid across his lap, not tucked into his collar or the top of his vest. He knows that he should not eat with his knife.
He has never seen a finger bowl before but he has heard of them, so that when one is placed before him he knows that he should dip the ends of his fingers into it and dry them on his napkin. He has also heard that toothpicks are never used by gentlemen, at least in public, and he is not surprised when he does not see them.
He has read somewhere that when a knife or a fork is dropped to the floor he should not pick it up himself but should allow the waiter to do so, and that the waiter should be allowed to clear away the damage when something is upset on the table. He knows that long apologies are out of order anywhere, and he is not likely to say anything more than "Excuse me" or "I beg your pardon" if he should by a clumsy movement break a glass or overturn a plate of soup.
But he does not know about the various knives and forks or about how courses are arranged, and he does not know about tips.
It is correct for him to explain to his host, just as Pip did when he was dining for the first time with Herbert Pocket, that he is unused to such things and beg him to give him a few hints as they go along. But it is less embarrassing to consult a book of etiquette about fundamentals and to pick up the other knowledge by close observation.
He discovers—our young friend uses both methods—that knives are laid at the right of the plate in the order in which they are to be used, beginning at the outside, and that the spoons are laid just beyond the knives in the same order. The butter knife (which rarely appears at dinner time) is usually laid across the little bread plate at the left of the dinner plate. Forks are placed at the left of the plate in the order in which they are to be used, except the oyster fork, which is laid across the knives or else is brought in with the oysters. The steel knife is for cutting meats. The flat fork with the short prongs is for salads. Salads are always eaten with a fork. It is sometimes not very easy to do, but it is the only correct way.
This is the general standard, but there are deviations from it. Nothing but experience in dining—and a great deal of it—will teach one to know always what fork or what knife or what spoon to use when the table service is highly elaborate. The best policy for a stranger under such conditions is that of watchful and unobtrusive waiting.
The dinners that business men choose for themselves are rarely divided into numerous courses. Often they have only two: meat and vegetables, and dessert. The regular order for a six-course dinner is: first, an appetizer such as oyster cocktail, grapefruit, strawberries, or something of the sort, followed by soup, fish, meat and vegetables, salad, dessert, cheese and crackers. One or more of the courses is often omitted.
The rule for tipping is universally the same: Ten per cent of the bill.
* * * * *
Suppose the cases had been reversed and the man from the city had been in Smithville to take dinner with the young banker.
He is not accustomed to seeing all of the food put on the table at one time, nor to having to use the same fork throughout the meal. But he is a gentleman. He adapts himself to their standard so readily that not one of the people at the table could tell but that he had always lived that way.
The young banker is a gentleman, too. When his friends from the city come to visit him he gives them the best he has and does not apologize for it. He does not begin by saying, "I know you are used to having better things than this but I suppose you can stand it for one meal." He simply ushers his guest into the dining room as cordially and with as little affectation as if he were the paying teller of the Smithville bank. No one need ever apologize when he has done or given his best.
It is interesting to know that the standard of our young banker is growing higher and higher all the time. He likes to know how the people who have had time to make an art of dining do it and to adapt his ways to theirs whenever he can.
* * * * *
It is a grave mistake for a business man to feel that he must entertain another to the standard to which the second is accustomed. A poor man who finds himself under the necessity of entertaining a rich one should not feel that he must do it on a grand scale if he has been so entertained by a rich one. Aside from the moral question involved the great game of bluff is too silly and vulgar a one for grown men to play.
But business men play it and their wives join in. Suppose Mrs. Davis, whose husband is an assistant of Mr. Burke, wishes to invite Mrs. Burke to her home to dinner. She and Mr. Davis have been formally entertained in the other home, and the dinner they had there was superintended by a butler and carefully manipulated by two maids. Now Mrs. Davis has no maid, her china is very simple, and the food that she and her husband have, even when they entertain their friends, is plain and wholesome. Should she, for the great occasion, hire more beautiful china and engage servants? Should she draw on the savings bank for more delicate viands?
