Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss
|Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss|
|Category: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: An entertaining but well-researched look at the way in which our manners have declined into boorishnesswill have you both thinking and laughing. Buy it for yourself or for someone else as a present.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: October 2006|
|Publisher: Profile Books Ltd|
I'm an old curmudgeon, but my manners are perfect, as is my interaction with other people. I never fail to say 'please', 'thank you' or to apologise when appropriate. I frequently apologise when it isn't my fault. If everyone was like me, the world would be a perfect place. Apart from the fact that you're not a curmudgeon (old or otherwise) you will be the same, which is one of the reasons that Lynn Truss's book Talk to the Hand makes such wonderful reading.
The full title Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday Life (or six good reasons to stay home and bolt the door) is one of the longest I've ever seen and I hope you'll forgive me for not using it! It comes from the phrase "Talk to the hand 'cause the face ain't listening", used, I think, on the Jerry Springer show. Every generation believes that the one which follows it is ruder, has fewer manners than their own generation. It's not a new topic but Lynne Truss is of the opinion that the advent of new technologies has brought the debate to boiling point and she examines just how boorish our behaviour has become.
The book is an occasionally light-hearted look at six areas where we all really could try harder. People used to say 'sorry' to apologise, but it now seems to have become a point of honour not to apologise, but rather to defend bad behaviour. It's occasionally even applauded. I was amazed at this year's Labour Party conference to see delegates give their loudest cheer for the film clip of John Prescott punching a protester. On the other hand the word 'sorry' has been hijacked by business - just listen to any recorded message when you're waiting for a telephone call to be answered - and used in situations where there is plainly no sorrow at all. 'Thank you' and 'please' have followed the same road. The small courtesies of life have ceased to be courtesies and become instructions instead. 'Please have your account details handy.' 'Thank you for not smoking.' It may sound polite but few people think they have any choice.
The effort that used to be made by business has now been passed to the customer. Phone calls used to be answered by a human being and details were taken, calls transferred to the appropriate department. I've recently made telephone calls - to provide meter readings or get an account balance - which have been completely devoid of any human contact, with a recording requiring me to input various details. As Miss Truss asks, 'Why am I doing this?' The difficulty seems to be that there is no alternative other than to feel resentful every time it happens.
I did feel a twinge of guilt when I read of the way in which people isolate themselves from others - using mobile phones and iPods in public. I don't do either of these things, but it did make me consider the extent to which I use the internet to buffer myself from human contact. We are increasingly living in our own little bubbles. The book is thought-provoking and I suspect that most people will find themselves in one or more of the chapters. Hopefully some will act on what they find, but there is the alternative of being able to feel morally superior to those whose behaviour fails to match up to our own high standards.
It's a perfect snapshot of the attitudes of society in its broadest sense. Class only comes into it incidentally as it would seem that the boorishness cuts across class boundaries. This is not a rant, a venting of spleen, although I suspect that the author felt much better after she'd written it! It's a carefully-researched look at how behaviour and manners have deteriorated. Most people will remember Lynne Truss's "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" which instructed us all on the correct use of punctuation. Talk to the Hand does not attempt to do the same for manners. You won't learn which fork to use, how to address a bishop or when a lady should wear a hat. What you will do is see how our actions impact on other people and what we could all do to make life pleasanter. Unfortunately, as with Eats, Shoots and Leaves I suspect that the people who need the book the most will be the last ones to read it.
Read the book - it's immensely liberating to find that you're not the only one who would rather stay home than have to face many of the more unpleasant aspects of modern life.
You can read more book reviews or buy Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss at Amazon.com.
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