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Wednesday discussion: Epidemic of rudeness?

Posted by Robin Abrahams  January 27, 2010 06:30 AM

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Let's talk. I still haven't worked out the threading problem, but we'll see what we can do. Occasional tech tsuris aside, I'm wanting this blog to become more and more a conversation ground, and I think it's turning into that pretty well.

So, here's our Wednesday question, which I'll discuss with you in comments: Do you think 21st-century America is in an epidemic of rudeness? Most people do. From my book:

Most Americans think we?re experiencing an epidemic of rudeness. In a 2005 poll conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, 69 percent of respondents said that people -- other people, of course, and mostly younger people -- had gotten ruder over the past twenty to thirty years. Is the perception true? Who knows? The question of whether people really are ruder today than in some mythical "yesterday" is hardly the kind of question that can be measured scientifically ...

Another survey, ominously titled "Aggravating Circumstances: A Status Report on Rudeness in America" and taken in 2002, found an even higher proportion of Americans -- 79 percent -- agreeing that "lack of respect and courtesy is a serious problem in our society." Despite the overwhelming agreement on this issue, the sample was evenly split as to whether the perceived decline in civility was caused by many people, or an uncouth yet memorable few. Forty-one percent of respondents, in a surprising show of honesty, even admitted to violating their own codes of civility. The reality of the situation can never be measured objectively, but if almost everyone believes that civilization is in decline, then clearly there a problem that needs to be addressed.
Ultimately, although I think there are factors at this particular moment in civilization that make politeness tricky, I don't think we've all suddenly become unfathomably rude. But I'm open to having my mind changed -- which is part of what these Wednesday discussions are all about. What do you think?
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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154 comments so far...
  1. This is a topic I have observed and often wondered about. I think there are multiple contributing factors.

    The United States is massive, both in terms of population and geography. The population is far larger than it was thirty years ago, and that population is increasingly diverse. Boston is a perfect example. We have residents not just from a wide range of countries, but also from many different parts of the United States. Different countries and regions often range in what is acceptable in terms of politeness.

    For example, in Spain, a country with a small population relative to the United States, everyone there knows that when you meet someone of the opposite sex you give besos (kisses). This is an automatic response, and if someone doesn't do it it seems rude.

    In the U.S., if you meet someone of the opposite sex, it is hard to know if you should nod politely, hug, shake hands, kiss on the cheek, etc.... Depending on the relative customs of the parties involved, any of the above could be acceptable. Due to our massive population, geography, diversity, and cultural variety, it is very hard to know what is appropriate.

    This is just one simple observation, to say nothing of the accumulating stress of increasing population density, more obligations, more stimuli in the form of advertisements, technology, materialistic wants, phone calls and text messages, contemplating online dating possibilities, all while running late and stuck in traffic driving 5mph in a vehicle that can do 120mph.

    Posted by Seamus January 27, 10 08:19 AM
  1. I think it's obvious that most people are rude at some point, but there a sect that is consistently at the top of the unpleasant list, and that is Customer Service. It is so unusual that a customer service representative is NOT rude, that that is when we notice. It has reached automated telephone menus. For example, when calling a State agency recently, I got through 10 minutes of entering my code, account numbers, etc. then was told "Due to heavy volume, we will not be able to take your call today", then I was disconnected!

    Posted by Marie Jordan Conyers January 27, 10 08:20 AM
  1. I swear, people, Seamus is NOT A SOCK PUPPET ME, despite the fact that yeah, that's basically everything I think, too.

    Posted by Robin Abrahams Author Profile Page January 27, 10 08:24 AM
  1. I think it's obnoxious when an advice column writer mails it in and asks commentors to essentially do her work for her.

    That being said, anyone making a generalization about 300 million people (i.e. "Americans are rude") is ignorant.

    Posted by Hoss January 27, 10 08:35 AM
  1. I think we are slightly ruder and it is something I work on but often times fail miserably at. Technology, isn't it great we can blame it for all of our woes even though it has done some great things for us. But really it is not to blame because technology is a thing and we control it or at least we should control it. Technology has allowed us to dehumanize people to a certain extent with message boards, forums etc it is a screen name and not a person it is very easy to say well ShopGirl is not a person so I can tell her what I really think and she will never know it is me kind of attitude. And that carries over into AFK life. I think people have also allowed technology to grind down our sense of appropriateness, with a plethora of online shopping sites we can shop in our PJs, but that doesn't mean that going to a local brick and mortar store in our PJs is appropriate, but somehow people are making that leap.

    When I look at the rudeness that I see it is really a lack of control and not doing what is appropriate for the situation. An example, you can talk or text in a movie theater but it is not appropriate to do so. You can wear flip flops to the White House but it isn't appropriate. Certain things and events deserve a bit of respect, some more than others and the vibe I get is that people want to do what they want either because the don't care or for some reason they think that by doing what is appropriate they are subjugating themselves and they won't stand for it. There are a lot of times when you should wave you flag and say this is me, but by the same token there are times you should lower your flag and for that moment conform to a particular standard and it is not making your identity less, I believe it enhances your identity.

    Posted by WES January 27, 10 08:42 AM
  1. I believe that truly rude people are in the minority. Everyone can have a bad day and take it out on someone else. This is usualy followed by feeling badly and then an over correction of niceness on your part to make up for the rude episode. Truly rude people like to be heard so they are loud. They consider themselves to be always right, They respond negatively in every situation. The glass is always half empty. I would feel sorry for these people except for the enormous impact they have on others self esteem. I especially do not like the radio talk shows that take great pleasure in bashing everyone and everthing they don't agree with. I turn them off and remember that there are always at least two sides to every story.

    Posted by JB January 27, 10 08:42 AM
  1. Certainly an interesting subject to think about. As we boomers age, it is easy to think back on an earlier time in our lives when it seemed that most people were more polite. As I reflect on that, I wonder if those are the memories of a younger person being treated well by older people. And I wonder if I was polite to those older people in return.

    I think Customer Service is a unique category. How many times did our parents call Customer Service? Most of the time, they sent letters or they went to the store in person. Today we feel we have a right to be waited on immediately by sympathetic and personable employees who will invariably see our point of view and bend over backwards to accommodate our requests/demands. I have never served as a Customer Service employee, but it would do each of us good to try that profession for a week before we pass judgment. I do agree that automated systems are often frustrating and I sympathize with those who wait several minutes and never get to speak with a human. That has happened to me as well.

    Posted by Bill Aiken January 27, 10 08:44 AM
  1. Could this rudeness be the surge of loud cellphone talkers on every train, treadmill and movie theater ? Could you mean the preponderance of people who think it's okay to constantly text at the dinner table? Could it be the constant ringing of cell phones at lectures, teacher conferences and first- time dates?


    Posted by jglockster January 27, 10 08:48 AM
  1. I think it is more an epidemic of unconsciousness. Yesterday at lunchtime at a busy downtown corner, a young woman checking her email while walking plowed right into me at full speed. She looked up at me dazed and, of all things, angry. Never apologized. Another plugged in man sailed through a door in front of me and then let the door drop in my face. Never saw me. Fully a third of the pedestrians I spotted were texting or checking emails. Another third were talking on their cellphones.

    The sad thing about this is that all the plugged in people were missing out. It was a beautiful day. A red-tailed hawk cruised overhead. Tiny buds on trees in Post Office Square heralded spring. There must have been a few other people who were actually there, taking a lunch break, breathing the air instead of responding robot-like to their machines. We were the lucky ones, the really smart ones.

    Posted by Mary Ellen January 27, 10 08:50 AM
  1. What's considered "rude" is pretty subjective. I think in a lot of ways people treat each other worse than they used to, but in some ways they treat each other better.

    People might hold doors for each other less than they used to, but using racial slurs and making sexist remarks have become very taboo. So it's possible there may be a balance, and people are just finding new and different ways to be rude!

    Posted by Meg C. January 27, 10 08:53 AM
  1. There's a fine line between someone seeing someone else as being rude and someone seeing someone else as being otherwise in violation of some unwritten code of conduct. This is where the heart of the matter lies. Because we're living in a multicultural and diverse world of people who come from so many different walks of life, it becomes necessary to sincerely and truthfully take a look at why we respond to each other's behavior the way that we do.

    People in the United States of America didn't always live peacefully and politely within the constructs of a civil society. What happened in the last few days, weeks, months, or years could fall by the wayside if one doesn't consider that there was rudeness in the twentieth century just like there is in the twenty-first century. The real issue of being polite or rude then and now wasn't about the people who determined this, but it was more about why it happened.

    Unless we're having a discussion about etiquette in specific settings or manners to which everyone can and does adhere, the issue of being rude or polite is, like I said, more about why it happens rather than who determines its source. It's not unlike wondering why someone runs a red light while driving without taking a moment to ask the driver of the vehicle if there was any reason for doing it. If nobody gets hurt by the driver of the vehicle running the red light, then it can be even more telling of why people would do such a thing. It's not even worth exploring why such activities occur that often without trying to figure out what a person's motives or reasons for doing it may have been.

    Posted by footballrules January 27, 10 08:55 AM
  1. I think what Seamus says is true, but I'm not sure it has to be such a big deal. At a minimum, what's so wrong with at least smiling at the other person? This does not ALWAYS apply, but I have observed, however, that if I make even the tiniest effort to be polite, I get often get positive results with that. If I approach the cashier/coworker/kids' teacher with a smile instead of the full force of my frustration (which may or may not have anything to do with that person), that often makes for a much more pleasant interaction.

    I think it's an issue of selfishness/self-preservation. I think part of the problem is that, across the board, individuals are so generally stressed/upset/PO'd about something/everything and feeling so entitled to some kind of personal satisfaction for all the trouble we've been put through, that we all rub each other the wrong way by approaching each other with frowns and unloading our issues all over everyone we interact with.

    I'm not saying be a Pollyanna, but I am saying try to see it from the other person's point of view sometimes. We could all use a bit more compassion in our dealings with each other.

    Posted by anita January 27, 10 08:57 AM
  1. While Seamus presented the cultural side of perceived rudeness, I'd like to posit that there is a generational side of perceived rudeness as well.

    The WW2 generation expects a form of politeness that includes deference to age, deference to women, "please" attached to each and every request (and multiple times), and the standard response of "you're welcome" to "thank you", for example.

    The Baby Boomer generation is more casual, and while they may still defer to age, they may/may not defer to gender, and "please" and " thank you" may receive non-standard responses. They may see the response of "whatever" as rude. Baby Boomer women can be touchy about being referred to as a "girl", "gal", etc,

    The Gen X & Y generations are completely egalitarian; they may defer to age, but don't see holding the door for women their own age or giving up a subway seat as part of a code of manners. They see nothing wrong with addressing or talking about a group of people (their own age or older) as "guys" (as in, "are you guys finished eating so I can take your plates away?" or older men as "dude", etc.

    If respect and sincerity accompanies an action, I don't think that we should be so touchy about the actual mechanics of the action. As an aging Baby Boomer female, I rather dislike the "you guys" nomenclature when I'm out with my friends, and the unwillingness of a 24-year-old to give up a seat on the T when I'm limping along with a purse, a computer bag, and tote bag of work files does annoy me, but then I realize that in the 70s when we women struggled for equality with men, we didn't realize it would be so annoying when we finally achieved it :).

    What's lacking in manners between the generations is not manners themselves, but the style in which politeness and consideration are wrapped; and this is due to huge shifts in the way we view people and our interaction with them.

    Now if you were to open a discussion on politeness and style....

    Posted by Working_In_Boston January 27, 10 08:58 AM
  1. #4, Hoss, Could YOU be more rude? Robin is not "mailing it in." If you followed the column at all, you would know she lets folks give their own advice and then she does a round up.

    Posted by anita January 27, 10 08:58 AM
  1. A red tailed hawk!!

    Posted by mikey January 27, 10 09:00 AM
  1. I believe that as a society we have become not only chronically agrieved, but also more egocentric. Societally, we are simultaneously encouraged to not only take most everything that catches our attention as a personal affront, but to also be "empowered" to address the issue, and at the same time excuse our own behavior as a reasonable, even required, reaction to the "wrong" we have endured. Polite society requires that we consider the needs of others ahead of, or at least equal to, our own and that is what we used to do. Now, we teach children from a young age to always stand up for themselves, to express themselves, to "negotiate" and even make "demands", from everyone; teachers, police officers, merchants, even passers-by and other patrons of restaurants, stores, etc. Thus we have it that preschoolers upbraid adults for smoking, diners loudly criticize other diners on a cell phone for being loud, teens telling teachers and principals what they will do, speeders telling off state troopers that they should be chasing "real" criminals, and everyone immediately becoming defensive if someone says anything at all to them.

    Posted by easydoesit2 January 27, 10 09:02 AM
  1. So many things to reply to already! I can see I could easily spend my whole day doing this!

    @Hoss--I published your comment as evidence to other readers of why your comments will not be appearing on this blog in the future.

    @WES--I like this line, particularly: "I think people have also allowed technology to grind down our sense of appropriateness, with a plethora of online shopping sites we can shop in our PJs, but that doesn't mean that going to a local brick and mortar store in our PJs is appropriate, but somehow people are making that leap." Right. I think a serious contribution to the perception of rudeness is that we've broken down so many barriers between public and private.

    @Bill Aiken--Brilliant point about memory.

    @Mary Ellen--I think this is also a good point, and when you put it together with Bill's point about memory being somewhat subjective, it does explain why everyone is complaining about rudeness but so few people admit to engaging in it. (Oh, lots of you are, but you're the good ones.) In order to *remember* something you have to *notice that you're doing it in the first place*. If it doesn't get encoded it doesn't get recalled. And you're suggesting that a lot of rudeness doesn't even get encoded.

    @Meg--That's an argument I make a lot, too. We could call it "Conservation of Rudeness Theory."

    Posted by Robin Abrahams Author Profile Page January 27, 10 09:06 AM
  1. Though Seamus's comments might be interesting, I think they have nothing to do with the advancement of rudeness. When I think of rude behavior, the last thing that enters my mind is the kind of cultural inconsistencies that he describes. I think most of us are capable of understanding that different social customs exist; few of us consider them rude.

    More to the point is the intense selfishness that seems to be increasing. The commenters thus far have mentioned some of the charming 'technology'-related examples of rudeness that we all see every day: texting at the dinner table, talking or texting while walking, loud cell phone conversations in public places. But let's not forget the simply, direct rudeness of interrupting when someone is speaking, cutting into lines and generally walking through life as if one is the only person that matters?

    Perhaps the increase in the use of technologies that allow everyone to do whatever they want whenever they want instead of simply being where they are, aware of the people and things around them, has caused this attitude to spread to all areas of life. As Mary Ellen describes above, people must be constantly 'entertained', to the point that they can't take a few minutes to listen to someone else, observe and appreciate their surroundings, or simply relax.

    Whatever the cause, people are increasingly incapable of civil behavior.

    Posted by Cathy January 27, 10 09:08 AM
  1. Upfront: I do trespass against my own code of civility on occasion. I often apologize ASAP, and if I don't, feel badly afterward. That said, I think there's been an increase in rudeness paired with an increase in selfishness: justification for an SUV because you can see over traffic & it's safer in a crash (let the other guy get killed by your outsize vehicle); loud cellphone conversations on public transportation, including arguments with boy/girlfriends (especially when the caller sits beside someone who's alreading reading--are you interrupting something here?); not acknowledging others like cashiers or busdrivers, who apparently only exist in their function, and not as a human being. The only cure is conscious consideration of others, which should be drummed into schoolchildren with their ABCs (parents not necessarily reliable).