To begin with, Mr. Burke knows exactly what salary Mr. Davis gets. He knows whether it will warrant such expenditure. Will it make him feel like placing more responsibility on his assistant's shoulders to see him living beyond his means? Is it not, after all, much better for people to meet face to face instead of hiding themselves behind masks? The masks are not pretty, and in most cases deceive only the persons who wear them.
Men who are friends in business often like their wives to be friends as well. It is many times possible to bring about a meeting at the home of a common friend, but when this is not convenient, one of the women may invite the other. If the invitation is to dinner, it is not correct for Mr. Gardner to invite Mrs. Shandon even if he knows her and his wife does not. The invitation should go from Mrs. Gardner and should be addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Shandon. If the invitation is for tea, Mrs. Gardner simply invites Mrs. Shandon, and the nature of the invitation depends upon whether the affair is formal or informal.
As to which of two women should proffer the first invitation there might be some discussion. Usually it is the wife of the man whose position is superior, if they both work for the same concern. It frequently happens that a man whose position in business is high is married to a woman whose social standing is not of corresponding importance. Perhaps such a man has a subordinate whose wife is a social leader. In this case which of the women should extend the first invitation?
Most women of eminent social rank realize and appreciate the fact thoroughly. The social leader knows that the other woman might be embarrassed and hesitant about inviting her to her home. If she does apprehend this it is only gracious for her to extend the first invitation herself.
In small towns the rule is for the old residents to call upon the new, and the wife of a business man who has recently established himself in a community must wait until the women who live there have called upon her before she begins to entertain them.
In large cities where it is impossible to know everyone this rule is practically disregarded, and business men invite one another and ask their wives to do the same according to the way convenience and chance make most natural. Women whose husbands are longest in the employ of a firm, or whose husbands hold high positions, as a rule call first on the wives of newcomers or subordinates.
It all comes to the same thing whether it is in a city or a small town or the country. Those who are already established in the neighborhood or the business extend the right hand of welcome and good fellowship to those who are not.
In order to bring their employees together socially most big houses now give various entertainments such as picnics, parties, dances, and banquets. They are in no way different from other entertainments of the same kind so far as the etiquette of behavior is concerned. Formal dances and banquets in the evening require evening dress just the same, except with that very enormous group (to which most of us belong) who do not own evening dress. This does not mean that evening parties must be foregone by this group or that they should hire gala attire for the occasion, but simply that the men wear their business suits and the girls their "Sunday" dresses. It is just as correct, it is just as much fun, and it is infinitely wiser than giving a dollar down and a dollar a week for a decollete gown or a swallow-tail outfit.
Most girls who are in business are there to earn a living.
It is true that an increasing number of wealthy girls who are under no necessity to work but who want a definite place in the economic life of the world are entering business every year, but the great army of workers is made up of those who enter business because they are driven into it (driven, many of them, while they are yet very young), because it is the only way in which they can have their own money, or because it is the only way in which they can raise their standard of living.
The majority of business girls come from the homes of parents in moderate circumstances. They have had advantages—a high-school or a college diploma, a certificate from a business school, travel, specialized training—and all these they have added to their business capital. In many instances the opportunities they have had have not been brilliant, but every opportunity, however small, carries with it the responsibility to make the best of it. Upon these girls, since they outnumber the others and because they have had advantages (a high-school education is an enormous advantage if you are looking at it from the point of view of a person who wanted one but was not able to get it), rests the responsibility of setting the pace for others. And the standard of behavior for the business girl, whether she be rich or poor or in between, is the same.
