Where have all our manners gone?

Lately it’s become abundantly clear to me that I am one of the last polite people left on Earth. After spending a day running errands in Indianapolis, I think it’s easy to see why so many other countries in the world dislike Americans. Today sure made me despise a few dozen of them. I’m not sure when we, as a country, lost our manners, but the lack of respect for our fellow human beings is really a bit nauseating. The most appalling fact is that all of our rudeness seems to stem from the same basic problem: We’re in too damn much of a hurry.

On Monday I got a check from some family friends as a “new baby” present, and since I had nothing better to do, I decided to take my son shopping. I bought him a Baby Shakespeare DVD. I’m not sure how much it actually has to do with Shakespeare, but it claims to introduce babies to important words using the magic of poetry. To make a long story short (a rarity for me), I found out I could get it MUCH cheaper online, so after purchasing it on eBay, I decided to take the unopened DVD back. While I was there, I picked up a package of diapers and got into what was one of the most enormous lines I’ve stood in for a very long time. There was one register open and the people checking out were trying to buy the entire store. But, I waited patiently. I struck up a conversation with the women in front of me. It was fine. Then, the service desk opened up and said they could take the next person in line. This is when any semblance of common courtesy started to break down. The two women at the back of the line started for it.

Now this, right here, pisses me off more than just about anything else in the world. Those women knew they weren’t next. They were about five people from next, and yet, since their time was obviously way more important than any of ours (despite the fact the rest of us all had small children who were squirming around), they stepped forward. Luckily, the woman who actually should have been next was just a little quicker and got there first. The women still left and instead of being fifth in line, were now second. Still, I held my tongue as it didn’t directly impact me. A few minutes later though, a second line opened up and once again, clearly said, “I can help the next person in line.” This time, that was me. As I turned to walk over there, the woman two behind me said to the woman directly behind me in a rather annoyed tone, “oh, I guess that’s you.” So, the woman behind me started to walk over there. I turned, looked at them both and said, “no, actually, that would be me.” Keep in mind, I have one item and both of them have carts loaded to the top. They both glare at me as if I have violated some rule of etiquette, and the woman behind me, just walks over to the line. Of course, none of the checkers say a word. So, I continue to wait. There was a tiny bit of revenge when my line got done faster than both of the vicious cutters.

This in itself would have been enough to annoy me, but on my drive home, as I was waiting to turn onto Allisonville from 86th Street, five cars in one of the oncoming turn lanes and six cars in the other decided that red no longer means stop and proceeded through the light. Despite the fact that my light was green, I had to wait once again for people who clearly believe their time is far more important than mine.

I realize our rushed lifestyle is part of what defines America. After all, we gave the world fast food, drive through pharmacies, and microwave everything. But come on. A little common courtesy takes maybe an extra minute or two. I’m not saying forget the hustle and bustle, I’m just saying, it won’t kill you to be polite. In the case of running red lights, it may actually save you. If you know you aren’t next, stay in the line and wait your turn. It’s what everyone else has to do. 

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Where have all our manners gone?

  1. While both of these things annoy me, I hardly think they are signs of the continued collapse of society. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Americans, and also French, Germans, British, Indians ad infinitum. have all always been impolite. It’s in the constant mutterings of curmudgeons from Plutarch straight through H.L. Mencken and on to you. And I think it has less to do with being in a hurry and far more to do with pure lack of self-awareness combined with basic human selfishness. And while the women behind you in line should know better, doing things like “waiting in line” are social constructs which means they have systemic qualities that run contrary to a more simple, natural order. Rather than blame the women who “cut” you should blame the cashier that let it happen. Rather than being a rude person, that cashier was just underperforming her role as purveyor of “customer service.” Servicing people by the socially accepted “first come-first served” rule keeps the peace and makes everyone’s shopping experience better if only because it prevents the polite customers from experiencing the rudeness of the other customers with whom they share the store.

  2. beetqueen

    I didn’t say the colapse of society, just that people are rude. It’s annoying, but in no way a break down of society. The human selfishness you mentioned manifests itself in rudeness. As human beings we are all selfish to a certain extent, but when we allow that selfishness to overrule the social constructs we have, it throws off the order and ends up leaving people frustrated, annoyed and let’s face it, sometimes leads to violence.

    As for getting mad at the cashier, I do agree they should step forward and say, “no sorry, she was next,” however, they don’t always have that option if they want to keep their jobs. I’ve seen a cashier berated by her boss for doing just that because it upset the line jumping customer. She was told to just say the line and check out the person who gets to her line first. Obviously the manager didn’t stop to think for a second about the rest of us who had been waiting and considered his solution bad customer service. The rude person is more likely to throw a fit than the polite one who lets the transgression pass, therefore, most checkers would rather give bad customer service to many in order to avoid a scene, their manager being called and getting written up. And managers don’t want the hassle so they don’t care. This, I realize is also a huge problem.

