Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?

Henry Alford, Author
Henry Alford. Hachette/Twelve, $24.99 (243p) ISBN 978-0-446-55766-5
Reviewed on: 11/28/2011
Release date: 01/01/2012
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High-handed hurling of etiquette barbs from New York City to Japan prompts this wickedly witty account by urbane observer Alford (Big Kiss). A New York City journalist and self-described “cultural ambassador,” Alford resolved to challenge the received wisdom about manners, so as to smooth human-relational feathers and to expose his own appalling lapses, such as when playing “Touch the Waiter” while dining out (a “brief, tactile contact with a stranger in the same way that you might laugh at her joke”). Alford defines his terms: there are manners, such as the disciplined behavior required of each of us to show respect for one another, e.g., not soiling the toilet seat for the next person (and here we are treated to a fascinating exegesis on the marvels of the Japanese toilet), while etiquette and protocol are more specific expectations within a general heading, such as how to behave at weddings (e.g., not offering to wipe the bride’s cheek with a sanitary towelette before you have to kiss her) and whether you can forage in the host’s pantry while cat-sitting at her house (yes, as long as you leave a portion’s worth behind). Alford has consulted the experts—meeting Miss Manners in person, and lunching with Tim Gunn (Project Runway)—as well as friends for their etiquette pet peeves, like whether to greet acquaintances at a drugstore (what might they be buying!) or pose importunate questions to the sick and elderly (“Are you okay?”)? E-mail protocol abounds, not surprisingly, and advice in making small talk, rendering this a charming, funny, Noel Cowardesque primer in smartening up. (Jan.)
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