    Posted by Michael Joyce January 27, 10 09:08 AM
  1. I think that part of it is that the range of 'acceptable' shifts over time. I had a conversation the other night where I was stymied by the fact that my husband's much younger half-brother never - ever - leaves messages when he calls. I commented that I never call him back, because I feel that if it's something important enough to warrant a return call, he can leave a message. Apparently, ancient as I am at not-quite-40, I've missed the boat on the fact that one is supposed to check caller ID and see what calls were missed, and return calls (or not) according to whim. Messages are for wussies, or so I'm told.

    Most of us don't think twice about answering our cellphones during a conversation, but not that long ago it would have been unfathomable. There are things that I hope never become truly acceptable, like texting or otherwise using your handheld device while you are at the table for a meal or in a conversation with other people who are actually physically present, but I'm not naive enough to think that it won't happen.

    Additionally, mostly-anonymous forums like this prompt people to make rude comments that they probably wouldn't make in person. Even non-anonymous sites like Facebook embolden people to say things they wouldn't say to another person's face, or promote misunderstanding because the nuances of intonation and body language don't translate well to the typed word.

    Posted by akmom January 27, 10 09:10 AM
  1. Marie Jordan, I have only one thing to say to you: try dealing with people like yourself 8 hours a day for low wage, and then we'll talk.

    As for the rudeness question: I am inclined to agree that rudeness isn't anything new. However, if that were true, I think you could argue that it has a connection to our maturation as a country. America has always been a far more individualistic society than any other in the world. While this can be a good thing (civil rights, fair elections), I think it can also be a blight, contributing to a "self is greater than the whole" national attitude. (Those of you who claim "socialist" on every single article, this is your cue). When people think selfishly, it often results in rudeness. That fair opposite of rudeness, consideration, inherently requires empathy. And if you are only considering yourself, there you have it. Rudeness.

    Posted by Sarah B January 27, 10 09:11 AM
  1. The circle of life reflects in communication as well; if you communicate with an angry dismissive tone, it is probable that the recipient of that sarcastic, dismissive, and rude comment will recycle that upon someone else during that day, which in turn perpetuates the problem.

    Rise above it, so that when someone is rude to you, simply remind yourself that the person really hates you, or is having a bad day. Turn lemons into lemonaide; turn these situations into humorous events, or simply dismiss them and move on.

    Posted by relikk January 27, 10 09:12 AM
  1. I don't have much experience outside the US so I can't say if this is just an American epidemic (I did find Londoners unfailingly polite). But I witness forms of rudeness almost every day and it makes me sad. I see older folks standing on the train (I have NEVER had anyone get angry at me for offering a seat), folks answering a cell phone at the dinner table- both at home and in a restaurant, people who start inappropriate arguments about politics or religion, cashiers who do not greet me or say thank you or, even worse, carry on a conversation with another employee while ringing my purchases, people who barrel onto the T before others get off, gym goers who leave sweaty equipment unwiped, know-it-alls correcting someone when it is not their job to do so and the situation does not call for it ...sadly, the list goes on.

    These are not teenagers, I'm talking about grown adults who should know better.

    I would like to respond to the Customer Service problem...I was a Customer Service Rep in a very high stress department. I was never rude to a customer, not once. This was despite the abuse I received from customers because of the nature of my department. So it makes me angrier when I am treated badly because I have done the job and know that it does not have to be that way, no matter how bad of a day one is having.

    Posted by sandra January 27, 10 09:12 AM
  1. Rudeness is sometimes a subjective perspective based on cultural norms, and there are times when expectations are not met. This however does not describe the real problem of persons being rude in modern culture. This simpler and easier method of measuring personality change is by events of consideration. Social faux pas have occurred in the past, and will occur throughout the world, and will be forgiven as an accepted mistake.

    Observing the number of people you see doing acts of kindness are the true measure of the character of our culture. Allowing an elderly person in line ahead of you at a checkout line, drivers allowing people to merge into traffic, or someone opening the door for a stranger are some examples. These and similar events can be observed and measured each and every day throughout the world.

    When I was a young boy, my Dad would pull over on the highway anytime he saw someone stopped in the breakdown lane. Many times other people would stop to lend a hand. The problem may have been addressed, but people were willing to take the time out of their day and help strangers. The number of people willing to do this made it safe for anyone to stop and help. I have stopped for persons and helped them. I usually instruct them to stay in their car and lock the door for their safety, and if they have a cell phone to call someone they can talk to while I change their tire, this helps ensure their safety, and allows me to follow my fathers’ example.

    I clean the fire hydrants in our neighborhood after a snow storm, pick up blowing trash on collection day, move my neighbors’ empty barrels up to their garage, and generally try to be a good neighbor and citizen. It is only really called consideration when the action inconveniences you. If it’s easy, then you are doing it for yourself and not for others. This is something I believe most of the Baby Boomers never realized and now have raised children who also do not understand that there are over 6 billion people on this earth that we share.

    Many people are driven to financial goals while selling out their families and friends futures due to lack of true character. The grace, class and consideration of an exemplary human being is based not on wealth and possessions, but on their acts of consideration and kindness. I know people who are quite wealthy and successful; governors, CEO’s, and the independently wealthy. What impresses me most about them is their true character. They are trustworthy, caring, and most importantly, considerate of others regardless of their financial state.

    Greed, McMansions, Lawsuits, parent fights at children’s sporting events, having two parents work and someone else raise their children so they can afford a luxury lifestyle are all contributing factors of where we are. These people may have financial wealth, but they lack the real character and class that builds a great society and reduces rudeness and detrimental behavior.

    I apologize if this is wordy. I hope to inspire people to look at themselves first and continue to work to be a good human being each and every moment of each and every day.

    Posted by JimD January 27, 10 09:15 AM
  1. In the past, it was acceptable to blow your nose on your sleeve, throw buckets of garbage and human waste out your window into the streets, spit in bars, go unshowered for days, and own human beings as slaves. I'd say we currently live in the most civilized, egalitarian, and polite culture the world as ever seen (idealized, Hollywood depictions of past upper-class society notwithstanding).

    Posted by Mark D January 27, 10 09:15 AM
  1. A few more before I take the dog out ...

    @Working in Boston--Who says I'm *not* open to a discussion of politeness and style?! I like your generational analysis; you might get bashed for dealing in stereotypes, but overall, I think there's more than a grain of truth in what you say.

    @easydoesit2'--"Societally, we are simultaneously encouraged to not only take most everything that catches our attention as a personal affront, but to also be "empowered" to address the issue, and at the same time excuse our own behavior as a reasonable, even required, reaction to the "wrong" we have endured." BRILLIANT! I'm not being naive about this "there's no rudeness epidemic"--hey, I drive in Boston, I know what it's like. I'm trying to develop a more nuanced understanding of what really *is* going on. And I think you've hit on something good.

    @Cathy--I think it's the last paragraph in Seamus's post that really makes it. And I do think even the kind of simple rudeness you describe is partly an issue of diversity--not even ethnic diversity, but diversity of class, geography, age, and so on.

    Posted by Robin Abrahams Author Profile Page January 27, 10 09:16 AM
  1. "walking through life as if one is the only person that matters"...Cathy
    My original posting, and many others, in a nutshell!

    Posted by easydoesit2 January 27, 10 09:23 AM
  1. Mary Ellen has it right. People are not so much rude as they are self absorbed to the point where they are not present even when they are standing right here. Generally I would not say that people are rude. I travel for work all the time to many different US cities and towns and the vast majority of the people I interact with are engagable and interesting and polite. This is true whether they are 24 or 64, male or female. Yes it's true that some people, mostly from 30 to 55, don't seem to want to risk getting engaged in a conversation which might last for the the couple of hours that we are tied next to each other in an airplane. But other than that, most people seem to be mostly polite around me.

    Posted by Paul January 27, 10 09:24 AM
  1. I lived in Dallas for 10 years and found people to be incredibly polite ... to your face. However, many of these people were not nice at all.

    So the question to me is whether you care about social lubrication of superficial interactions more than integrity of actual actions.

    Posted by Steve January 27, 10 09:24 AM
  1. I think it might be interesting to also talk about demographics. We Yankees living in the big city have one type of experience with courtesy and rudeness, but if you travel to other places in this country - smaller towns, other states - you notice a change in attitude and energy. People do come back from visits to the south and talk about hospitality. Urban areas have become more numerous and larger over the years, with more people experiencing the high-paced, self-focused lifestyle that can come with that. Perhaps that's where part of the perception that we've all gotten ruder comes from.

    Posted by Citylights January 27, 10 09:28 AM
  1. I like Seamus' comment about different customs based upon country or in the case of the US, parts of the country. As a former mid-westerner, I definitely notice the habits (eye contact, smile, hello, etc.) of people walking down the street in the east are very much different from those in the mid-west. People in the mid-west say hello with much more regularity and openness than those here in the Boston area. Its almost a "culture shock" to go back & notice the difference.

    Posted by Former Flat Lander January 27, 10 09:29 AM
  1. Since I wasn't alive in the 1950/60s, I can't speak as to whether or not people were ruder half a century ago than they are now. I'd hazard a guess that children displayed a little bit more respect to their elders. I don't agree with the suggestion that younger people are ruder than older people. They merely display two different types of rudeness. I've found that people under 60 tend to be perplexingly self absorbed. Not in a malicious way, they have been taught to put their own wants and needs first -- self empowerment taken a bit too far. People over 60, I find, typically tend to be more aware of how their actions impact others and are more apt to observe the social niceties but have less of a filter when it comes to making uneducated remarks about racial or religious stereotypes. I suppose we are all a product of our generations but there are always exceptions to every rule. I know very polite teenagers and very rude and cranky seniors..

    Posted by Mary January 27, 10 09:29 AM
  1. I think that respect of other people has fallen to the wayside. Now, it's all about "me." "I" am going to cut you off in traffic because "I" am too busy to consider your situation. And as parents become too busy to notice their kids, they miss those moments in daily life to correct errant behaviors and teach respect and politeness, and of course, parental actions in rudeness become the model for the next generation. And so it goes.

    At the highest levels of lack of respect, look at what triggers are causing people to take away another's life nowadays and compare that to a couple generations ago.

    Politeness and respect require that a person both turns away from one's self-centeredness and, additionally, takes the time to consider how another person might feel. Seems like a tall order in this modern world, present company excepted.

    Posted by craftsman January 27, 10 09:36 AM
  1. The point I'd like to make is that technology is such an enabler when it comes to otherwise civilized, even generally nice people turning rude, mean, and/or disrespectful. I think it's partly that it's easier to be rude if you aren't looking the other person in the eye. I also think that people often type in haste and don't stop to think before pushing send. And because young people tend to primarily communicate with texts or emails it seems, they're not only enabled by the technology to be rude, they often don't acquire the social graces that we all got by having actual in-person conversations with people, and by walking down the street without staring at a screen or listening to music and actually saying hello to people, and noticing those around you. Those wer the days - and I'm not all that old!!

    Posted by KGC January 27, 10 09:37 AM
  1. Is it that we are becoming increasingly rude? Or is it a shift in personal bias and income demographics changing.

    For instance, 50 years ago if you were a minority and a rich elite person (I will assume that person is ... yes, white) walks down the street, the minority person was expected to step out of the way. Is he/she rude today if he doesn't step out of the way and the wealthy person now has to walk around... "how rude" the elitist says under her breath.... Really?

    I also see today, people who have acquired new money expect special treatment. Like they perceived the wealthy of yester-year receiving. And they force it, moving themselves to the front of the line b/c they think they are more important. Are the minions rude for speaking up? The newly wealthy think so!

    I think rudeness is a perception problem. Even a class warfare issue. I personally think this issue is created from the wealth down. Not as this issue tends to suggest that it is from youth up or youth can be interpreted as non-wealthy, maybe even minority.

    I find the question elitist in nature and trying to protect the writer and her friends position to defend their benefits of being on the "list"! So please move out of our way! It is a sad commentary. It has tones of bigotry by the nature of its suggestion and origins.

    I tend to agree with Hoss' short and simple statement

    Posted by BlameMe January 27, 10 09:41 AM
  1. I don't think it's necessarily a young person issue. As many people get older, I find that they are rude as well. My mother-in-law has become pushy, especially in lines, and we are often embarrassed by that behavior. Yes, there is more rudeness because it is shown on TV and is accepted in society.

    Posted by Mags January 27, 10 09:42 AM
  1. My wife just gave birth to our second child. She commutes to work on the 501 bus, which is usually packed. During her entire pregnancy two people, both women, gave up their seats to her. I don't understand how this is possible, I would no sooner sit for a 45 min. commute with a pregnant woman standing next to me than jump off a cliff. How is it possible that people can be so completely self-absorbed that they have no problem ignoring someone standing right next to them that might need some help?

    Posted by johnmon January 27, 10 09:43 AM
  1. Hey Robin - I apologize...I didn't mean to imply that you weren't open to a discussion of politeness and style, just that this discussion was focused on the elements of politeness/rudeness.

    While I can accept certain generational differences in the way I'm treated, I certainly can opine that manners had more style - i.e., more flourish, more of its own language (e.g., "RSVP" - whenever would you use the term if you weren't trading in courtesy?) - in years past.

    Now THAT's a discussion I'd like to have! :)

    Posted by Working_In_Boston January 27, 10 09:43 AM
  1. One of the overlooked points in the discussion here is that there actually is a code of conduct, either unwritten or written, on which all of us can base our behavior. Unless we're fantasizing about living in a Jane Austen-like world of English manners and social norms, then the whole discussion here is moot. People, who like to think of themselves as smart while stupid people ignore birds, sunshine, the weather, or the wind blowing leaves around in the streets, aren't getting the fact that there are real differences in perspective that matter a great deal for everyone.

    Posted by footballrules January 27, 10 09:44 AM
  1. @Working in Boston--Ah, I see what you mean! No argument there. And you have GOT to get yourself a vintage copy of Emily Post (pre-1950; mine's 1942, I believe) if you want to see manners with real style.

    Posted by Robin Abrahams Author Profile Page January 27, 10 09:47 AM
  1. @easydoesit2 - I think you hit the nail on the head that it has to do with the senses of entitlement and complete lack of personal responsibility that seem to be prevalent in our society. People act entitled - how many drivers inch up onto the bumper of the person in front of them so that a driver trying to enter traffic cannot possibly get in? I heard a story of a teenager writing a several-page letter demanding a raise because she needed more money. Not once in the letter did she say anything about the good work she was doing or any other reason why a raise was justified - just that she needed to save more money for college, etc. (I did not see the letter, but spoke with someone who had). On the personal responsibility front, there are so many examples that it's difficult to know where to start. Everything is someone else's fault. Driver A hit Driver B because Driver B is an idiot, not because Driver A was busy talking on the phone or texting or shaving or whatever. A child plays in a neighbor's yard, uninvited and unsupervised, gets hurt, and the parents sue the neighbor - it had nothing to do with the fact that the child was unsupervised and where he shouldn't have been, and everything to do with the neighbor who wasn't home and who had told the kid to stay out of the yard.

    As a parent, I work very hard to teach my children to be polite and respectful to others. It's an uphill climb, and there are times where I wonder if any of it sinks in. It's made me aware, though, of the areas where I could improve my own behavior, and I do try. As an example, when my kids were very small, I realized that the best way to teach them to use 'please' and 'thank you' was to model it, and I noticed that I wasn't saying those words much, myself. I made an effort to use them more, and it quickly became a habit. I'm far from perfect, but every little bit sure helps.

