Manners, manners...

We have made it a little family tradition to stop by our local "donut and kolache" shop on our way home from Sunday Mass. The order is almost always identical, sometimes with one or two substitutions: one cinnamon roll, one cherry kolache, one donut with pink frosting and sprinkles, and one donut with vanilla filling. Our tab is always under $2 - not bad :)


In any case, yesterday morning I was standing in line with two customers in front of me. It's a small shop and one can't help but overhear other customers' conversations. I listened as customer #1 said to the man behind the counter, "I want two of these, three of those, and what are those? They don't look like what I'm used to...Okay fine, I want one of those, too." No please or thank you, just "I want, I want, I want." 

Next came a father and son. Surely this man would be more polite, wanting to be a good example for his son...Or not. "Give me three of these, three of those, and two of these." Again, no please or thank you, just give me, give me, give me. 

This isn't the first time that I've witnessed such a lack of manners. I was brought up to say "Please, may I have..." and to answer the phone with "May I please speak with...," but it seems like more often than not, these polite words are the exception rather than the rule. Children will come to my house and say, "I want a glass of juice" or "Give me more graham crackers," and they look at me like I'm crazy when I ask them to use "please" and "thank you". 

I don't mean to over-analyze, but I do believe that we have a whole generation of adults who feel entitled to many things, and I fear that they are passing on their sense of entitlement to their children. The language of "I want" and "give me" inherently indicates that the person feels that he is entitled to the object of his desire, that he feels that he should be able to take something just because he wants it. On the other hand, the language of "May I please" and "I would like...please" inherently indicates that the person understands that she is not entitled to what she asks for simply because she wants it. She realizes that she may very well not be able to have what she wants, when she wants it, and her language is respectful of the person with whom she is speaking. One is a language of taking, the other is a language of receiving. The result may be the same - in my case, all of us received and enjoyed our donuts - but the means are very different.

Am I over-analyzing the situation, or do you have similar reservations? What do you do when you are with your children and observe others who have poor manners, especially acquaintances that you see on a regular basis? Do you say something to your children, or just let it go?

13 comments:

We talk about it, after the fact, if we witness such a lack of manners. Mostly just because I've worked so hard at cultivating them within our household, and I don't want my kids to think the status quo for other people is acceptable.

There are times when I feel like such a terrible nag for always correcting my 3 year old with pleases and thank you's. I worry that she'll just end up feeling so picked on that she'll have a constant defiance about her. (She has a tendency towards that anyway, so it could just be my overactive worrying!) But still, I make a point to remind her to ASK instead of TELL.

She's getting better at it. It makes me wonder if some parents don't ever teach these manners because it takes such constant vigilance? And it's just easier to let it slide.

Until they're teenagers bossing you around and expecting to be catered to. ;) Then it seems like our efforts are worthwhile.

June 15, 2009 at 2:19 PM  

I think most children exhibit a lack of manners for the same reason they regularly exhibit poor and whiny behavior. The reason--their parents have not taken the time to discipline them and reinforce good habits. Discipline and good habits are an everyday thing, not a once in a while thing! Even a very difficult, willful, and whiny child can and should be taught to say please and thank you. If they do not receive juice at home unless they ask properly, then they will be much more likely to speak respectfully when out of the house. If they are regularly forgetting to say please and thank you, it is because the parents are not enforcing it.

That being said, I would hesitate to judge/correct another child (not my own) who asks for juice rudely. They may simply be excited to be on a playdate, and have forgotten their manners. That happens to the best of us!
Because of this, I do not correct the manners of other children. I have no problem, however, in correcting poor or dangerous behavior of another child, as this seems a much more serious breach of respect for others.

All this being said, I bet you would be hard-pressed to hear ANYONE say please or thank you at a bakery in the northeast! Around here, giving your order quickly, without any extras, is essential to keep the line moving and keeping the other customers happy in a crowded bakery. Just one of the many problems with our fast-paced lifestyle as it truly doesn't take that much extra time to say please and thank you!

