This is not the sort of book I generally read.
Actually, eyeing the multitude of chapters, all of which are further broken down into subsections, I picked this book from the pile because I like to read between turns of Civilization V, and considering that its Brave New World expansion has just come out, I have a lot of empires to build. That said, sometime around 2000 BC, when my Indonesians had competed the Great Library and declared war on Ashurbanipal of Assyria, I ended up turning off the game and focusing on the book, which I finished that night.
How is it so easy to get engrossed in a book about manners? Perhaps ours is a rude age, or new methods of communication have made us more obnoxious, if not merely socially-awkward. There’s evidence for all of it. If you live in the city, as I do, you probably spend a great deal of time wishing people weren’t so appallingly self-centred, from the dipstick who wanders across the street instead of waiting for the pedestrian light to the gaggle of soccer parents heaping scorn on the referee of their nine-year-old’s soccer game. Spend enough time (i.e., any time) on the internet, and you’ll be told to die in a fire; witness the comments section of any relationship article posted online. Then there’s my generation: constant revelling in painful, hyper-self-aware irony has made us all inept at speaking to each other. So that’s how I got pulled into Essential Manners for Men: self-righteous indignation towards everyone else.
Of course, read about enough bad behaviour, and you start to recognize your own. I know I sure did.
Peter Post, great-grandson of etiquette expert Emily Post, says that men are more interested than ever in learning about etiquette. His evidence is a pair of surveys his Emily Post foundation did, in 2002 and 2011. In 2002, only fourteen per cent of their respondents were men. In 2011, that number jumped to forty-six. Read enough men’s lifestyle magazines, and you’re bound to see that men like both self-improvement and learning how to do things properly. Couple that with the realization that etiquette isn’t necessarily about correctly identifying silverware, and you can see why men are interested. In Post’s words, etiquette is “understanding what to do and what to expect others to do in return so your focus is on building the relationship.”
Post is a thorough man, to say the least. He has advice for the household, the car, the office, the phone, email, the gym, parenting, parties, vacation, social media, weddings, job interviews, golf, and nearly every other situation in which a man will find himself. In fact, men about to graduate university and enter the workforce ought to buy themselves this volume and memorize part three, “On the Job”, since poor interpersonal skills can often mean the difference between gainful employment and no job at all.
Of course, no one likes to hear that they’re the problem. Especially me; I hate being the problem. That’s what this book does, though. It holds a mirror up to every social occasion imaginable, gently points out your flaws, and explains why you ought to fix them. I suppose, were I an angrier man, I’d whine that I shouldn’t be the one to change, snidely suggest that Mr Post is spineless and in thrall to his wife, and complain that all this etiquette is obvious anyway, and if it’s so obvious, I’m good at it. Then again, people who are jerks generally don’t know that they are jerks. Again, witness comments sections.
The reality is, there’s no force on earth that’ll make urbanites look both ways before crossing the street, or even better, stick to the crosswalk. Actually, about 25% of urbanites are jerks to matter how they travel, whether it’s by foot, bicycle, car, or pubic transit—and I can’t change any of that. What I can do is try my best not to be a jerk (or, on a good day, even courteous), and maybe the jerk quotum of the city will decrease by just a bit.
Dave Robson is the editor of DailyXY. He spends his time reading books, drinking Scotch, and smoking cigars.