I spend a lot of time listening to radio via WinAmp over headphones while goofing around on my computer at home. I happened to tune in to WBEZ and caught the last few minutes of an interview between CBC Q’s Jian Ghomeshi and somebody that sounded a lot like a very peevish David Sedaris. However, the conversation was all about the lack of manners shown by Americans in everyday life, and the voice and accent didn’t quite have the languid edginess of Sedaris’.
How surprising to find that it was actually Fran Lebowitz speaking. She approves of cigarette smoking, but it’s done a number on her voice (and skin – she reminds me a bit of Geoffrey Rush). I enjoyed her discourse with Ghomeshi on the irritating things Americans do in public, like eating, or speaking too loudly, or letting their children run wild and uncorrected. I call this behavior “The World Is My Living Room.” It’s something I really hate in places where relative quiet is called for, like a movie theater, art gallery, or fine restaurant.
My family-by-marriage is loud… really loud when we gather together. We’re quieter in restaurants – not louder than anyone around us (though when it’s the whole clan, with the moieties together, it’s really best to put us in a private room).
On trips to England, I was struck by how very, very quiet dining rooms were in the better sort of restaurants (ie., not pubs, and with tablecloths and carpeting). After I pointed out the relative difference in sound levels to David, we tried speaking in very low tones, or at least matching the level the waiter or waitress used. And we were quietly amused and a little horrified when we realized we could pick out all the Americans in the room, just by the, well, braying sounds above the background noise.
If I ever encountered Ms. Lebowitz somewhere (unlikely, as we’re probably not headed to New York anytime soon) I’d hope we wouldn’t offend her by being noisy, or eating in public, or talking on cell phones. Texting, apparently, is fine, because it’s silent. She really doesn’t care what anyone does, as long as it doesn’t bother her. However, many things other people do bother her, such as coming to New York and making it too crowded. You could hear Ghomeshi trying and mostly failing to stifle laughter; she really has a way with a good rant.
If I did encounter her, I wouldn’t be able to get close enough to risk offending her. I just wouldn’t be able to breathe; she’s reportedly still a very heavy smoker.
Still, her commentary was enjoyable in a “really blows your hair back” kind of way, and I found myself agreeing with her stance more than not. She may be tetchy, she may be crotchety, but she’s got a point: most Americans have no manners, and no sense of proper behavior in public. And it’s all the fault of… McDonald’s and other fast food places, apparently.
It appears that the interview may be heard on the CBC website.
Thank you for reading this post.
/me waits patiently for a simple “You’re welcome.”
The latest in our quest to redesign America — author, humourist and public speaker Fran Lebowitz on American manners.
Never afraid to share her firm and unswerving opinions, The Paris Review once noted that she disapproves of "virtually everything except sleep, cigarette smoking, and good furniture." From eating and chewing gum in public to being in "a world of one’s own" while walking down the street, Fran had a lot to say about what she sees as bad manners.