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"Miss Manners with Fangs." LA Weekly
We live in a world that's very different from the one in which Emily Post came of age. Many of us who are nice (but who also sometimes say "f*ck") are frequently at a loss for guidelines about how to be a good person who deals effectively with the increasing onslaught of rudeness we all encounter.
To lead us out of the miasma of modern mannerlessness, science-based and bitingly funny syndicated advice columnist Amy Alkon rips the doily off the manners genre and gives us a new set of rules for our twenty-first century lives.
With wit, style, and a dash of snark, Alkon explains that we now live in societies too big for our brains, lacking the constraints on bad behavior that we had in the small bands we evolved in. Alkon shows us how we can reimpose those constraints, how we can avoid being one of the rude, and how to stand up to those who are.
Foregoing prissy advice on which utensil to use, Alkon answers the twenty-first century's most burning questions about manners, including:
* Why do many people, especially those under forty, now find spontaneous phone calls rude?
* What can you tape to your mailbox to stop dog walkers from letting their pooch violate your lawn?
* How do you shut up the guy in the pharmacy line with his cellphone on speaker?
* What small gift to your new neighbors might make them think twice about playing Metallica at 3 a.m.?
Combining science with more than a touch of humor, Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck is destined to give good old Emily a shove off the etiquette shelf (if that's not too rude to say).
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Amy Alkon does “applied behavioral science,” translating scientific research into highly practical advice. Alkon writes The Science Advice Goddess, an award-winning, syndicated column that runs in newspapers across the United States and Canada. She is also the author of I See Rude People. She has been on Good Morning America, The Today Show, NPR, CNN, MTV, and does a weekly science podcast. She has written for Psychology Today, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times Magazine, the New York Daily News, among others, and has given a TED talk. She is the President of the Applied Evolutionary Psychology Society. She lives in Venice, California. Follow Amy on Twitter: @amyalkon
Read an Excerpt
I DON’T CARE WHERE YOU PUT THE FORK
(as long as you don’t stab anybody in the eye with it)
This is not an etiquette book, filled with prissy codes of conduct to help you fit in to upper-class society (or at least passably fake it), and I am nobody’s idea of an etiquette auntie. I don’t know the correct way to introduce an ambassador or address a wedding invite to a divorcée, and I’m not sure where to put the water glasses, other than “on the table.” I kept this to myself when I got a call from a TV producer from one of the national morning shows. She had seen me in a thirty-second bit about civility on the Today show, loved that I wasn’t the typical fusty etiquette expert, and—wow—wanted me to fly to New York to be the featured expert in a segment on “manners and civility at the holidays.”
“We’ll start with the table,” she said. “How to set it and how to properly serve the turkey.”
“Fantastic!” I lied—same as I would’ve if she’d asked me to come on national TV and stick my head up a horse’s ass to look for lost watches.
I do have a grasp on certain table manners basics, like that you shouldn’t lick your plate clean unless there’s a power outage or you’re dining with the blind, but I’m basically about as domestic as a golden retriever. I don’t cook; I heat. My dining room table is piled with books and papers. When my boyfriend makes me dinner, we eat balancing our plates on our legs while sitting on my couch. (Some men fantasize about kinky things to do in bed; he just wants to dine on a flat surface before we’re fed through tubes at The Home.)
My domestic failings aside, this was national TV, I needed to sell my book, I See Rude People, and I had a classy friend I could hit up for remedial table-setting and turkey-serving lessons. Of course, what I wanted to go on TV and say is what I actually think: What really matters isn’t how you set the table or serve the turkey but whether you’re nice to people while you’re doing it.
Two days before I was to board the plane to New York (on a nonrefundable ticket the network asked my publisher to pay for), I called the producer to double-check that I was prepared for my segment. “Uh … um … I’ll call you back in five minutes from my desk,” she said, and then she hung up. Two and a half hours later, I got an e-mail:
Subject: SaturdayIn a message dated 12/8/10 12:22:01 PM,Producer@unnamednetworkmorningshow.com writes:
I just spoke to my executive producer who already had someone in mind for the segment. I am so sorry!
