question of the weekend: Are we becoming more rude as a culture?

Be Polite go fuck yourself

Are manners disappearing? NPR ponders the apparently deteriorating situation of politeness in “Please Read This Story, Thank You”:

Listen to the conversations around you — colleagues at the office, customers in the coffeehouse line, those who serve you, those you serve, the people you meet each day. “Give me a tall latte.” “Hand me that hammer.” “Have a good one.”

Notice anything missing? The traditional magic words “please” and “thank you” that many people learn as children appear to be disappearing.

Lisa Gache, co-founder of Beverly Hills Manners in Los Angeles, has noticed the gradual vanishing of courteous language. She blames the casualty on the casual. “The slow erosion of the ‘magic words’ in our everyday vernacular,” says Gache, who coaches people to be more civil, “has to do with the predilection toward all things casual in our society today. Casual conversation, casual dress and casual behavior have hijacked practically all areas of life, and I do not think it is doing anyone a service.”

Um, there’s someone who makes a living coaching people to be more civil? That, right there, is a terrifying indication that rudeness is the new courtesy.

Other polite phrases also seem to be falling by the wayside. “You’re welcome,” for instance. Say “thank you” to someone these days, and instead of hearing “you’re welcome,” you’re more liable to hear: “Sure.” “No problem.” “You bet.” “Enjoy.” Or a long list of replies that replace the traditional “you’re welcome.”

Instead of saying “thank you,” people say “got it.” Or “have a good one.” Or, more often, nothing at all. And in lieu of saying “no, thank you,” reactions such as “I’m good” are increasingly common.

“The responses ‘have a good one,’ ‘I’m good’ or ‘you bet,’ do not carry the same sentiment or convey the same conviction as when we are sincerely expressing our gratitude or thanks,” Gache says. “They feel less invested, almost as if they are painful to utter under our breath.”

Please excuse us for asking the questions: Are we just finding new ways to say old, polite phrases? Are good manners merely morphing? Or are they fading away altogether?

There’s more. Please — ahem — read the whole thing.

What do you think? Are we becoming more rude as a culture? Or is it merely that our definition of “good manners” is changing? Is “I’m good” an acceptable substitute for “No, thank you”? Is “You bet” a perfectly polite response to “Thank you”?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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Sat, Sep 01, 2012 12:57pm

When it comes to manners, it’s the thought that really does count. If I offer someone a soda, and they say “I’m good” I assume that means, “No, thank you. For one of a myriad of possible reasons, I do not desire a soda.” The English language is always in flux, new words and phrases come into existence in an unending stream. Now, since I was raised four generations removed from the current one, my personal definition of polite language is significantly different than the younger (or older) people around me. Further, the family culture I was raised in valued the “Ps and Qs” so I tend to use those specific words.

Now, none of this is to suggest that we are not becoming ruder as a culture. Of course we are. But the specific version of Please and Thank You that are used is not the issue. The problem is the lack of strong parental oversight and the community’s shared responsibility of child governance. When I was a kid in the small rural Oklahoma town where I lived, If I did something bad in front of a neighbor I could possibly face a spanking from that neighbor. Shocking! Or at the very least, I could be sure that they would tell my parents and they would give me a spanking. But my mom and dad took a concentrated interest in my behavior when I was in or out of their sight. And they were backed up by my grandmother and grandfather and at least one of my uncles.

I could expect punishment for my bad behavior from any adult around. Or at least news of my misdeeds would certainly make it back to someone who would hand down punishment. Even if the misdeed was as simple as not being sufficiently polite  to Mrs. Baker down the street, I could expect a stern “talking to.”

