More money, fewer manners

More money, fewer manners

Peggy Noonan says that while we’re living in an age of unprecedented wealth, it’s also unprecedented boorishness and bad manners.

There are good things and bad in the Gilded Age, pluses and minuses. I write here of a minus. It has to do with our manners, the ones we show each other on the street. I think riches, or the pursuit of riches, has made us ruder. You’d think broad comfort would assuage certain hungers. It has not. It has sharpened them.

And then she gives examples. While she’s write that bad manners are rampant, I wonder how much of it has to do with where she’s living. She’s in New York City. For instance, I’ve never had a waiter treat me as rudely as the one in her story does.

Further, while the other behaviors she describes are fairly common in the Boston area, they might be less common in other parts of the country, although you have to get pretty far from the cities to avoid them.

Also, is this aggressiveness just a resurgence of older behaviors? Were people always more polite and less boorish than they are now? My gut says not.

Yet, there’s truth to what she writes. Bad manners is rampant and what’s most distressing is the level of bad manners you see in children with no one correcting them. How bad will it be in a decade or two?

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  • I think the rudeness comment is dead on, but I think the correlation to focus on wealth is a spurious. I think they are both the result of so many in society forsaking their faith.  They do not believe in anything except the self.  This leads to both wealth maximization AND treating others as mere objects. 

    I think things will get better with time.  As a reaction to this way of being or as a reaction to some future event.

    But it seems late to be thinking these thoughts, so I’ll leave it until tomorrow. smile

  • Yet another reason to be grateful for where I live.

    We’re rural, we’re poor, we’re religious. There are 47,000 people in the whole county. Per capita income is about $20,000. There are, if I remember correctly, 400 churches.

    I don’t know what it is, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone talking on a cell phone since we moved here.

  • It’s not just New York. Welcome to Baltimore in summer. One evening this past week, I opened the patio door, hoping to enjoy the breeze—but alas, it was not to be.  Others, too, sat outside, screaming into their cell phones.  It sounded like the Tower of Babel.  In desperation, I put “The Stars and Stripes Forever” into a boombox, set it outside, and cranked it up.  When it was over, I heard nothing but the sound of crickets and air conditioners.  Heh heh.

  • Definitely not limited to one’s age bracket.

    I brought up my children to have manners, please, thank you, open and hold doors, etc.

    My son is great at opening and holding doors and the biggest ‘offender’ at not thanking him are by far older women – most of them are grandmother types.  We bin keepin’ track grin

    (only because it surprises us every time)

  • Noonan’s overall thesis—that money is a problem, not a solution, is correct.

    But the examples she gives are not necessarily supportive of her position; as you mentined, Dom, New York is not the same as Omaha, or even Milwaukee.

    We were in NYC 25 years ago and got the same “hustle” at the Russian Tea Room; when floorspace is at a premium, monetization of that floorspace is also at a premium.  Hustle them in/out.

    Conversely, having coffee at the local Perkins in the Midwest could last all morning, no problem…

  • I disagree that it has to do with personal wealth.  In my experience through prep school, college and law school, I always noticed that it was the upper middle class students that were the worst offenders.  The very poor and the very rich were fine.  I grew up in a decidedly upper middle class household and good manners, especially good behavior in public, were of paramount importance to our parents.  If it has anything to do with socio-economics, my guess it is the people who have just a little bit more than their parents had, or a little bit more than they used to have, or a little bit more than the neighbors have and who erroneously think that enjoying that extra money is better if they try it with a side order of rude and pushy.  They are wrong.