And I am really enthused about you and what you have to say, so let’s get you on the next time we have an etiquette segment.
Producer at unnamed network
Of course, I never heard from her again. (Out of guilt, people who’ve done crappy things to you tend to treat you like you’ve done something crappy to them.) On the bright side, they’d dumped me from the segment while I was still at home in Los Angeles, unlike a California author friend of mine who learned she’d been given the heave-ho when she logged on to her flight’s Wi-Fi over the Kansas cornfields.
Now, nobody owes me or anybody a spot on television, but when you’ve invited somebody to come on your show (especially your show on civility!), I do think you owe it to them to make sure you want them—and ideally, before they’ve booked a flight across the country on somebody else’s dime. At the very least, when these mistakes are made, you could work your way past that “Eeeuw, cooties!” feeling we get about somebody we’ve wronged and do something to make it up to them instead of just saying you will.
This experience got me thinking about how simple it actually is to treat other people well. Life is hardly one long Princess Cruise for any of us, and there are times when you’ll have to fire or disappoint somebody. But at the root of manners is empathy. When you’re unsure of what to say or do, there’s a really easy guideline, and it’s asking yourself, Hey, self! How would I feel if somebody did that to me?
If everybody lived by this “Do Unto Others” rule—a beautifully simple rule we were supposed to learn in Kindergarten 101—I could probably publish this book as a twenty-page pamphlet. But so many people these days seem to be patterning their behavior on another simple rule, the “Up Yours” rule—“screw you if you don’t like it.” I lamented this behavioral shift in a Los Angeles Times op-ed featuring a mother flying with her toddler and a blasé attitude about his shrieking for over an hour before takeoff—so loudly that the safety announcements couldn’t be heard.
More and more, we’re all victims of these many small muggings every day. Our perp doesn’t wear a ski mask or carry a gun; he wears Dockers and shouts into his iPhone in the line behind us at Starbucks, streaming his dull life into our brains, never considering for a moment whether our attention belongs to him. These little acts of social thuggery are inconsequential in and of themselves, but they add up—wearing away at our patience and good nature and making our daily lives feel like one big wrestling smackdown.
The good news is, we can dial back the rudeness and change the way we all relate to one another, and we really need to, before rudeness becomes any more of a norm. That’s why I’ve written this book, a manners book for regular people. The term “nice people who sometimes say f*ck” describes people (like me and maybe you) who are well-meaning but imperfect, who sometimes lose their cool but try to be better the next time around, who sometimes swear (and maybe even enjoy it) but take care not to do it around anybody’s great-aunt or four-year-old.
In the pages that follow, I lay out my science-based theory that we’re experiencing more rudeness than ever because we recently lost the constraints on our behavior that were in place for millions of years of human history. I explain how we can reimpose those constraints and then tell you how not to be one of the rudewads and give you ways to stand up to the people who are.
Much of this surge in rudeness we’re experiencing is a consequence of life in The New Wild West, the world that technology made. Technology itself doesn’t cause the rudeness. But technological advances have led to sweeping social change, removing some of the consequences of being rude, especially in the past fifteen years, with so many people living states or continents apart from their families and friends, often spending their days in a swarm of strangers, and being both more and less connected than ever through cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype.
This book helps you take on and stop rudeness in these techno-spheres and other largely unregulated areas of our lives, such as our neighborhoods, where our society’s vastness and transience contribute to all sorts of piggy behavior in both public and private space. I use the term “unregulated” because there’s no cop you can call when somebody blogs what was supposed to be a private e-mail or when the lady in the apartment over yours spends the entire evening tap-dancing across her hardwood. To help you prevent situations like these and the cascade of miseries that can ensue, I map out ways for you to preemptively restrain the rude and solutions for when they start acting out.