    Posted by akmom January 27, 10 09:48 AM
  1. Usually when I see something that I would consider rude it is because the person taking the action is acting completely self centered. At my gym there are MANY signs that say children of the opposite sex over the age of four are not allowed in changing rooms. There is an alternate family room that can be used. I try to go to the gym everyday; but don’t go at any particular time. Five days out of seven there is at least on boy in the locker room who is too old (sometimes age 9 or 10). Often the mother will put a towel over his face when I she sees me coming of the shower. Clearly she knows he should not be in there. Though I also find it a little disturbing that Junior is watching Mommy change at that age either. For what ever reason the mother doesn’t want to use the family changing room so she just breaks the rules. Yes I consider that rude. If she is going to bring a older boy in to the locker room you would think she would put him in a spot to change and make him stay there. Instead they roam the room for 45 minutes while she does her hair. Again in my opinion rude. Yes I know in Europe this would not be a problem, but we are not in Europe. Also a man would never bring a 9 year old girl in to the men’s locker room.

    Posted by Honk January 27, 10 09:52 AM
  1. I have to disagree with Working_in_Boston, it is not just the younger generation. There are plenty of older adults who won't move their bags from the seat on the T until I ask them several times, older women who have elbowed me to be first off the train. I dropped my iPod going up the stairs at South Station this morning and as I bent down to pick it up this impatient woman in her 40s sighed loudly and stepped on my hand to get past me. Seriously, it took me all of 5 seconds to pick it up.

    I have seen plenty of people give up their seats for elderly, pregnant, etc. and plenty of people who don't. But a lot of time, people don't notice because they are reading, listening to music, etc.

    Sandra makes some great points - but I tend to think this happens more in the city. People are busier, don't pay attention, have tunnel vision. I find people in the burbs to be much more polite, generally.

    Posted by dkb January 27, 10 09:53 AM
  1. Beyond just suggesting that Americans are rude, there's also the cultural divide in America itself. Don't get me wrong, I love the northeast and could never live down south, but you have to admit that when you're south of DC the attitude changes. No one allows a door to shut in your face, nor do they ignore you if you hold one for them. Smiles and thank yous are prevalent. People smiles, nods and maybe say hello when they pass on a street. Everyone says "excuse me." That just doesn't happen up here.

    Auxiliary point - the US is unique because we accept more criticism than other, older nations. You can say "the French are snotty jerks" to a Frenchman or "you English are SO superior" and they just don't care. You suggest to an American that we're loud, obnoxious, rude, bullies and we actually take that very personally. Miss Manners loves to point out that the rudest thing you can do is point out another's rudeness.

    I think I'm debating myself. Americans could be nicer to each other, but I'm also tired of hearing that the Spanish (to use Seamus' example) are so much better.


    Posted by Q January 27, 10 09:57 AM
  1. As a Boomer who has worked in customer service, I'm also dubious about the "generational" stuff. Our rudest customers were elderly people of both sexes, who charged into the discussion as if an argument were inevitable. They tended to overlook the actual problem to be solved, and often there wasn't one. (Perhaps an indication they just wanted to complain about how "rude" customer service people are nowadays?) Which leads me to believe there is some self-deception going on here. ...Cellphones are a special category that we haven't assimilated yet, and teenagers in packs are always a problem, but I've never really thought that Gen X'ers are consistently ruder as a group.

    Posted by smozo January 27, 10 10:20 AM
  1. I don't find people ruder in terms of swearing, crowding the sidewalk, and so on, I find them angrier, more entitled and without respect for the social fabric that keeps us all from sinking into Hobbes "state of nature." I think the relative prosperity the last fifty years or so has produced some (not all) people in several generations who think that clean air, clean water, safe streets, a high-paying interesting job, a large home and yard, several large cars, and many children are their birthright and that it must be someone's fault that these things aren't guaranteed. Even less attractive is casual dismissal of the hard work and sacrifice of previous generations to bring our society to it's current imperfect, but basically pretty good, state. And even less civil than that is the jealousy of the fruits of other people's labors, such as a great career and decent savings. Our city has a lot of immigrants and I identify with them more than with some of my own family members. They see our society as offering opportunities, not guarantees.
    So. I don't find people bad-mannered as much as I find them uncivil and disrespectful.

    Posted by still-learning January 27, 10 10:23 AM
  1. Having worked in a customer service related job for more than 18 years I personally have noticed a trend in increasing rudeness of clients. The company spends large amounts of money training us to be polite, empathetic, calm and controlled. It is sometimes very hard to hold on to any of that when another person is screaming at you usually about a situation beyond your control. The politeness goes both ways if you are being disrespectful and rude then you should expect to get the same in return. Being on hold IS very frustrating for anyone (especially if the music is bad) however once your call is answered launching into a diatribe at the CS rep is not helpful. It is hard not to want to take out your frustrations on the person at the other end of the line but as my mother always said "you get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar".
    I have also had many a client at my desk whom I'm working with take a cellphone call and then proceed to have a non-emergency personal conversation. How can this not be construed as rude? I have turned off my phone, I'm giving you my undivided attention and my valuable time. We would all be better served if everyone on both sides of the equation could be more empathetic to one another.

    Posted by clashfan January 27, 10 10:32 AM
  1. Yes, I think 21st-century America is in an epidemic of rudeness.

    According to more than 200 current and former customer service industry workers that I have surveyed, 19% of customers are impolite, disrespectful or downright rude. Our "instant gratification" culture has gone too far. Many consumers have an "I pay you, I own you" mentality. Poor parenting is one of the many factors contributing to the entitlemania that is pervasive in our society. Narcissism and the "Me Generation" are out of control. I believe more people need to speak up and get involved or it's going to get even worse. Yes it is your problem. There's no sense complaining unless you/we are willing to be part of the solution.


    Posted by Patrick Maguire January 27, 10 10:32 AM
  1. We're not living in a country, where there were emperors, empresses, kings, queens, or some people who took over as dictators. Without distinguishing between the cultures of Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States of America, there's so much to consider that we've been ignoring. We've got the right to be freely sharing our personal views on politeness and rudeness, which isn't exactly the same for people around the world. We can very easily forget why people in other countries differ in how this subject gets treated when doing this, too. For example, the points that people have made about the cultural differences between England, France, Spain, and the United States of America illustrate how England, France, and Spain were empires in the past, but now are mainly democratic countries, where people sometimes let the past determine people's behavior in the present while still struggling to accept the present. We don't have that issue in this country, so why would anyone even want to emulate the behavior of people who do?

    Posted by footballrules January 27, 10 10:37 AM
  1. there is no more common courtesy in this country. i have seen pregnant women or the elderly have to stand when a young robust man takes a seat on the train. i have had numerous doors fly closed in my face because someone didnt feel like waiting 2 seconds to hold it for me. i have had to listen to teenage cashiers at the grocery store have convos about their boyfriends while they chuck my items down the belt to be thrown in a bag by an equally disintererested bagger. this is all after not even saying hello to me or even looking at me. people need to teach their kids better manners, because for the most part its my age group and younger who are rude. my mother raised me to have respect for my elders and to treat others how i want to be treated. its sickening how this country has gotten.

    Posted by nemo January 27, 10 10:40 AM
  1. Perhaps we see the rudeness epidemic because we're looking for it? Frustrated at how mean and rude I saw society becoming, I spent a few days going through the exercise of looking for acts of politeness and kindness, rather than rudeness. Much to my surprise, I found them. Many of them. All over the place. People yielding their right of way, giving up their subway seat (or trying to), saying "please" and "thank you", polite and friendly telephone customer service reps. I was a little ashamed at being so surprised.

    Perhaps because rudeness makes the headlines or catches our attention, we are primed to look for it. I find life much more pleasant when I look for the reverse, so I make a point of trying to do it. Call me Pollyanna, but it works.

    I also find that everything boils down to dog training. Just as I do with my dog, I ignore the bad behavior and reward the good, and the good tends to repeat itself. On the subway. In my office. On the sidewalk. Wherever.

    Posted by BlondMaggie January 27, 10 10:48 AM
  1. Just a foot note to #44 "Q".........I have a sister that lives in a tiny little town, not even near a big city....and I have had a shopping carriage shoved into me many times, people pushing me out of the way to get into line at Super Walmart and even had someone tell me I was 'in their seat' at Mass.....BTW never been to a Catholic Church in any part of the Globe (here AND in the EU) that had assigned seating. And let's not even talk about their lack of driving skills..........People EVERY WHERE are way more rude than even 5 years ago, let alone 50!!!!

    Posted by Cynthia January 27, 10 10:50 AM
  1. I am a 64 year old happily married careerwoman whose out-of-state friends sometimes ignore emails I occassionally take the time to write. I don't know if I should take it personally that they don't value the friendship or if they are just rude or 'busy' (even though they don't work), and in one case several wierd things she has done indicates she might even have early dementia, which I am too polite to ask about. Everyone knows about age discrimination in the workplace, but perhaps the older one gets the worse they are treated, even by old friends.

    Posted by Michelle R. January 27, 10 10:53 AM
  1. 90% of people (regardless of the time period, social/economic class, race, nationality, or gender) are generally OK people; they'll be polite enough to go through life without constantly getting in fist-fights, but occasionally have a bad day and (gasp!) cut somebody off, not engage them in a pointless conversation on a plane, or not open a door for somebody. 9% of people, though, are just place perpetually angry douches (see also: tinfoil-hat commenters). The other 1%? Conduct advice bloggers.

    Posted by Mark D January 27, 10 10:55 AM
  1. I've got an entirely different answer than the ones I've seen.

    It's more like "Nothing has changed."

    Every generation has rudeness. Rudeness by the elderly has traditionally been excused under the 'they are older' and 'raised differently' or even with a suggestion that they have entered senility. (Grandpa stating things about the 'place of women' would be rude, for example, but generally let be.)

    Rudeness by contemporaries gets it's own phrases. Rudeness by youth becomes the subject of endless chatter and writing. ("Kids these days!")

    But I don't think anything is worse than any other era. There's a quote attributed to Socrates with a whole 'kids these days' statement. And I've seen quotes and writings from different eras that say that manners have gone to heck.

    My view is that the rules of what's 'manners' shift back and forth, usually within generation groups, and annoy the heck out of the previous generations. Shakespeare is full of Rudeness. Jane Austen spends pages describing what is a perceived rudeness. The Bible has aspects of it.

    Are we more rude and ill-mannered? No...just differently.

    Posted by Cat Skyfire January 27, 10 11:15 AM
  1. I work in a tourist town and deal with crowds of folks whom I will never likely see again. I sometimes feel that tourists are able to check their sense of community at the door when they travel, they are not invested in being part of our city and so can exhibit their most base behaviors.

    Also, tourists are usually out of their comfort zone, tired, hungry, cranky etc and that causes folks who are usually quite level-headed to lash out rudely to those around them - very often it is their server, bartender, cashier etc. (Somene "expendable") because those relationships are so short term. I'm not making excuses for thier behavior, just a possible explanation; it helps me to feel less personally hurt when tourists are particulary rude.

    I think that all of our new ways of communicating allow us to share stories of rudeness, and allows us also to BE more rude, to a larger audience - making rudeness seem more rampant. The internet enables many folks to act out thoughtlessly and without immediate consequences, which I feel can give fodder to someone who already leans toward socially inappropriate behavior. (#4, Hoss for example)

    Posted by coffeesnob January 27, 10 11:16 AM
  1. I agree with Bill Aiken wholeheartedly on his point. Service work is, in many ways a thankless task, no matter what kind of service it is. I know somebody who truly believes that he shouldn't tip a waiter or waitress, his thought being "They get paid a wage, why should I tip?" and when told what the normal wage of a waiter or waitress is, his reply was "Well, if they hate the money, they should get a different career." Needless to say this person has never worked in service, he may see things differently. I have never waited tables but have worked in food service before(Concession stand at a sports venue) so I appreciate how hard they work.

    You could say that I am still working in service, as even though I am an IS Analyst, we deal directly with end users whose network connections are down. While most of the people we support are very nice, some of them are exceedingly rude. We have over 11000 offices nationwide and in Canada, and some of the people we speak with are beyond difficult. A lot of the worst-behaving ones come from my home state of MA, which pains me greatly. The weird part is we all are in the same company. Would any of you talk to a coworker with insults and insinuations that they don't care about your problems? Neither would I, as I feel like we are all on the same team, so when one of the end users talks to me in this way, it never ceases to amaze me. When did it become ok to do this?

    Sorry for being long winded!

    Posted by hiyawathadan January 27, 10 11:25 AM
  1. I've lived all over the country, and I have to say if you view "politeness" as friendly customer service and street interactions, the Pacific Northwest beats the midwest, northeast, and southeast hands down. Part of that, in my opinion, is a more relaxed atmosphere in general. People are rushing a little less, overall, which leave a little time for consideration of the needs of others.

    I don't know if there is a rudeness epidemic, but it seems to me that people today think they must play and work at warp speeds, which leaves little time for consideration of the needs of self or others. Being constantly plugged in to one's own technology in public spaces -- talking, texting, listening, watching -- does tend to create a divide between the individual and the general public that could contribute to the "self first" and "self only" mentalities mentioned by other commenters.

    Posted by bluemoose January 27, 10 11:33 AM
  1. Q--Just to be clear, I used the Spanish as an example of cultural consistency. Everyone greets each other the same way. In the U.S. there are numerous possibilities which can produce confusion that can be perceived as rudeness.

    I am not implying that there way is better, simply that it is consistent.

    Posted by Seamus January 27, 10 11:34 AM
  1. This is not even a debatable topic. The general populace has never been ruder or lacking in manners. One has to look no further than to the declining and rude behavior rude and attitutudes of employees within the retail or service industries who can barely muster a hello, thank you or how can I help? Let's face it -- if you can't even get people who are paid to be mannered what can you expext from everyone else?

    Posted by bumpyt January 27, 10 11:38 AM
  1. I'm inclined to agree with Sarah B. (Hey, that rhymes...)

    On the Customer Service front - I've worked telephone customer service before and I was not allowed to be rude or show any anger toward a customer. I was allowed not to be abused by said customers, though. If a customer became abusive and started swearing, I was allowed to terminate the call, politely.

    There is no excuse for being rude in a customer service job. I don't care if you're getting a low wage, I don't care if you just had 14 rude customer before me. This is what you signed up for when you took the job. Being polite is a MAJOR component of the job. Don't say that you'd like others to have experienced what you experience for 8 hours for low wages - I have, and that excuse doesn't cut it. If you can't take it, then find another job because you're obviously not suited to customer service.

    But I do think that the definition of what is "rude" is changing all the time, as society itself changes. If you go back in time you'll find that some things that we long for may have been more prevalent, but they often served as a veneer for class distinctions that were not very pleasant or fair and that have really blurred in today's society.

    As for the cultural distinctions - I deal with a lot of Indian contractors and they are unfailingly polite - as their culture demands. But I've also found that they do not like confrontation and will avoid it all costs, whereas they think Americans and Bostonians in particular are "rude" because we like to dispense with all of the pleasantries that their code of conduct requires and get to the heart of the matter to be discussed immediately.

    Posted by Knotdefined January 27, 10 11:41 AM
  1. I can't help but think of Highlights' contrasting examples of Goofus & Gallant - and how the idea of being a Goofus was abhorrent even at a young age and is unforgettable for me today at middle age under most norms (no one is infallible).

