NEW YORK -- A month ago, The New York Times front-paged one of its most improbable stories ever, declaring that politesse was breaking out all over Gotham. ''A city whose residents have long been scorned for their churlish behavior is now being praised for adopting rules and laws that govern personal conduct," the paper declared, ''making New York an unlikely model for legislating courtesy and decorum."
Examples put forward by The Newspaper of Record include purportedly tighter restrictions on wayward car alarms and a $50 fine on subway riders who put their feet on empty seats. The city imposed a similar fine on movie- and theatergoers who spark up their cellphones in medias res, although there were no examples of such fines actually being enforced.
The Times did cite the example of a hot dog chain selling ''polite New Yorker" buttons for $1 each. The owner sells about 60 a week but notes that ''most go to tourists who think they are a joke."
Viewed from afar, the city doesn't seem to have changed its spots. There is a hilarious website called Overheard in New York, where a woman named Laura Mathis submitted the following all-too-characteristic exchange, overheard just a few days after the Times declared all was quiet on the etiquette front. If you have spent more than five minutes in Washington Square Park, near New York University, you will recognize the speakers:
Crazy guy: Ain't you people heard of the Treaty of Versailles? I gots [bleep] rights, [bleep]!
NYU tour guide: Washington Square Park is the vibrant center of campus . . .
Crazy guy: Rights! You can't just be dropping mustard gas on me, like that [bleep] from Tennessee be doin'. The Treaty of Versailles says I got rights!
Tour mom: Oh my god! They have mustard gas here now? I told you this city wasn't safe.
Crazy guy: This [bleep] understands that I got rights!
A staple of New York living is the temporary orange ''No Parking" signs indicating that a movie or TV shoot is in progress and you are out of luck where parking is concerned. I once appealed a Manhattan parking ticket by arguing that I was a moron from Boston, where no one shoots movies anyway -- and it worked!
New York magazine recently reported that ''Law & Order" star Jesse Martin lives in terror of the orange signs when they appear in his TriBeCa neighborhood: ''On my block there were these orange signs -- and I know what those signs mean. I thought, 'Oh, God, please don't let that be us, please don't let that be us.' And I look and it's 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent.' It doesn't matter if it's 'Criminal Intent.' They'll still hunt me down and say, 'Hey, man, you took my [bleep] parking today.' "
Well, it's not called the City of Brotherly Love, after all.
I visited here earlier in the week to check out the new etiquette regs. My first stop was the Port Authority Bus Terminal, surely ground zero for the new politeness. And I was not disappointed; as I rose up the escalator, a woman named Nilsa greeted me with a loud ''Hello!" and offered me a Jamba Juice smoothie. Welcome to the New New York!
At the Hudson News kiosk, I asked for a Boston Globe, expecting -- well, sort of hoping for -- a snarling, dismissive response. ''Yes, we still have a few left" was the polite, unexpected answer.
I finally had an old-school New York experience at the Easy Internet Cafe on 42d Street. Easy has about 300 computers, but, unbeknownst to the customer, only about 50 work. After I paid my money and failed to find a working terminal, I sought to lodge my complaint.
The cafe on the not-so-Easy premises displayed a huge sign: ''Attention! NOTHING to do with the Internet business -- OK?" The only person present refused to refund my money and claimed to be a security guard -- after all, someone might want to swipe all those busted computers.
Visitor from Boston: I want my money back!
Mr. No Name: Read the FAQs over there.
Visitor: There's no phone number, no nothing.
MNN: I'm just the security guard.
Visitor: What's your name?
Visitor: I want to put it in the newspaper.
MNN: I'm Mr. No Name.
File under: You can't believe everything you read in the newspaper, or: Overheard in New York.
Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is firstname.lastname@example.org.