It all began with a hot dog. After the British author Danny Wallace got into an altercation at a diner with a waitress over the non-arrival of his lunch, and was later ejected from the premises, he got to thinking: when and why did we get so rude? And what are the consequences of bad manners on our health, our careers and our relationships? His quest to find out has taken him around the world talking to cab drivers, barristers, politicians and psychologists.
His findings are documented in a new podcast, F*** You Very Much, which he hosts alongside the writer Marc Haynes. Topics so far have included the influence of technology, social media and the idea of honesty as a virtue (offenders include reality TV judges and newspaper columnists who claim to be “telling it like it is”).
The latest episode, Fighting Back, looks at how we respond to rudeness, and finds the hosts recalling a friend’s 40th birthday party where there was a seating plan for dinner. When Haynes went to his seat, he found a woman already there, sitting on the table on top of his plate. “This isn’t some weird Wolf of Wall Street dinner party where everyone had a lady’s bum on a plate,” he notes. “She was having a conversation and just sat on my plate.” When he asked if she could move, she looked at him, said nothing and resumed her conversation. It was only when dinner started to be served that she got up, leaving him to eat his food off the plate where her backside had just been. “I felt very small afterwards,” he says. “There was a funny thing where I, a human being, was not worth getting off a plate for . . . I was angry about that.”
There are jolly conversations here about fear, wealth, status and the concept of the “looking-glass self” — how, in conversation, we think about how we are perceived through the eyes of others. Wallace’s research draws not just on anecdote but on academic data and his own specially commissioned surveys, which yield, among other things, some startling stories of revenge, including someone rubbing chips into their adversary’s car windscreen. Elsewhere, advice is offered on how to defuse rudeness in others, or just shame them into being kinder, and how to quell our own ill-mannered impulses.
If it all sounds like middle-aged men moaning about how everything was better in the old days, there’s certainly an element of that. Yet for all its reports of terrible behaviour, there’s a warmth and big-heartedness at the core of Wallace’s podcast, born from a basic desire to improve how we interact. The title might suggest otherwise, but F*** You Very Much is a funny and unfailingly polite cri de coeur against declining standards and how, for our sanity, we must all strive to do better.
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