In how I do this and in the advice I include, Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck sharply departs from the traditional manners advice books. Except for a few “in case you were raised by coyotes” tips on basic table manners, I’ve omitted picky etiquette stuff I’d only read at gunpoint, such as the correct way for married people to monogram their towels (a question which, per Google, is covered by a mere 19,400,000 web pages). Also, as I note in the “Eating, Drinking, Socializing” chapter, quite a bit of the advice given by traditional etiquette aunties is rather arbitrary, which is why one etiquette auntie advises that a lady may apply lipstick at the dinner table and another considers it an act only somewhat less taboo than squatting and taking a pee in the rosebushes. You’re simply supposed to memorize the particular auntie’s rules, and if you take issue with any, well, refer back to “Because I’m the mom!”
I don’t think that’s good enough. So, in every chapter, I’ve laid out reasons, based in behavioral science, for why we should behave in certain ways. The science behind and throughout much of this book not only provides a foundation for the guidelines within but also gives you a framework so you can figure things out for yourself in the moment and answer any questions that aren’t addressed here.
And finally, in addition to all the advice in this book, I’ve included stories and photos to give you that wonderfully satisfying feeling I call “rudenfreude”—the joy of seeing those who abuse the rest of us called out for what tiny sociopathic little tyrants they are. To borrow from Gandhi, who was asked what he thought of Western civilization: “I think it would be a good idea.”
Copyright © 2014 by Amy Alkon
Table of Contents
1 I Don't Care Where You Put the Fork (as long as you don't stab anybody in the eye with it) 1
2 We're Rude Because We Live in Societies Too Big for Our Brains: The science of stopping the rude 7
3 Communicating 15
4 The Neighborhood 46
5 The Telephone 71
6 The Internet 88
7 Dating 119
8 Going Places: Cars, sidewalks, public transportation, and airplanes 149
9 Eating, Drinking, Socializing 194
10 Friends with Serious Illnesses: What to do when a friend is really, really sick and could maybe even die 228
11 The Apology 236
12 Trickle-Down Humanity 252
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Spectacular! This is the kind of brilliantly witty guidebook that I wish I’d had decades back, so I could have been savoring the opportunity to reread again and again. This book is a classic—not only of great wit, but of solid, scientifically-based information about how people how people can, with a little intelligent (and fun!) prompting, interact beautifully with one another in the modern world. Through everything, Amy’s basic human decency shines through—albeit a decency that’s shot through with brilliantly sardonic humor. I learned a LOT from this book, about everyday challenges (what is the new phone etiquette in the midst of today’s data overflow?), and about life’s eternal challenges involving what Alkon terms “trickle down humanity.” This book is not to be missed—nobody synthesizes science—or people smarts-- like Amy Alkon.
It is interesting to read how the author progressed from self-centered defensivity to a mature individual with very good advice for everyone. Anyone having a problem with vernacular vocabulary will miss the "flowery" terms that Alkon uses to describe certain persons and situations, BUT her use of certain terms are exactly what we all have in our minds with regard to certain miscreants. -------Leonard
I believe (hope) myself to be a polite person, but I don't agree with much of the author's views. For example, talking on a cell phone in public is not rude. Bellowing on a cell phone or continuing one's conversation when someone is trying to assist you (store counters, restaurants) is. And when did it become rude to call someone without texting first? Likewise, I disagree with her brand of online vigilante justice. There is no need to post video of someone behaving badly and doing so leaves the victim open to disproportionate and undeserved harassment. As another reviewer mentioned, this book was more a rant than a guide.
Mostly stories from author's life of her experiences on the receiving rudeness. Condescending and judgmental towards cable customer service reps, heavy people, and people with STDs (even if they got it from spouse). Her beliefs about cell phone etiquette are not likely those of a majority of Americans. She seems to believe that anyone talking on a cell phone in public is intruding on her thoughts of what public space is supposed to be. She seems to think that no one in public should do anything to disturb her thoughts. I could do without the judgmental rant even though she can be funny.
Arg, you are a genius