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There's a little FRENCH in all of us...

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Valentine's Day and the Art of Courtly Love

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and, let’s face it, no matter how pro gender equality we claim to be, and no matter how much we pretend to despise the day of love and romance (“what an absurd day!”), most of us actually DO appreciate a little extra men’s attention on the 14th February.

Be a Knight on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day customs date back to European Middle Ages when rules of courtesy guided Knights’ behaviour to the ladies of the court. It is said that the practice of the Art of Courtly Love, known as ‘fine love’, was born in the Court of Aquitaine, France, in the late 11th century and spread out across Europe.

In France in medieval times, Knights were taught to show courage and honour, to be loyal, gallant, and courteous. They practiced the Etiquette of Courtly Love according to which they had to serve a lady and be gentle with all the others. Parts of it still form the basis of today’s gentlemanly conduct.

Here are a few tips from Etiquette expert Catherine Soulas Baron to be a perfect Knight and win your Valentine’s heart on this special day:

Essential rules

  • Make sure to look your very best. A gentleman’s appearance is of the utmost importance, and your Valentine will be touched by the special effort you made to please her. So shave, brush your teeth, comb your hair, dress properly and polish your shoes!

  • Be on time. A gentleman is always punctual; it is a sign of respect. If you’re late, your date will start off on a negative note. If, unfortunately, you happen to be late, give your Valentine (let’s hope she still is!) a phone call to let her know of the situation.

If you say it with flowers

  • If you want to surprise your Valentine with flowers: the red rose symbolises love, the pink rose tenderness, and the white rose the purity of your feelings. Avoid the yellow rose, as it can suggest infidelity and dying love… Also, keep in mind that one rose is enough to express your passion, so no need to buy the entire flower shop!

  • Do not hesitate to give your Valentine her favorite flowers if you know her well already.

Car Etiquette

  • If you are going somewhere special to celebrate Valentine’s Day and have a car, suggest your Valentine to pick her up.

  • Make sure the car is clean, smells good, and, most importantly, get rid of every hint of your ex-girlfriend (this would easily ruin your date…).

  • Wait for your Valentine outside the car and once she’s out, walk her to the car around to the passenger’s side.

  • Opening the car door to let your Valentine in or out is a MUST. Give her your right hand to help her out with elegance.

At the restaurant

  • Be the first to enter the restaurant: a gentleman likes to make sure that a place is appropriate for his lady. It is also important as you are the host and therefore the one who will lead your Valentine to the table.

  • Mind your table manners. No matter how attractive, interesting or funny you are, the noises you will be making while eating, or the food you’ll be chewing while talking your mouth wide open is the ONLY thing your Valentine will notice (with disgust!).

  • If you’re ordering wine, do not pretend you are a wine expert if you’re not, and simply ask the sommelier for advice.

  • Switch off your phone and keep it off the table so as not to ruin the intimacy of your romantic dinner: remember, your Valentine is the only thing and person that matters.

  • On Valentine’s day, a gentleman ALWAYS pays the check.

At the end of the date

  • Whether you had a good time or not, make sure your Valentine gets home safely to end your date on a positive note.

Remember: being a gentleman is not just about dressing appropriately and paying the check. As the French proverb says, « la galanterie, c’est l’art de mettre une femme en valeur ». That is, a perfect gentleman should know how to make a woman feel important and cared for. So don’t forget that small details and small attentions matter as much as big principles.


by Catherine & Sophie Baron

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