Forget etiquette, now it's Itaquette

"Don't put your bottom in their faces" ... Ita Buttrose's A Guide to Australian Etiquette .

THERE are two things you learn from a book of etiquette. First, the extent to which you, the reader, are lacking courtesy, otherwise behaving poorly in public and devoid of plain sense. The second is how to thoroughly freak out the author if you were ever to meet.

In Ita Buttrose's case, bare feet just might send her over the edge. In her new book A Guide to Australian Etiquette, Buttrose, twice voted Australia's most admired woman, has identified moral chaos in supermarket aisles, elevators and on walkways.

But there's something in the way the TV host and former magazine publisher writes about bare feet that suggests a personal abhorrence - and hints at a preference for wearing socks in bed.

Under the heading Conduct Unbecoming, a list of sins which includes urinating and spitting in public, she beseeches the reader: ''Keep your shoes on when flying. Don't subject other passengers to the sight and pong of your bare feet.''

If your feet swell up, buy a bigger pair of shoes - ''even half a size or more larger than you normally wear''.

She says bare feet at cinemas ''after the lights go out'' are equally unacceptable. And travelling in a lift without shoes is gross. ''Don't do it,'' she writes.

The book is at its best when Buttrose scolds, particularly with a squeamish undertone: ''Don't wear singlet tops with trousers to the opera, theatre or ballet. Have some respect for the other patrons and don't expose them to your armpits, especially hairy ones, as they can be particularly repulsive.''

And she advises: ''When you make your way to your seat, you should face the people you have to pass. Don't put your bottom in their faces.''

Who hasn't agonised over that one?

There are large and no doubt useful sections in the book about marriage and divorce protocol and how to arrange a funeral.

Her store of wisdom includes the nuances of multicultural dining (the varying rules of eating Chinese, Thai and Japanese food are covered in a step-by-step fashion), how to carve various joints of meat and the traditional meaning of sending certain types of flowers. African marigolds suggest a ''vulgar mind''; a sunflower conveys ''haughtiness''.

Most entertaining is surveying Buttrose's range of complaints. It's vast to the point where you wonder if her fellow Australians - and not just the young ones - are dragging one set of knuckles on the ground as they return to the cave, while blathering moronically on mobile phones.

She tells the story of a group of children at a holiday camp finding it ''strange to sit at a table to eat their meal'' because they were used to sitting on a couch or the floor to eat while watching television.

Well, yeah, there's a lot of it about.

The story takes on a drongo gothic mood when she describes one child, aged 11, picking up the cutlery and looking at it in bewilderment. ''I've seen these before,'' says the kid, holding up a knife and fork, ''but I don't know how to use them.''

One pictures this child on the floor at home, shovelling shepherd's pie into her mouth with one hand, and smacking away her hungry siblings with the TV remote.

Maybe in a world of crazy weather and ruined crops, she represents an evolutionary progression rather than a failure of decorum.

A Guide To Australian Etiquette (Penguin, $29.95) will be published on February 28.