Amy Alkon, the witty syndicated advice columnist behind “The Advice Goddess,” thinks rudeness has reached epidemic proportions.
Alkon opens her book “I See Rude People” with a description of being subjected to a stranger’s decibel-crushing cell phone conversation. And woe to the person who shouts out his phone number within earshot of Alkon. She’s at the ready to take down that number and call him back to tell him how rude it is to be conducting loud personal conversations in public spaces.
The L.A.-based Alkon is an advice columnist for the 21st century — grappling with the intricacies of what constitutes polite behavior in these chaotic and unprecedented technological times. “People are basically the same as they always were,” she told The Sisterhood during a recent phone interview. “Technology enables rude people to disseminate rudeness faster and more effectively.”
In the age of Facebook and Twitter it’s easy to have hundreds, even thousands, of “friends” you’ve never met. Alkon adds that, “extremely affordable airplane travel … and the spread of affordable long-distance communications technology creates societies too big for our brains.” She ferrets out a study done in Great Britain, positing that we only have the capacity for about 150 relationships.
“Rudeness occurs because we live in societies too big for our brains,” she said. “[W]e’re always around people who owe us nothing.”
Alkon, who is today a striking redhead who wears a lot of sunscreen and dresses up in evening gowns in the middle of the day, claims she had “the worst childhood” on the planet. Her family was among the first Jewish families to move to her tony Michigan suburb, where anti-Semitism was as common as manicured lawns. “Kids egged my house and called me a dirty Jew,” she said. “You develop a sense of empathy when you’ve been the underdog.”
You also develop a sense of humor, she said.
After college, Alkon worked at a New York advertising firm. During her lunch hour she and her colleagues set up tables on street corners to give ad hoc advice. “We were pranksters, but people love free advice on anything from hairstyles to spelling,” she said. “People like to know things.”
And Alkon liked to tell them. “Giving advice is an art form,” she said.
No discussion of manners or lack thereof is complete without talking about children. “I was raised by loving fascists,” Alkon said. “It was unthinkable to be really loud in a restaurant or kick someone’s chair during a movie.” In “I See Rude People,” she devotes a chapter to the “under-parented child” — a child who is basically feral and has to be negotiated with constantly.
As far as being a parent herself: “I figured out that I didn’t want it. Once you make the baby it’s about the baby.”
She’s been with her boyfriend for eight years and said that marriage doesn’t make sense for people who love their independence as much as they love their partner. “In the end, you get the relationships you create,” Alkon said.
And, apparently, the children you raise.