If you think that reading a book on manners sounds like a bore, give Sandi Toksvig’s The Tricky Art of Co-Existing a try. It is anything but.
Ms. Toksvig writes about everything from flushing the toilet to sex. Her suggestions—she says there are no rules—are based on the “top c’s of manners”: consideration, common sense, context, and comfort. But since we are talking about co-existing, consideration is prominent:
“Chew with your mouth closed. Again we’re dwelling in the unsavory land of others’ moistness. Mastication, like another similar word, is a private affair.”
Okay, maybe that example could fall under any of the four categories—there’s always overlap—but still.
The author says that manners evolve, and she gives examples to back this up. Some behavior that seemed good form a few hundred years ago looks absurd today. Conversely, new technology creates new ways to be rude:
“Do not tweet about your meal. It’s dull for everyone, including those people who have been foolish enough to ‘follow’ you.”
“Putting ‘LOL’ or a smiley face at the end of a nasty tweet doesn’t lessen the damage it might do.”
Ms. Toksvig even gives advice on how to be bad:
“The nineteenth-century novelist Lady Caroline Lamb once had herself served entirely naked in a soup tureen as a birthday gift….this is not an easy gift to carry off with poise….Nevertheless, if you can do it, good luck to you.”
Toksvig reminds us time and again that manners vary across cultures. We should be respectful of other beliefs and customs:
“I think…that it is the height of bad manners to presume that what you eat, what you think, and what you believe are the only ways to conduct yourself on this glorious planet.”
I wasn’t looking for a book on manners when I bought this book; I was just looking for something fun to read. I found that and a whole lot more. One can only hope I put Ms. Toksvig’s advice to use.