    The comments here are amusing and some insightful. Some have pointed out the cross generational sense of entitlement that at least seems to be greater than what we might remember it being in any past.....and some, surprisingly to me at least, would dare blame the offended for pointing out the rude behavior of those being offensive and centered on self. Is it rude to point out rudeness? Good question! I'm not sure ignoring the skunk at the party is better than shooing it away early. It might be easier to throw blame or effects around but in the end the responsibility for being civil and civilized lies with each of us. Likewise the rewards of being polite or helpful to someone else are there for the taking if we'd only disengage from our lives and cell phone obsessions to hold that door for the senior. We may be failing and our stress hormones and-or willingness to vent often may be part of the proof. If we're teaching each other, and our kids, to be aggressive and standing our grounds are we forgetting the lessons in the cliché about catching more (flies) with honey than vinegar? Or that it can feel more rewarding in a less tangible way?

    If I were forced to rate myself I'm confident that I'm quite a bit more polite in my midlife than I ever was in younger years or when being raised (properly-mostly). But this too is what I consider a decision and a challenge worth pursuing - to not be the skunk at the life-party. I think part of it is mellowing with age and part of it is accumulation of life lessons and choices make. Sure some habits are tough & I may be cursing like a sailor to myself when cutoff on the highway just like many others but I'm not outwardly making challenges or flipping the bird or letting it ruin my interactions with others soon or later in the day like I might have in my 20's. I have no use for hotheads and recognize I'm as worthless when playing that game. Sometimes that takes a concerted reminder to self that I'M actually the winner by not flipping out or by holding that door or saying thank you and expression appreciation enough times that it makes the other person feels good and pays dividends back in friendships and or services.

    Life is a project...and it is too short to go through it being the that makes others uncomfortable. There's a mantra in there somewhere and just keeping that inside is more humble and polite than subjecting others to it. Meh...just some thoughts to share - back to work.

    Posted by jonnyquesttoo January 27, 10 11:43 AM
  1. I think younger people, especially those raised by the "Me-Me-Me-First" Baby Boom Generation can be perceived as rude. A friend of mine commented recently that she noticed that even when taking the T in Boston, younger people aren't as keen about standing aside and letting people get off the trains as they were even ten years ago. While some older folks are keen on doing this, it's predominantly younger people. They like to push to the front of the line so that they're the first on the train and can get a seat, and refuse to give up their seats to older people or those with disabilities. Oh, and I'm 30, btw...yeah, raised by two Boomers, but working class Boomers who taught me that I'm not entitled to anything I haven't earned. On another note, I think we've all been behind "that person" in line at any given retail store who has to berate the cashier when something doesn't ring up at the correct price, or if an expired coupon isn't honored, as if it's an entitlement. Yes, I definitely think we're becoming ruder.

    Posted by QDog January 27, 10 11:45 AM
  1. I think several posters have made excellent points already (MaryEllen, akmom, WES etc).
    What strikes me is that we no longer have any sense of "shame". I'm not sure if reality television/obsession with celebrities etc (ANY attention is good) or the anonymity of the internet or the decline of communities/extended families or just a generational shift is behind this change, but when we grew up there was such a thing as "negative attention".
    I'm not advocating a return to a "but what will the neighbors think?" mentality, but no one seems embarrassed by their rude or wrong behavior. There are times when all of us do something unintentionally wrong, but some of us are embarrassed and try to correct or apologize for it. That was how most of us were raised - that you were answerable for your misdeeds to society and family at large.
    I can well attest to the pregnant lady on the train issue - I can count on one hand (with fingers left over) the number of times people offered a seat. It was always someone from another culture. One time, I was even treated to a discussion on how no one ever gave up their seat anymore for pregnant women, and still no one got up. The conversation then devolved into "How do you know when someone is pregnant or just fat?". Yes, right in front of me. Well, gee folks, when it looks like they've swallowed a basketball, it's usually a reliable indicator!

    Posted by wwsuzi January 27, 10 11:50 AM
  1. It's amazing how we judge others. The cultural differences in manners is not international, it's regional even local. Small town USA appears the friendliest while the major metro is callous and indifferent. I've lived in several places and I can tell you honestly that Boston is one of the rudest places. Even in Hong Kong where people are jam packed like sardines, they line up for buses in a first come, first serve basis. No pushing, shoving, cutting in line... It's amazing! The French are snooty but not mean. They just don't care about you or your thoughts. Chicagoans on the other hand are surprisingly friendly. Nods on the street, doors held open, a very respectful area. People from Atlanta seem surgary sweet -- maybe too much so. Washington D.C. exists in a vacuum. New Yorkers -- the place you'd think would be the worst, isn't. They're just fast, impatient and all business but not mean about it. In my view, Boston wins this distinction but there I go judging. RC

    Posted by Rose Cullen January 27, 10 11:50 AM
  1. Aren't people just generally nostalgic for a time when things were better? And isn't that time mostly a fiction? My suspicion is that people are just as polite, or not, as ever - here and elsewhere.

    And it may be that we are more socially mobile now than at any time in the past, so maybe we are interacting more with people from different social groups and experiencing (and sometimes misinterpreting) their standards of politeness?

    Posted by Susan January 27, 10 11:51 AM
  1. I think that rudeness and disrespect has gotten worse over the years. It's been a steady decline. I believe the root cause is this hurry up, I want it yesterday, society that has been created. I guess the term is instant gratification. Computers, cell phones, multi-media have help to create this mess. We are in such a hurry there seems to be no time for manners. Unfortunately the young seem to represent the largest segment of this hurry up society. Probably because their exposure to the high speed age has been greater. We all need to slow down but try telling that to your boss!

    Posted by Joe January 27, 10 12:00 PM
  1. I think the biggest contributing factor to this perception that America is ruder than it used to be, is that many have adopted an "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore" approach to rudeness.
    It's incredibly rude to point out the rudeness of others, yet so many people have decided to fight fire with fire.
    If people feel someone has violated the code of manners, they cannot just gracefully let it go. Which really is the polite thing to do in most cases.
    I see it here and on Miss Manners and Dear Prudence, people asking for snappy comebacks and sly corrections so that they can stick it to these people they perceive to be rude. It's appalling!
    If someone failed to send you a thank you card, don't stew about it for years thinking of just the right way to drop the hint that you thought it was rude.
    I know I would think it was rude of I said "Excuse me, Ma'am, but I think you dropped this." and have the woman harp on about how I called her Ma'am. It's not a big deal, and you're certainly not looking like the paragon of polite by chastising someone who was trying to be polite in the best way they knew how.
    Don't waste your time wondering about how you can correct the irksome behavior of others, unless they are your children.
    Handling the rudeness of others with grace is the key to being the master of social niceties. Take it in stride. Kill them with kindness. And, most importantly, LET IT GO!

    Posted by Noel January 27, 10 12:02 PM
  1. I was surprised how rude / grumpy folks were in the Nassau Bahamas area. Why are people in this area so grumpy? There are so many other places to visit where it would seem people would be a little friendlier including the US as the only people that consistently offered to help hold doors as I walked through with my kids and stroller were other tourists, predominantly Americans, while hotel staff people let the door close behind them. I rented a car for a day and every time I let a pedestrian cross in front of the car (even when I had the right of way) they sauntered with a 'don't mess with me look'. Other drivers were extremely aggressive and inpatient. I have seen more thoughfulness riding in a cab through NYC. Really!

    When a local young woman dropped something and I picked it up for her she was genuinely surprised at this act and thanked me. Do people lack a certain level of common courtesy in the Nassau area? I have seen a greater level of courtesy in the US including the Northeast.

    So to say that this growing level of rudeness is a phenomenon exclusive to the US would be an oversight. I would agree that rudeness is definitely growing and I would attribute it at some level to the increasingly hectic pace of life as well as the bombarding of marketing/technology distractions that makes folks unaware of their surroundings.

    Posted by DW January 27, 10 12:04 PM
  1. You are asking for subjective opinions. But there is plenty of objective data that should at least be kept in mind.

    - Younger generations are scoring significantly higher on narcissistic personality measures. This is a longitudinal study, administered to young people at the same age for decades, and does measure an actual change across generations.

    - Diverse populations--like ours increasingly is--tend to be ruder, more competitive, and less concerned about community and empathy than homogenous ones. Again, this is the finding of a study conducted by a researcher who very much wanted to find the opposite. This is not an argument against diversity, of course, just a description of some of its consequences.

    - Economies with widening gaps in income and wealth--like ours--tend to be more polarized and extreme in behavior and thinking. Again, a research study finding.

    - People who spend less time in face-to-face interaction, and more time interacting with technology, show less social engagement and empathy when they do come in direct contact with another person.

    - The standards of public discourse have dramatically changed in the last twenty years. Cable news and talk show screamfests would have violated the Standards & Practices requirements governing broadcast media when many of us were young.

    - Child-rearing philosophies have changed, emphasizing self-esteem, self-expression and praise circles. Only recently have these come under fire.

    These are all the findings of specific studies and research reports. But I'm also seeing a pattern in other kinds of analyses--on subjects like law and economics that have nothing, really, to do with manners--that I think have some bearing here. As we all know, banks have completely dispensed with traditional rules of prudence in lending and investing. CEOs routinely make compensation demands that only decades ago would have been considered outrageously greedy, even career-ending. Cyberbullies publicly mock the victims they have driven to death. Enforcement actions against antitrust or consumer protection violations have dwindled to a trickle, compared to thirty years ago.

    To me, these all suggest a pattern: increasing failure to restrain bad behavior. There are fewer consequences than there used to be for bad actors, and more rewards. And whatever you reward, you get more of.

    Just food for thought.

    Posted by Marcus January 27, 10 12:07 PM
  1. As a former customer service person who could not find a better paying job, I must say that a lot of us are poorly paid and are expected to take anything a customer deals out. The adage that the customer is always right is long dead!. If i couldn't help them no matter how I tried, they'd ask for the manager and he/she always knuckled under for fear of losing business, and the customers knew this. A lot of customers seem to think that since we are in a poorly paid job, we must be really stupid and not worthy of being treated as human beings. Most of the big box stores just want warm bodies as sales people and there are always a lot of people waiting to step into your job, so you are disposable- no wonder you are angry! Why should we care when "employment at will" means you can be out the door tomorrow? Even people who have been employed for a long time can be shown the door just for a single mistake or supervisor perceived transgression. And the backbiting by other employees is rampant.

    Posted by Bimmergal January 27, 10 12:12 PM
  1. Hi dkb!

    I tried not to stereotype, but the point I was trying to make was that politeness is interpreted generationally, and it has to do with the different/changing cultural perspectives each generation has.

    Also - I guess I failed to frame my opinion that if the younger generation does not offer up a seat on the subway, that's not necessarily rude, although it may be interpreted as such depending on what age you are. If a man (of any age) doesn't give me his seat on the T, I don't think he's being rude - I just don't see deference to my gender as an element of rudeness, although others might.

    The point I was trying to make was that there may not be general agreement about what constitutes rudeness based on, among other things, the generation to which one belongs and the social times in which one grew up.

    Posted by Working_In_Boston January 27, 10 12:15 PM
  1. I love how it says, "mostly younger people". I often encounter incredibly rude "older people" (for reference, I'm 30), some of them are senior citizens. Maybe the "older people" are considered grumpy instead of rude? I also feel as though in the 1950's etc, etiquette was BIG, to the point of people being completely fake. Would I rather someone be rude to me instead of false polite or friendly? YES.

    These days, if you are grumpy or having a bad day, yes, you may snap at someone or act "rude". It's not all candy and flowers out there and I think that really reflects in our daily attitude. That said, if some is rude to you, do you let that ruin your day? Or do you have the ability to shrug it off and move on. So who cares if someone is rude, so what, big deal, get over it and get on with things.

    Posted by Mar January 27, 10 12:17 PM
  1. BlameMe, i think you'll get flamed but i kind of agree with you. i mean in the past it was acceptable behavior to snub a black person (or jew) when they came into a shop or call them horrid names to their face. maybe now that it's not acceptable people displace their superiority behaviors in other ways.

    it might be a stereotype (or even racist) but i find black people and minorities to be MORE polite than whites. (i'm white) i have experienced countless times where black teenagers (in baggy pants, looking "gangster") held doors for me, gave up a seat, you name it. from whites it's rare, and usually an older person.

    technology does play a part. when it takes you 10 menus and 15 mins to get a human on the phone -- how rude is it that businesses do everything possible to avoid any contact with customers? -- then they ask you for all the information you just punched in all over again, you're angry before you even start speaking to them. they in turn are making $8/hr (if that) and treated like s**t by their employers.

    if you all want to see real rudeness, work as a cashier, flight attendant, waiter, at mcdonald's, etc for a few days. low wage workers (everyone in a service job) are the new slaves. it's acceptable to call them horrid names & treat them like objects. if a customer complains in a restaurant or retail setting, no matter how rude (and/or truthful), management doesn't defend the worker, they're reprimanded or fired. it's easy to replace them. they need their (monied) clientele.

    are people more rude? like i said, we've just moved our superiority to new settings.

    Posted by anna January 27, 10 12:19 PM
  1. A related theory is, "Is there an increase in public passive-agressive behavior?" If one agrees with me that there is a several hundred percent increase, then the exasperated, temper-losing, 'hey whadda think you're doing?' and 'you have got to be kidding if you think this is right.' responses we witness and dismiss as rudeness are actually expressions of dismay.
    For instance, last week I stood in line at a chain bookstore with 3 people ahead of me. The clerk moved slowly, and the more we tried to make eye contact with her the more she, I swear, increases the time spent with the customer in front of her, asking a dozen questions like: Do you want gift boxes? Should I wrap this? Are you buying a dog? Let me print that up for you again, it tore, which bag do you want(taking a minute to collect one of each). . ." She took 10 minutes with each person, yes I stood in line for 30 minutes. Each one had 2-3 items, I had 1 item. When it was my turn I said no I didn't want a savings card because I would never be back again, customer service sucked. Was I rude, or was her passive-agressive "I hate my job so I'll cost this company customers, people will leave without buying rather than wait 30-45 minutes." When I left there were 7 customers in line. Do you think all of them would wait an hour?
    Passive-agressive, as in the 'oh I'm so cheerful and have a tiny satisfied smirk on my face as I ruin your day." No attempt at, "I'm sorry" but rather a blank-looking "Oh, I'm a victim, look at this horrible person yelling at me because I was supposed do something and then 'just forgot' or 'was busy' or 'decided I didn't have to, but didn't tell you' or 'thought someone else would.'

    I'd say, when you see public rudeness, check if the 'victim' is blank-looking or taking it mildly, a good sign they did something to cause it and are taking internal delight at it, foisting off their powerlessness onto others. Don't be so quick to assume the curt or inconvenienced one, the rude one, has masterminded the situation, or is even being unreasonable.

    Posted by Lynn Johnson January 27, 10 12:25 PM
  1. I won't be adding anything particularly new to the subject here, but I think that a lot of the 'rudeness' is more perception than reality. People seem to be more used to impersonal communication now, be it emails, text messages, etc so they seem to have lost their ability to interact with others in person. As we live more online we seem to become far more socially inept, just try playing a game online and see what the community there acts like! Its gotten hard to tell if someone's being selfish when they're driving poorly, or walking around with their attention focused strictly on their cells or ipods, or if they just don't perceive things around them.

    The Northeast in general gets a rep for being pretty unfriendly, and having lived here my whole life I can't really weigh in on that assertion. I was raised to be polite - holding doors (a dying art), offering my seat to those who need it more (don't get me started), taking off your hat inside... that sort of thing. I do know that people around Boston don't seem to have had the same things drilled into them, but to be honest that seems pretty prevalent in all large cities. I don't know if the South does things differently, as I haven't spent any real amount of time among large crowds of people down there. If they do it could crush my belief that the more people you live among the more they start to just become background noise that you ignore.

