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In case you haven't noticed, bozo, rudeness is on the rise

October 15, 2005|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Americans' fast-paced, high-tech existence has taken a toll on civility.

From road rage in the morning commute to high-decibel cellphone conversations that ruin dinner out, men and women behaving badly have 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 descendant of etiquette expert Emily Post and an instructor on business manners through the Emily Post Institute in Vermont.

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% 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%, than do people in rural areas, 67%.

Peggy Newfield, founder and president of Personal Best, said the generation that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s are now parents who don't stress the importance of manners.

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 Northwestern University's women's lacrosse team did in the summer.

And 93% 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?"

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

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

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