A real gentleman will always walk between the street and his woman. A woman should never walk on the edge of the side of the sidewalk. These truths may be old, but it is still a common practice today. But you won’t believe how disgusting are the real roots of this rule.
Ok, so it is an ancient tradition and nowadays people don’t really pay attention to it. And that’s fine – you should walk in any way you want. If your date wants to walk on the side of the sidewalk, don’t try to squeeze yourself in there to prove how much of a gentleman you are. Poop is not falling from the sky anymore anyway.
Nowadays we think that a man should walk on the edge of the sidewalk for protection. If someone loses control of the car, he should be the one to get hit first. Or if there is a puddle on the side of the street – a man should get splashed and not the woman. Those are all good reasons and so was poop.
You see, in the Middle Ages life in English cities were a bit different. Everything smelled disgustingly and there were trenches of open sewage basically everywhere. So it wasn’t just puddle water that was getting splashed on passers-by – there was also a horse manure in water (it rained all the time in England back in the day too). However, humans were not much better.
Back in the day emptying your chamber-pot through the window was a normal practice. Again, those who walked closer to the walls were less likely to get covered in feces. And so, because a gentleman is always prepared to sacrifice himself in honour of his woman, he was the one to get his clothes dirty.
Weirdly enough, this was attractive back in the day – not being dirty, but being willing to get dirty for your woman. This is also where that cliche motif of laying down your coat on a puddle comes from. However, English Royalty knew this problem and decided to tackle it full force.
Situation in English cities was so bad that wealthier people had to walk around with perfumed handkerchiefs pressed to their noses. Laws said that people must take their waste out of the city, but no one actually followed this rule. Situation started to change at the beginning of the 14th century, when the Kind Edward II of England hired people to clean the streets and forbade pigs from running around loose. It is quite funny that people didn’t initially listen to their Kind and professional cleaners had to be hired.
There are many rules for gentlemen that are not really practical nowadays. You have to stand up when a woman walks into a room, you have to help her seat, you can’t criticize a home-cooked meal and so on. Although these rules do sound silly now, they were once a norm and helped maintaining smooth social relations.
Byt the way, did you know that a word “gentleman” was originally created to describe a man of the lowest rank of the English gentry?