    Posted by Adam January 27, 10 12:28 PM
  1. Thanks for taking Hoss off the comments section. Yeee-aaa-yyy Robin!

    That's a good example of how we should (a) deal with rudeness when we have the power to do so, but (b) try to wall it off when we can't.

    Posted by floridagirl25 January 27, 10 12:28 PM
  1. I find that if you provide an opportunity or context for people to be courteous and respectful they will generally take that opportunity. But if you have an entitlement or expectation of politeness as in, I deserve this person to be polite to me, you get less. A good start is to begin with a little more thoughtful consideration for people who work at cash registers. Also it seems companies have gone a long way in upgrading standards of courtesy in the customer service area in the last twenty years.

    Posted by How are YOU doing? January 27, 10 12:33 PM
  1. I'm laughing comments on the Spanish being better at manners. A couple of weeks ago, I tripped on the red bricks in Harvard Square. Two or three people walked right by me before a young Spanish man picked me up and made certain that I was OK and able to walk. I was grateful to him. Some perceptions of rudeness are age based. I found people to be more polite to me when I was young and pretty and less so now that I am over 60. I'm more often an annoyance if not outright invisible now.

    People may say "excuse me" but with such a tone that it really is intended to mean "get out of my way!"

    Posted by Cambridge January 27, 10 12:40 PM
  1. This one isn't even debatable. One has to look no further than your local checkout counter to feel the overt rudeness in today's society -- and that rudeness is from a demographic that actually gets paid to be courteous.

    Posted by bumpyt January 27, 10 12:41 PM
  1. I once read a complaint about what a shame it is that (I'm paraphrasing) 'young people today are coarse, uneducated, selfish, and uninterested in the world around them'.

    The source? It was Socrates, Plato, or another ancient intellect. I've looked but been unable to find the exact quote, however I think that every generation has had similar complaints, perhaps accelerated of late due to the speeding up of society.

    Posted by GFI January 27, 10 12:44 PM
  1. I used to work with Customer Service reps that dealt with consumers from around the nation. They were located in the Mid-West, in a small town. Every one of them would insist that their customers from New York and New England were much more difficult to deal with - rude - than the rest of the nation, including other big cities (Chicago, LA, Miami, Dallas).

    Posted by GFI January 27, 10 12:49 PM

    Posted by JAY WALSH January 27, 10 12:49 PM
  1. Q: I don't know where you spend your time, but I've held doors for people many times, and had them held for me many times. It's kind of funny, because then there's the question of how far away someone has to be before it's ok to let the door close. Plenty of times I've felt obligated to hustle when someone held it for me 15 or 20 feet away.
    People have been complaining about the decline of civilization for thousands of years, but we don't seem to have gotten to the bottom of it yet.

    Also, you get used to what's around you, so it's hard to tell. And memories of past manners may be seen through that nostalgic glow coming from back when our knees worked better and everything was just ducky.

    I haven't really noticed any big changes in general.

    However, I think it's much easier to be rude on the internet, where we're all skimming and then often misunderstand something and take offense. Plus we don't have those extra social cues.

    There also seems to be a strain of extreme contempt in politics these days. I'm not sure it's all THAT much worse than it was, because contempt is more effectively expressed by the use of power than by words, and the former has always been with us. Still, it seems more of the debate is devoted to insults than formerly.

    One area where things have improved, from my viewpoint at least, is that people are much less likely to subject me to their cigarette smoke. I always found that rude because it was so unpleasant and unhealthy for me. (I realize that it's unhealthy for the smoker, but that's another subject.)

    Another thing that I've noticed is that motorists' manners seem to change almost block by block. There are neighborhoods where if you stop walking to talk within two feet of the curb, the cars will stop, and if you're not wanting to cross you have to wave them on! Other places, of course, you'd better wait for the walk light or it will be worth your life. I suspect we're talking about the same drivers, too, because these areas are close to each other.

    Posted by LR January 27, 10 12:50 PM
  1. Ageism is one of the single most pressing issues that can determine whether or not one person thinks that another is being rude. Prejudice against anyone of a different age, either older or younger, doesn't solve anyone's problems. That's what people would do well to consider before jumping to any conclusions or making any assumptions about being polite or rude in any situation.

    Posted by footballrules January 27, 10 12:54 PM
  1. Akmom, I think you are so right, I think there is a sense of entitlement in our nation. I think we allow people to be irresponsible and unlike years ago, today, it's all about me, me, me.

    I too am raising children and am constantly trying to instill manners not by telling but by example. Honestly, my kids interrupt and I think how rude, then I catch myself doing the same thing!! So I try and either catch myself or apologize when I do and hope that they get it by learning from my mistakes!

    As I get older and understand how my actions or reactions to things impact how they relate to people and situations, I find myself being kinder and giving people the benefit of the doubt which translates in to being more polite and hopefully less rude.

    Posted by Lulu January 27, 10 12:57 PM
  1. Cultural differences aside, I believe that we model our public behavior on the medium that displays our cultural norms - television. When the political channels, posing as news and opinion, offer nothing but vilification and demonization as examples of civil debate, we will naturally adopt that as successful behavior. When our leaders speak lies about their opponents in order to gain a political advantage - not the subtle lies of interpreting the facts differently, but the blatant lies of spreading falsehoods to fan fear - then we will naturally consider it to be successful behavior and mimic it.
    We reward sharp comebacks more that rational discourse. Would American Idol be so popular if Simon et al. had compassion for the talentless? It's easy to say that television reflects who we are, but it also creates us.
    Perhaps it also has to do with anonymity. The internet has offered many people the only voice they've ever had in the public square, and they use it to release anger about many things. When the public square was smaller, we knew each other. Now, I know almost no one I pass on the street.
    It's a good question and dives to the heart of our American culture. Perhaps we will tire of it soon and come back to realizing that we are each guilty of something, and that should not prevent us from treating each other with simple respect.

    Posted by Marker January 27, 10 12:57 PM
  1. I would think a lot of this has to do with perspective here.
    Yes, over all I would say people in America, in general, are bit less courteous and rude than they were 20 years ago.
    But, I will also say that in some settings the opposite is true....the treatment of children and young people in say, by doctors, teachers and the like I think has improved greatly....It used to be perfectly acceptable to ignore, ridicule, yell or curse at a child by an irresponsibe/impatient nurse, doctor, teacher, secretary etc....and think nothing of it, that would never pass for the checkout counter....yes, the younger ones have becomes blatantly rude and dishonest and indifferent than their counterparts a couple of decades ago.

    Posted by Austin January 27, 10 01:03 PM
  1. I don't think this is a "younger generation" problem. I have encountered PLENTY of rude people from the "older generation." It seems that common coutesy; holding the door for someone, waving in traffic, etc. have gone out the window. Maybe it is the new isolation brought on by impersonal forms of communication that make people feel as though they are walking through the world in a bubble that doesn't interfere or affect others. It feels as though people are aggressive toward people they don't know on a personal level.

    Posted by miss-tified January 27, 10 01:07 PM
  1. I agree with Q about regional differences. I have dialed back the manners I used in the South, and they still sometimes disconcert or puzzle people (and occasionally call down scorn or ridicule, to my face. I Hate That.) You could call that 'manners,' or maybe it's just 'style.'
    There's also the matter of what small children are taught. The 'sir and ma'am' environment I grew up with, which did sound more respectful, would mark a very old-fashioned parent nowadays, as would the corporal punishment that was also more prevalent then. Not everything is worse...

    Posted by Carolyn January 27, 10 01:08 PM
  1. Wow, this has really taken off! Interesting points across the board. I think we're getting distracted on the "who's ruder, old people or young people" thing, though. Let's face it, you want to be rude, any phase of life will give you its excuse to be: either you're young and full of life (and yourself), or you're middle-aged and busy, busy, busy, or you're old and those young folks ought to shut up and do things your way.

    @Citylights and Former Flat Lander--I agree with your analysis. I've written a couple of posts about it: one about big-city etiquette here ( and one about Boston in particular here (

    @Craftsman--You write "At the highest levels of lack of respect, look at what triggers are causing people to take away another's life nowadays and compare that to a couple generations ago." A couple generations ago we had LYNCHINGS. Which were at times considered so entertaining and morally edifying that people would bring their children. This is where the buck stops for me, I guess: I can see an increase in human rights, globally. That just really, really makes me not care too much about the screaming kid in Aisle Three of Whole Foods.

    @akmom--"It's made me aware, though, of the areas where I could improve my own behavior, and I do try. As an example, when my kids were very small, I realized that the best way to teach them to use 'please' and 'thank you' was to model it, and I noticed that I wasn't saying those words much, myself. I made an effort to use them more, and it quickly became a habit. I'm far from perfect, but every little bit sure helps." Good for you, and can I point something else out? When you DO make a mistake in front of your kids, acknowledge it to them, explain what kinds of things can lead us to make these mistakes, and generally use it as a teaching moment. It can be even more effective than being a perfect role model!

    @Q--You should read de Tocqueville sometime. I think you'd like it!

    @still-learning--"I think the relative prosperity the last fifty years or so has produced some (not all) people in several generations who think that clean air, clean water, safe streets, a high-paying interesting job, a large home and yard, several large cars, and many children are their birthright and that it must be someone's fault that these things aren't guaranteed." I think you have a very strong point there, and I'd take it a bit further--I think a lot of folks know, or at least feel, that the good times are coming to an end. And they want to hold on to that bit of prosperity and security that they've come to love, and are terrified that immigrants/big corporations/environmentalists/terrorists/liberals/conservatives are going to take it from them.

    @footballrules--You should read de Tocqueville too!

    Posted by Robin Abrahams Author Profile Page January 27, 10 01:09 PM
  1. Hoss got booted for rudeness? Well I'll be...

    Posted by Alice January 27, 10 01:25 PM
  1. We discussed this during lunch and the majority (19 out of 21) think it's rude to "ban" someone from the Comments section simply because you disagree with or even worse, do not agree with what they may be saying.

    It actually ties in with the topic of the day. Manners may not be as prevalent as they were in previous generations, but without a doubt, people's ability to deal with, handle, or even tolerate others who do not do exactly what they *think* is proper, has diminished. Everyone is suddenly an expert and very, very judgmental.

    Posted by Bob Dwyer January 27, 10 01:25 PM
  1. I just want to say thank you to everyone on this board here for having such a nice, even handed debate that is on topic. It's a pleasure to read people disagreeing so agreeably and having an actual discussion. The crew over at Love Letters could learn a lot from this group.

    Posted by louise January 27, 10 01:28 PM
  1. I think a steep a rapid decline of manners and rise of rudeness started sometime in the Clinton Administration and has continued on both sides of the aisle since then. The level of uncivil discourse in our country is reflected in our leaders trashing each other personnally instead of talking about policy and ideas, the press printing every unseemly and irrelevant thing "committed" by politicians and celebraties, television moving towards so-called reality programming which encourages and celebrates bad behavior, and so on. I don't care who you voted for, when an elected official screams "Liar!" at the President of the United States while he is addressing Congress, something in really out of wack.

    My personal pet peeve is trying to walk down a city sidewalk or public staircase. It used to be that one walked on the right side. Now people feel free to walk in groups 4 abreast and expect you to move out of their way even if you have to step into the street. Don't even get me started on people talking and testing on cell phones plowing right into you....

    Posted by Lorna January 27, 10 01:29 PM
  1. And some more ...

    @blondmaggie--"Perhaps we see the rudeness epidemic because we're looking for it? Frustrated at how mean and rude I saw society becoming, I spent a few days going through the exercise of looking for acts of politeness and kindness, rather than rudeness. Much to my surprise, I found them. Many of them. All over the place. People yielding their right of way, giving up their subway seat (or trying to), saying "please" and "thank you", polite and friendly telephone customer service reps. I was a little ashamed at being so surprised." Interesting point and interesting practice!

    @bumpyT--If we are debating it, which we are, then by definition it *is* a debatable topic.

    @wwsuzi--I am really interested in the concept of shame. Take a look at another blog post I wrote about it if you'd like ( I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

    @Joe--"We all need to slow down but try telling that to your boss!" Amen, brother! Which bothers me when people get all Zen about things sometimes, and talk about making time for mindfulness and so on. Yes, it's important--but we're all terrified of losing our jobs, the need to keep our technical skills up to date is ridiculously high, there's virtually no safety net for individuals or their families in the case of catastrophe--it's more than mere self-centeredness that has people acting like hamsters on a treadmill.

    @Noel--Funky paradox! We are ruder because we are less tolerant of rudeness! I so totally agree. And DAMN, you nailed it about other advice columnists and me getting deluged with "How can I punish this person" questions!

    @Marcus--I am getting increasingly curious what you do for a living! Very good points, all (and I'd appreciate a reference for the one about the face-to-face v. technology one, if you have a minute). Several of the other points you cite I mention in the intro to my book--my basic point there being that it's not individual malfeasance we should be looking at, but larger cultural trends that, as you point out, may seem on the surface to have little to do with manners.

    @Marker--I think you're dead on with the media aspect. Our minds tend to process media as though it were real (I mean, consciously you know it isn't, but unconsciously, it affects you) and I do think people are taking the horrific level of cultural and political discourse represented on most television as the way people ought to behave.

    Posted by Robin Abrahams Author Profile Page January 27, 10 01:29 PM
  1. I don't think it is rudeness as much as a prevailing "me first" attitude. When it appears that everyone is out for themselves first and foremost, it can only be perceived as "rudeness" from the onlooker.

    But there definitely has been a decline in courtesy in recent years. Manners are a thing of the past!

    Posted by thankyouplease January 27, 10 01:33 PM
  1. Yes ...Most definitly more people have this ongoing sense of entitlement and rudness and it is starting with some of our younger generations.. It is disgusting and appalable.. They have no respect for wich that came before them..It is called the epitamy of self centeredness

    Posted by Brian January 27, 10 01:33 PM
  1. I have been an ER doctor for 10 years now and I don't think a shift goes by when I don't think about how rude people are. It amazes me that people come in to ask us to help them, then treat us the way we do. I was taught to respect people like teachers, doctors, police, older people, and well, everyone! I'm 40, so I am not of the boomer generation, so I don't think it's just that older people want to remember a better time. I really do feel like things have changed over the past 10 years.

    Posted by fishercat January 27, 10 01:38 PM
  1. While I’m not convinced that rudeness has displaced civility, I do believe a greater number of us are rude occasionally, under particular circumstances, and that this has created a more hostile environment.

    The breakdown of social connections is, I believe, a primary reason for this increase in rudeness. Until fairly recently, most Americans were born, lived and died in one community. Even in cities, because they were divided into neighborhoods, the community was small. We lived within a network of immediate and extended family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. We knew—indeed, were often on speaking terms with—our local firefighters, police, teachers, pharmacists and so on. These small, tight-knit communities had well-defined codes of conduct. Members could choose: follow the rules or be ostracized. Because everyone knew everyone else, the likelihood of miscreants being caught was high.

    Those tight networks are largely a thing of the past. While greater diversity is good, the weakening of community ties unmoors us and—to some, perhaps a large, extent—has severed the commanding relationship between behavior and accountability. We are more likely to be rude to people we don’t know and believe we’ll never meet again—the person sitting next to us on a plane, the anonymous clerk—than to people we interact with on a regular basis. So what if I’m rude to that guy on the T? I owe him nothing and, unless I call the attention of authorities, my behavior will have no consequence. The accountability factor is one reason most people think twice before being rude to the boss, for example, particularly in the days immediately preceding a performance review.