June 15, 2009 at 2:39 PM  

Red, I definitely agree, even the most polite children get excited on play-dates and may forget their manners. However, because I make my children say "Please may I have some juice," I feel that I need to remind a friend who is visiting to do the same so that Christopher sees me being consistent. I'm not mean about it, I stay light-hearted and remind the child with a smile, but I think it's important.

Interesting to hear your comments about bakeries in the northeast...I still don't think that it's right, but I see what you mean.

June 15, 2009 at 2:49 PM  

My brother and I worked at one of those walk up ice cream stands in high school and it always irked us when people would say "Give me a vanilla" or worse, "I'll take a vanilla". I think it's good that you notice and try to show your kids that you should even ask politely for things that you intend to buy. I live in the Northeast, so this is possibly a regional thing as Red said, but it's still bothersome. I really try to make an effort to say please and thank you to the people when I return to buy ice cream, but I'm not always successful.

June 15, 2009 at 3:27 PM  

I think its the former teacher in me, but I have no problem reminding others' children about manners at our house. Just as I would expect a teenager to have appropriate conduct within our home, I appreciate manners from the littlest guests! I would LOVE for another mother to remind my children of manners when they're out--the more manners we have going around, the better!! Fellow Builders, you officially have my permission to correct my children anytime! :)

This Heavenly Life, I hear you on not wanting to nag your 3yo too often about manners, but I say do it anyway! Repetition seems to be the only way to get it stick into their little heads. It's probably one of the best reasons to "nag", moreso "consistently remind".

As for crowded bakeries, or crowded anythings for that matter, I would fault being harried for the lack of politeness. As Red said, when you're holding up the line, you'd better get moving! I'm pretty sure I often forget my "please's", but never the "thank you's". I'm an obsessive thanker.

June 15, 2009 at 4:41 PM  

As a parent I'm constantly reminding and insisting on getting a please or I won't give out food and drinks. I never let it slide.

That said, I think I'm not so good myself at always remembering. Especially for some reason I'm terrible at remembering to say "please" when I'm at the deli counter or bakery, etc. Still, I usually at least ask, "Could I have..." rather than "Give me" or "I'll take." I think that's at least phrased as a question rather than a demand. And I always, always, always say thank you.

June 15, 2009 at 9:29 PM  

You aren't overanalyzing the situation. I've taught my children (by example) that we say please and thank you to anyone who is serving us. Both my husband and I have worked in restaurants and stores as high school and college students. It is incredible how rude people can be to you in those situations. My own mother is one of those people who takes a condescending tone towards anyone in the service industry and it's awful to witness, let alone being on the receiving end of it.
My children can make small talk with waiters and clerks and they say please and thank you when placing orders. It's so nice to see the smiles creep across the faces of waitstaff at restaurants after they hear my children say thank you after they place their drink or food in front of them.
Having been on the other side in the service industry, I can attest to the fact that most patrons are rude. While it's not fun to deal with ungrateful, rude people, I always found responding to them in an over the top sickening sweet way to be the best defense.

June 15, 2009 at 9:39 PM  

Kat, I agree with everyone here, you're not overanalyzing. I grew up in the deep South where bad manners mean you have no class, poor breeding, and you won't get far in any circles. One is expected to treat friends and strangers alike with respect and dignity, as fellow members of the human family that they are, not like slaves or animals. I'm still shell-shocked living in the northeast... I'm told it's just the way up here, but I still equate rudeness with poor upbringing at best, malice at worst, so it's been really oppressive at times.

B-mama, I totally agree with you, I WISH other parents would discipline my kids. Red, today when you insisted to Bean "in or out, and no banging on the glass door", I smiled with GREAT satisfaction and warmth in my heart from the other room. Good old fashioned manners and right behavior can't be reinforced enough. I wish there was always consistency in other households with what we teach in ours.

And I definitely correct/discipline other people's kids when it's objectively reasonable: failing to use please or thank you, 3 year old calling me by my first name while demanding something (so help me), inability to take turns, violent behavior.

Also, I think it's great to discuss manners with kids when they witness bad examples. As you have explained here, Kat, manners are not a matter of personal preference or style, they are basic norms by which we treat others with charity. That's what makes them important, and worth discussing and enforcing.

