Miss Manners' Basic Training: The Right Thing to Sayby Published 20 Apr 1998
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Miss Manners hereby declares that "You look terrific -- did you have a facelift?" is not an acceptable compliment. For this and the other myriad rudeness that nowadays pass for consolation, congratulation and other forms of verbal communication, Miss Manners provides politely pointed comebacks, as well as the gracious and proper thing to say in any situation.
Miss Manners feels compelled to do so because saying the wrong thing -- whether in the name of originality, self-expression, honesty or instant empathy -- has become all too common:
To a Bereaved Person:
"You must realize it's all for the best."
To a Newly Engaged Person:
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
To a Pregnant Woman:
"You can still do something about it, you know."
The Right Thing to Say is a refresher course in etiquette as a second language, filled with the practical advice and sly humor that make Miss Manners such "good wicked fun, and helpful too" (Cosmopolitan). Including useful phrases for dealing with life's special occasions and mishaps, The Right Thing to Say explores the subtleties of saying "no," conducting a conversation without causing offense and the art of the apology when you do anyway.
"Miss Manners' Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say" Reviews
For years, Judith Martin ("Miss Manners") has had the right thing to say in all matters of etiquette. This book isn't large (fewer than 200 pages, chapbook-sized trim), so even though it's hardbound, it isn't cheap to buy new. I wouldn't warn anyone against it, as her celebrated wit is well on display here (To an in-towner asked if her neighborhood is safe enough to visit, she recommends the comeback: "Don't worry, I won't hurt you".)
I still think the brand-new-to-Miss-Manners reader would have more fun -- if only because there's so much more bang for the buck -- in her big classics like MISS MANNERS' GUIDE TO EXCRUCIATINGLY CORRECT BEHAVIOR, MISS MANNERS' GUIDE TO DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY, and MISS MANNERS' GUIDE TO REARING PERFECT CHILDREN. But if you are always stuck for something to say, especially when put on the receiving end of others' rude intrusiveness, this is a great place to start, too. Bear in mind, though, that this book is now over 20 years old, and while most of Miss Manners' advice holds up beautifully, there are the occasional exceptions, such as the young man who simply couldn't bring himself to say "I'm gay and partnered" when asked if he was married.
Despite her annoying style, it is this subject that I think Miss Manners reigns supreme. You may never enjoy a formal dinner party, but who doesn't find themselves in situations where you don't know what to say or are rendered speechless by others' rudeness--especially those who don't even know they're being rude.
I picked this book up somewhat jokingly for a book challenge, and ended up really learning a lot. I will never send another postcard in my life.
Sometimes amusing, sometimes helpful, always well-mannered in teaching manners for speaking. If everyone observed the thoughtful manners prescribed in this book, civility would be at a much higher level.
There is not a piece of advice in this book (humourous though it may be) that is not common sense. I was hoping for a way to learn to say "No" to people - as though doing it politely might somehow make it easier for me - which was one of the chapters advertised on the book's dust jacket cover, but only found phrases tailored to individual situations (which I'm not actually convinced were sent in by readers, but rather written by the author, since her answers were so wonderfully tidy and the voice in both the letters and the responses was similar) that have no relevance, thus far, on my life.
However, it was witty and charming all the same, and for that it gets two stars.