My daughter Hilary and I joined a capacity crowd at the Winspear Centre recently as guests of the Edmonton Journal. In a huge thank you gesture to Journal subscribers, we were assembled to listen to the maven of manners Lynne Truss. Truss is the British author of “Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door.”
The crowd chuckled appreciatively and nodded in agreement as Truss gave one example after another of the incivility of the world today. Her rant covered the disappearance of words like “please, thank you, excuse me, sorry.” Who hasn’t felt indignant when holding a door open for the thankless or letting someone merge without getting the expected wave in exchange?
Papers were handed to each of us to jot down questions for the author after the formal part of her presentation. Mine was rhetorical and was put to the author after Marc Horton, the Journal Books guy, asked her about the apologetic nature of Canadians. I asked if it wasn’t ironic that as we assembled at a talk on manners, countless people brushed past to get to their seats without so much as a ‘please, excuse me, thank you.’ An audible groan rose in the Winspear and Hilary overheard some older ladies apologizing and saying thank you.
Truss tackled what she calls the Eff-Off Reflex. She thinks “the state of manners is driving some of us to be direct, which makes us uncomfortable enough in the first place. And this directness is whacked straight back at us by people who are never wrong, who interpret directness as sheer hostility and who say Eff Off so much in their normal conversations anyway that is springs automatically to their lips.” She told the story of a man questioning the breastfeeding of a two or three-year old only to be told to Eff Off by the kid before he resumed suckling.
Like Truss most of us are fed up with automated switchboards, the hard work of navigating the internet, standing in lines, waiting hopefully for customer service. “Isn’t this transaction of mutual benefit to both sides?” she wonders. “So why am I not being met half-way here?” She’s mad that whenever we need help, we’re instructed on a system to find a solution for ourselves. Truss has become so sensitive to the DIYFS (do it your effing self) mentality that she screams “No I won’t” when she sees a “Pick your Own Strawberries” sign.
From movie talkers to cell phone users, no one was safe from her attack. She feels so much better for having written the book but believes it dangerous and unwise to confront the rude and generally believes it’s a lost cause.
The Journal gave each of us a copy of Truss’ book and capped the night off with coffee and pastries. I followed up with a thank you card. Lynne would approve, from where I sit.