Now-a-days you don’t really see this. If for example, I were to tell one of my neighbors that her son tore down a sign that the community put up, I would expect her to either refuse to believe that her child did it, or that she would become aggressive to me for my temerity to tell her that her child misbehaved. But in no case would I have the expectation that she would actually discipline her child. It doesn’t help that she’s a single mother who leaves her children unattended from the time they get out of school until well past 6pm. I certainly understand her situation in that regard, but it means that the kids run wild without anyone who can tell them that what they are doing is wrong and enforce society’s code of conduct on them. The result is the erosion of manners and good behavior.

reply to  Chuck
Sat, Sep 01, 2012 6:30pm


reply to  Chuck
Sun, Sep 02, 2012 7:47am

Yes. And parents are not teaching their children respect. When I was a child, if I were walking down a pavement and an adult was coming the other way, my patent would have told me to step out of the way so that the other person could pass. Not anymore. I’m continually having to step into the road because a mother is walking three or four abreast with her children (and not little children that need their hands holding near roads and so need to walk abreast) and they don’t step to the side so everyone can pass on the pavement.

Sat, Sep 01, 2012 1:31pm

I’m somewhere between “our language is getting more casual” and “the ‘magic words’ campaign has soured us on formal politeness because it sounds like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are for children.” As a child, I would much rather have been told to say “please” than asked “what’s the magic word?” I knew I was being patronized, and I hated it. Does anyone else here have this sort of memory?

Sat, Sep 01, 2012 1:51pm

“Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having thier skulls split, as a general thing.”- Robert Howard.

There are several reasons for the degradation of manners and polite speech. One is the culture of the Interwebz. Online anonymity gives people the license to be much ruder than they would be face to face. I dunno how many trolls, Internet tough guys and just plain nasty people I’ve run across online. Eventually, that disconnect is going to bleed over into The real world.

That’s one reason, anyway. Thank you for reading my post.

reply to  David
Sun, Sep 02, 2012 7:49am

I think I said abracadabra in those circumstances! Luckily I was quite well trained in the please and thankyous, so didn’t happen often.

Sat, Sep 01, 2012 6:28pm

Absofreakinlutely! I notice it every day. It seems to be primarily a younger generation thing.  I take my dog for a walk every night. I always say hello to people I come across. You’d be amazed at how many people(kids mostly) who just look at me and don’t say anything. Or actually scowl at me like I did something wrong. Almost every teenager I come across refuses to even acknowledge my presence. I’ll get the occasional head nod, but that’s it. So sad. But it’s not just kids! There are a couple older folks that I’ve run into numerous times that have never said a word to me. Even when I look right at them and say hello. Granted, I don’t know what’s going on in their lives, and why they are the way they are, but come on. A simple “Hello” is harmless and courteous.
Then there’s the overheard conversations. It mortifies me how the younger generation(I’m 37, but I’m referring to maybe mid 20’s and younger) talk to each other! So disrespectful of others, and even of each other. It’s disgusting.
I miss proper language and proper manners.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Sat, Sep 01, 2012 7:34pm

Are we being more rude as a culture? Yes.

Sat, Sep 01, 2012 8:52pm

Seems to me we are in another situation of “removing organs and demanding the function” mentioned by CS Lewis. “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise (and manners).  We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”  If our culture is becoming more rude, is it really all that surprising?

Adam Stevenson
Sat, Sep 01, 2012 9:19pm

“”The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt forauthority, they show disrespect to their elders…. They no longer
rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their
legs, and are tyrants over their teachers.””

Attributed to Socrates.. I’ve read an older Sumerian version of this as well.

The world is always seeming to go downhill to those getting older. In a few hundred years time, people will be regarding now as the epitome of gentility. People don’t change much, although language does.

reply to  Adam Stevenson
Sun, Sep 02, 2012 2:11am

Exactly so.  It’s a summary from a dissertation on ancient Greece rather than a direct quote (, but nonetheless the point is sound.
I suspect the cycle is that people get older and then value courtesy more (perhaps with a greater understanding of the impact of its lack, or perhaps through becoming more fearful of consequence), together with a some rosy-hued glasses; although it could be that standards just change and generations misunderstand each other.

Sat, Sep 01, 2012 9:59pm

As a person of the slightly younger generation, first I’m going to ask you of the older generation to stop complaining about us being on your lawn.  Changing format of how you say please and thank you is not disregarding the sentiment behind those terms completely.

