Monday October 31, 2005
Let the hand do the talking
By MARY SCHNEIDER
Lynne Truss, the author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a slim volume about the deplorable state of everyday punctuation, has come out with a new book about another of her irritations. The title of her latest publication, Talk To The Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday Life, or Six Good Reasons to Stay at Home and Bolt the Door might seem straightforward enough to some people, but it had me stumped.
I’m not sure when they came up with the expression “Talk to the hand”, but I must have been asleep at the time.
Due to my exposure to programmes like MTV and Channel V (there are two teenagers in my house), I used to think I was quite a hip-happening sort of person. Now I know differently. Indeed, I’ve now come to realise that there is one truism about being hip: the moment a middle-aged person begins to think that she is cool usually coincides with her being anything but cool. And the opposite of cool is not hot, it’s lame.
A quick search on the Internet told me that the expression “Talk to the hand” actually means: “I don’t want to hear what you’re saying.” I think you’re also supposed to utter the words while extending your arm with your palm showing, like a policeman does when he wants to stop the traffic.
I also came across another phrase that means the same thing: Talk to the butt! I think you can work out for yourself the body language that goes with that one.
But I digress.
Getting back to Truss’s book, it would appear that rudeness and bad manners are on the increase. Society is becoming less civilised and we can only blame bad parenting, television and the Internet. And bad punctuation, possibly.
It seems that Ms Truss is irritated by a lot of things. And her reaction to the rude behaviour of others seems almost rude in itself. For example, there’s her take on strawberry-picking.
In Britain, it’s common for people to pick their own strawberries. You go to the farm, select your container and pick as much as you want. It can be fun picking strawberries with friends and family, you’re guaranteed that the fruit is fresh and everyone saves money because the middleman is cut out. What’s not to like?
Of course, if you really don’t like to pick your own strawberries, all you have to do is go to the nearest supermarket and pay more money for a small pre-packed container of the same thing.
Miss Manners does things a little differently, though. Whenever she drives past a “Pick Your Own Strawberries” sign, she yells out of her car window, “No, I won’t pick my own bloody strawberries! You bloody pick them for me!”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that sounds like the polite thing to do.
Her odd behaviour doesn’t just stop there, though. In another chapter, she tells the story of a friend who went into a shop in England and asked a shop assistant how much an unpriced article cost. The assistant’s response: “What do you think I am – psychic?”
Truss has had similar rude reactions (or even non-reactions: the silent treatment) from belligerent sales staff. Indeed, she is so irritated by “corporate rudeness”, as she calls it, that she now takes a hand puppet called Sooty, a little bear with smudges on its face, with her whenever she goes shopping.
Allow me to take you on a typical shopping trip with Truss, the paragon of good manners.
Truss: “Miss, could you please tell me what other colours this dress comes in?”
The typical, bad-mannered shop assistant ignores the request as she perches on her stool behind the cash register, filing her nails and popping her gum.
Truss, her voice raised ever so slightly: “Excuse me! Does this dress come in any other colours?”
The shop assistant continues to exercise her powers of selective hearing.
Truss pulls on her Sooty hand puppet: “Well, Sooty, do you think this dress comes in different colours,” she says in a loud voice.
Sooty: “I’m sorry but it only comes in one colour.”
The shop assistant then chokes on her gum, falls off her stool and accidentally stabs herself with her nail file.
Truss: “Thank you for your help.”
Sooty: “You’re most welcome.”
Sooty: “Have a nice day!”
Perhaps she should have called her book Talk to the Hand Puppet.