April 5, 2012 | by Terri Schlichenmeyer
Breach of manners

(Image courtesy the publisher)

‘Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners’
By Henry Alford
Twelve
$24.99
243 pages

 

Stop it.

Just cut it out. Quit snuffling, chomping your gum and snapping your fingers in people’s faces. Don’t be rude and don’t do that thing with your foot, OK? Stop with those annoyingly intrusive questions, and by the way, no one appreciates your disgusting bodily noises.

Why is it that manners are something we possess but no one else does? Why do some things bother us, while others don’t? And, as author Henry Alford asks with his new book, “Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?”

Why do we bother with manners? Henry Alford wondered that while he was in Tokyo. Japan, he says, is the “Fort Knox of the World Manners Reserve,” but we here in North America know a few things about that subject, too.

Scientists know, for instance, that we’re nicer to people we know. We define manners, not as protocol (a subset of mannerly behavior), but as sensitivity to others. Experts have hypothesized from where “Southern Charm” sprang. And when it comes to manners, we unequivocally say that we present good manners, while bad manners are what others have.

Of course, though, in our zeal to be polite, we do boneheaded things. We don’t think. We don’t listen. We say “no problem” instead of “thank you,” or we apologize insincerely or not at all. We bum-pat, hug (or are horrified by huggers), and we often eschew email etiquette.

So why are we this way? One of the reasons might be what doctors call “inattentional blindness,” which means that we’re too focused on other things, to the detriment of being nice. We might not be adept at small talk. We hide behind a group, an email alias or a Facebook page because we can.

There are things we can do about widespread rudeness, however. Summon your inner chat-ability at parties, but know that there are limits. Teach manners to your children. Pay attention to cultural differences. Cultivate the art of the smart (but ohhh-so-genteel) comeback.

“Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?” is a quirky book. It’s not exactly an etiquette book, although there’s advice in here. It’s not a how-to, either, unless you do a lot of reading between the lines.

This book is more of a look at how we behave (or don’t) and why it bothers author Henry Alford — and that last part is what makes this book worth a read: Alford is pretty good at being Everyman. Like him, aren’t we all grossed-out by unflushed public toilets? Don’t we all hate drivers with perpetually turned-on turn signals? Haven’t we all committed a faux pas that made us want to slink away?

This book holds a mirror up to our foibles and though it, too, has its impolite moments, it’s also got some laughs. I think if you’re rubbed wrong by rudeness, you’ll like it but beware — start reading “Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?” and you may not be able to stop.

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