    If people flagrantly violate the socially accepted norms, it stands to reason that they won’t be “norms” anymore.

  3. You may not have _said_ “the collapse of society” but that is the clear indication of lines like, “Lately it’s become abundantly clear to me that I am one of the last polite people left on Earth” where the unstated presumption is that there used to be more polite people than there are now, a sentiment I am in absolute opposition to.

    And as an ex-cashier I can tell you that I never once had a problem with a manager when I followed line protocols as I described. But there is a customer service caveat that states essentially that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” So while your anecdote above that a woman complained about a cashier who actually served “the next person in line” might be true it only means that someone with a reasonable argument, like yours, that also complains to a manager would also have gotten the cashier straightened out. And my recommendation in calling out the cashier isn’t completely out of the blue either. “First come-first served” is routinely obeyed at both Trader Joes and Half Priced Books.

    And again, I agree with you, rude people are violating the norms. And I’m not saying I don’t get annoyed by them. But being annoyed yesterday while buying diapers hardly qualifies you as “last polite person.” I happen to think of myself as pretty darned polite. I also happen to think that the world, not just America, if full of the impolite, always has been. That’s one of the reasons we have religion, ethical codes, and laws. If people had been polite up until 1975 we wouldn’t have had to have formalized rules until 1975. Maybe the first rude person came along in 1761 BC (one year before Hammurabi’s Code).

  4. Kit-chen

    i will say this on the side of the decline of western civilization:

    i have a belief (unsubstantiated by anything more than intuition) that soul-sucking, anonymous big box stores encourage otherwise nice people to be rude.

    i still find myself in them, but i always feel my humanity level dropping by a few percentage points as soon as the automatic sliding doors close behind me.

    on the other hand, whenever i do my shopping at local and non-so-local but still small sorts of places… i find it easier to forgive small slights, and it seems like other people are more forgiving and nicer in turn.

    so maybe it’s the place and not the people. it’s the system, maaan.

  5. I have a new two-front war:

    1) things are as bad (or good) as they always been
    2) people are generally well-intentioned but selfish and egotistical.

    Many people do what’s best for themselves while thinking that they are doing what’s best for everybody. Many people don’t consider the moral ramifications of most of their actions at all. The big box stores of the past: the markets and bizarres of the world were home to fine people gossiping over fish heads as well as murderers and pick pockets. I would have hated going to the bizarre as much as I now loathe going to Home Depot. I would know going in there that some yahoo would park his donkey in the middle of the aisle and then some mother with too many kids to control would let them hooligan up the place, knocking over incense carts and intimidating old ladies.

  6. Kit-chen

    hah. despite your attempt to recast my argument, this isn’t about looking at the good ole days with rosy glasses. it’s about how people’s attitudes change from situation to situation. which is as true now as it was in whatever time we want to choose for our humorous analogy.

    i don’t go to many ancient bizarres. department stores have been where people mostly shoppped for my whole life.

    but i currently spend lots of time at farmer’s markets, hippy grocery stores, little hardware stores. and probably an equal (or maybe even greater in total) amount of time in the targets and walmarts of this world.

    i easily have better experiences with humans in the former than in the latter. there really isn’t any contest. the people who work at smaller places are nicer to me, and the people who shop at them seem generally friendlier and happier to be there.

    the more anonymous an experience is… the more people feel free to be rude. i think that’s probably always been true.

  7. Mr. Kit-chen:

    I completely agree with your assessment and my comment above, to which you respond, was not meant to recast your argument at all but to explain my first two comments, or at least why I wrote them. My humorous analogy (thank you very much) was only intended to state one of the claims of my new two-front war: that the only reason that people weren’t rude in Wal-Mart’s 400 years ago is because there weren’t Wal-Mart’s to be rude in. I have no doubt that were I alive in the time of ancient public markets I would have, like you, preferred to shop in small stores where I might know the owners and perhaps some of the customers because you are right, we are ruder (or act more selfishly) around those we don’t know. I sincerely hope that neither you nor Ms. Beet Queen take any of my comments as attacks. I am merely taking on my newest mantle as the voice of moderation and perspective on the internetz.

