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Alphonse and Gaston was an American comic strip by Frederick Burr Opper, featuring a bumbling pair of Frenchmen with a penchant for politeness. They first appeared in William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper, the New York Journal on September 22, 1901, in a strip titled: “Alphonse a la Carte and His Friend Gaston de Table d’Hote”.

Their “After you, Alphonse.”, “No, you first, my dear Gaston!” routine entertained readers for more than a decade. Alphonse was short and grotesque; Gaston was tall and grotesque. The strip’s premise was that both were extremely polite, constantly bowing and deferring to each other. Neither could ever do anything or go anywhere because each insisted on letting the other precede him.

Though never a daily or even weekly feature, Alphonse and Gaston appeared on Sundays for several years. In addition to Hearst collections and licensed products, it was adapted into a stage play and several comedy shorts.  alphonse02

A prolific artist and writer, Opper’s other creations included Willie, Hans from Hamburg, Our Antediluvian Ancestors, And Her Name Was Maud and Happy Hooligan. The characters would occasionally make guest appearances outside their own strips. On one occasion, And Her Name Was Maud featured an appearance by Alphonse and Gaston aboard a runaway sleigh, each of them bowing to the other in the seat.

The strip faded from public view shortly after Opper’s death in 1937, but the catchphrase “After you, my dear Alphonse” lived on. It continues to the present day, spoken in situations when two people are being overly courteous to each other, or when a person receives a dare to do something difficult or dangerous or both; the catchphrase returns the dare to the person who made it. Sometimes it is said when two people are simultaneously trying to go through the same doorway and awkwardly stop to let the other go through.

The phrase “Alphonse-and-Gaston routine”, or “Alphonse-Gaston Syndrome”, indicates a situation wherein one party refuses to act until another party acts first. From a September 23, 2009, New York Times editorial: “For years, China and the United States have engaged in a dangerous Alphonse-and-Gaston routine, using each other’s inaction to shirk their responsibility.”

 

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Alphonse and Gaston exchanges have also been employed by sportscasters during baseball broadcasts when two outfielders go after the ball and it falls in for a base hit. Also, the phrase has a specific meaning in baseball lingo: when two fielders allow a catchable ball to drop between them, it is known as “doing the Alphonse and Gaston.”

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