- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

Heavens. The world has become so rude that the Emily Post Institute has stepped in to put a polite damper on cellular-phone volume, children behaving badly, four-letter words, unruly shoppers and caterwauling in general.

The newly published 17th edition of “Emily Post’s Etiquette” now devotes an entire chapter to rudeness in all its permutations, complete with the “Dirty Dozen” — a list of society’s rudest behaviors, topped by telling ethnic jokes.

“Etiquette is not dead. The pressures of modern life can make civility seem less important. But in fact, the opposite is true,” said author Peggy Post, director of the Vermont-based Emily Post Institute and great-granddaughter-in-law of the venerable manners maven herself.

“There is tremendous interest in the topic. Civility is more essential than ever,” Mrs. Post said.

Indeed, recent polls confirm that boorish America is getting … well, more boorish.

A survey of 2,000 adults released by New York-based Public Agenda two years ago found that eight out of 10 Americans say lack of respect and courtesy is a “serious national problem.”

A U.S. News & World Report survey found 88 percent of us think incivility is getting worse, a trend confirmed by Good Housekeeping magazine, which found 79 percent felt society had gotten ruder. An ABC News survey revealed that 85 percent of the respondents felt the world would be better if we said “please” and “thank you” more.

Which is Mrs. Post’s point exactly.

“How we treat each other in our daily lives is a true measure of the quality of our lives,” she said, advising one and all to “make an active commitment to courtesy.”

Many concur.

In the past five years, earnest etiquette experts have penned succinct how-to books for the behaviorally challenged — directed toward men, women, teens, children, executives, diners, brides, grooms, international travelers and even horses.

Fashion designer Kate Spade has written a manners book, as has Sesame Street’s Grover and the cartoon character Dora the Explorer.

The Emily Post Institute — a manners think tank — offers nine etiquette books and five assorted magazine and newspaper columns.

Its newest offering outlines five varieties of loutish behavior in a chapter called “Dealing with Rudeness.”

Screaming confrontations and road rage are classified as “aggressive rudeness,” while “casual rudeness” covers the annoying few who rush from the back of a checkout line to a newly created one — and anything to do with loud cell phones.

“Rudeness in disguise” include back-handed compliments or sarcasm, while clueless table manners come under “unwitting rudeness.”

Last but not least is “bottom of the barrel behavior,” according to Mrs. Post, who condemns the spitters, belchers, nose-blowers and people who swear in public or in front of children.

The causes of such impertinence? Mrs. Post cites the influence of coarse TV, films and music; “obsession with self”; the constant intrusion of e-mails and cellular phones; and “the need to do everything fast.”

Responding is tricky business.

“Most people are loath to challenge rudeness because they’re fearful that even a minor confrontation might easily escalate,” Mrs. Post writes, advising folks not to take rudeness personally, to use humor, count to 10 or just let things go when appropriate.

“The lesson here is to kill ‘em with kindness,” she notes. “Good behavior is catching. The more you display it, the more it spreads.”

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