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the great manners experiment

the great manners experiment

So everyone is talking about rudeness and its prevalence in today's society. One woman on the local news channel here blamed the schools. She said they aren't doing enough to teach our children manners and respect.

I find that rude in and of itself. How very, very rude of someone to expect other people to raise her children. I thought manners and respect were taught at home. You can bet your bottom dollar that woman's kids are incredibly rude and obnoxious.

Let's clarify rude here. There's general rudeness and then there is obnoxiousness. If you burp in my face or cut into a conversation when I'm in the middle of a sentence, that's general rudeness. I will roll my eyes at you and move on.

Talking on a cell phone in a restaurant is pretty rude. Talking on a cell phone during a movie is obnoxious. Bringing 12 items to the cashier in the grocery store that is meant for 10 items or less is rude. Bringing 25 items and getting irate when you are questioned is obnoxious.

Double parking to run into a store for five minutes is rude. Double parking so you can sit on the hood of your car and talk to the slut from the tanning salon and then giving me the finger when I mention that you are blocking traffic is really fucking obnoxious.

Some people have this grand sense of entitlement. They think laws don't apply to them, rules were meant for them to break and everyone should move out of their way when the come through. They learn this behavior from watching their parents. A five year old sees his mother barreling through the aisle of WalMart with her overstuffed cart (filled with toys being purchased to stop the little brat from whining) and the mother rams her cart into you and instead of apologizing, curses at you for being in her way. The kid takes note of this. He keeps a little file in his head of his mother's behavior. How she yells at the sales clerk because the store is out of her brand of tampons. How she rifles through the display of jeans, throwing them every which way until she finds the right size for her precious boy, leaving the mess on the floor and explaining to the boy that that is what the help is for. Obnoxiousness is passed down from generation to generation.

I'm not saying that parents should sit home with their children and have nightly etiquette lessons. And I'm certainly not saying that I'm not guilty of being rude in front of my kids. They have witnessed my parking lot rage. They have seen me hang up on telemarketers. So if I catch them acting in a rude or obnoxious manner I ask myself where did they learn that behavior? If they learned it from me, I correct them, but correct myself also. It's hard to raise your children to be polite and mind their manners when everyone around them, kids and grown ups alike, behave like animals.

But is my being rude to the person who is ruining our movie going experience by letting his ring tone on his cell phone go off twenty times acceptable? When politeness doesn't get anywhere with someone who is being rude is it ok turn on the obnoxiousness to get results? Rudeness begets rudeness, I suppose. Is it too late? Have we already set the precedent and created a society in which rudeness is not only tolerated, but expected?

I am going to try something. I am going to try to get through this day without once being rude or obnoxious. I am going to make extra effort to use good manners and proper social behavior. I am going to obey every rule and respect authority and law. I will drive the speed limit and smile at cashiers and answer the phone in a pleasant, professional manner. And I will see if my politeness and charming behavior causes anyone else to behave in the same manner. If rudeness begets rudeness, then wouldn't politeness work the same way?

Results of the Great Manners Experiment tonight.

Oh, have a nice day!


You can rule out hormones in beef as a cause of increasing rudness, because they're banned in the EU and people are growing ruder by the minute here in Austria as well. Especially in cars. Man. Don't get me started. Interesting topic though, sort of a general reduction in restraint and self-control, somehow.

Bwahahaha. I thought this was a serious post until you made that claim you'd get through the day without being rude to other people. You, Michele... Catalano, of all people. Your inner-demons will tear you to shreds within a matter of minutes when someone steals your coffee and spits in the filter by accident while criticising how you raise your kids in a house of sin.

My prediction of the results: Five dead, three in critical condition, seventeen injured including one police dog.

Michele - you hit it right on the head. Last night my wife and I were having the same conversation regarding my kids and their behavior [or lack thereof]... at the dinner table they eye the morsels of food and make sure that none of their siblings get more than the other... and they're always interuppting conversations. who do I blame? I don't blame the schools, that's not their job... I blame the parents... in this case my ex and her husband. I know damn well that if I had my kids to raise over the last 10 years, they would be kinder & more compassionate... maybe that's because I was raised an only child and my ex, like my daughters, also had other siblings to deal with. I'm almost embarrassed to think how the older ones act when they're out on a date...

I was going to address the fact that there are absolutely no manners present in my ex's family. They are rude not only to strangers but to each other, and treat the women in the family like servants.

I know some of the blame is mine, however, for not being more stringent in correcting their behavior.

You're dead on. Too many people have a sense of entitlement. Nikole and I are always amazed at how everyone else is so much more important than us. They're always in a bigger hurry, allowed to bend the rules, or allowed to behave in a manner that would piss themselves off had they not been the one behaving that way.

As far as being rude to rude people - many times that's the only way to get through to them. Politeness doesn't work, because they can't wrap their selfish little heads around that concept.

