- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

Days of civility may be returning to American society, according to a new book by a Fordham University English professor.

In "A Short History of Rudeness: Manners, Morals and Misbehavior in Modern America," Mark Caldwell says there has been much talk about the decline of manners over the past five years.

"[Concern] has seemed to crescendo at the turn of the millennium," he says, "because people are concerned manners are going to take a nose dive.

"There was a big upsurgence about etiquette in the early 1900s. The next one is at 2000. I find it interesting, although not surprising."

Tops on his list of rude behaviors are bad Metro etiquette, road rage and the ubiquitous cell phones.

"Cell-phone use, in public, is a hot-button topic," he says. "It feels like a rude assault to others when individuals are conducting personal business" in that manner.

Yet, some confusion remains as to what constitutes good manners.

"For example, males wonder, 'Should I hold a door for a woman or will she see it as patronizing?' " Mr. Caldwell says. "Am I being polite or rude? People have a completely different context and that context is always changing."

He says consistent patterns throughout history show that people always have been concerned about manners, morals and etiquette.

"We tend to react very sharply to the thing that is relatively new," he says. "Eminem [a foul-mouthed rap star] is currently in the news, and we treat what he is doing as if it is new" although the shock factor he is going for is not.

Since the beginning of time, he adds, humans always have tried to push the limits of what is considered standard and acceptable behavior.

"As soon as things start to crystallize, we [society] are going to question and then rebel," he says.

Even back in the days of King Louis XIV, rules were broken easily, which is why that society produced the word "etiquette," meaning "keep off the grass."

Dorothea Johnson, president of the Protocol School of Washington, which is based in McLean, found that the word was coined when Louis XIV's gardener would put up signs, called etiquets, warning the aristocrats not to "trample through the gardens." The signs were ignored.

The meaning of etiquette later expanded and evolved to where it's now a social grace. Many teachers of etiquette classes admit it is those already conscious of their conduct who seek professional assistance.

Ms. Johnson says people in the working world are beginning to realize the importance of good manners. Many executives have enlisted the help of etiquette trainers because they realize the right behavior at a business dinner can be just the thing to land a deal.

"Savvy executives are making it a point to know [what is expected] before they go places," Mrs. Johnson says.

"In the Washington area, it is so wonderful because we have people from all over the world," she says. "We are the most culturally diverse nation in the world, but we are also the most culturally unaware," and that needs to change.

If you are still asking the questions, "Should I hold the door open for a lady?" or "Should I stand when someone enters the room?" the answer is yes.

"Theoretically, it is a lot easier to be polite if it is ingrained and automatic," Mr. Caldwell says.

For a number of individuals, that is not the case, and that is why people like Millicent Burnstein, president of EtiKids Limited: Manners Can Be Fun, is in high demand. Etikids is a West Lafayette, Ind., enterprise.

Mrs. Burnstein, along with her two daughters, started the business five years ago and have had their 12-student classes full ever since.

"We recognized at birthday parties that kids were absolutely disgusting," she says. "Throwing pizza on the floor and demanding more lemonade is just not acceptable."

Mrs. Burnstein says Etikids' "basic approach to manners" means the children, ages 6 to 12, are not allowed to wear jeans, sweat pants or athletic shoes.

The young students constantly hear about the "wonder words," which are " 'please,' 'thank you,''you're welcome' and 'excuse me.' " At the end of their six-week "semester," which costs $100 for six hours, the children are taken out and tested at the most elegant restaurant in the community.

Throughout a normal, one-hour, Saturday class, the children learn basic skills such as proper telephone greetings, table settings and manners, how to give and receive compliments, and good sportsmanship.

"I don't know when it [concern for others] all stopped, but I'm kind of thinking we got in a place where everyone was just out for themselves," Mrs. Burnstein says.

"Parents have taken the 'me' attitude and kids fend for themselves," she says. "I am not knocking parents, but people aren't paying enough attention. A lot of people are just so busy."

According to a 1996 U.S. News/ Bozell Poll, conducted by KRC Research and Consulting and involving 1,005 adults, Americans believe they are civil individually, but not collectively.

Ten percent of those surveyed believed Americans are very civil toward each other. Fifty-nine percent said somewhat civil, and 25 percent admitted to not being very civil.

But, when asked about their own behavior toward others, 67 percent said they were very civil, 32 percent said somewhat and only 1 percent said not very.

"Manners are an action-reac-

tion synthesis," Mr. Caldwell says. "Manners form chains. There is never a statement, gesture or action in isolation. The original [action] is followed by something else, usually ruder."

This is evidenced in the high-profile world of sports. Cecilia Grimes, a certified etiquette and protocol consultant in Siler City, N.C., says she often is called upon to teach athletes in high school, college and the pros the finer rules of conduct.

"Etiquette is a knowledge base and you can learn it at any age," she says. "There is a growing awareness and the sooner you recognize it, the better your life will be."

Mrs. Grimes has been working with the University of North Carolina's women's basketball team for the past three years.

"These women have great ease on the court," she says, "but they need to realize they are being watched both on and off."

Even though some people may be watching their manners more closely, Mr. Caldwell does not see everyone changing their ways anytime soon.

"I don't buy the assumption that if everyone behaved more politely, we would become more moral," he says. "There is a significant difference between the two."

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