The wealthy girls who enter business deliberately are usually followed by the same sensible impulse that started them on their careers, and, as a rule, they conduct themselves with dignity and modesty. The wealthy girls who, through a turn of fortune have been forced into work and have gone unwillingly, are another matter. "The rudest girls we have," is the testimony of most people who have to deal with them. Conventional social charm and poise they may have but they are without that finer sense of courtesy which makes them accept whatever fate gives them and make the best of it. The fading splendor of the days of plenty envelops them like a cloud—remember that we are speaking of the unwilling ones—they lose themselves in self-pity, and the great fun that comes from good work they miss entirely.
Many of the poor girls in business have never known anything but poverty, and their lives have been cast among people who have never known anything else. They have had no home training in the art of behavior (for the people at home did not know how to give it to them). No one has ever told them how to dress or act but there have never been lacking those to condemn them when they dressed foolishly or acted indiscreetly. "The silly little things," they say (and oh, how superior they are when they say it). Employers agree, for, after all, it is true, and the silly little things hold their jobs until they are married, until they are fired, or (and this happens frequently) until they wake up, and then they are promoted to something better. We cannot expect girls like these, who have grown up without contact with the gentler side of life, to begin with a high standard of behavior, but we can (and do) expect them, once they have been brought into touch with better things, to raise their standard. It is no disgrace for a girl to begin in ignorance and squalor; the disgrace lies in staying there.
First of all, the dress of the business girl. Most of the ill-breeding in the world is due to ignorance. Ignorance of the laws of beauty and taste causes one to make a display of finery, and over-dressing is a mark of vulgarity whether one can afford it or not.
The girl does not live—we believe this is right—who does not love pretty clothes. But the average girl does not have money to spend lavishly for them. Her salary, as a rule, is not princely, and there are often financial as well as moral obligations to the people at home. She cannot have Sunday clothes and everyday clothes. She must combine the two with the emphasis on the latter.
A few years ago it was almost impossible to accomplish this, but manufacturers have recognized her needs and are now making clothes especially for her—plain dresses in bright colors and dark dresses with a happy bit of trimming here and there, neat enough to pass the censorship of the strictest employer, pretty enough to please the most exacting young girl.
A woman is no longer thought eccentric if she wears low heels. The modern flapper is too sensible for such nonsense as French heels for standing all day behind the counter. Manufacturers have discovered this also, and are making shoes with low heels and broad toes quite as pleasing as the French monstrosities and infinitely more comfortable.
A business girl—or any girl, for that matter—should take pains with her hands and her hair. Coiffures that might be appropriate in a ball room are out of place in an office, and heavily jeweled hands, whether the jewels are real or imitation, are grotesquely unsuited to office work. (So are dirty ones.)
Hair that is glossy and tidy, hands that are clean and capable, dress that is trim and inconspicuous—add to these intelligence, willingness, good health, and good manners and there is not much left to be desired.
Certain positions expose girls to the temptation of dress more than others. She, for instance, who all day handles lovely garments or she who all day poses before long mirrors in exquisite gowns that other women are to wear—can one expect these girls to go merrily home at night to a hall bedroom with a one-burner gas jet and a mournful array of old furniture? They have a problem that the girl in a glue factory or a fish cannery does not have to meet—at least not in so concrete a form. At the same time they have an opportunity that these other girls do not have, and it rests with them whether the opportunity or the temptation gets the upper hand.
Positions in which girls are thrown into close contact with men expose them to temptation of another sort. It is in its most acute form when it brings a poor girl into more or less intimate association with a rich man. Once, a very long time ago, a king married a beggar maid and they lived happily ever after. People have not stopped writing and talking about it yet, although it is many centuries since it happened. It is true that once in a very great while a girl marries her father's chauffeur or her brother's valet and finds later that she has acted wisely; but these are rare exceptions to the general rule, for the result usually is unhappiness. Such marriages are always the occasion for big headlines in the paper, usually a double set of them, for, in most instances, the divorce follows within a year or so.
It is a dangerous thing for a girl to receive attentions indiscriminately from men, especially those who drift across her horizon from the great world outside. It is dangerous (is it necessary to add that it is incorrect?) for a manicurist to accept presents from the millionaire whose hands she looks after. It is unwise for any girl to accept expensive gifts from a man who is not her fiance.