You're dead-on. All the way down the line, from the learned-behavior comments to the politeness begetting politeness theory. It doesn't always work -- even in cases where I refuse to respond to rudeness with more rudeness and a polite response doesn't seem to make a dent, at least I know I won't be carrying asshole's rude ball around with me. Or passing it on to the next player. The negativity at least has a stopping point of sorts.

Of course, sometimes it's much easier said than done.

Looking forward to the results of your experiment.

Hi...been lurking for a couple weeks now, I must say I enjoy your page. I just HAD to comment on this post.

GREAT post, by the way.

Anyway. I used to work in retail. First at a major toy store, and then at a bookstore in the mall. I'd say 80% of the time, people were rude or indifferent to me. Needless to say, I was miserable during that time in my life. But I was told "that's just how the public is" and "there's nothing you can do to change people". I became quite depressed over this and decided to to exactly what you're doing, only the other way around. For one day, I was going to be as nice as I possibly could to everyone that I came in contact with. Not that I was mean to people before, but I was just going through the motions. You know, "Hi, can I help you? Have a nice day" kinda stuff.

Anyway, I discovered that I could change the most seemingly bitter, angry, rude people. They'd walk up with their screaming kids in tow, regard me as if I wasn't even there, and by the time they walked away, I'd have them smiling and sometimes making jokes or even laughing at something. Ever since then, I try as hard as I can to be kind to people, even if I only encounter them for a minute or two each day.

I know the answer to your question, "If rudeness begets rudeness, then wouldn't politeness work the same way?" The answer? Absolutely.

And now the monster comment will end. Take care...

Good points, michele. I wrestle with issues like this all the time. My parents were very good about teaching manners - how well I learned them is for others to say. It's hard when you're trying to be polite, but the only way you can see to a courteous conclusion is by rudely stopping other rudeness.

I'm guilty of feelings of entitlement all the time. My only hope is that I can curb the worst of them, starting from the little stuff first.

One thing cured me of being rude to cashiers: working at McDonald's. I wasn't there long, but walking half a mile in their shoes helped my perspective tremendously.

$$$$ I travel quite a bit, even once in a while to rural locations. In our urban, fiscally driven lives every nanosecond counts as a few more tenths of a cent and anyone that gets in the way of that quest is treated as the enemy. The rural population still lives by the old rules. Be kind to your neighbor, hold doors open for everyone, respect your elders, etc... They're not so concerned with the bottom line. Even in the low population city's people are much nicer. The big problem is that we city folk have changed our view of what it means to be successful. Instead of raising a family with good values and leaving a legacy of being a good person we want to be gazillionares and in the process lose a lot of our humanity.

Robert Heinlein put forth in one of his books that the loss of manner signifies the end of a culture.

I want to commend you for this discussion. I agree that entirely too many people out there are rude and/or obnoxious, and that the grand entitlement theory is all too prevalent.

I attend a university (Tulane in New Orleans) where the mean income is estimated to be around $140,000 a year. I go to a school that costs $36,000 a year to attend. I live in a city with one of the widest gaps between rich and poor in the US. I live in an area of the city where there is a ridiculous amount of old money.

I work in a coffeeshop in the middle of this area, and while the customers are often quirky and rewarding, all too often... they're obnoxious. Here, in this area, the sense of entitlement is through the roof. They deserve their decaf double chocolate skim cappucino and they NEED IT NOW. I've been grabbed and scolded by these women for taking too long. I've seen these women let their children pour an entire chocolate milk on the floor and then they'll come up to the counter and say : "Oh, you might want to mop that up before someone slips."

(steps down from soapbox)

I have to agree on the teacher-parent argument. Teachers aren't responsible for raising someone's kid.

I too am amazed at the lack of respectful behavior. I too suspect that politeness begets politeness. I, however, would explode like an overblown balloon if I had to go all day without giving someone the finger when they cut me off in traffic.

I, like James, live in New Orleans and attend Tulane University. I have to agree with his asesment of people in this city. At school, the amount of people who refuse to turn off their cell phones in class is ridiculous. I'm really sorry that you can't wait to her your sorority sister call you about her new Kate Spade purse, but if it is that important, just skip class. Please.

And like Jame I work in the service industry. The amount of rudeness I have seen in this line of work is incredible. The amount of people who order food and demand in NOW amazes me. On a regular basis, I have this uncontrollable desire to give them their half cooked chicken NOW. But instead, I have learned it is best to kill them with kindness. When a customer is totally obnoxious, I make sure that politeness oozes from my every pore. If nothing else, I get the satisfaction that I haven't stooped to their level. And there is that lingering hope that they might actually catch on.

