Gentleman Scholar

I Hate My Wife’s Haircut. Should I Tell Her?

Also: Do I have to be That Guy when I order a martini?

Troy Patterson
Troy Patterson

Photo by Christina Paige

Please send your questions for publication to (Questions may be edited.)

Dear Scholar,

How do you tell your wife that her new short haircut that she so loves makes her look like a fat little boy?


Under the influence of sodium pentothal.

Thanks for checking in before attempting this, but I’ve got to wonder about the nom de plume: Exactly how is the speed that you’ve chosen?

A gentleman does not offer a lady any unsolicited negative critique of any aspect of her physical presentation. A gentleman is allowed exceptions to this rule in precisely three instances.

  1. You are making yourself helpful by drawing her attention to a clear problem easily fixed (such as when pointing out an undone button on your wife’s blouse or a glob of pigeon poo on a stranger’s shoulder).
  2. You two share a professional relationship predicated upon her physical presentation. (Think of hairdressers and clients, models and modeling agents, dancers playing delicate White Swans and leering French ballet directors.)
  3. You are trying to start a fight or something.

Maybe the ‘do will grow on you, but definitely it will grow. And if, 18 months from now, it flows lustrously down her back, run your fingers often through its tresses and compliment its length at every opportunity.

Dear Gentleman Scholar,

I am a fan of martinis and also of Slate’s recent madness for them. I was especially interested to read the bartender’s reaction to the wrongheaded commoner “who orders a martini without specifying how they want it.” Gentleman Scholar, that wrongheaded commoner is me! It had not occurred to me that placing a specific order might be part of proper martini etiquette. On the contrary, I’ve always thought it was good manners, if not always satisfying, to defer to a bartender’s expert interpretation of the cocktail. Accepting my wrongheadedness, how should I go about ordering my preferred martini without sounding like a bloviating jerk? What script does the Gentleman Scholar follow?

Pavin’ my way sellin’ red-eye gin,
Gentle Jack Jones

I thank you for your letter. I thank you for erring on the side of polite deference. And I thank you on behalf of bartenders everywhere for showing some respect for their craft; it provides a vivid contrast with those gray men who, after a long day of business travel and quiet desperation, like to unwind with a little gin and a big power trip. These are the martini martinets. You can see them leaning across an unfamiliar bar, exasperated to the point of raging disgust at their bartenders’ failures of omniscience and their civilization’s continued decline, as if the Magna Carta had something to say about stirring counterclockwise.

Everyone involved in the transaction wants you to get exactly the cocktail you want. (The exceptions to this rule are few and entertaining, most notably including the late proprietor of San Francisco’s Zam Zam Room, who’d kick you out for ordering a “vodka martini.”) Being clear about how you like your drink is, on the contrary, helpful. It’s no more rude than asking for your cheeseburger medium rare.

Call your gin; dictate the proportion of vermouth; state your choice of garnish. “May I please have a Brand X martini? About five parts gin and one part vermouth? With a lemon twist, please?”

Better bartenders tend to think it’s silly to make a production about how very, very, Sahara dry you want your martini. You get more respect by saying, “I’ll get a glass of chilled gin.” And you will get the most out of the chilled gin experience by ordering an old-school drink called the Wax Cocktail, which I’m bringing back, starting now. Two ounces of silky Plymouth; four or five dashes of orange bitters; an orange twist and a cherry and elegance and simplicity. I can only suppose that the drink never took off in this country because its inventors didn’t promote it properly. The oldest reference I’ve seen to the Wax Cocktail is in a 1922 book noting its popularity among Canadians, a people famed for being polite to the point of self-denial.