Having recently read, reviewed, and relished Eats, Shoots and Leaves, I’ve been keeping a careful eye out for Lynne Truss and her quirky titles. You can imagine my joy when, bizarrely, I found Talk to the Hand on my own bookshelf, having obliviously bought it for approximately fifty pence a few years ago. (God, I love car-boot sales) On first impressions, I was slightly doubtful; the topic seemed slightly narrow for a book of two-hundred-odd pages. Don’t get me wrong; I work in retail. I experience rudeness on a weekly basis, and yet I never would have thought there was enough of it to base an entire book on. However, I am happy to share with you all that I was wrong in this assumption. I actually found that Talk to the Hand roused me out of a stupor, awakening my senses to what is actually morally right and wrong in terms of social etiquette. I now walk around with my critical hat on thinking “That is rude!” “How rude!” That word has become vastly overused by the little voice in my head, but whether this is necessarily a good thing is open for debate.
Similarly to how Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a small dip into linguistics, Talk to the Hand is the equivalent to dipping your little toe into the relatively large matter of social etiquette, without becoming engulfed by all the technicalities. The book is separated into six chapters, which discuss six different variations of rudeness that we sometimes unknowingly encounter (and even contribute to) in our daily lives. These range from answering the phone on the train to a certain ‘end of deference’; the foreseeable end to mutual respect. This may sound like a negative and – forgive me – somewhat whiny topic for a book, and I guess it is, but Truss being Truss, she gives it a witty and sardonic twist, making fun out of those situations which make us so mad. Riddled with funny stories, and proffering lessons left, right and centre, I found it an illuminating read. It brought to my attention many aspects of rudeness that us modern-day citizens wouldn’t usually think to acknowledge. Her goal was explicitly to make us readers more aware of the impoliteness of everyday life; to make us want to ‘stay home and bolt the door’, and I have to say that she has partly succeeded in these aims.
Now, obviously I won’t be staying home and bolting my door. That would be completely impractical. However, I have noted a significant change in my day-to-day thoughts since finishing this book. I have become more attentive to everyday rudeness; I notice a lot more. I noticed how that lady stayed on her phone whilst I was serving her, and I noticed that man that remained speechless for the whole time I was serving him. My friendly “Hello!”, “How are you?” and “Goodbye” were completely ignored; I don’t think we even made eye-contact. Prior to reading this book, I would barely have noticed, let alone cared. But now, it enrages me how I’m often seen as mechanical and senseless as the till that I’m standing behind. I know a machine can probably do my job, but come on, I am still a human being. On a more positive note however, this book has also made me reconsider my own actions, and has helped me recognise when I’ve been inconsiderate myself. I now remember (and cringe over) a particularly long phone conversation with a friend about things I’m sure nobody in that small, crowded train compartment wanted to hear about. But hey, we learn from our mistakes.
Overall then, I would highly recommend this book. It made me laugh, and simultaneously made me hate my generation. It left me wistfully wishing for an era where the social media wasn’t a priority; where ‘banter’ wasn’t an acceptable means of abuse, and where kids didn’t swear. However, if you don’t mind seeing and adopting a slightly more critical view of the world, it’s great fun. Similarly to Eats, Shoots and Leaves, I’d say that Talk to the Hand should be taken with a pinch of salt, and should be read with a degree of caution; it may turn you into a pessimistic misery-guts, but it’s all fun and laughs along the way.