I really feel that everyone should spend some time in their lives working in the service industry. Having to always be there smiling and giving good service to rude obnoxious people gives you an interesting perspective on life.

i was talking about this a couple of weeks ago. i work in a bakery and people come in on their cells phones and snap at me to get their food instead of asking the caller to hold for 1 minute while they tell me what they want. people cut in line, steal extras like napkins and straws and return food almost completely eaten and demand another one. i have tried polite and it doesnt work. when on a cell phone, i walk away from them until they are finsihed. when they cut in line, i go to the person they cut. when they yell at me to go faster, i walk away and get a manager. i may be in "service" work but i am not paid enough to be treated like garbage. if the manager likes to be yelled at and wait on rudies, they can do it. i won't.

This happened just last week:

A friend was in LAX airport after missing his connecting flight the night before, attempting to get his 10:30am flight changed to 6:30am, so he could make a meeting in Wisconsin at 3pm. The line in LAX to the counter for the 6:30 flight was the longest line he'd ever seen in an airport, it went through all the cues, into the baggage area, and out to the street. The people and employees at the airport were, as you can imagine, frazzled. He decided to get the 8:30am flight instead, mostly because that line was empty.

When he got to the counter, he commented on how busy the airport was, and the airline employee immediately rudely snapped that she'd been hearing that all morning. My friend immediately realized he had two choices.. to either be rude back, or turn the table and be nice. He chose the latter, and at first his niceness didn't work, he talked nicely, she snapped back, he talked nicer, she was still rude, then eventually as he got nicer, she finally turned and began talking nicely to him. Needless to say he got tickets for the 8:30am flight.

Now that he had his flight he was relaxed, had hours to wait, and after sitting at the waiting area for a few minutes he decided to get coffee at the Starbucks stand. On the way to the stand he passed the counter, and the airline employee that had given him tickets earlier, so he stopped at the counter and asked her if she'd like a cup of coffee, thanking her again for getting him the 8:30am tickets. She politely refused, he nicely prodded, she still refused, so he thanked her again, got coffee for himself and returned to the waiting area.

After sitting drinking his coffee for a few minutes the airline counter employee appeared in front of him and asked if he had his boarding pass yet. A shot of nervousness shot through him, fearing he'd been taken off the 8:30am flight. He replied, "No", and handed his ticket to the woman, who in turn handed him a first class ticket, telling him he had just made her day, and he was the nicest person she'd met in a long time.

Being nice IS the right way to be... AND it might get you first class tickets!

Here's my rude story of the day. That bitch ... excuse me ... the gentlewoman who was stirring the pot to cause trouble for us the other day sent me a long, character-assassinating email about how she will not be attending our wedding because our "union is based on a lie."

Today, we learned that the gentlewoman is phoning people on our guest list and telling them that if they care about us at all, they should not attend our sham of a marriage.

OK, technically she is more psychotic than rude.

I suppose I should add bitching on other people's websites about your stupid problems to the list. ;)

Oh well. Love ya.

I think rudeness can be described as a complete lack of charm. Example: there is a right and a wrong way to tell a waiter there is a fly in your soup. I think rudeness can be described as complete self-absorption. Example: Don't honk your horn at me, I'm on foot and pedestrians have the right of way, you shit (oops, is profanity rude?). So what if I'm reading a magazine as I cross the street, I'm not burning fossil fuels. Finally, people should be sent to gulags to learn table manners.

Leftie, I'm not sure why people in cars even bother to complain about bad pedestrians (and I live in the capital of bad pedestrians), as the ratio of peds getting dissed by cars far outwieghs the converse situation. As a good pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist, cardriver, my Interaction:Bad Experience ratio is 2:1, 3:1, 10:1, 50:1 for the modes just mentioned. As a good ped (i.e. follow all traffic rules), almost every interaction I have with a car is bad (i.e. the car almost runs me over in the crosswalk), whereas in my car it's only the occassional bad driver who feels like risking both of our lives.

That was a FIRST class story Leann.

YES. Thank you, Michele.

Wow...it looks as if you hit a nerve! I agree with all of the above. Since when was it the job of educators to teach basic human decency? I was scolded as a child for not addressing elders as "Sir" or "Ma'am." yeah, I know - I sound like and old man. But it was my parents who scolded me, who taught by example. Yes they were strict, but god knows how I would have turned out if I had to learn how to act in society from the cowpunk schools I attended!
I live in probably the most polite place in the country - and people still do all the things you mention! Frank has a good point about ubanization. We no longer know our neighbours. There is no public shame in being rude. We move from one city to the next.
I guess I was lucky to grow up with parents who were rather sophisticated and caring. My Dad was an international business consultant. We DID have little etiquitte lessons sometimes before, say, a Japanese or Saudi Arabian dinner guest would arrive. It bored me as a kid, but I'm thankful for their perspective today. And like some people said, it was all out of goodness, but also good strategy.

being polite and nice does work. i'm not an overly nice person, but i'm polite, and i'm very careful not to take things out on people that didn't cause the problem - don't yell at the cashier, etc. they love it. and it really fux up mean people... evil snicker