Rude Behavior – Is There an Epidemic?

If the authorities on social graces, Emily Post and Miss Manners (Judith Martin), define manners and etiquette as:

— “a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.”

— “a little social contract we make that we will restrain some of our more provocative impulses in return for living more or less harmoniously in a community.”

Then I wonder if we are in the midst of an epidemic of rude behavior? Is there an increase in appalling behavior? Is it more prevalent in certain areas, like big cities, where accountability is improbable? How widespread is this affliction?

Are we, as a society, poised on the precipice awaiting an imminent descent into a boorish abyss? Or have we already plummeted over the edge, headfirst, into the mire of a Rude Behavior Crater?

Reflecting on some of my experiences and those of close friends, coupled with evidence posted on blogs and in articles, it appears common courtesy is in rapid decline and perhaps, even out of style. Maybe those of us who would love to eradicate this manners deficit epidemic should create a “Social Graces Secret Society” and continue to practice the “rituals” of gracious living. Would we have a chance of overcoming inconsiderate behavior?

    Classic examples I have encountered, sometimes on a daily basis:

  • On the road: The guy/gal who isn’t satisfied to go the speed limit and tries to hurry you along by tailgating. Someone zipping in and out of lanes without signaling, charging ahead like they’re trying to outrun a raging fire. And the ongoing battle of who “owns the road” between cyclist and motorist. I notice this most in cities like Portland.
  • Why do big trucks and fancy cars think it is their right to take up two spaces?

  • In parking lots: Why do people leave shopping carts in parking spaces? After all, the store spent extra money building special stalls for those little buggies. And why do big trucks and “fancy” cars think it is their right to take up two spaces for parking? Meandering down the middle of the parking lot, pushing your cart and chatting with your friend or on your phone, unconcerned that I am following you, desperately trying to find a parking space before noon, makes me want to say something unkind to you!
  • In restaurants: How do you handle sloppy, disinterested service? I understand someone having a bad day, or if the place is slammed, but when you have to ask three times for a water refill, that’s carelessness. Sarcastic, complaining customers and ill-mannered children with underachieving parents can ruin a dining experience.
  • On cell phones: The lack of cell phone etiquette is one of my personal pet peeves. I am annoyed by loud inane conversations shared with everyone in restaurants, retail and grocery stores, lines at the bank or post office, movie theaters and coffee shops. I don’t care if your boyfriend/girlfriend is being a jerk, how drunk you got at last Friday’s party or whether or not you were invited to the wine tasting. And please, at least pause your conversation long enough to pay for your meal, or your merchandise! Believe it or not, you are not that adept at multi-tasking. Texting or constantly glancing at your cell phone to see if you have a message while I am talking with you is unbelievably rude.
  • In conversation with strangers or acquaintances: Unsolicited questions from strangers, acquaintances and even from family members such as, “Are you pregnant?” “How much did you pay for that?” and “Has he met his real parents?” cross my privacy boundaries. I am not a celebrity or a politician and I am not obliged to share my personal life with you.

Identifying declining courtesy issues is easier than determining how to respond to rude behavior and how to restore common politeness, respect and good manners. I believe it must start with us, in our homes and with our families.

What do you think? Do you believe we are in the depths of a rudeness epidemic? Does it matter? And if adjustments need to be made, what do you think should be done? You can’t legislate good manners.

The Advice Goddess, Amy Alkon, shares her perspective on Beating Some Manners into Impolite Society:

Kathryn Barker has never met a child, a tea, or a baby animal she didn’t love. With her Sweet Husband of 43 years, she has: raised three extraordinary children, doctored all manner of farm animal, driven a team of horses, made soap, spun wool and opened a tea room. An avid photographer, Kathryn has had tea in a ger in Mongolia, viewed the Three Gorges Dam in China and waved to the Queen of England. She maintains a tea booth at the Oregon St. Antique Mall. Visit her at or on Facebook and Twitter at tea4kate.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of

Kathryn Barker has never met a child, a tea, or a baby animal she didn’t love. With her Sweet Husband of 43 years, she has: raised three extraordinary children, doctored all manner of farm animal, driven a team of horses, made soap, spun wool and opened a tea room. An avid photographer, Kathryn has had tea in a ger in Mongolia, viewed the Three Gorges Dam in China and waved to the Queen of England. She maintains a tea booth at the Oregon St. Antique Mall. Visit her at or on Facebook and Twitter at tea4kate.
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12 Responses

  1. Avatar Peter Ryan says:

    I couldn't agree more, thankfully a group already exists! 🙂

    • Avatar Kate says:

      Thank you Peter Ryan…all the way from Australia…for your comment and for your website. I admire your desire to promote "gentlemanly" behavior. It's a pleasure to meet you…

  2. Avatar Anonymous Heckler says:

    "Are you pregnant?" That's the question you're just never, never, never, never supoosed to ask, isn't it? If it ain't screaming obvious, just shut up about it.

  3. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Good advice Kathryn. How about cell phones that go off in meetings? Must we always be connected? Turn it off and don't text while the speaker is trying to talk.

    • Avatar Kate says:

      Dear Mr. Budd Hodges,

      I wonder also, about the need to "always be connected." What about "being in the present" mindset? At what point does technology stop improving our life and become an addictive disruption?

      Ahhh…questions to ponder. Thanks for your comment.

      • Avatar lostinamerica says:

        My mother used to tell the story of an old man who said he put in his phone for his convenience and would not answer it when it was not convenient….I think we get feeling somehow obligated when we have a cell phone on us, and others seem to feel entitled to be able to reach us at their convenience….odd. We become dominated by technology, and then we loose our backbone to say to others that this is our life! not theirs. If we don't need to answer to the kids and the boss then why do we answer all the time (which sort of trains others that we will always be available). Screen your calls, return calls when you really have time to speak with the other party, and don't take up others' time when you call them! These are three simple steps to cell phone sanity. Regain your life, the cell phone is only a tool–not a god.

        • Avatar Kate says:

          Dear lostinamerica,

          Thank you so much for your comment and your story. I think sometimes we forget that technology was meant to serve us, not enslave us. It sounds like you have established a few rules for a "good" relationship with your cell phone!

  4. Avatar lostinamerica says:

    The author does not even approach the rudest of all behavior—-the "F….U" that is growled loudly and intimidatingly at anyone who dares to comment on a rude behavior! Even at women and old people the rude one's will reply with a horrible growl of FU that seems completely troll-like. In America we have the finest standard of living with the finest of things—but sadly, not the finest people.

    • Avatar Kate says:

      Dear lostinamerica,

      In America we do have many fine and wonderful things, and there are many fine and wonderful people. Unfortunately, there will always be those who will exhibit extreme rude behavior. I am sorry that you have had encounters with them.

  5. Avatar EtiquetteGuy says:

    There is unquestionably a rudeness epidemic. There are a variety of reasons for the emergence of rudeness as commonplace; there are as many options for restoring civility to western society. I notice a general lack of gratitude, respect and compassion for one another. There are many tensions causing this behavior including lowered self esteem which is an obvious result of the damaging economic collapse of so many businesses and individuals. There is no manuel on how to be more civil. We must teach members of the communities in which we live by example. Be nicer. Be more appreciative. Be more compassionate. Demonstrate greater respect. Others will follow suit.