I was prepared to like this book. I liked Eats, Shoots and Leaves
rather a lot (and not just for the panda joke and the stickers), recognising a kindred spirit. From what I can tell, other people liked it, too; and Ms Truss must have made rather a lot of money out of it. I suspect this is where we find the origin of Talk to the Hand
. Where the former was an honest-to-god well-formulated rant by someone who just can't take any more, this book feels forced.
And it really shouldn't. Manners ought to be easy to rant about. She did it rather well in Eats, Shoots and Leaves
when she described good punctuation as simply good manners
. And yet, when she does turn her attention to manners … .
It could be that she dismisses etiquette as a bad thing. I suspect there are some warped leftist leanings (and this is me saying this) which makes her think that she is duty bound to denounce etiquette as an elitist attempt to make the common man feel out of place. I love having clear rules to rely on in my relation with other people -- social situations are awkward enough without it. It is like dancing. Modern dancing makes me shrink in horror, precisely because you are supposed to make it up as you go along, and there is no objective standard as to what is right and what is wrong -- and so if people laugh at you you cannot find out why. But I digress. I am also rather surprised at her very strong reaction to waiters delivering food with the words "There you go". Perhaps it is just me being foreign, but that really never bothered me at all. In fact, it seemed rather friendly. This was the moment when I really began to suspect that the book would be rather forced. And that is quite sad, as this particular rant showed up on page 5.
Similarly, her insistence on consistently writing Eff rather than Fuck annoyed me dreadfully. She seems to have an absolute obsession with the word. After a while it got to me to such an extent I went through the book with a pencil and changed all her Effs to what she was trying so hard not to write. See, I feel she has fallen into a complete (and highly American, I feel) misconception when she assumes that simply using the word Fuck constitutes bad manners. Which is what she appears to argue in her chapter on "The Univeral
Fuck-Off Reflext. It is a fundamental fallacy. She is quite right that the knee-jerk defensive reaction to any form of criticism is rather sad, I doubt this has anything to do with the use of the word itself. As illustrated by the title of this very book
, the statement of which embodies the same meaning.
There are of course a number of instances where I agree with her. And in addition to the aforementioned corrections of the one annoying euphemism (is it really a euphemism? See, I like euphemisms. That one just really gets to me. Especially when spelt "Eff", dammit!
) there are a number of scribbled "yes!" and "precisely"s in the margins of my copy.
Her observations on the rudeness of telephone machine menus, and the inherent assumption that it is all right for whichever company is in question to take up your time, whereas you shouldn't take up its. I confess my wholehearted agreement when it comes to this particular peeve may be down to me being a bit of a technophobe, but the self check-out at Tesco makes me want to break down and cry.
She also has a rather good rant on internet communication and the illusion of choice, and I seem to have given my hearty assent to her observation that the internet does not, contrary to what some would have you believe, improve people's people skills. I'm not looking at anyone in particular.
There is also a sigh, which, again, I find myself agreeing with, concerning the lack of truly juicy revelations in most of the telephone conversations we overhear every day. And in this part of the book I found some of the more amusing anecdotes as she looked at the reactions to the arrival of the ordinary phone as a disruptor in daily life.
And of course her observation that deference is not necessarily a bad thing. That, quite the contrary, it is a very good thing in a great many situation, because contrary to popular belief all people are not
equal and it wouldn't hurt to admit it.
So. I suspect my main problem with the book is that I don't think Ms Truss knows whether she wants to be an elitist or one of the people, and she attempts to provide an alibi for both identities -- resulting in what is frankly a very odd contradictory book at times. I was disappointed.