Mind your Manners, Robert O’Byrne

Last year I was in a phase where I acquired books based on their covers and titles, instead of going by the numerous bestseller lists in newspapers/magazines/ websites/ blogs/ whatnot or never-ending reviews (such as this one) and at the same time going against my core belief of never judging books by their covers. I landed up in second-hand book sales and randomly picked up books that caught my fancy. Weirder the name or cover, the better. In my enthusiasm of sticking to my resolution, I did away with my traditional pre-buying practice of reading a couple of pages of the book and the blurbs on the back cover. My endeavor did lead me to discover a few gems. However,there were some that neither lived up to their promise of being an oddball or a good book. They were just plain droll, all face and no brains.  One of the targets of my disappointment—Robert O’Byrne’s Mind Your Manners: A Guide to Good Behaviour.

O’Byrne is on a mission to civilize your every sitting, sipping, dating and cheating moment. Manners maketh a man, whether you are conducting an illicit affair or indulging in one-night stands. There are lists of do’s and don’ts for everything: right from giving gifts, how to behave when visiting people’s homes or staying over, meeting your ex, living amicably with house-mates, dealing with children and teenagers, romantic relationships, art of seduction or if you are interested into clandestine affairs with your boss , neighbor, secretary or whoever you can get hold of.

The book is interesting as far as its contents page. You know it is a drag when you are given suggestions on being the perfect host? Put “plenty” of towels in the guest bathroom (hand, face, rest of the body and one freebie), a flask of whiskey and biscuits (in case the guest gets up with a grumbling stomach in the middle of the night), a “rack” of post cards (for guests to let their family and friends know they are surviving in your house well-fed and well-kept), and a “small but welcoming” bowl of flowers. As soon as you think whether the author wants you to turn your house into a hotel, he clarifies “These are your friends coming to stay, not the editors of Condé Nast Traveler.” Well, if inviting “friends” needs so much efforts, I might as well sit alone at home and be a cat lady. But then perhaps the neurotic Bree Van de Kamp née Mason (or Hodge or Weston) from Desperate Housewives could nod her red head in agreement with O’Byrne. Later in the book, you are advised to be a “smart present giver” by keeping a present drawer with neat generic knickknacks of gifts, good wrapping papers and ribbons in complementary colors.(Imagine Monica Gellar dancing with glee.)

Throughout the book, the author makes his dislike for teens quite apparent. Thus, according to him, the best gift for teenagers is cash because that’s the “only thing” that makes them happy. He compares prices of wine with the “stench from a teenage boy’s bedroom” which is “frighteningly high”. And teenage girls have no sense of cleanliness as they “often display a touching belief that the bedroom floor is a better place to store their clothes than wardrobe”. I don’t know what his sources of teenagers are, but most likely stereotyped teen characters from films or cartoons. I doubt he had any real life experience with teenagers or he is just trying too hard to live up to the claims of the book’s jacket that says “witty advice”.

The book has the occasional bursts of witticisms but they are too scattered and far in-between.What could happen if the finicky Monica Gellar with high levels of OCD went to stay over at a slob’s house? O’Byrne advises such people to refrain from urges of “slipping on a pair of latex gloves” and “applying disinfectant everywhere.” The person could rather go back home and “calm their frazzled nerves by rearranging the sock drawer.”

Some rare gems of “good behavior” from the book that caught my eye:

  1. If you are a person with long list special of requirements, you better turn down all social engagements and stay put in your own dust-, child- and nut-free environment
  2. Over the age of eighteen, gate-crashing is inexcusable.
  3. It’s best to leave your libido at home when you’re being entertained by someone else as a certain degree of decorum is expected on most social occasions.
  4.  If you should meet someone extremely attractive for the first time at a party, avoid the urge to consummate your relationship on the premises.
  5.  Don’t make a move on somebody at your own party. Even if you know his marriage is going through a rough patch, this won’t be a good moment to tell your neighbor about the crush you had on him for the past five years.
  6. When preparing the house for guests, hide everything private out of sight, whether letters from an old boyfriend or your extensive collection of bondage equipment.
  7. Have the decency to wait until Tom Cruise has left the room before remarking how short he is.

The only good parts of the book are the illustrations by the illustrator Merrily Harpur. They are no-frills sketches of good behavior faux pas with straight-faced humor. Perfect for a Sunday newspaper.

I do not like giving away my books, but this one has been given away with pleasure, lots of nicely wrapped towels and snacks.

Note to self: Read bits of a book before buying it, even if it has a photo of a shirtless Adam Levine spread across the cover.

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