There are exceptions to this rule, as indeed to every other. At Christmas or at the time a ceremony or an anniversary employers sometimes give their secretaries or another trusted employee a beautiful gift, and it is within the bounds of propriety for the employee to accept it. Often when he has been away from the office for several weeks a man presents his secretary a gift to express his gratitude for the capable way in which she has managed affairs in his absence, and this gift the secretary is privileged to accept. Gifts are seldom presented except where the association has been a long and highly satisfactory one.
But the girl who goes to the theatre with a man about whom she knows nothing except that he has the price of the tickets is running a serious risk. She is violating one of the most rigid principles of etiquette and she is skating perilously out beyond the line marked off by common sense. Nearly every man can, and does, if he is the right sort, present credentials before asking a girl if he may call or if he may escort her to a place of amusement. There are instances in romantic stories and in real life where a man and a maid have met without the help of a third party and have entered upon a charming friendship. They are rare, rarer in fact than in fiction. It is banal to say that a girl can usually tell. But she can, and if she has any doubt (and this is true of all her relations with men) she should have no doubt. She should stop where she is.
Where men and girls work together in the same building or in buildings near one another they often go to the same restaurant for lunch. It is natural that they should sometimes sit together at the same tables. It is correct for a man to sit at a table where there are already only girls (if the girls are willing), but it is not correct for a girl to sit at a table where there are already only men (however willing the men may be). In these mixed groups each person pays for his or her own lunch. It is not even necessary for the man, or the men, as the case may be, to offer to do so, and it is a distinct breach of the rules of etiquette for a girl to allow a man to pay for her lunch under such circumstances.
The only time when it is correct for a man and a girl who are associated together in business to have lunch, with him the host and her the guest, is when the engagement is made ahead of time as for any other social affair. On such an occasion he should be as attentive as he would in any other circumstances, taking care of her wraps and placing her chair if the waiter is not at hand to do it, suggesting dishes he thinks perhaps she will like, and making himself as generally useful and agreeable as it is possible for him to be. A point about which considerable breath is wasted is whether a man should enter a restaurant with the girl following or whether he should allow her to lead the way. It makes no material difference one way or the other, but usually he permits her to go ahead and follows closely enough behind to open the doors for her and to receive whatever instructions the head waiter has to offer.
If a man should enter a restaurant and find a girl whom he knows already seated he may join her if he thinks he will be not unwelcome, but this does not make it incumbent upon him to pay for her lunch. He may offer to do it, but it is a matter that rests with the girl. If she does not care to develop his acquaintance she should not permit it, but if the two are good friends or if she feels that he is a man she would like to know, she may give him her check to settle along with his own. A girl is herself the best judge of what to do under such conditions, and if common sense does not show her the way out etiquette will not help.
Women in business sometimes bring up perplexing questions and create awkward situations. Suppose a man has asked a girl several times to a business-social lunch and she has accepted every time. It seems that she should, as a man would in the same position, make some return. If she works for a house where there is a dining room in which checks do not have to be settled at the end of every meal she may do so without the slightest difficulty, but if she is compelled to take him to a place where the check must be given to the waiter or paid at the desk before they leave, she must look out for a different way of managing things. Business luncheons are usually paid for by the firm in whose interests they are brought about, and if the girl works for an organization where there are several men employed she may ask one of them to take her friend out to lunch. Then, even if she is not present, her social duty is done. The easiest way out of such a predicament, it is superfluous to say, is never to get into it.
A girl who enters business presumably accepts the same conditions that men have to meet. She has no right to expect special favors because she is a woman. She does get a certain amount of consideration, as indeed she should, but she is very foolish and childish if she feels resentful when a busy man fails to hold open a door for her to pass through, when he rushes into his office ahead of her, or when he cuts short an interview when she has said only half of what she had on her mind.
