Manners, etiquette, politeness – these things are the glue that hold any civilised society together.
We’re in tricky times to maintain a personal code of conduct, though, aren’t we? We’re constantly encouraged to be true to ourselves, express ourselves openly and honestly, but at the same time you never know who might take offence at your behaviour, even if you have the best of intentions.
It’s enough to leave even the most confident among us a little confused.
Luckily, the ABC is here to help. With the new 15- episode program How Not to Behave, based on a Swedish program titled So Not OK, social boundaries will be set and solutions to some of life’s stickier problems will be offered, all with a spoonful of comedic sugar to help the medicine go down.
While comedy sketches will illustrate the more awkward scenarios we face every day – for example, just how naked is too naked in a gym change room? – the task of establishing etiquette guidelines is in the capable hands of the show’s two somewhat- qualified hosts.
As host of the original Australian version of Big Brother for seven years, Gretel Killeen has had plenty of experience with extremes of behaviour.
And alongside her is stand- up comedian and radio presenter Matt Okine, who freely admits he has spent most of his life “perfecting the ar t of not knowing how to behave”.
“Comedians are generally the most socially awkward people on the planet, so you can be sure this show’s in exper t hands,” he admitted.
Killeen, however, claims to be a stickler when it comes to conducting oneself well.
“Unlike Matt, I’m taking this hosting role ver y seriously,” she said. “I think manners make the world go round and I’m determined to change the world to suit me.”
In all seriousness, there’s clearly a great deal of mutual respect and appreciation between these two, with Okine claiming Killeen will often surprise him – and the audience – with her take on a par ticular topic.
“Whenever we’re having these discussions, Gretel and I will have var ying points of view, and Gretel’s will often be the more outrageous,” he said.
“On the whole, though, she brings experience and I bring naivety.”
That said, Okine is no slouch when it comes to the intricacies of human interaction either.
“It’s right up my alley as a topic,” he said. “And a lot of the sketches and the discussions Gretel and I have as hosts revolve around obser vations on society, which is where much of my comedy stems from, so the whole concept hit a positive ner ve for me.”
And he anticipates that How Not to Behave will do likewise for its viewers.
The topics range from the right way to approach splitting bills at a restaurant – “there’s always someone who orders champagne and lobster and then insists on ever yone paying an equal share, even if you only had sausages and tap water” – to the best tactic in handling those oh- so- cheerful “charity muggers” who approach you on the street to inform you about their worthy cause.
“I was surprised to learn they’re the most profitable form of fundraising in the countr y,” Okine laughed. “Collectively they make $ 200 million a year! I walked past one saying, ‘ Sorr y, can’t stop, I’m feeling sick’, and she said, ‘ So is the Great Barrier Reef’. What the hell am I supposed to say to that?”
Indeed, there’s been no shor tage of issues that need addressing, and the How Not to Behave team has had plenty of fun in unear thing them.
“Gretel had a great stor y about a guy who literally turned around and walked through a hedge to avoid hugging her. That’s a bit much, I thought. But then I knew a guy who greeted people by kissing them on the neck! Those kinds of stories became great topics for discussion, and that’s what we look at on the show.” How Not to Behave, Wednesday, ABC at 8pm
Etiquette class: Gretel Killeen and Matt Okine discuss the dos and don’ts of modernday manners in How Not to Behave.