    Today, most of us move in pods—that is, within a self-selected group of family, friends and social networks. Each group develops and maintains its own code of conduct; again, we either comply with the code or risk alienation. Striving for acceptance, we maintain greater control of our behavior within the group. Mean Girls are more likely to bully a studious girl than to behave rudely toward one of their own. The problem is this: group standards are highly variable, and may or may not adhere to the standards of culture at large. Rules vary even from family to family, for instance. In the tight-knit community, where we feared the judgment of people we cared about or admired, we were more likely to subjugate our familial preferences to those of the larger community. Or we did a better job of keeping them hidden.

    We may be less rude to group members and people we care about; unfortunately, we do not live in an insular world. When we feel anonymous, when we feel small or lost—on the telephone with a customer service provider, on a plane, in the T, walking down a city street—we are more likely to let down our guard. This, I would argue, happens more frequently today than in the past. I don’t know how others feel, but I, for one, don’t care to return to the past. A minimal standard of decency, reinforced by sanctions against those who refuse to comply (as we now shame misogynists, for example)—now, that would be nice.

    Posted by Terri Giuliano Long January 27, 10 01:45 PM
  1. I think people are definitely getting ruder and there is a general lack of respect out there. For example, I was at the theatre the other night watching a live musical. Four girls behind me, about 17 or 18, were talking intermittently throughout the entire performance and, even better, they were chewing gum, blowing bubbles and snapping it. During intermission, I could see them in the light and there were 4 older women with them, all chewing gum. I think a big part of the rudeness we see every day is just this "I don't care about anyone else attitude" that is so prevalent in our society. Kids these days are taught that they can never do anything wrong and are never held to any type of standard of right and wrong.

    Posted by Peter January 27, 10 02:06 PM
  1. I think a lot of rudeness comes from a genuine lack of awareness. That's not to say, "Rude behavior is a-okay!" but to point out something that I think a lot of us know when we do rude things: we're simply not paying attention. Sometimes, this is something that I think we just need to learn how to deal with (i.e. the people below me smoke on their patio in warm weather, which means we can't open our windows at all; we're dealing with it, since we can't just MAKE them smoke inside only). Sometimes, we're too self-absorbed and we really should think about other people (i.e. the people above me stomp, drop things constantly, use their treadmill early in the morning above my roommate's bedroom, and vacuum/hammer nails into walls at ridiculous hours).

    One thing I do that I know comes off as rude, but I do it intentionally, is that I don't engage with male strangers. That is, if I pass a man on the street, I won't make eye contact or say good morning, and I absolutely hate when a man does say good morning. He's not being rude, but I'm not either. I also sometimes wear headphones, even if my iPod is dead, to have more of an excuse not to engage. I don't engage in these situations because it makes me feel unsafe; as a young woman who walks alone to and from public transportation, often in the dark, I consider engaging something that's easily mistaken for an invitation.

    And I think that many other women (certainly not all, and I'm not trying to imply that) share this sort of apprehension, even if they can't pinpoint why they have it. Phaedra Starling, guest blogging on Shapely Prose, describes it very well (search for Schrodinger's Rapist).

    Posted by sabend January 27, 10 02:12 PM
  1. I don't think we're getting any ruder, just more oblivious. I still think the vast majority of people aim to be nice to their fellow people. I've worked in customer service for eons and even there the vast majority of people are nice. There's the ugly 5-10%, and they deserve no quarter imo, but most customers are trying to be agreeable in their own way.

    People are getting hung up on superficialities. I don't care if someone leaves a hat on. They're not doing it to be offensive. Nor do I care about "No problem" vs "You're welcome." The intent is the same, and it's boorish to complain about it. I don't care if a cashier doesn't chat me up or say thank you, I hate small talk and don't need to be thanked for doing what I had to do. Now if I'm buying luxury items, then yeah, send a thank you my way. But I go grocery shopping at the same place every two weeks out of necessity and don't require the ego stroking from the underpaid staff who know they're replaceable.

    Most people, though, try to be decent, but we're in a period of rapid change. Someone above hates when people don't leave voice mails. I hate when people do. I don't want to spend all that time to listen to them. Text me and be done with it. Cell phones and texting just sort of appeared on the scene without an established social standard for use, so people aren't being rude, they're being oblivious. They didn't grow up with these devices, no social rules were beaten into them when they were kids re: them, and so we had etiquette anarchy. Now there are some social standards - not using them in theaters, texting while driving generally considered stupid - and I find most people adhere to them. The texting walker stands out as a bit of a dope. So does the loud talker on his cell on the T.

    I think it's status quo - most people are nice most of the time.

    Posted by Ridley January 27, 10 02:16 PM
  1. I like coffeesnob's comment about working in a tourist town. You can really go off on a tangent about the ways we behave when we are "out of our comfort zone" and/or in a place where no one knows us. It can be very revealing of the real you - or maybe just an alternate you that only comes out to play occasionally.

    BTW, this is a great topic, lots of room for discussion w/o a definitive answer.

    Posted by floridagirl25 January 27, 10 02:27 PM
  1. I think the one thing we can all agree on is that every generation thinks the one that follows it is ruder than their generation was. Whether this is actually the case isn't possible to determine objectively, but my personal feeling is that we've been in decline from day one. After all, Adam and Eve may have started off as perfectly polite, civilized people, but in the very next generation, there was a murder. I can't think of any less polite thing to do to a person than kill him, can you?

    Posted by Ashley January 27, 10 02:28 PM
  1. So many good comments. I have to say I think there is a combination of a lot of things going on in this day and age, a lot of which have been mentioned. Meanwhile, every generation thinks the previous generation is rude, lazy and horrible--now we just get to see it all on tv and comment on every little thing on the internet.
    •There is a lot of self-centeredness going on--in all age groups. We've all been behind the person yapping away on their cell phone while driving 5 miles an hour while also looking for a street sign and I think that person comes in all ages.
    • People are paranoid and defensive and not just in obvious ways. Everyone assumes the customer service rep is not going to help you, so they start out on the defensive.
    •People confuse tradition with etiquette (take for example a frequent question from wedding etiquette boards--my bridesmaids are so rude, they aren’t throwing me a shower? Why hasn’t so and so sent me a present?).
    •Other cultural norms do seem to throw people for a very negative loop. Or even if you think you are using the correct norm, you can still insult someone (I hate when people call me…Miss, Ma’am, Ms., Mrs. Why do my kid’s friends call me Mrs. Jones? Why do my kid’s friends call me Sue? Why are you calling them kids, they are children).
    •People always seem to want a snarky comeback to some perceived rudeness. Read any etiquette advice column. Some of the perceived rudeness isn’t even rude.
    •People seem to have trouble communicating in person. They take offense where none is intended. The most simple question (have you set a wedding date?) or innocuous comment (3 babies under 3, you must be busy) is met with anger and defensiveness and the desire for something snappy to say to teach that person a lesson (see previous).

    My last point leads to what I think is a huge issue that we need to learn how to deal with it and that is our many passive aggressive forms of communication. The very device we are all sitting at and communicating through allows us to say things we would never say in person. It’s easier to confront someone on face book or in a text message. I think most people are really uncomfortable with face to face communication anyway—and the less we do it, the harder it will become.

    Posted by ash January 27, 10 02:36 PM
  1. One observation of mine is that people are often very rude on blogs / e-mail / facebook. I think it must be the perceived (and real sometimes) anonymity of the medium. Since the internet is a new and often used technology, it makes it seem as though people are being rude more often in general. However, outside of cyber space, I think people are the same as they've been since I was young, and likely since before.

    We all like to remember the "good old days" with rose colored glasses. But generally the good old days were just like today, and the people back then were also complaining about the good old days...

    Posted by bv January 27, 10 02:46 PM
  1. @Lynn Johnson, so you're suggesting your reaction to this "passive aggressiveness" is a justified ? That we are each entitled to meet out judgment for perceived slights? When do you draw the line - it's OK to tell the cashier the service in her store is terrible because you think she secretly did it on purpose, is it OK to follow the guy on the highway who cut you off for 5 miles, leaning on the horn and screaming obscenities out the window?

    I think Noel said it best: "Handling the rudeness of others with grace is the key to being the master of social niceties. Take it in stride. Kill them with kindness. And, most importantly, LET IT GO!"

    What you describe sounds more like paranoia than passive aggression.

    Posted by Q January 27, 10 02:52 PM
  1. Now that we've confirmed the sad state of our society, may I offer a remedy? Be the person who calls instead of emails. Who thanks people for their time and their good work. Who sends a hand written note once in a while. Who waves on the other driver. Who acknowledges the other driver who waved you on with a friendly gesture. Who greets people by name. Who turns off the cell phone in the movie theater or restaurant. Who stops talking after the trailers.
    Imagine if every person who responded today did these things. What would be left to complain about?

    Posted by Melissa January 27, 10 03:38 PM
  1. Lots of interesting and thoughtful responses from respondents -- many due, no doubt, to experiencing rudeness frequently in their daily lives.

    In the United States, it's indisputable that we encounter more rudeness in service situations than years ago. The surly, disinterested young person at the checkout counter has become a stereotype.

    In Soviet Russia, the idea of "polite service" could not be found in the dictionary. You had to steel yourself before walking into the bread store or pharmacy. I don't know whether that's changed.

    Lots of Americans complain about "rude Parisians." One acquaintance said she "came back in tears" at how rude people were to her in Paris. But our experience in multiple trips to Paris has taught us a cultural (and socio-economic) lesson: Parisians are appalled by how many Americans (and Brits, too) behave in public situations. First of all, we don't follow their *very* consistent practice of greeting others with "Bonjour, Monsieur" or "Bonjour, Madame." (Most service jobs in France -- waiter/waitress is a good example -- are professions, not jobs that you will soon be liberated from.)

    Following the French example, I now *always* begin any interaction in the States with "Good Morning" (or whatever) -- even though this greeting is less polite than the comparable French greeting.

    But, most importantly, whether in France, Russia, or the USA, you can *dramatically* improve the response you get in service situations with a smile and polite behavior ... from you. Or on a call to Customer Support, begin the call with, "I know you're not personally responsible for my problem, but I'm really upset." And then explain as calmly as possible why.

    The impact in both cases is often remarkable. Except for that complete idiot in Home Depot who ... Oh, never mind.

    Posted by Gramps January 27, 10 03:52 PM
  1. I've been especially focused on rudeness or incivility at work.
    Being rude to people with whom you work every day seems very dysfunctional. And I have found in every large organization, workgroups where thoughtless, snarky, or even abusive words are exchanged regularly.

    Why do people act this way?
    1. Leadership: bad leaders act this way, employees follow.
    2. Group culture: it's the way we do things here.
    3. Mindsets: I'm nasty when under pressure, so live with it.

    This isn't the whole story, but it's a start. And my experience has been that a workgroup can decide to turn it around.

    Posted by Michael Leiter January 27, 10 04:23 PM
  1. "I can't think of any less polite thing to do to a person than kill him, can you? "

    Sure...after all homicide can be impersonal (shrug)...but presuming everyone else shares the same politics or other beliefs enough to make offhand remarks acceptable or to ring their doorbell...well that kills me ;-)

    BTW the poster mentioning service professions being dealt with rudely by customers gave me a flashback to the breakfast fast food scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Dennis sure didn't side with Brad...but then Brad flipped out on the customer who berated him). Seemed plausible in 1982 (my HS senior year) so maybe customer sense of entitlement and rude worker reaction aren't so new.
    I still find most all retailers are as nice to me when I'm pleasant with them - it's not rocket science....and remeber - If I am here, and you are here that makes it "our" time (grins)

    Posted by jonnyquesttoo January 27, 10 04:28 PM
  1. @Robin Abrahams

    Telling me to read Alexis de Tocqueville, or anything for that matter, is a thinly-veiled attempt to deflect the gist of what I said in my earlier post. I don't need or want to read Alexis de Tocqueville's eurocentric account of what he saw here in the nineteenth century, particularly since he was looking through the lens of a highly judgmental and subjective French culture. You should read Mark Twain.

    Posted by footballrules January 27, 10 05:29 PM
  1. Customer service, more often than not, works along the programming principle of "Garbage in, garbage out."

    Discounting the 5-10% of the population that has its dials set permanently to "jerk," customer service reps want to help. I mean, giving you what you want is the easiest way to get rid of you. We're pretty understanding if you're upset over a legitimate gripe, since we usually hate the company even more than you do, but don't look so surprised when we respond negatively to your abuse. I get paid to help you, not silently suffer verbal haranguing. If you start the call/e-mail/conversation off with insults, I'm going to purposely waylay you. I'm going to transfer you to the wrong department, not work a loophole I know could help you or just hang up on you.

    If you say "Hello" and start off nice, treating us like the college-educated human beings we are, we'll do pretty much whatever we can to hook you up. I even break rules for nice callers. I'd much prefer to help people. I like to help. But, I'm not going to reward abusive behavior by giving you what you want.

    Rudeness begets rudeness.

    Posted by Ridley January 27, 10 06:04 PM
  1. @footballrules--I recommended de Tocqueville because I thought you'd like him, based on your comment #49 in which you said: "For example, the points that people have made about the cultural differences between England, France, Spain, and the United States of America illustrate how England, France, and Spain were empires in the past, but now are mainly democratic countries, where people sometimes let the past determine people's behavior in the present while still struggling to accept the present." deT. is all about differences in behavior between aristocratic countries (England), countries that became democratic by revolt (France) and a country that was "born" democratic (America). I don't know why you seem to be offended; it was no intent to "deflect," but simply a recommendation. I give advice, you know. It's my job.

    Posted by Robin Abrahams Author Profile Page January 27, 10 06:22 PM
  1. Man, you find this everywhere lately, and It's very easy to let it perpetuate itself. Although I'll still hold a door until I'm blue in the mouth, I've become a cold hearted son of a bitch.

    But I do believe that there is something to putting people back in the equation, as Melissa has noted above. It sure feels like a post modern world out there, our connection to eachother is less and less personal and we overlook some of the things that used to cultivate relationships.. like a friendly voice on the telephone, or a note that was written, sealed, stamped, and sent just for you! Maybe when you feel most human you can act most human, and maybe it's the type of decision that lends itself to reciprocation.

    I am sure I lack the constitution to start this trend, however, as the layer of ice around my aorta is seemingly impenetrable.

    Posted by robtriestousehishead January 27, 10 06:31 PM
  1. Here’s another thought on the way we communicate. I do think the cell phone does contribute significantly the perceived increase in rudeness today. I mean really, do people need signs to know that you should put your cell phone away when the receptionist at your doctor’s office is trying to check you in; when they are ordering coffee at Dunkin Donuts; or when you are waiting for the curtain to rise at a theatre. The cell phone gives people an inflated sense of self importance and urgency. Combined with its inherent convenience, people can’t help themselves.
    The other thought I had was regarding these so called “random acts of kindness”. As I was adding money to my Charlie Card, I thought how excited people would get if I told them I had put $5 in the machine but instead of adding it to my card, left it for someone else. I think people miss out on daily kindnesses that you should just do because it’s the right thing (holding the door for the person behind you) and over do it on something that is completely unnecessary to civility because it just seems so magnificent.

    Posted by ash January 27, 10 06:54 PM
  1. Re: People not giving up seats on the T these days. Back in the mid-80s, I was riding a very, very old car on the commuter rail. The car was so old that dirty water from melted snow was sloshing back and forth on the floor. Standing in front of me--because all the seats were occupied--was a heavily pregnant woman. Not a single person in that car offered her a seat, despite her clear discomfort. In my memory, any number of them hid behind their newspapers, dodging eye contact.

