Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That: A Modern Guide to Manners [With Earbuds]

Overview

"We all know bad manners when we see them," NPR and Vanity Fair contributor Henry Alford observes at the beginning of his new book. But what, he asks, do good manners look like in our day and age? When someone answers their cell phone in the middle of dining with you, or runs you off the sidewalk with their doublewide stroller, or you enter a post-apocalyptic public restroom, the long-revered wisdom of Emily Post can seem downright prehistoric.

Troubled by the absence of good ...

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Overview

"We all know bad manners when we see them," NPR and Vanity Fair contributor Henry Alford observes at the beginning of his new book. But what, he asks, do good manners look like in our day and age? When someone answers their cell phone in the middle of dining with you, or runs you off the sidewalk with their doublewide stroller, or you enter a post-apocalyptic public restroom, the long-revered wisdom of Emily Post can seem downright prehistoric.

Troubled by the absence of good manners in his day-to-day life-by the people who clip their toenails on the subway or give three-letter replies to one's laboriously crafted missives-Alford embarks on a journey to find out how things might look if people were on their best behavior a tad more often. He travels to Japan (the "Fort Knox Reserve" of good manners) to observe its culture of collective politesse. He interviews etiquette experts both likely (Judith Martin, Tim Gunn) and unlikely (a former prisoner, an army sergeant). He plays a game called Touch the Waiter. And he volunteers himself as a tour guide to foreigners visiting New York City in order to do ground-level reconnaissance on cultural manners divides. Along the way (in typical Alford style) he also finds time to teach Miss Manners how to steal a cab; designates the World's Most Annoying Bride; and tosses his own hat into the ring, volunteering as an online etiquette coach.

Ultimately, by tackling the etiquette questions specific to our age-such as Why shouldn't you ask a cab driver where's he's from?, Why is posting baby pictures on Facebook a fraught activity? and What's the problem with "No problem"?-Alford finds a wry and warm way into a subject that has sometimes been seen as pedantic or elitist. And in this way, he looks past the standard "dos" and "don'ts" of good form to present an illuminating, seriously entertaining book about grace and civility, and how we can simply treat each other better.

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Editorial Reviews

Charles Isherwood
…Alford is a part-time manners maven driven by the zeal of the obsessed amateur…But at bottom Mr. Alford is a full-time humorist…His slim but lively meditation on manners is far more witty-anecdote-driven and personal than pedagogical, a mean game of tiddlywinks played on the minefield of manners rather than a series of law-giving tablets etched in stone.
—The New York Times
Sarah Halzack
The book is a bit haphazard—it jumps quickly from lists of dos and don'ts to history lessons to anecdotes of the author's own manners-related victories and failures. But his self-effacing tone and dry sense of humor help to unify the pieces. He doesn't always advise the reader on the best way to behave in a given situation, but ultimately that's not his aim. Instead, Alford examines how a society defines manners and sets forth a framework by which to think about them in the 21st century.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
High-handed hurling of etiquette barbs from New York City to Japan prompts this wickedly witty account by urbane observer Alford (Big Kiss). A New York City journalist and self-described “cultural ambassador,” Alford resolved to challenge the received wisdom about manners, so as to smooth human-relational feathers and to expose his own appalling lapses, such as when playing “Touch the Waiter” while dining out (a “brief, tactile contact with a stranger in the same way that you might laugh at her joke”). Alford defines his terms: there are manners, such as the disciplined behavior required of each of us to show respect for one another, e.g., not soiling the toilet seat for the next person (and here we are treated to a fascinating exegesis on the marvels of the Japanese toilet), while etiquette and protocol are more specific expectations within a general heading, such as how to behave at weddings (e.g., not offering to wipe the bride’s cheek with a sanitary towelette before you have to kiss her) and whether you can forage in the host’s pantry while cat-sitting at her house (yes, as long as you leave a portion’s worth behind). Alford has consulted the experts—meeting Miss Manners in person, and lunching with Tim Gunn (Project Runway)—as well as friends for their etiquette pet peeves, like whether to greet acquaintances at a drugstore (what might they be buying!) or pose importunate questions to the sick and elderly (“Are you okay?”)? E-mail protocol abounds, not surprisingly, and advice in making small talk, rendering this a charming, funny, Noel Cowardesque primer in smartening up. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
Alford (How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth), 2009, etc.) embarks on an idiosyncratic excursion into the land of civility. Manners became of interest to the author when he came across a comment by Edmund Burke that manners were more important than laws, and realized how true that was for him. Each day, his life had "been far more affected by the small indignities, or the tiny acts of grace, than by any piece of governmental legislation." A book project was born: "I decided to study these tiny-but-huge things: to read about them, and travel in their name…to hold up a magnifying glass to unattractive habits that I stumble upon, be they my own or others'." In his highly subjective, modestly twisted, rudeness-barely-checked way, Alford engages random aspects of manners. He commiserates with readers over choosing the right greeting--hug, kiss, handshake, fist bump, shoulder grab--and tuning into the error of excessive self-deprecation or the slippery slope of formal, hierarchical protocols: "highly arbitrary, difficult to parse, and subject to change without notice." His focus can be broad, as suggesting that tone trumps action (or, paraphrasing Noel Coward, "it's all a matter of lighting"), but often as not he screws down tight on small example from his life--as a tour guide or online manners coach for instance, when he shows himself to be a discreet, keen observer rippling with bad-boy humor. Alford is a razory-wicked, fun guy to be around, and each of his stories are like those "tiny acts of grace" brightening your day.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611130713
  • Publisher: Findaway World, LLC
  • Publication date: 1/28/2012
  • Series: Playaway Adult Nonfiction Series
  • Format: Other
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Henry Alford is the author of three acclaimed works of investigative humor - How To Live: A Seach for Wisdom from Old People (While They are Still on this Earth); Big Kiss: One Actor's Desperate Attempt to Claw His Way to the Top; and Municipal Bondage: One Man's Anxiety-Producing Adventures in the Big City. He has been a regular contributor to the New York Times and Vanity Fair, and a staff writer at Spy. He has also written for The New Yorker, GQ, New York, Details, Harper's Bazaar, Travel & Leisure, the Village Voice, and Paris Review. He lives in Manhattan.
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