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Uncivil Liberties

February 14, 1988

Are Americans increasingly impolite, discourteous and boorish? ("Down With Uncivil Liberties," Karl Fleming, Op-Ed, Jan. 23.) As a Briton visiting the West Coast for the PGA Tour, I find the majority of Californians almost excessively well-mannered, courteous and exact.

One or two other observations might be in order. I believe that Americans exhibit the traits I've described because (1) of their natural good taste in a multiracial society, (2) of the "pioneer spirit" of hospitality and curiosity, not to say apprehension when approaching, or approached by, a stranger, (c) of the fear of what might ensue with so many oddballs about, and (d) of the need and desire to make oneself clearly and immediately understood in such a mixed society.

I find myself adopting the same apparently curt "Gimme a coffee and doughnut!" approach, using a sergeant-major's jackhammer diction, simply to get my demand or message across without repetition. Using the same technique on return to the United Kingdom, I received some very strange glances.

The real frustrations I feel over here involve personal quietness and privacy: hardly being able to finish a sentence without some people "talking through" me, the incredibly tasteless advertising particularly on TV and radio (I get most of my exercise from jumping up and down to turn the sound off and on) and some other crudities which I am too polite to mention, but which can be summed up in Reginald Heber's lines, "Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile."

JOHN BALLANTINE

Los Angeles

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