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Wednesday, 21 December 2005 00:00

Mind those manners

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Talk To the Hand #?*!: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door by Lynne Truss.
Gotham Books, 2005. $25 — 216 pages.

Dear Mr. Manners:

Recently I was walking the track at the Waynesville Recreation Park when I saw three older ladies using metal detectors on the soccer field. Every once in a while they would stop and dig something up, and drive their tiny spades right into the soccer field. When I approached and asked what they were doing, they told me to mind my own f—-ing business. I started walking toward the recreation park building to lodge a complaint, at which point the three hags left, giving me glares and middle fingers as they departed. They never seemed to understand that what they were doing was vandalism.

Is it me or are people ruder than they used to be?

Ticked Off


Gentle Reader:

Take a deep breath, Ticked Off. You are seeing the results of what Lynne Truss recently described in her latest book, Talk To the Hand #?*!: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door (Gotham Books, ISBN 1-592-40171-6, $20). Truss — the author of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, a look at the recent disintegration of grammar and syntax — turns her gimlet eye in this most recent book to the rising tide of boorishness and rudeness in our slovenly culture. In this particular instance, Truss might say that you were a victim of the “Someone Else Will Clean It Up” syndrome, a modern disease in which those stricken somehow believe that public property belongs to them alone.

Let’s listen to Truss for a moment in regards to this issue:

“To state that a well-mannered person is superior to an ill-mannered one — well, that is to invite total ignominy. Yet I can’t not say this. I believe it. Manners are about showing consideration, and using empathy. But they are also about the common good; they are about being better. Every time a person asks himself, ‘What would the world be like if everyone did this?’ or ‘I’m not going to calculate the cost to me on this occasion. I’m just going to do the right thing,’ or ‘Someone seems to need this seat more than I do,’ the world becomes a better place. It is ennobled.”

Old women using metal detectors to tear up soccer fields have lost more than their sense of community manners. They have also lost their faculties. Rather than report them to the recreation park, you might consider calling the nearest mental health emergency team.

•••

Dear Mr. Manners:

Yesterday on Lexington Avenue in Asheville a car passed me blaring its stereo. The music was, I assume, rap, punctuated every five seconds or so by the F-word. When the young person driving the car paused at the red light, I called out, “What would your mother think?” He said, “F—— you, you old bag.”

Why does someone play that kind of music? Why would he say such a thing?

Agitated in Asheville


Gentle Reader:

In her rant regarding rudeness, Talk To The Hand, Truss introduces the concept of “My Bubble, My Rules.” The young man whom you encountered in the car has his idea of space — in this case, his car — and whatever he chooses to do within his space is up to him. We live daily within a supreme irony: we are a part of the age of communication, of cell phones and e-mail and fax machines, and yet we find ourselves more and more cut off from people and from reality by the very technology that puts us in touch with others. The young man playing that music on his stereo doesn’t see or hear himself intruding on your space, if only because he is only concerned with his space.

Truss offers no solution to this problem of space and intrusion. The rider himself even evades natural punishment, for if he goes on listening to music at this decibel level, he will eventually be deaf and therefore will not suffer the raucous youth who arrive to torment him in his old age.

Dear Mr. Manners:

I am a waiter at a prestigious restaurant in Western North Carolina. I take pride in my work and consider myself a professional. Recently, however, a particular party of elderly guests abused my position. These people prayed before eating their meal, but behaved throughout the meal like spoiled children. These are relatively wealthy people, members of the “Greatest Generation,” yet they complained about every dish brought to them. The coffee was never hot enough, the steaks were too tough, the lettuce in the salad was too large. Then they started on me, complaining that I was too slow, or that I didn’t anticipate their every little need. Never in all this rigamarole was there a “thank you” or a “please.” What is it with these people?

Seething Server


Gentle Reader:

In Truss’s book, Talk To the Hand, there’s a chapter called “Was That So Hard To Say?” Truss writes, “Those of us who automatically deal out polite words in suitable contexts are becoming uncomfortably aware that we earn less credit for it than we used to. It is becoming obvious that we are the exception rather than the rule, and that our beautiful manners fall on stony ground.”

As a server, and a conscientious one at that, you must become inured to such incivility. It is comforting to remember that the elderly people whom you served, who have the greatest disposable income in our country and who are, after all, members of the “Greatest Generation,” will doubtless be dead in less than 15 years. That is a short time to endure bad manners. Perhaps by then, later generations will have learned the value of a simple “Please” or a heartfelt “Thank you.”

To all my Gentle Readers, let me highly recommend Truss’s Talk To The Hand, which has little to do with rules of etiquette but much about dealing with the nasty behavior found among all classes of society. In closing, let me add, too, that wonderful Christmas benediction from the Vulgate Latin translation of Saint Luke’s Gospel: “Glora in altissimis Deo/Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntae.” In spite of all efforts to translate that text as “Glory to God in the Highest, and peace, good will to men on earth,” the actual and accurate translation is “Glory to God in the Highest/And peace on earth to men of good will.”

To all men and women of good will, I bid you Merry Christmas. To all you rude people out there, you might contemplate the difference in the above versions of the song. You might even try throwing a “thank-you” or two at the waiter the next time you visit a restaurant.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Gentle Readers.

— Jeff Minick

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