One local restaurant owner, who asked not to be identified, said many customers are more impatient and demanding than in the past. They snap their fingers or complain more readily about trivial matters. Nonetheless, he said, at a time when businesses are going belly-up faster than a carnival goldfish, he counsels his employees to treat each person "as if that is the only customer we will have."
"When things are this bad," he said, "being rude in return is a luxury we can't afford right now."
Candace Presser, a 17-year-old Calabasas restaurant hostess who was shopping at her favorite Ventura clothing store, said remaining polite and courteous when faced with sometimes abusive customers isn't always easy.
"It's hard to keep a smile on your face when people boss you around," she said. "There's a difference between service and being a servant."
Candace did admit that many older customers are right in their perception that some younger employees should learn to be more service-oriented. Many of her teen-age friends work in malls, she said, and are sometimes inattentive to customers.
But she also believes that the rudest people at her restaurant aren't young--and they don't work there.
"I'm not saying this about all of them, but a lot of older people come in grumpy, like they're looking for a reason to take it out on you," she said. "We want them to have a nice time, but it wouldn't kill \o7 them \f7 to be nicer."
Could it be that the recession has just made everyone--customers and business people alike--more rude?
Dr. Roderic Gorney, a psychiatrist with UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute, certainly thinks so.
"I think everyone in society is affected," Gorney said. "Civility is much less characteristic between exchanges now."
Gorney believes one of the major contributing factors may be a diminishing sense of hope that there will be economic improvement any time soon.
"People are taught all through their lives--and by experience--to restrain negative, hostile feelings . . . on the basis that it won't be good for (them) tomorrow," he said. "If you think tomorrow will be better, that thinking works.
"But if you believe things will get worse, that the future isn't worth much anyway, it's very difficult to persuade yourself that you ought to restrain yourself."
That has been the case for one Simi Valley man, who said he has been trying to find a new job for several months because he is unhappy with the one he has. The feeling that he has nowhere to go and must put up with a boss he doesn't like has made him shorter tempered in his dealings with the public.
"My wife feels the same way," he said. "It's hard to feel grateful for a job you hate."
That sense of powerlessness can cut deep, said Dr. Mark Goulston, a West Los Angeles psychiatrist.
As more and more businesses go bankrupt, lay off employees, pull up stakes and move to other states or countries, Goulston said people's fear of being left high, dry and jobless will grow.
"There has been a demoralization, where one almost feels naive to be loyal to a company, to care," he said. "The feeling is: Why care when no one cares about you? There is an underlying anxiety that there is nothing permanent, that there is no guaranteed future."
That, of course, leads to a question that speaks to the idea of a self-fulfilling prophesy: If more people are rude because they are afraid of losing their jobs, are more people losing their jobs because they are rude?
Linda Dever, alternate manager of the Ventura County Employment Development Department, said she hasn't seen any indication of an increase in job firings for bad manners. On the other hand, she noted, being unemployed doesn't make people any more polite.
People who come to the department looking for a job are often ill-mannered, she said, which is something that employment development staff members try to keep in perspective.
"We're not going to hold it against them and think they're always short-tempered," she said. "It's just the bad times talking."