June 15, 2009 at 10:23 PM  

I do not think you are over-analyzing in the least.

My husband has two ADULT sons whom he feels no hesitation in correcting when they act this way.

Having good manners and displaying courtesy is in response to a two-part reality: "I am not the only person in this world, and I am not the center of it, either." It's a reality that society is very rapidly teaching people to ignore.

People are not machines, nor were we put on this planet to serve the selfish whims of those who stick grubby hands upturned into our faces accompanied by the whiny command, "GIMMIE."

Gratitude, selflessness, self-awareness, courtesy, manners, all of these things are going by the wayside. People seem to care more about looking and sounding like the losers they see on reality TV than being a person of substance. The whole "entitlement" mentality has just got to go. I can't tell you how many folks that I know won't get a job at Burger King because it's "beneath them", but they can't afford the cell phone that's growing out of their ear.

That's another thing---the cell phones!!! There is nothing more RUDE than people who talk and text while they're interacting with other people in person. I even think the whole, "I'm sorry, but I HAVE to take this" is a crock. Not to mention that the "I can multitask" is just plain BS. IT'S RUDE. Shut the stupid phone off and talk to them later! Seriously, you're just not that important, and you're being totally ignorant to those standing right there in your presence, even when you do excuse yourself.

Sorry for the post within a comment, but you really struck a nerve.

June 16, 2009 at 11:22 AM  

Great thoughts! I agree with everything that has been said, especially the fact that not saying please and thank you seems to indicate a deeper issue with how our individualistic, material society truly values other people. What a shame it would be if, though our own negligence, our children grew up with a self-centered understanding of the world.

THis is also a good reminder to me, b/c I'm certain I forget my manners more often than I think because there are times when I consider leaving a bakery still standing after a visit from our 1, 2, and 3 year old boys a great service.

As an aside, I think eye contact is really important in respecting people, whether it is Mommy, a kid in playgroup or the lady who hands my child a donut. I hope that insisting that Dash looks at someone when he's thanking them or asking for something helps him to see the person, not just his own desire being met. And he must look Mommy in the eye to apologize.

I also smile when someone else corrects my kids. If they will be somewhere without me I tell the mom that they have permission to correct/discipline my child.

June 16, 2009 at 3:36 PM  

I really think the best thing we can do is set a good example, and leave other people to their mothers. I know my kids are going to repeat the 'bad' things that I say, so I am hopeful that they repeat the good things I say. I and my husband try hard to not forget to say please and thank you to one another and we hope it sticks. We'll see!

June 16, 2009 at 7:12 PM  

My son is not to the point where he is able to say or gesture please and thank you, but this entry made me think of how my parents raised me to be polite.

In particular I have always been polite to anyone in any type of service industry. It is sad to me how often the work of certain people goes completely unnoticed or unnapreciated, as if they are an entirely different class of people.

For example, when my son was in the hospital, every day I said thank you to the people who came into the room to empty the trash or take away food. I say thank you to the maids in hotel rooms, to the gardening and landscaping staff in our housing development, the baggage handlers at the airport, etc. Often they will look at me as if I have three heads, as if to say "you actually see me?"

How sad. I hope that my son learns to be polite not only to his authority figures and peers, but that he doesn't grow up thinking there is a whole class of people who exist just to serve him.

June 17, 2009 at 1:50 PM  

I most definitely agree that there is a growing lack of manners and it's very visible at stores and shops. I insist on it from my children.

However, and I'll caveat this with saying that not being there really limits one's ability to judge and therefore I'm inclined to trust your analysis, there is the related issue of expediency. What would you think of someone who started of that abrupt, "Yes, I'll take two of these, one of those" etc., but then after paying says "thank you very much"? Point being, particularly when there's a line behind you, there's a reason to limit the number of pleases and thank you when you've got a string of requests. Either starting the string of requestions with a single polite gesture or phrase or ending with a similar thank you, can suffice for good manners when time is of the essence.

All of that said, I've got no doubt that not having been there it was pretty obvious in this case that the reason your rudeness radar went off is because they were legitimately being rude.

June 17, 2009 at 3:08 PM  

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