I was on vacation en famille and waiting for my husband to finish check in procedures at the airport when a woman coming from the opposite direction, mobile phone firmly stuck to her ear, rammed her luggage trolley into me. By the time I had gotten by breath back, she was long gone, without the slightest gesture of apology. When I made my way to the airport bookstore sometime later, I was still fuming. So it seemed like serendipity when I saw Lynne Truss’ book on rudeness Talk to the Hand.
I had loved her previous book Eats, Shoots and Leaves and assumed that anyone who could make punctuation engaging and funny would probably do even better with rudeness. After all, the subject does lend itself so easily to satire. I expected to be thoroughly entertained. I wasn’t.
It starts out promisingly. The world is getting ruder. You nod along. No one feels the need to use the magic words anymore. Quite true, you think. But then Truss goes into crotchety old geezer mode, going on and on about “kids these days” and “parents these days”. Her voice gets shriller and what started out as a tongue-in-cheek poke at declining manners becomes a sermon about the whole of civilization going to the dogs.
To give the devil her due, she does make some valid points. Like an absence of personal accountability being one of the causes for increasing rudeness. She also points out that politeness, even for those who intend it, is becoming increasingly dicey in a world obsessed with political correctness. If you are a gentleman and give up your seat on the bus for a lady, are you gallant or are you a chauvinist? What about helping a person with disabilities? Is that condescension?
Talk to the Hand is chock full of anecdotes and quotes on the subject. I liked the one about a woman writing to Tommy Steele to complain that he wasn’t to be seen when she rode the bus past his house and that as a celebrity he had a duty to be visible to the fans who made him what he is. Also mildly funny is the guy who sent sheet metal back to junk mailers in their post paid envelopes. Most of the other funny stories in the book though, are just not funny.
I felt that very often her complaints against people amounted to nothing more than pointless nitpicking. I certainly wouldn’t consider a friendly waiter impolite just because he/she said “there you go” while serving me my order and I am not offended by anyone responding to my “thank you” with a “no problem”.
I didn’t really enjoy this book. With no new insight into the matter and rather forced humour, this feels like one, long, unrelenting rant.