    Now I’m a corprate lawyer in NYC and I spend weekends in the country and I’m sure that cities on the whole are less friendly than the country towns. (For example, in the country, one waves hello to strangers that pass by.  In large cities only the crazed and creepy wave hello to strangers).  That said, please don’t blame NYC.  I’ve been around this country and around this world enough to form an opinion on this and as one who lives here and interacts with NYers and tourists on a daily basis I can say that I am often witness to (and try to express) the random acts of kindness of New Yorkers.  On the other hand, I have a quick aside that’s too good not to share – last week while walking my dog in my neighborhood I happened upon a family of 4 tourists walking towards me, FOUR abreast, holding hands and taking up the whole sidewalk from building to curb.  Clearly someone was going to have to move; either I and my dog into the busy street, or one of them.  When we were facing each other about 10 feet apart, the wife broke free and stepped in front of the husband with one daughter so that I would have room to pass.  In response, the husband tried to kick me (to the shock of his whole family), while mumbling about rude New Yorkers.  As they say, “Welcome to NY.  Now plese go home.”

    Here’s my solution, which I did not exercise in the extreme circumstance just mentioned, but which I DO exercise on the rare occassions when I confront a stranger (waitier, tourist, shopkeep, cashier, or anyone really) whose behavior is simply beyond the pale:  I tell them.  I think you have to exhibit polite behavior on line, in your theatre seat, at the ATM, on the subway, in church, etc. but that you also have to call out bad behavior when necessary.  And I use those kinds of words.  Few thing are more satifying that telling an adult male in front of his date or in front of his wife and children that he is a disgrace and should be embarrassed at his behavior and that you are going to have to insist that he pipe down, calm down, stop screaming at the waitress, cut the immigrant cashier a little slack, step back and BEHAVE.

    You’d be surprised.

  • I don’t get why it is that some people feel entitled to stroll into a private commercial establishment and to enjoy the degree of unintruded privacy and solitude they would expect if they had walked into a municipal museum or park, where the taxpayers take care of running the establishment.

    If you want to enjoy undisturbed peace and quiet and to engage in reverie, go into a publicly-funded park, or a church, or a museum. Or stay at home.

    In commercial establishments – shops and restaurants – the lights are on and the doors are open for one reason and one reason only – to sell things that will make the owners money so they can pay to keep those lights on and the doors open! They work hard around the clock to do that and that alone, and if their trying to do that bothers you, then don’t go in there.

  • I think you’re twisting Peggy’s words a little. There’s a big gap between “unintruded privacy” and the hard sell. It would be nice to have time to peruse the goods without someone standing at your elbow the entire time.

  • A good salesperson pays attention to the mood of the potential customer and the rhythm of the sale conversation. A bad salesperson doesn’t.

    The economy is so good that the lesser stores can only employ the inexperienced and those who aren’t good salespersons. The big stores clearly can manage better wages, and either better retention or training.

    I love Peggy Noonan, but she’s clearly never worked retail. smile

  • Peggy is sooooo right on this score (although I can’t see the direct connection to wealth).

    Cell phones – THEY’RE MOBILE for gosh sakes!  I was waiting, early in the morning, for my car to be repaired.  The dealership had a nice waiting area with a TV morning news show playing softly and a selection of magazines.  I brought a book. A man who either owned or managed some sort of import or distribution business (I learned a lot about his business) yacked loudly for almost an hour to customers, suppliers, friends, etc.  The dirty looks from the other six or seven customers could have killed, but the guy was oblivious.

    Sometimes I have to carry out business on the cell if I am away from the office, but I always, always, find a quiet place to do it if the conversation is more than 20 seconds long.

    It’s like when my daughter is on the phone at home and asks me to turn down the ballgame – it’s a cordless phone sweetheart – move.

    On the salesperson/waiter front, I agree with Dom.  There is a big difference between being solicitous and being aggressive and overly friendly.  In some establishments, particularly restaurants, I don’t think you can blame it on lack of experience – I get the impression it’s policy.

    Whenever a waitress or waiter calls me and my wife “guys” I am wont to wince.  “You guys want a drink?”  “How’re you guys doin’?”  Once this character actually sat at the table with us – “Boy I’m beat – how are you guys today?”  I said, “Us guys are great, can I get you a drink?” He got the message.  But I looked around, and it was obvious that a lot of people thought his, aren’t we all just by-golly friends, routine was cute.

    I guess I am just stodgy, but a person in a service job should be quiet, polite, knowledgeable, and responsive.