I personally do use ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ a lot of the time. However, I also use phrases like: “No problem” and “I’m good,” a lot of the time. The sentiment is THE SAME. I will agree that some people in my generation simply disregard etiquette completely, but the truth is, with the advent of smart phones, I see this as being the case with ALL generations, not just mine. Everyone is always wandering around with their eyes glued to a screen of some form, thus not paying attention to opportunities to express gratitude and basically acting like they are ignoring everyone because they don’t know how to act in public when they are by themselves without a crutch of some form.  It really just comes off an insecurity to me. A lack of understanding of how to interact with ‘strangers’ and society in general.

I also think that gratitude in our culture has recently become a trait to be downplayed, partially because those super happy go lucky types can come off as corny and eager to please. There is a push to be cool and in control at all times. It is unfortunate that this has to be the case, as I don’t think manners/kindness/gratitude and cool/in control have to be mutually exclusive.

This discussion reminds me of the time that I actually got a genuinely shocked look from an older gentleman whom I was holding the door open for at the gym as I left. I am from the south originally, so I know that those types of manners are more prevalent there than they are where I currently live, but still… I was shocked that he was shocked. lol. 

Sat, Sep 01, 2012 10:39pm

In many ways yes…you can even see it on film and TV….realitys shows were people do nothing but scheme and backstab, comedys were people do the same. Shit like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter on the air who encourage people to act like assholes as well. And then we, as a society, wonder why bullying has gotten way worse. Also I have to agree with those below that say parents don’t disapline there kids anymore…..while there are many exceptions to the rule and wonderful parents, I have worked at both Wal Mart and TGI Fridays and have seen way to many parents act like they own everything. For instance at Wal mart, moms and dads would let their kids run rampet and break stuff and oh boy if you said no, they can’t do that…they would threaten lawsuits. Same with resteraunts….you tell a parent that no your three year old can’t run around under servers legs? Well, I am going to get you fired and call corperete

The only thing that gives me hope for humanity are groups that are working toward human rights for everyone and sites like this honestly.

Sat, Sep 01, 2012 11:21pm

Someone who makes a living teaching etiquette claims to think that people don’t use etiquette correctly? How amazing! I bet she thinks they could use lessons, too!
The stock phrases have changed, but they’re still stock phrases, said without thought if at all. If I can’t have an honest answer, a lack of padding-words is at least as good as a generic response.

Sat, Sep 01, 2012 11:30pm

A simple modicum of politeness is not that difficult to muster, yet I still have to constantly remind my children of the basics.  “Hello. Goodbye. Please. Thank you. Excuse me.”   Those five phrases can take you a long way in life.  Why all the resistance? 

Sun, Sep 02, 2012 1:22am

It’s more like we’ve changed the stock phrases we use. Doesn’t the ubiquitous use of phrases like “thank you” after every minor or meager act sort of diminishes the supposed sincerity of it? Do people who use “thank you” more really mean to express gratitude or are they just “being polite” aka regurgitating social scripts at an appropriate moment with zero regard for what it means and why? Do they sincerely want me to have a good day or is it just a stock greeting, a situational reflex? How is “have a good day” any more sincere than “have a good one”?

And why are we measuring rudeness and politeness in uses of stock phrases and not in day-to-day actions and behavior? Am I an asshole because while holding the door open for someone, I didn’t wish them a good day and tip my hat to them before moving on?

I also instantly reject anything passing itself off as “proper language”, because screw that.

Sun, Sep 02, 2012 3:25am

Since it’s Labor Day weekend in the US, perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to link this QOTW to what the AFL-CIO is doing: encouraging us to publicly thank someone whose work makes a difference to us.

Here’s Martin Sheen:

Whether or not we feel that society is growing more uncivil, let’s set an example and be beacons of civility, courtesy, and gratitude ourselves.

