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Modern Manners

by Angela Lindsay

November 4,2005

While in the check-out line at a local mall recently, the shrill alert of a ringing cell phone pierced through the calm air. As if looking for a misplaced winning Powerball ticket, I and two other women frantically searched our purses to see which one of us was the lucky one with the coveted incoming call. After a few moments, one of the other ladies snatched her ringing phone out of her purse, held it in the air like it was The Stanley Cup, and proudly proclaimed: “It’s me!”

Reactions from on-looking customers ranged from impatience to disgust—the three of us evidently having held up the check-out line for a few seconds too long. Then a thought hit me: could it be that in my self-absorbed haste to be the recipient of yet another likely inconsequential cell phone call that this southern-bred girl was being (gasp!) rude?

According to a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll . . . the answer is yes.

The study found that nearly 70% of those polled believe that Americans are ruder now than we were 20 to 30 years ago. So what behavior exactly has turned The Brady Bunch into The Osbournes? According to the poll: road rage, public obscenities (both gestures and words), and, yes, excessive cell phone usage. So, is it only a matter of time before we, too, forget all our manners?

We Charlotteans pride ourselves on being hospitable. It’s the very fabric of who we are as southerners—that little something that sets us apart from the rest of the country.
But these days, it is not unusual to find people in Charlotte babbling away mindlessly on cell phones while walking around Uptown, ignoring each other in the process, and rush hour on I-485 has no doubt created its share of colorful characters behind the steering wheel.

Still, there are a good number of pedestrians who wouldn’t dare pass by you on the street without a friendly hello, a simple smile, or at least some form of eye contact, and there are those considerate drivers who will kindly slow down and allow you to merge without incident onto the highway. That’s because good manners are more than just a courtesy down here—they are way of life.

I like to think that we have retained much of that attitude. I would hate to think what would happen if we lost it. How else would a city struggling daily for an identity begin to define itself?

No matter how rapidly Charlotte changes, part of its attraction is its small town charm which includes the ‘howdy neighbor’ dispositions of residents and our tendency to make small talk in elevators. By contrast, I was systematically elbowed off of the sidewalk by rude, and apparently very busy, passers-by in New York and greeted with blank stares whenever I walked into a room of strangers in Los Angeles and greeted everyone. So, it was a relief to move back home and experience an abundance of civility again.

In the pre-historic days before technology invaded the world, it was not uncommon to see neighbors huddled on a porch swing enjoying face-to-face conversation, and letting someone with fewer items skip you in line at the grocery store was an unspoken rule.

Now, there is a full generation of citizens that has never known a world other than the convenient, high tech, instantly gratifying one that is our modern existence. So it is not hard to imagine how, somewhere in between handshakes and handheld computers, the value of intimate interaction and common courtesy could get lost.

Still, I am inclined to believe that politeness has not been rendered passé here. I see it every time a stranger holds the door open for me or says ‘thank you’ when I hold it open for him or her. It’s reflexive. An innate behavior for some. For others, an acquired protocol reflective of the way they were raised.

Either way, it is the hallmark of a city progressive enough to move forward and conscious enough not to veer far from its well-bred base, and thus ensuring the infinite possibility of us bestowing and receiving kindness as a given, rather than a luxury.

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