Modern guide to etiquette
Content warning: strong language
Some years ago I reviewed a delightful book on the use of apostrophes. I gave it a very positive review, because it was an enjoyable book on the nuance and inconsistency of English grammar – in particular, the apostrophe. So, some years later, I was equally delighted to see that I was listed, for what I believe to be the first time, in the acknowledgements of the same author’s newest book. Of course I had to get a copy.
“Fucking Good Manners” by Simon Griffin is a guidebook detailing what to do (or, more often, what not to do) in public situations. Griffin covers a range of areas from public transport to the workplace to the all-important British art of queuing and, in prose littered with expletives, presents some extremely strong opinions on what is and is not good manners. Each chapter begins with a perfectly curated classic quote to set the mood.
There are a lot of things that I agree with in this book. Apart from the amusing juxtaposition between Griffin’s own rude language and the book’s topic, Griffin’s overarching point is that we have to exist in this world with lots of other people, and having good manners makes life easier and more pleasant for everyone. Some of his declarations, such as not interrupting, apologising when you’ve made a mistake and saying thank you are things that I fervently wish people would do more often. I think that the chapter on driving will really grind some gears (sorry) because, as Griffin says, everyone likes to think they are good drivers. I really enjoyed some of the anecdotes and examples of people who have behaved extremely poorly in certain situations where manners might have prevented things from escalating to newspaper headlines. I also appreciated the chapter on manners and the environment, and how caring for the environment is really exercising good manners for people who have yet to come.
However, there were a couple of things I didn’t quite agree with. I’ve always found the notion that a country such as the UK that drives on the left but insists people stand on the right on escalators is a bit inconsistent. Choose a side, sure, but choose the same side as the road and sidewalk conventions of your country (left, obviously, in Australia). I also wasn’t too crash hot on the part about bringing “stinky” food into the office because I think that what is considered smelly food is a question of cultural relativism and judging people based on the food they bring into work, especially if that food is from a culture not your own, could be discriminatory.
This is a great little book that makes etiquette amusing and accessible and would be a fun and enjoyable gift – even if it’s just to yourself.