Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Big Apple just got a lot shinier. New York City is the most courteous place on the planet, according to a survey released yesterday by Reader’s Digest. And at the bottom of the heap lurks Bombay. India’s financial capital has bombed — deemed the very rudest.

The publication staged a global civility derby among 35 cities around the world, using undercover reporters to conduct more than 2,000 simple courtesy tests among unwitting passers-by, clerks and the proverbial men — and women — on the street.

Would they hold open doors, say “thank you” or help retrieve a sheaf of wayward papers on the sidewalk? Well, yes — and no, depending on the locale. Still, it is reassuring to note that even in times of tumult and uncertainty, earthlings proved fairly genteel: The survey revealed that overall, the test cities were courteous an average of 55 percent of the time.

And what about poor Bombay? The locals are taking issue with the findings, calling the survey “an insult” and “too Western,” the British Broadcasting Corp. reported yesterday.

Meanwhile, something wonderful has happened in New York.

“Beneath that gruff exterior, New Yorkers really are a polite bunch: 90 percent held the door open, 19 out of 20 store clerks said ‘thank you’ and 63 percent of men and 47 percent of women helped with the papers. In total, four out of every five people encountered by Reader’s Digest passed the courtesy test — making New York the most courteous city on the list,” the survey stated.

Former Mayor Ed Koch attributed such refinement to September 11, noting that an empathetic populace has become more caring since the terrorist attacks almost five years ago.

“They understand the shortness of life,” Mr. Koch said.

Most of the New Yorkers attributed good manners to their upbringing — from the pregnant woman who bent to retrieve errant papers to the busy ad executive who said he always — always — opened doors for people.

“It’s something you’re taught when you’re young,” one respondent explained.

“My mom brought me up like that. It’s pure manners,” another said.

Reader’s Digest is the first to point out that this Global Courtesy Test is not entirely scientific, calling it “the world’s biggest real-life test of common courtesy.”

Overall, the survey found that those younger than 40 were more courteous than those older than 40. It also revealed a curious sexism: Men were more polite to men and women more polite to other women.

In the big picture, Asia was the rudest continent, where eight out of nine test cities were in the bottom 11. The magazine reported that one unapologetic clerk in Bombay told a reporter, “I hand over goods to the customer, and that’s it.”

In Europe, Moscow and Bucharest, Romania, were the least polite cities. And dear, dear: The undercover reporters became so discouraged in Paris — ranked 19th — that they almost abandoned the research altogether.

Reader’s Digest will publish the findings in the July issue of all 50 of its editions, the most expansive simultaneous global collaboration in the magazine’s 84-year history.

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