Much is said about the man who keeps his seat on a train while a woman stands. His defense rests upon two arguments, first, that his need is greater than hers (which is not true) and, second, that she does not appreciate it even when he does give it to her (which is not true either). Unfortunately, there are as many rude women in the world—and this statement is not made carelessly—as there are rude men, and in almost half the cases where a man rises to give a woman his place the woman sits down without even a glance toward her benefactor, as if the act, which is no small sacrifice on the part of a tired man, were not worth noticing. Every act of civility or thoughtfulness should be rewarded with at least a "Thank you" and a good hearty one at that.
Old people, cripples, and invalids rarely fail to secure seats, however crowded a car may be. A man seldom offers his place to another man unless it is evident that the other, because of age, infirmity, or extreme fatigue is greatly in need of it. Well-bred girls resign their seats to old men, but if they refuse to accept, the girls do not insist. At a reunion of Confederate veterans several years ago a girl rose from her place on a street car to allow a feeble old man to sit down. He gripped the strap fiercely.
"I ain't dead yet," he responded sturdily.
One of the chief petty complaints brought against women is that they do not keep their places in line. Some of them appear to have neither conscience nor compunction about dashing up to a ticket window ahead of twenty or thirty people who are waiting for their turn. Men would do the same thing (so men themselves say) but they know very well that the other men in the line would make them regret it in short order. Two or three minutes is all one can save by such methods and it is not worth it. Even if it were more it would still not be worth it.
When a woman breaks into a line it is quite permissible for the person behind her (whoever he or she may be) to say, "I beg your pardon, I was here first." This should be enough. Sometimes there is an almost desperate reason why one should get to a window. Many times everybody in the line has the same desperate reason for being in a hurry, but now and then in individual cases it is allowable for a woman (or a man) to ask for another person's place. But only if there is a most urgent reason for it. Much of courtesy is made up of petty sacrifices, and most of the great sacrifices are only a larger form of courtesy. It all comes back to Sir Philip Sidney's principle of "Thy need is greater than mine," but it is only extraordinary circumstances which warrant one's saying, "My need is greater than thine."
Since the beginning of time, and before (if there was any before) women have done their share of the work of the world. Formerly their part of it centered in the home but now that machinery has taken it out of the home they have come out of the home too, to stand in the fields and factories of industry by the side of their fathers and husbands and brothers. Because they have recently been thrown into closer association in their hours of work than ever before there has sprung up a certain amount of strife between men and women, and a great deal is said about how superior men are to women and how superior women are to men. It is pure nonsense. If all the men in the world were put on one side of a scale and all the women on the other, the scale would probably stand perfectly still.
The woman in business should never forget that she is a woman but she must remember that above all things she is a citizen, and that she herself has value and her work has value only as they contribute to her community and her community as it contributes to her country. Courtesy is one of her strongest allies, this quality which, alone, can do nothing, but, united to the solid virtues that make character, can move mountains.
We have said a good deal as we came along about courtesy toward oneself and other people, but perhaps the most valuable of all courtesies in business is politeness toward one's job. It is desirable for every woman to be pretty, well-dressed, and well-groomed, but it is much more desirable for the woman in business to be able to do capable and efficient work. She may be ornamental but she must be useful, and while she is at the office her chief concern should be with her job and not with herself. The end of business is accomplishment, and courtesy is valuable because it is a means of making accomplishment easy and pleasant. It is this that gives us the grace to accept whatever comes, if not gladly, at least bravely.
It is a poor workman who quarrels with his tools (or with his job), so the proverb says, and there are two lines of Mr. Kipling's that might be added. He was speaking of a king, but in a democracy we are all kings:
The wisest thing, we suppose, that a king can do for his land Is the work that lies under his nose, with the tools that lie under his hand.
And the lines are just as true when "girl" is substituted for "king" and the pronouns are changed accordingly.