MaryAnn, thanks for the work you do, for your always thought-provoking opinions, and for providing a space for smart, interesting conversations.

Have a nice weekend, everyone.

Sun, Sep 02, 2012 7:41am

Manners are definitely a thing of the past – it drives me crazy. It’s not even spoken manners, either, it’s manners in total. People don’t hold doors open anymore (and I’m not talking men for women, I just mean the simple courtesy of not dropping the door on the person behind them) or give pregnant women their seats, or help old people carry their cases in the station.

I think it’s also cultural. People who you would have traditionally expected to be polite – the middle class men in suits on the train – are the worst culprits. There’s such a sense of self entitlement, and sod the rest of the world.

reply to  Isobel_A
Sun, Sep 02, 2012 11:02am

Well, I can definitely say with some authority that some places are doing better than others. I grew up in California, where the behavior you describe is the norm. Since I moved to Portland, I am discovering the joys of a city that appreciates kindness. Maybe the language of politeness is changing here as it is everywhere else, but I don’t think being nice has gone out of style yet. Here, it is not at all uncommon for somebody to give up a seat to an elderly person or a pregnant lady. I’ve even seen teenagers do it. I’ve seen strangers offer coins to the person in front of them when they are a few cents short on a convenience store purchase. I’ve had someone with a full shopping cart let me go ahead of them with my four items more times than I can count. I hold doors open for men and women, and I have had doors held open for me more often than not. I once witnessed a truck’s tailgate pop open at a stop light, and the driver behind the truck immediately dashed out, closed it, and got back in his car. Also, in all the times I have been to Voodoo Doughnut, I have never seen somebody buy a bucket of day-olds without immediately offering them to the people around.

Lenina Crowne
Sun, Sep 02, 2012 11:12am

I remember when I was 13 or so I had to take this etiquette class where they taught us stuff like which fork goes to which part of the meal and how to position your silverware to signal to the waiter that you are done with your meal (except no waiters actually know those signals anymore, or the only ones who do wait at those 12-course-meal-that-costs-a-bajillion-dollars restaurants that you maybe go to once in your entire life maximum, so so much for that). It was the world’s biggest waste of time. So I think things like the myriad nuances of forks are definitely the way of the past, but good riddance, I say.

As for substantial manners, I agree with “lunarangel01”. “No worries” and “you’re welcome” pretty much mean the same thing.

I hold doors open pretty much whenever I’m in a position to do so and I’ve noticed that a lot of other people do, too. Not everyone all the time (of course, sometimes it’s inconvenient to do it, like if the person behind you is right on your tail), but a lot of people hold the door open. I live in California, which is usually not associated with lots of chivalry.

Personally, I’m also loath to say that “kids have no respect these days” because people have been saying that since the dawn of man. Maybe it’s just because I’m young. or maybe it’s just where I live, but I generally haven’t seen too big a problem with severely bratty kids. Last summer I had a gig as a camp counselor for kids 5-9 or so, and while I was expecting the worst, not one of them was out of control. I also did volunteer work with special needs 3rd and 4th graders, who had a few issues but none of whom I would describe as “bratty”, and while I was also dreading P.E. with the regular-ed 4th graders because I was expecting them to make fun of the special ed kids, they were all encouraging to a fault. So, I don’t know. Sometimes there are bratty kids. There’ll always be bratty kids. I just, I don’t see it as an epidemic, really.

London Name
London Name
Sun, Sep 02, 2012 1:04pm

Of course in South-Eastern England and London in particular,  the politest thing to do is to mid your own business. As such it is very rude to make a show of holding open doors or any but the most simple ‘please’ and ‘thanks’ at a shop. As such to ask me about my life or worse, to tell me about yours, is the height of rudeness.

reply to  London Name
Sun, Sep 02, 2012 1:25pm

I knew there was a reason I spent only two days in London this year.

Conversely, in Ledbury (Herefordshire) where I stayed for rather longer, I found myself in pleasant (polite) conversation in almost every shop I went into.