Check it out: Witty book dissects manners of the world

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The other day I visited a local store, and while I was holding the door open for the person behind me, a young woman, who apparently needed to get her shopping done pronto, rushed in behind the other person while I was still at the door. A common enough scenario, right? What bothered me about this incident is that the first person warmly thanked me for acting as “doorwoman” while the young woman acted as if every door should open automatically for her. I didn’t say it out loud, but under my breath I muttered, “You’re welcome.”

Are good manners going the way of the dinosaur? Sometimes it sure seems like it, and when I’m feeling especially cranky about the ill-mannered, I find myself blaming technological advances such as social networking which, despite the name, pushes some of us to behave in a very unsociable fashion. But is it right to blame technology?

For a unique perspective on modern etiquette and the perceived lack thereof, I decided to turn to Henry Alford, an author, humorist, and contributor to National Public Radio and Vanity Fair. In “Would it Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners” Alford shares examples of beastly behavior – including some of his own – and with a fine-tuned wit examines why a well-placed “thank you” is golden, but talking on your cell phone during a dinner date gets the “stink eye” from Miss Manners.

This informative guide makes it clear that determining good manners from bad manners isn’t always a straightforward process, and what is deemed appropriate behavior can change radically over time. Consider the Middle Ages: Public displays of burping, farting, and other indelicate bodily actions were not only expected but heartily accepted by society.

Perhaps the absence of a “thank you” isn’t so bad after all.

Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at readingforfun@fvrl.org. She blogs at youbetterreadnow.blogspot.com.