    Warmest regards,
    JimPanzee

  8. Kit-chen

    i think the reason i harp is that i wanna answer BeetQueen’s basic complaint in a practical way.

    people in big stores can be really rude, it’s one of the things that makes them depressing. maybe that doesn’t mean that she literally is the last polite person on the planet, or that we are going downhill as a society. but still.

    i think it’s more useful to point out that there are alternatives to standing in the checkout line at target.

    and while you might not be able to find Baby Shakespeare at your little local bookshop or record store, they’ll probably order it for you. OR you could buy it online and spend your afternoon more pleasantly.

    personally i still go to the big boxes periodically – when i’m in a hurry or need something badly. or just when they are closest. i’m not too good to admit it.

    it’s unpleasant. but i don’t get really mad at the other humans there, because i know have a choice. i could and often do choose to get my stuff in some other, more personable way.

  9. Recently I saw *FIVE* people intentionally cross in front of an ambulance with its lights and sirens on. It actually had to wait for all of them to get through.

    The first guy might have been going too fast to stop when he spotted the ambulance, but the other four seemed to think, “oh good, that guy went, I’ll just slip through too.”

    Do they really not understand that someone’s grandma is probably lying in the bathroom floor with a broken hip, getting delayed care all because they were in a big hurry to get to Best Buy? Jeesh.

  10. That comment was written to the original post, and not, obviously, to the conversation that followed.

    I agree with Kitchen’s assessment about big stores. What has happened is that the more people a store serves, the less they can give personalized customer service.

    Now that we have warranties that you *buy* (instead of free implied ones), fast cheap goods, question-free returns, credit and so forth, gone are the days when you bought an item that fell apart, took it back to the store and received a sincere apology from the store’s owner, and then got a free loaner item while yours was being repaired.

    I think that as the customer service decreases the customers’ feeling of responsibility to be civil also diminishes.

  11. beetqueen

    I don’t take your comments as attacks. I know you better than that. Notice that when I wrote my original tirade, I said that I was “one of the last,” which implies that I know there are other polite people in the world. All of my friends fall into this category (including you JimPanzee). I guess I can’t assume my friends are the only ones reading my blog, but I figured it was obvious that it was an exaggeration. The content was more about people’s selfishness than about the decline of civilization. I’ve never been one spouting out about the “Evil-ution” of our nation (something a collegue once wrote in an editorial) or that I think the world is going to hell in a handbag. I do, however, feel that if people realized how rude they actually are at times, than maybe they’d knock it off. I guess my hope is that one day more than my loving friends will read my blog and it might make someone take a second look at what kind of a hurry they are in and how it really affects those around them.

    I agree with Kit-chen that box stores tend to inspire a certain negative attitude among their patrons. I think it’s the sheer overwhelming volume and time spent just trying to find that bottle of shampoo that sets people on edge. I too have been a cashier and have been told the customer is always right, even when he is insulting and degrading me. Trader Joe’s and Half Price books are sadly the exception to the rule as far as customer service goes. Believe me, I’d much rather do all my shopping at Trader Joe’s, but unfortunately they don’t carry diapers and as much as I’d like to order things on-line, shipping charges are often outrageous and after being cooped up in the house all day with a small baby, I need to get out at times. I just want people to be nicer to each other, that’s all.

  12. beetqueen

    Oh, and in response to Shae, that ambulance thing really pisses me off. My dad is a paramedic and I know how often they really do have life and death situations. It’s not that hard to pause for a few seconds and pull over and I kind of want to throttle people who yet again think they are more important than anyone else in the world and just won’t!

  13. Kit-chen

    12 comments. damn this thread is hot.

    obviously you should be getting your diapers delivered by the Diaperking:

    http://www.diaperkingclub.com/

    from their website:


    incontinence
    1. unrestrained
    2. lacking self restraint
    3. unable to control a natural discharge from the body

  14. Kit-chen

    in all seriousness, and to keep this thread going on into infinity, in indianapolis we still have:

    o’malias (very pleasant to shop in AND still locally owned for now)
    marsh (slightly less pleasant but still locally owned for now)
    wild oats (which i despise, but they seem to float some people’s boat)
    and finally, sunflower market in the ripple.

    of course, you will still end up buying pampers at the cheapest place available. i’m sure i would too. but there are alternatives for many other things.

    big boxes sometimes feel unavoidable… that’s why i still end up in them. but you can still do a lot (even with a baby) to minimize the time you *have* to spend in them. even if you have to get those pampers at meijer.

    plus as a bonus you get to spend that precious time out of the house doing something that is actually kinda pleasant.

  15. Kit-chen

    i don’t know why all those italics are in that last post. WHATEVER.

  16. beetqueen

    Marsh has been bought out, so they aren’t local anymore, although that’s where I do most of my grocery shopping (with Trader Joe’s). Plus, you’ll be proud of me, I plan to make my own baby food in a few months when he can actually eat it. See, I can be all earthy too!

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