    That was pretty much a whole generation ago. So it's not just nowadays.

    As for it being more rude now than before, I don't know. I do think the rules aren't as clear. When I was a kid, my parents used to be complimented on my and my siblings' manners, so at one point I clearly knew what to do. These days, I'm not always sure. And that's just one thread.

    Posted by KatyC January 27, 10 07:25 PM
  1. rudeness?
    After years of unprecedented wealth in a global boom (too bad north Americans STILL don’t understand the long term affects of all those cheap Chinese goods) the current crop, who was 10 and haven’t known any desire to be unobtainable… well the current shock has been that these last two years are also showing a “bust” ….

    I think it has something to do with this…

    I was at my alma matter when I listened in shock to a third year student have a discussion with skeleton staff and her entire vocabulary consisted of the F word… over and over… she couldn’t believe that all of her desires couldn’t be immediately met… the final group of baby boomer kids are working their way through the system and it isn’t pretty…

    Way to go ... this is the second generation in a row that has been brought up SPOILED...

    Finally, apparently there is a comment about H&R Block… but this is an American column, and I can’t vouch for H&R Block franchises in America… But I’ll do my best for customer service in Calgary, Canada…

    Posted by Martijn Koldijk January 28, 10 03:29 AM
  1. @wwsuzi - "The conversation then devolved into "How do you know when someone is pregnant or just fat?"."

    My question is what difference does it make? Is it more polite to offer your seat to a pregnant woman than a fat woman? If you offer and they turn you down, you weren't less polite than you were before you asked. (Well, unless you comment on their size, which is a completely different story.)

    Posted by Eeeeka January 28, 10 08:58 AM
  1. @Robin Abrahams

    I'm not offended by being told to read Alexis de Tocqueville. I'm offended by your dismissive remarks without addressing the issue of ageism, which is what I described in the post that I mentioned. Your commenting about being an "advice-giver" only plays all the more to the part of you seeing yourself in terms that are patently ageist. That's why I said that politeness or rudeness often fits the bill with this social ill.

    Posted by footballrules January 28, 10 09:09 AM
  1. I tend to take the passive aggressive approach to 'accepting' rudeness. Maybe that causes people to be MORE angry? Maybe its rude for me to do it in retaliation? Probably. My favorite move, is after the door slams into my face, I walk through it and say "Thank You!" with a smile on my face. Or when a plugged in person slams into me I LOVE to say "Oops, sorry! Forgot to take my invisibilty cloak off". Sometimes the other person chuckles and apologizes, some just give me a dirty look.

    But if I dont add humor to it, the person may not take a second to think what they're doing is unacceptable. And more importantly, it doesn't turn me into the Hulk.

    By the way, I was raised by 2 Baby Boomers (low/middle class if you're curious), and the rudest and impatient people I have EVER met. I'm sometimes embarrassed to go out into public, especially shopping. She has zero filters. My Grandmother, the worst of the worse. I love them, and accept them, but I still chime in to tell them to be quiet when needed. SO perhaps if we dont like what our loved ones are doing, we should be confident enough to tell them what they're doing is rude. Because you can not do that with strangers!

    So, I make a conscious effort not to behave like the people I was raised by. I stand on the train and bus (an hour and 45 minutes of standing), even when there are some seat available, I never want to be gauffed at for being a 'young rude whippersnapper". Plus, did you know you can burn an extra 50+ calories an hour just standing on the train/bus?

    The easiest way to get over the rudeness, is just accept it and dont repeat it. The more negative energy you put in the universe, the longer it lingers around. We live in a city of diversity, its not going change overnight. Try not to take it so personally, because you know you didn't do anything to put this person in a bad mood.

    And I'll end with a story: Last week, downtown crossing store, waited in line for 30minutes to be rung up. Got to the register and a younger whippersnapper who just walked into the store, literally stepped in front of me to ask the clerk a series of questions, over and over, and the clerk tried to answer him quickly, but young whippersnapper wanted more detail, making the clerk stop what he was doing, which was ringing me up. So finally I said, "I waited in line for 30 minutes for this purchase, you'll need to do the same". And YW started swearing and raising his voice at ME. At that point, I was SO appalled that someone would push me out of the way then YELL and swear at me! So i stood my ground and said "Excuse me, dont you DARE cuss at me!" He immediately apologized over and over, and the entire store was looking at him. Embarrassed, he left the store.

    This time... i took the aggressive approach. :)

    Posted by urbankiwi January 28, 10 09:15 AM
  1. Hoss nailed it. And whats the point of this discussion if you edit out comments that you make you uneasy? Shouldn't someone other than you moderate this?

    The concept of rudeness varies between cultures. Overall, having lived among and travelled to other cultures, I think Americans are way more sensitive and mature in their social interactions.

    Posted by swati kelkar January 28, 10 10:03 AM
  1. Some more responses--

    @Terri Guilano Long--Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. We are a tribal species and it is very hard to get people to behave well to those outside the "tribe." Your point about accountability, too, reminds me of a friend who had moved around a lot during her life, but had settled and had a daughter, and was very struck by the fact that her actions around town would be remembered, and would affect her daughter's social life and ability to get engaged in town activities as well. She'd never lived with that kind of accountability before, and it really stunned her at first.

    @Sabend, the link you were referring to is here, and it is a great one:

    @ash--"People seem to have trouble communicating in person. They take offense where none is intended. The most simple question (have you set a wedding date?) or innocuous comment (3 babies under 3, you must be busy) is met with anger and defensiveness and the desire for something snappy to say to teach that person a lesson (see previous). I think most people are really uncomfortable with face to face communication anyway—and the less we do it, the harder it will become." I agree; I never fail to be astonished at the questions that people will take as insults! And I do think that the flip side of rudeness is shyness or social anxiety or whatever you want to call it. It seems as though there are some people who will angrily assert themselves given the slightest chance, while others can barely bring themselves to ask you to pass the salt. It's as though we're afraid that any impingement on another person, no matter how innocuous, might receive a violent response.

    @Melissa--"Be the person who calls instead of emails. Who thanks people for their time and their good work. Who sends a hand written note once in a while. Who waves on the other driver. Who acknowledges the other driver who waved you on with a friendly gesture. Who greets people by name. Who turns off the cell phone in the movie theater or restaurant. Who stops talking after the trailers. Imagine if every person who responded today did these things. What would be left to complain about?" The fact that I'd be out of a job? I'd be complaining! But you are right--and what you recommend isn't only kindness, it will make you happier. Doing nice things for other people, sappy as it sounds, really does trigger our reward systems.

    @Gramps--Your entire point was good, but I really want to lift this up: "Most service jobs in France -- waiter/waitress is a good example -- are professions, not jobs that you will soon be liberated from." I wish we hadn't gotten onto customer service, because that should really have its own topic, but whatever. As long as we are discussing it, I think that's an excellent point. It's a two-way street: people in service professions should be treated as professionals, and should see and conduct themselves that way as well. If you keep thinking of your day job as beneath you, something you're doing until you get your *real* job, well, you aren't going to do it very well. (Nor, for that matter, are you going to unionize, because you don't want to acknowledge that this is where you're going to be for a long time.)

    @ash 117--Wow, I'm fascinated by the conjunction of rudeness/random acts of kindness. (Me like paradoxes!) You might be on to something there. I will say one thing about Americans--we are a country that tends to go overboard on things.

    @footballrules--I'm sorry we seem to keep talking past each other, but the fact is I haven't been able to quite understand the point you're making in some of your posts. I'm not dismissing them--I'm just not understanding what's bothering you. Yes, I'm opposed to ageism.

    @urbankiwi--You're like a ninja of courtesy!

    @swatikelkar--Can you give an example or two of why you find Americans more sensitive and mature?

    Posted by Robin Abrahams Author Profile Page January 28, 10 11:22 AM
  1. If you just treat others the way you want to be treated, things get better fast. It really works.

    Posted by AguaCaliente January 28, 10 11:57 AM
  1. @AugaCaliente, exactly! You receive what you "put" out there. I totally agree with you.

    Posted by JD January 28, 10 12:19 PM
  1. Was there ever a better time with less rudeness? I have been and will be forever grateful to my 6th grade teacher (this would be 40 years ago --ouch!) who suddenly, in the middle of our lesson one day, walked straight into the cluster of 4 desks in front of her, scattering desks and my classmates in all directions. In the stunned silence that followed, she challenged us to either be human beings in our lives or bulldozers, uncaring about who and what we walked into or through. I loved my 6th grade class and experienced it as friendly and supportive, but obviously we fell short of her expectations for us.

    I wish that every kid could have that experience at some point in their lives. Meanwhile, although I often remind myself that I live in a world that not too long ago considered women extremely rude for wanting to vote, speaking in public, insisting on equal pay for equal work, and for opposing sexual harassment -- and considered gay and lesbian people rude simply for existing! -- and I'm extremely glad that the rules have changed, I am also saddened that we have become so unkind to each other in so many ways. Life is short and we all have too much to do, so it seems to me that our fewer and fewer experiences of real-time, face-to-face interactions with others should be more considered and precious, not less.

    So how do we as people break down the barriers that should be broken, yet still create community and connection? Does embracing diversity make it impossible?

    Posted by JP Gal January 28, 10 01:45 PM
  1. AguaCaliente (#125) and JD (#126): How I wish it were true! I'm a fastidious dog owner, but that doesn't stop other dog owners from leaving their dog's poop on my yard. I would never swear or spit in public, or talk during a concert or movie, or fight with anyone on my cell phone anywhere!, yet people do these things around me all the time. The challenge is how to keep on keeping on when it feels like no one else is -- and maybe you're a chump to let that car go in front of you (damn, they just took the last parking space!), or give up your place in line for someone who turns out to be the person who wants to argue with the cashier.

    Posted by JP Gal January 28, 10 02:00 PM
  1. Couldn't help but notice the stunning illustration of the decline of civility - on national tv, DURING the State of the Union address. The slouching, eye-rolling, smirking, passing of notes, scooting across aisles to whisper behind hands, folding of arms, spraddling of legs, and so on - well, all I can think is they had to act out "You're not the boss of ME!" for the cameras. There also seemed to be lots of derisive muttering going on while the President was speaking - but carefully nothing as distinct as Joe Wilson's "You lie!" Oh, and the cheerleading and high-fiving? Wrong venue.
    All of these rude behaviors pissed me off. The Joint Chiefs acted like adults; most of the Justices acted like adults; why couldn't the Senators and Congresspeople act like the adults we elected them to be? You may not respect the person, but respect the Presidency. And for crying out loud, don't assume that you'll continue to be elected so many times that you can disregard any one State of the Union speech!
    Remember, We (the people) ARE the boss of you - and we don't like your tone or your attitude.

    Posted by Ajay January 28, 10 02:47 PM
  1. I don't know if I just notice people being rude more often. People seem more self-absorbed, more self-important and less willing to be helpful and/or friendly.
    Going to the mall is a nightmare, families of 15 taking up the entire walkway, walking slowly, no one stays to the right, rather walk straight into you than walk around, people stopping in the middle of the isles so everyone ELSE has to move around them. I'm not talking about teenagers either. Parents with their 4-wheel drive carriages all over the place, everyone else should make room for them, also with their screaming children in grocery stores or restaurants, oblivious. Can't generalize, it seems like everyone. Common courtesy, not very common any more. It's sad.

    Posted by C January 28, 10 04:34 PM
  1. @C Your comment struck a chord with me, but probably not in the way you'd hoped. I've noticed a distinct lack of civility toward families, which sometimes becomes full blown hostility, especially on the web. I read your comment that way, but maybe I misread your comment.

    Posted by bv January 28, 10 05:34 PM
  1. More people, more cars on the road, more expensive cost of living, more government regulations, more taxes, more technology that takes socializing out of the equation - all of these factors have caused people to be ruder over the past couple of generations. Today's parents just plop their kids in front of a video game or tv and that is how tomorrow's adults are being raised.

    Posted by toycannon January 28, 10 08:26 PM
  1. Admittedly, getting THROUGH to Customer Service can be trying, but I've found that when I do get through and open the dialogue with, "I'm sorry to bother you, but I have a problem, and I'm not sure if you can help..." the person on the other end almost invariably seems eager to do so. And if they can't resolve the issue, my next step is, "Could I maybe talk to a manager and see if there's anything he or she can do?" and then restart the conversation with the manager in the same way, noting the the previous representative couldn't help, but there must be something YOU can do.I've gotten a lot of good results

    Posted by Randy in Boston January 29, 10 09:24 AM
  1. Rudest thing I have seen in a long time in SS yesterday. Train was late, so the platform was packed at boarding. A young women started to cut between people every chance she saw a little opening. She stepped on a woman's foot who was in a walking cast. Poor lady was not in good shape to begin with. She did say sorry but kept darting between people. I should have called her out on that.

    I was on crutches for two weeks and only encountered one cluless person who was jogging in Downtown Crossing (because the esplanade is so crowded with picnicers I guess) and cut between me and two other people and jumped over my crutch.

    I always offer my seat to a preganant woman, handicapped and elderly. Once I insisted. The pregnant woman acted like she was proving a point and declined the seat. Another time the woman was not pregnant. I embarrassed her and I am sure everyone else was embarassed for both of us.

    I stopped holding the door open for women (just because they are women) along time ago though. One workplace the women made it clear that we were all equals. I only do it as a matter of convenience anymore. i.e. two people trying to get through at the same time or people with suitcases etc.

    If I get adequate customer service I ALWAYS say "thank you" and "you have been very helpful" then hang up before they can sell me the "special promotion"

    Posted by george white January 29, 10 11:18 AM
  1. @Robin Abrahams

    I don't know if you're aware of this or not, but we're posting messages to a blog that has your name on it. We're not talking, so your remark about how we're "talking past" each other doesn't say much of anything, not to mention being somewhat of a term that really is void of meaning. We're communicating through the internet with a considerable amount of lag time, which significantly changes the way that we communicate.

    Saying that you're "opposed to ageism" is as pointless as me telling you or anyone else that I'm opposed to anything that anyone could possibly consider offensive. What that doesn't do is tell anyone the truth about what you're doing here. It's a total cop out on your part. I find most of the discussion here to be revealing a great deal of ageism when people remark about how so-and-so did such-and-such, while reserving such comments to this forum, where there's not much that can be done. If people were to make such comments to the person or people who cause these grievances in real life rather than through your blog on the website, then this could make a difference. Otherwise, it comes across as people complaining and griping about anything under the sun. Avoiding topics of importance, like ageism, only encourages this kind of behavior.

    Posted by footballrules January 29, 10 04:22 PM
  1. If by ruder you mean less refined, then yes. If you mean less polite, then no. Language and manners are coarser. People wear their hearts on their sleeve. The first name basis is assumed. Talking heads have become Shouting Over Each Other's Heads. Formal dignity and decorum are not touted; informality, familiarity and "kidding" are. A Congressman catcalls the President of the United States during a speech. The President insults the Supreme Court to their face in his State of the Union address, sullying his formal constitutional duty with extra-constitutional wishful thinking. Why would the public not follow its exemplars?

    We are often unconscious in our behavior, isolated behind iPods, iPhones, living an iLife with virtual sociality, remote contact with our familiars more important than here and now physical presence. Otherwise, how could we bump into people on the street while on the phone, or look away from guiding the path of our hurtling, 60 mph ton of metal to answer the phone. or, more incredibly, post a note. Even our jargon encourages a casual attitude. We call it "texting". Sound innocuous. Call it what it is, writing and mailing a note, and you better understand why you shouldn't drive while you do it.

