What inspired the book?
I tried to buy a hot dog but instead I was thrown out of the diner. I waited and waited and when I tried to politely ask where the hot dog was I was met with a barrage of rudeness. An hour later I still didn’t have the hot dog and a small argument broke out. I was ejected from the diner in front of my son and a dozen customers. I decided I had to find out what had happened that day that led to me being chucked out.
Will Jim Carrey play you in the film adaptation?
It doesn’t sound much from my description but it would be more like a polite British version of Michael Douglas in Falling Down.
Who would play the hot dog seller?
Meryl Streep. She could channel the fury — there was a lot of fury there. We have rules in society we all stick to and when someone breaks those rules and doesn’t give you the hot dog you’ve paid for and is then so rude to you that it leaves you confused, you don’t know what to do. So I did a TripAdvisor review that went from 200 words to an 85,000-word book. Maybe I went a bit far. It’s the furthest I’ve gone to win an argument.
How did you define rudeness for your investigation?
I looked at it from lots of different angles and talked to lots of experts around the world. I tried to work out what I did wrong and what the hot dog seller did wrong. Using that moment I tried to work out why it feels that the world is getting worse.
Are we in the middle of a rudeness epidemic?
A lot has led us here. TV and social media have played their parts and we celebrate the wrong types of people — people who say, ‘I’m only being honest’ and are then as mean as they like and we’re supposed to applaud them. We should be saying shut up instead. We’re supposed to find this ridiculous behaviour refreshing, like listening to Katie Hopkins is refreshing. It’s not refreshing, it’s a nightmare. When Simon Cowell first came on the scene he was refreshing but then we expect the same act every week and it becomes manufactured rudeness. When he’s nice to someone, people cry and applaud.
Is it the same with politics?
Now we’re treating politicians the same way. Ten years ago, in arguably a more civilised society, Donald Trump wouldn’t have got through the door of the White House but now that he’s ‘refreshing’ and ‘only being honest’, people say, ‘Wow, he’s a guy who’s not afraid to speak his mind’. But diplomacy works and we’re learning that more. The scary thing about him is he’s allowed to say whatever he wants. And if he’s speaking in a way that’s rude about Mexicans or women, it sets an example and people think, ‘We’re all allowed to say whatever we want now’. We’ve developed politeness over so long and we’re at risk of chucking it away for the sake of a few ‘funny’ tweets.
Is rudeness ruining society?
Although we find rudeness amusing — we love a bit of Basil Fawlty — it can lead to the end of the world when it becomes the norm. Offhand comments, disrespect, a lack of politeness towards a foreign culture… it can snowball. We saw a tiny example when the Queen called the Chinese rude at a garden party and they lost their minds and said the golden age of Anglo-Chinese relations was over. And that’s the Queen at a garden party, not Trump spraying bile around, backed up by his foot soldiers. It’s time for the polite majority to stick a rude two fingers up at them.
Did any research surprise you?
If someone’s rude to a surgeon they become 50 per cent less efficient at the operation they’re about to perform because the rudeness is playing on their minds and affecting the frontal lobes of the brain. Lorry drivers miss stop signs. Rudeness does have real effects on the brain.
Did you learn anything about yourself?
Maybe my standards are too high. Maybe I take politeness too seriously. I didn’t realise how important it was to me until I really looked into it. It’s a more serious book than my others. And I learned sometimes it’s quicker just to write a TripAdvisor review instead.
I Can’t Believe You Just Said That! (Ebury) is out now