America The Rude

Don't you dare!" shouts Cindy Senning, right, to her brother Peter Post as he jokes about misplacing the silverware setting at the Burlington Country Club in Burlington, Vt., in this Aug. 8, 2001 file photo. The siblings, descendants of ettiquette author Emily Post, offer tips on cell phone, email, and other modern social interactions. AP

Americans' fast-paced, high-tech existence has taken a toll on the civil in society.

From road rage in the morning commute to high decibel cell-phone conversations that ruin dinner out, men and women behaving badly has become the hallmark of a hurry-up world. An increasing informality, flip-flops at the White House, even, combined with self-absorbed communication gadgets and a demand for instant gratification have strained common courtesies to the breaking point.

"All of these things lead to a world with more stress, more chances for people to be rude to each other," said Peter Post, a descendent of etiquette expert Emily Post and an instructor on business manners through the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt.

In some cases, the harried single parent has replaced the traditional nuclear family and there's little time to teach the basics of polite living, let alone how to hold a knife and fork, according to Post.

A slippage in manners is obvious to many Americans. Nearly 70 percent questioned in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll said people are ruder than they were 20 or 30 years ago. The trend is noticed in large and small places alike, although more urban people report bad manners, 74 percent, then do people in rural areas, 67 percent.

Peggy Newfield, founder and president of Personal Best, said the generation that came of age in the times-a-changin' 1960s and 1970s are now parents who don't stress the importance of manners, such as opening a door for a female.

So it was no surprise to Newfield that those children wouldn't understand how impolite it was to wear flip-flops to a White House meeting with the president, as some members of the Northwestern women's lacrosse team did in the summer.

A whopping 93 percent in the AP-Ipsos poll faulted parents for failing to teach their children well.

"Parents are very much to blame," said Newfield, whose Atlanta-based company started teaching etiquette to young people and now focuses on corporate employees. "And the media."

Sulking athletes and boorish celebrities grab the headlines while television and Hollywood often glorify crude behavior.

"It's not like the old shows 'Father Knows Best,"' said Norm Demers, 47, of Sutton, Mass. "People just copy it. How do you change it?" Demers would like to see more family friendly television but isn't holding his breath.

Nearly everyone has a story of the rude or the crude, but fewer are willing to fess up to boorish behavior themselves.

Only 13 percent in the poll would admit to making an obscene gesture while driving; only 8 percent said they had used their cell phones in a loud or annoying manner around others. But 37 percent in the survey of 1,001 adults questioned Aug. 22-23 said they had used a swear word in public.
  • Melissa McNamara

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