Focus: Oi! Manners! The etiquette police are coming to get you

Grammar? That's so last year. Now the writer of 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' is leading a new wave of experts who want to teach us how to behave. By Anthony Barnes
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The Independent Online

A quiet revolution is coming. A campaign of civil obedience, if you please (and thank you). Saddened by the rising tide of Asbos, the deafening shouts of mobile phone users and the rummaging of shoppers who bag every last item before fishing out their purses, a small army of authors is campaigning for radical social change.

Their watchwords are courtesy and consideration. They are the new defenders of almost forgotten principles. They have come to teach us some manners.

Remember how Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss came out of nowhere to become the publishing sensation of 2003? It sold more than two million copies by expressing, elegantly and forcefully, the frustration that many people felt at the chaotic state of modern grammar and punctuation, and reminding us how to do things properly. Well, this time Truss and a handful of other authors have manners and etiquette in their sights.

Talk to the Hand by Ms Truss will hit the shops in October. The publisher, Profile, promises "a witty and colourful call to arms for everyone who's fed up with the boorish behaviour that many see as a matter of pride". The author herself says: "It will be more of a rant about the general rudeness of modern life. This is the perfect time to reinvent the notion of manners, now that standards of behaviour can be completely divorced from matters of class."

These new guides do not hark back to some golden age of cap-doffing and door-holding. They say that one reason we struggle to know how to behave is the fast-changing nature of the modern world. Mobiles get the most blame. Robert O'Byrne, whose guide Mind Your Manners has just been published by Prion, says: "Almost everybody behaves badly on them because we have yet to work out the good mobile phone guide."

There is no need to raise your voice, says Simon Fanshawe, whose The Done Thing: Negotiating the Minefield of Modern Manners has been published by Century. Speak as though confiding a secret to someone sitting next to you and you will still be heard, he says. Thomas Blaikie, whose Guide to Modern Manners will hit the shelves in September, says: "If you are expecting a call that you really must take and you are at lunch with business associates, you should warn them in advance, and then when you do get the call, remove yourself from the scene."

Do people really care about manners? Very much, it seems. A recent campaign for Kentucky Fried Chicken became the most complained-about TV ad of all time when it showed call centre staff singing with their mouths full. But Y O Y (ah yes, when texting it is only polite to spell things out properly if you are an adult, our experts say. Please) are we getting this sudden wave of manners-obsessives now?

"There is an increasing sense among people that they want some rules or framework," says Mr Fanshawe. "They want to use those old notions of reciprocity and consideration but apply them to new situations. I often think that people are not deliberately rude so much as a bit thoughtless."

So think about it. Is it really considerate to spit on the floor of the train between the feet of the person opposite, stick your chewing gum where somebody else will sit later, then lean back and let the tsk-tsk-tsk of your iPod fill the carriage? No, of course not. Only yobs do that. But what about treating the person who sells you the train ticket as though they don't exist? All our would-be advisers agree we should observe common courtesies with all, even those paid to serve.

"If you say please and thank you in all circumstances to all people, if you always use that language it will automatically colour how you behave towards people regardless of the situation," says Mr O'Byrne. "Keep the little things in check and the larger ones will take care of themselves."

The plea for manners should not be confused with affinity for etiquette, says Mr Blaikie. "Etiquette is to do with certain forms of social behaviour that are really quite exclusive, to mark out a particular group from everyone else. Manners are about courtesy and consideration." Or, as Mr Fanshawe puts it: "It doesn't matter which way you pass the port as long as everyone gets a drink."


Dogs "We love dogs. We hate poo. So scoop it" - The Done Thing by Simon Fanshawe

Smoking "You should always ask for permission to smoke in company. If refused, accept it. If at a no-smoking household, step outside or do without" - Mind Your Manners by Robert O'Byrne

Seating "You don't really need to think about whom you should give your seat up to. Someone who needs it more than you would be the rule" - Fanshawe

Email "Don't send around a group email that carries the addresses of all your other correspondents. Speed is a hazard: if you write an email while angry or upset, let it sit overnight, lest your mood has changed" - O'Byrne

Mobile phones "Don't assume that other people want to know your whereabouts. Don't just immediately answer the phone when you're talking to someone else - try saying 'excuse me' first" - Fanshawe

Texting "Don't text when you're with other people" - O'Byrne

Lifts "Make as much room as you can; if you are at an airport with a trolleyful of luggage, go to the back of the lift" - Fanshawe

Flat-sharing "Wash your own dishes after you've eaten; rinse your own hairs out of the bath; put your own CDs back in their cases - if you can't take responsibility for yourself, hire a cleaner" - O'Byrne