    However, when folks are paying attention, I find most to be polite, even if not refined in their manners. The magic words of "Please" and "Thank you" can still be evoked, and "May I help you?" has not disappeared. When the blizzards and ice storms come, neighbors check up on and help each other out. We are still a generous people.

    We just need better example.

    Posted by Robert E Kelly January 29, 10 05:43 PM
  1. I've just caught up on this fascinating conversation.

    * General interactions. I've found that your own attitude often gets mirrored back when interacting at a checkout or whereever - especially true with smiles etc. Very often you can take out what you put in. I had a fascinating conversation with my boyfriend a little while back about if someone is unnecessarily short with us or takes an unnecessary tone with us. Generally our reaction is to take that tone and shortness personally and want to be hostile. So often it isn't, but the escalation is already there. When this happens, I've taken to saying sympathetically - 'I hope your day gets better'. I've had very good reactions to this. When I told my boyfriend, his immediate response was that it seemed condescending. After talking a bit about it, he wasn't sure. But now I'm not sure! My boyfriend has very good radar and although my intent isn't condescending if that's his gut reaction perhaps it comes across that way. I'm now in two minds now on that one.

    * On tribalism - one of the frustrations people have is those who ignore or take advantage of polite behavior. There's a pushmepullyou in effect. We get upset at the people who zoom along the ignoring the merge sign and then push their way in ahead of a lot of people. There's no consequence for this bad behavior, but we remember it and don't let in someone who is trying to merge ... and in some instances might have made a genuine mistake. I think this is easier when people do feel accountable to a community - they're less lightly to do the things that are unfair. But when there is no consequence these small outrages fester and then escalate.

    Posted by AntoniaB January 29, 10 05:47 PM
  1. I've just caught up on this fascinating conversation.

    * General interactions. I've found that your own attitude often gets mirrored back when interacting at a checkout or whereever - especially true with smiles etc. Very often you can take out what you put in. I had a fascinating conversation with my boyfriend a little while back about if someone is unnecessarily short with us or takes an unnecessary tone with us. Generally our reaction is to take that tone and shortness personally and want to be hostile. So often it isn't, but the escalation is already there. When this happens, I've taken to saying sympathetically - 'I hope your day gets better'. I've had very good reactions to this. When I told my boyfriend, his immediate response was that it seemed condescending. After talking a bit about it, he wasn't sure. But now I'm not sure! My boyfriend has very good radar and although my intent isn't condescending if that's his gut reaction perhaps it comes across that way. I'm now in two minds now on that one.

    * On tribalism - one of the frustrations people have is those who ignore or take advantage of polite behavior. There's a pushmepullyou in effect. We get upset at the people who zoom along the ignoring the merge sign and then push their way in ahead of a lot of people. There's no consequence for this bad behavior, but we remember it and don't let in someone who is trying to merge ... and in some instances might have made a genuine mistake. I think this is easier when people do feel accountable to a community - they're less lightly to do the things that are unfair. But when there is no consequence these small outrages fester and then escalate.

    Posted by AntoniaB January 29, 10 06:34 PM
  1. I whole heartedly agree with Louise's post in #94. This Miss Conduct Blog and Robin's thoughtful, respectful posts are a breath of fresh air for the Globe.

    Thanks for culling out the Love Letters Blog riff-raff (bitter, angry Hoss). And yes, there is an epidenic of rudeness. Sad but true. To combat it, just "be the kindness you want to see in the world". Wise words to live by.

    Posted by Ellen January 29, 10 07:21 PM
  1. Mary Ellen (post #9): You said it all, sister! Lovely. And dead-on accurate.

    Put your Blackberries down, people. Please! For the love of all that is good and holy.

    Life and peace and empathy for your fellow man is what's passing you by while you're busy texting and being a cyber-drone.

    Posted by OffTheGridGirl January 29, 10 09:19 PM
  1. Wanted to add a coupla things...

    (1.) Robin, I so admire everything about you -- your wit, writing style, conduct savvy, etc. And while Hoss' use of the word "obnoxious" is a bit much, I have to say I'm surprised you'd cut him/her out of the discussion. I think you'd welcome such a completely left-field opinion on what it is we do here. Perhaps some schooling in this blog is all that's needed? Personally, I think it's edgy to keep people on who "question authority."


    (2.) Regarding the whole rudeness epidemic...I just want to throw it out there that we now live in a society where some entitled socialite or rich girl makes a raunchy sex tape with her boyfriend, intended to be "private," it gets leaked to the public, and suddenly these, ahem, ladies are catapulted into celebrity-dom, worshipped and admired by scores of young, impressionable girls. I just feel like our priorities are so far out of whack that people think they can get away with anything...or they simply don't care about the consequences of their actions. And it's simply trickled down to the Everyman.

    Basically...where are we going and why are we in this handbasket???

    Posted by OffTheGridGirl January 29, 10 10:12 PM
  1. I'm coming late to the party and I wanted to second OffTheGridGirl's first point in comment 141. I believe Hoss intended to start a dialog and by simply removing his voice and opinion from your blog, Robin you are practicing outright, overt censorship. This is hardly the behavior expected of a blogger. Are you afraid of the dialog, offended by the comment, or just intolerant of divergent opinion? Ironically your opening paragraph states that you want this to become "more and more a conversation ground" (I suspect you have the Love Letters success in mind) but then you promptly stifle the first voice that calls you out. I think THAT's pretty rude honestly. Now will I be banned from your online chat too?

    Posted by JBar January 30, 10 02:51 PM
  1. Well said, JBar.

    Miss Manners, this has become a rather partisan discussion, hasn't it? I don't always agree with Hoss in this and other forums, but as an "American" I appreciate his straightforward and candid perspective. He is not a troll, nor a harasser, and was hardly inappropriate in his statement. If he was, I doubt you would have printed his comment in the first place.

    I think you've mistaken outspoken with rudeness, Robin. I am not interested in reading a blog moderated by someone who considers them the one in the same.

    And I sincerely hope you don't find this rude.

    Posted by The Oft' Rude, But Presently Candid, Sally January 31, 10 07:26 PM
  1. Did someone just call me riff-raff? How rude. I find the Miss Manners crew to be earnest and kind. I may not be cut from the same cloth, but I would never call you guys names.

    Posted by Sally January 31, 10 08:46 PM
  1. I mean Miss Conduct. My bad.

    Posted by Sally February 1, 10 09:58 AM
  1. This is funny. An epidemic of rudeness and yet Ellen calls everyone on the LL blog "riff-raff". Why hello kettle, my name is pot. How have you been?

    Oh wait, you must mean that when people are rude to you its bad but when you're rude and degrading a ton of people its ok. Sorry Ellen. Go back to fixing your tiara.

    Posted by Dread27 February 1, 10 04:37 PM
  1. Before I begin, I would like to address a few generalizations?

    -The 'Southern politeness' thing may be a tad exaggerated. I have friends who had to move South (for financial and work reasons) who tell me stories of, for example, store patrons stepping over a fellow customer who had collapsed to the floor, to demand to know why they weren't being wated on. (Hint: they were trying to obtain help for the man on the floor.)

    There are line-cutters, back-talkers and snobs everywhere. People are not inherently more-polite just because of where they hail from.

    I seem to recall there was a Globe Magazine article- perhaps one of Ms Abrahams'- describing the 'New England virtues'. They may not be Southern Hospitality or Minnesota Nice, but pretending they don't exist is just foolish.

    -In a book I read on how visitors could adjust better to French culture, I remember the 'magic words' to getting things done were, essentially "Pardon me, but I have a problem..." (with the implication that everything that follows is-

    1) taking up someone's time (which is always true, even if they're paid. Seriously- paid, underpaid, or not-at-all paid, someone's spending a portion of their lifespan on this.)
    2) not a direct accusation (as in the "You people screwed up!" mode)
    3) an invitation to show how good you are- either in competence or just, you know, as a person.

    (Having been at customer service forever, I can say you might be amazed how often people are discouraged from doing great work by either a lack of anyone 'higher up' noticing, caring or rewarding it, or customers coming in with a self-fulfilling prophecy of expected bad service.)

    I find it works here, too. Try it, or some variation on it, next time you're charging the Customer Service desk for a bit of justice. It works!

    -Anyone who thinks the recent past was somehow more courtly is, to me, wearing rose-tinted, 20/20 Hindsightvision 2010s. If you were of the dominant sex, skin-tone, religion, nationality, social class and had money (not always the same thing), yes. If you're certain you'd be treated nicely in, say, Victorian times (the benchmark for a lot of ettiquette experts), you should read more history and less literature. Start with Dickens' opinion of Americans, if you need a gentle transition.

    (I suspect "Mad Men" will do for people who think of the recent past as okeydoke fine for women, in terms of treatment. I'm not a woman, but I'd trade not having the door held for not having strangers call me "honeybunch" or what-have-you.)

    Right. Now to the 'meat'

    -I think a lot our problem is that rudeness is not only NOT censured, but essentially rewarded. Rude, impatient, obnoxious people get what they want! (If only out of people wanting them out of their homes/stores/lives as quickly as possible.). If that doesn't work, start making veiled references to lawsuits.

    For unhappy commuters, this is especially blatant. Aside from the occasional person who goes too far and gets noticed, 'Everyday rude' people get better seats on trains, better 'positions' in trafffic- where they're going- faster.

    I'm not sure how we'd do it, but rewarding politeness and stigmatizing rudeness can only help.

    -I think a lot can be traced to the utter lack of formality in many people's lives. For a lot of us, "Mister (surname)" is something you rarely get called, unless you're either in some kind of jam or you insist on it in the Tibbsian fashion. It's all first-name or no-reference-at-all. (Also forget being called 'sir' or 'ma'am'- you just sort of get called 'you'.)

    This is part of our American egalitarianism... except when we want to show even more "just folks here" spirit, we have nowhere to go. Nicknames? "Dude"? And if we mean to drop formality in a show of disapproval... well, THEN it gets colorful.

    -Despite what I said about 'the old days', I genuinely feel for people who grew up in the era where old people got tons more deference, only to grow old in an era where the rules changed, and there's hardly any. It must feel like you paid for a service you didn't recieve.

    -Agreed that customer service is a different thing, perhaps for another day. (There's not THAT much common ground between "Four star hotel front-desk" customer service, "IT over the phone" customer service and "clerk at CVS" customer service, for example.)

    -Some people think of 'ettiquette' as doilies, thank you notes, and the right fork. That's why I like this column- it's practical, and it encourages you to think in terms of a skill. Living with other people (whether in an urban or small-town setting) is a skill. A lot of people never acquire it, or (worse) fail to see the benefit if you can bull-charge (or the other bull) your way through, instead.

    Or even worse, they fail to see the other person AS another person. Thinking of people as something to be "processed", "shop-drones", "whippersnappers", and so on allows you to think of them as an item, not a person. And all sorts of unpleasantness comes out of that.

    -I agree that coarseness is a problem. So are 'boundaries'. Unfortunately, it's a crime with many culprits:
    Technology is one (it simultaneously makes us 'intimate' while being impersonal).
    The way we reward people on both the personal level (the 'rudeness award') or culturally ("famous for being famous" people who are essentially sideshow acts) is another.
    The sense that "this is more important!" is another- which rapidly goes from "My cause is more important" to "My getting out of here faster is more important" to a general "I am more important." (With reasons supplied or not).

    Unfortunately, I don't have a solution to any of these besides liberal applications of "get over yourself" to the latter two and a "these are people, not machines" to the first.

    In conclusion, I don't think Americans are inherently any ruder than any other nationality. We're polite enough- our way. If you come from a place where you are accorded a ton of deference for your social station, some of what we do can come off as impertinent. If you're from a culture that doesn't value directness, we come off as blunt.

    In any case, thanks for starting this discussion. It's easy to say "we're not perfect- who is?", but that doesn't absolve us from trying to improve things.


    Posted by Ted February 1, 10 05:03 PM
  1. Dread27, the way I read Ellen's comment is that she's referring to Hoss as "riff-raff," not calling the entire Love Letters group "riff-raff." Another example of how two people can read very different meanings into the same words, possibly causing miscommunication...

    Posted by Linda February 1, 10 06:05 PM
  1. Linda, she specifically brought up Love Letters therefore inferring that everyone on there is riff-raff. If she didn't mention that then yes Hoss would be the riff-raff she's referring to. (I don't necessarily think that of him but whatever.)

    Let's do this to see if its considered "rude".

    Thanks for culling out the riff-raff (bitter, angry Hoss).

    That wouldn't be offensive to anyone of that group?

    Its a horrible generalization and we on the Love Letters blog know that generalizations are bad. Do you? Maybe only the "riff-raff" can understand that.

    Posted by Dread27 February 1, 10 06:41 PM
  1. That should read:

    "Linda, she specifically brought up Love Letters therefore inferring that everyone on there is riff-raff. If she didn't mention that then yes Hoss would be the riff-raff she's referring to. (I don't necessarily think that of him but whatever.)

    Let's do this to see if its considered "rude".

    Thanks for culling out the (insert any race or group of people here) riff-raff (bitter, angry Hoss).

    That wouldn't be offensive to anyone of that group?

    Its a horrible generalization and we on the Love Letters blog know that generalizations are bad. Do you? Maybe only the "riff-raff" can understand that."

    The website viewed the punctuation that I used as code instead of text as I intended.

    Posted by Dread27 February 1, 10 09:22 PM
  1. As a fellow Loves Letters Commenter, I find Hoss to be abrasive, brusque, generally diagreeable, and at times negative in his comments. His straight-forward, no-holds barred approach to expressing his opinion may or may not adhere to conventional standards of discussion within this particular blog and certainly does not contain the tone inherent to the population of readers/commentes here. That being said, although I agree that his comment was meant to provoke and may be construed as typical troll behaviour, I sincerely doubt his intent was to insult, but rather to induce discussion of the subject matter.
    I am not advocating for his 'reinstatement' to the Miss Conduct blog, but rather expressing that rudeness in all it's myriad forms can be directed by individuals toward others and by those others to groups from which the rudeness eminates. Think about it.

    Posted by DrK February 1, 10 10:14 PM
  1. Hm, interesting. Now that I look at Ellen's post again, I find that I can read it either way - given the way it's punctuated, I can't tell whether she meant to draw generalizations about Love Letters participants or was just talking about Hoss, as I originally thought. I'm not going to draw any conclusions about what was meant, because I can't know what the writer intended.

    Posted by Linda February 2, 10 10:05 AM
  1. I'm only about 1/4 of the way through the comments - great thread!

    Jim D, you had me until you classified families where both parents work as somehow contributing to the downfall of society...what on earth does that have to do with rudeness?

    Sarah B - I totally agree with you.

    Posted by Jen February 3, 10 09:37 AM
  1. I work and live in a busy downtown area and I really can't say that people are any ruder than they were when I started working downtown at age 24, more than 30 years ago. Of course, I don't find the use of technology to be rude--at least unless it causes you to plow into someone as mentioned in one of the comments.

    I see small acts of kindness--holding doors, letting someone go first, pleasant smiles, etc--everywhere I go nearly every day. If someone doesn't hold a door for me or happens to cut me off, I just remind myself how I sometimes get lost in my own thoughts and assume that is what happened to them. I don't see any increase in this kind of behavior.

    Posted by Brenda K February 5, 10 08:58 AM
About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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