"Urban Etiquette" is a lively, humorous look at modern manners.
Charles gives an overview of the book:
When a new acquaintance asks me how I earn my living,
I often hesitate before answering. I’m tempted to say
“narcotics dealer” or “gigolo by day, contract killer by
night”—because I believe that most people would prefer to
find themselves talking with a professional criminal than with
an etiquette expert.
The very word etiquette reminds listeners of a dour, persnickety,
unyieldingly ill-humored elderly relative. Most of us
don’t even have such a relative, but this caricature persists. It
may be some kind of genetic memory. I call this largely apocryphal
figure “Great Aunt Vivian.” (If you happen to be a Great
Aunt Vivian, I sincerely beg your pardon.) She represents our
instinctual dislike of being told what to do and our secret fears
of being found socially inadequate. Grumpy Aunt Vivian
makes us feel that everything we do is somehow incorrect. She
scowls when a nephew introduces her to a man instead of vice
versa, or when he spoons his soup inward. Her eagle eyes never
fail to spy improper wording on a wedding invitation, or cutlery
laid across a plate at an incorrect angle. When I tell nice
people that I write about etiquette, I can see from their faces
that I am metamorphosing into Great Aunt Vivian before their
very eyes: I have brought etiquette to a perfectly pleasant cocktail
party. I am there to stop the fun; impose meaningless,
archaic rules; and worst of all, to strongly disapprove.
But I would like you to forget about Great Aunt Vivian’s
misrepresentation of etiquette (although the dear lady does
have her uses as a disciplinarian, and she knows many things
we would be wise to keep in mind). Let’s leave her to her sugary
sherry and her often incorrect interpretation of etiquette. In
her place, I would like to present a new personification of that
word: Mr. Social Grace. (And he would like to say to you, “How
do you do.”) For several years, Social Grace has been answering
etiquette questions in his advice column (which appears in
the San Francisco Bay Area’s SF Weekly, PlanetOut.com, and
elsewhere; pieces of past columns are used to illustrate points
throughout this book). He has led basic-etiquette workshops
for groups ranging from third-graders to financial managers.
And he regularly handles the phoned-in etiquette questions of
the rock-and-roll fans who listen to the San Francisco Bay
Area’s KFOG Radio (as a guest of that station’s Morning Show).
Unlike Great Aunt Vivian, and many self-proclaimed etiquette
experts, Social Grace wholeheartedly believes in the basic
goodness, and good sense, of the average person. The problem
is, many of them simply weren’t taught how (and why) to
behave properly. Social Grace wants to give those people the
tools they need in order to let their natural goodwill and courtesy
show. He isn’t here to beat you about the head and neck
with self-righteous disapproval. And he isn’t too concerned
with teaching you terribly fine etiquette points; for instance, in
this book, we won’t be discussing how to address the Queen of
England. (I can tell you, though, that Her Majesty the Queen
rarely stops by unexpectedly—you’ll have time to prepare
before her arrival.) Instead, Social Grace wants to give you etiquette
rules that make sense for modern people in a terribly
difficult environment: a city.
Charles Purdy is the author of the book Urban Etiquette (Wildcat Canyon Press, 2004). A longtime professional wordsmith, he is a frequent contributor to publications such as Gay.com, a former columnist for the San Francisco Weekly, a former managing editor...
"Upon arriving home from lunch with Charles Purdy I found a jumble of mail on the hall table, and so inspired was I by Purdy's philosophy of politesse that, instead of just riffling through it and making...