Are Americans Over Being Polite?

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Are Americans becoming more rude, abandoning traditional polite phrases, or are the words we use now just updated versions of the same sentiment? This debate is the subject of an NPR piece that investigates camps from both sides.

Increasingly, various phrases have been taking precedent over a good old fashioned “thank you” or “you’re welcome.” While dining at a restaurant, when a waiter comes by to ask you if you’d like more water or bread, do you notice that you often say “I’m good,” rather than “no, thank you”? When someone thanks you for holding the door open or doing them a favor, “no problem” is almost on par with “you’re welcome.”

Lisa Gache, co-founder of Beverly Hills Manners, told NPR:

“The slow erosion” of these ‘magic words’ in our everyday vernacular has to do with the predilection toward all things casual in our society today. Casual conversation, casual dress and casual behavior have hijacked practically all areas of life, and I do not think it is doing anyone a service.”

And apparently Americans agree; a survey by Rasmussen Reports in 2011 revealed that 76% of those surveyed thought that Americans were becoming “more rude and less civil.”

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But is using phrases like “no problem” or “you bet” or “enjoy” really less civil or even rude? Does more casual phrasing erase the original sentiment of gratitude or is it a way to make the other person feel more comfortable? Doesn’t “no, thank you” sometimes feel a little too formal, perhaps even a little too harsh, beginning with “no”?

The Economist’s language blog agrees: “[…] when “cheers” fills in for “thank you” (a largely British habit which some Americans are adopting), I feel a little fellowship, almost as if the other person and I were raising a little glass to one another.”

Acknowledging this point, NPR talks to Emily Post Senning, great-granddaughter to Emily Post, who set the standard on manners with her book Etiquette in 1922. Senning says that while the principles of respect and consideration are “universal and timeless,” the actual manners change over time and between cultures, as do the words used to articulate gratitude and appreciation.

It’s probably not a bad idea to remember to say “please” and “thank you,” but don’t beat yourself up thinking you’re a horrible person if you say “have a good one” instead.

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