Gentleman Scholar

May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives?

Or would that be rude?

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

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

I am a relatively young man about to embark on a legal career in a very traditional, very formal region. However, I’ve been planning to get a tattoo, as a reminder of my time before I traded in a punk-rock wardrobe for linen suits. Do you have any advice on matters like placement on the body, size, etc.?

Thank you for your question.

I think you want this to be above the waist, right? A Japanese dragon writhing down a deltoid, a brace of Black Flag quadrilaterals vaulting off a bicep, a chesty tribute to your possibly horrified mother—these sorts of body modifications suit the modestly inked fellow best, don’t they?

I am tempted to advise against tattoos rendered in foreign languages. Isn’t it tedious to translate them? Isn’t it ostentatious to implicitly court requests for translation? Is it hypocritical of me to lay down this law? Before my midlife crisis abates, I may yet succumb to the urge to have an old Roman slogan inscribed on my right arm: Audentes fortuna iuvat. Oh, but now I see that the idea might be a cliché. Which inspires an exhortation: Do not go under the needle unless you are prepared to risk defacing your one and only body with an unoriginal work of art.

I am skilled at sharpening knives and would gladly sharpen them for friends without expectation of reciprocity. But to identify a dull knife draws attention to a (perceived) inadequacy. How could I make such an offer and avoid embarrassment?

Thank you for your question.

I agree that discussing friends’ flaws is best done behind their backs, but there’s a difference in kind between the dull blade of a chef’s knife and, say, the unpolished silver handle of its butter-bearing cousin. Dull knives are dangerous. They slip off onions and slice into fingers, thereby ruining dinner before you’ve even had your soup. In this instance, mellowly suggesting a correction is no more rude than smothering the flames of a Sterno candle overturned at a raucous fondue party.

What are your thoughts on Ben Bradlee’s legacy?

The death of this majestic editor marks the end of an era—the era of people successfully wearing Winchester shirts, those solid-colored or striped numbers with contrasting white collars and cuffs. Bradlee, whose style synthesized WASP probity and raffish flair, had the dash to pull these off, but they make the vast majority of you aspiring C-suite dwellers look as insufferably pompous as you must be.

My dog’s days are numbered, and the number is dwindling. I’m very attached to this little guy, and I’m dreading the call to the vet to schedule that appointment. He’s been with me through a divorce, job losses, geographic relocations, failed attempts at self-betterment, and periods of excessive imbibement. I’m certain that if I had been without him during these hardships, I’d be either in a gutter somewhere or in an urn on a mantelpiece. How do I mourn his passing and honor all he’s done for me while still maintaining gentlemanly composure? The conditions don’t seem compatible.

Thank you for your question.

Discuss your feelings with friends who are dear and therapists who do not charge too dearly. Carry an all-cotton handkerchief to wipe at and blot down and otherwise de-blubber your face, if that’s an issue; Brooks Brothers will sell you a baker’s dozen for $45. If, on the other hand, you need some help getting the waterworks going to flush some grief out of your system, try Verdi’s Requiem. Then, to cheer yourself up, read Evelyn Waugh’s Loved One, partly set at a pet cemetery called the Happier Hunting Ground.

I’m sorry for your impending loss. Please nuzzle Fido’s scruff for me.

Is it still acceptable for a gentleman to kiss a lady on the cheek (or cheeks) when greeting?

Thank you for your question.

In social situations, yes, indeed, it is acceptable. It isn’t really a kiss, of course—more like a shimmer of smacking administered to the air beside her cheek—and the only thing worrying about it is the tendency toward bise inflation that I’ve noticed within the past decade. Where once a single pseudopeck on the right cheek was the American standard, we now encounter ladies going in for seconds, in a European fashion. Which is not in itself unwelcome, but can introduce a hiccup to your howdy-do, and occasionally result in some lipstick slapstick. Watch your mouth.