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Above all else: good manners

Many of you will send your seniors off to universities this fall, where you will pay big bucks for their four-year degrees. But that degree won’t mean squat if your kid wears Tevas to her job interview or puts his new boss on hold while he answers his cell phone.Don’t waste your money on college for Susie Q. if she doesn’t know to place her napkin on her lap when dinner is served. Forget about Junior’s chances for success if he doesn’t believe in opening doors for women, because in the business world, manners still matter – a truth in opposition of the increasingly rude behaviors of Americans.According to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll late last year, almost 70 percent of the people questioned said that Americans are ruder than they were 20 or 30 years ago. And 93 percent of those polled said parents are to blame. Apparently, those trend-setting baby boomers didn’t stress the value of social skills to their offspring.But those boomers’ kids may be lacking manners because of advances in technology.In a February 2006 ABC News “20/20” survey, 87 percent of Americans cited public cell phone conversations as the No. 1 example of rude behavior in the United States.Of course, in terms of rude behavior, inconsiderate driving is right up there with wearing flip flops to the White House to meet President Bush.According to AutoVantage, a Connecticut auto-travel club, Miami had the largest share of nasty drivers, with Phoenix coming in second. New York City, Los Angeles and Boston rounded out the top five, in that order. Colorado ranked ninth among the nicest places to drive. That’s scary.I have my own list of rude behaviors plaguing the country in this millennium.A couple of months ago, I had to take some drastic measures to get a good night’s sleep, so I ended up in Florida (long story). If you think Falcon has a litter problem because of construction sites, visit the sunshine state. According to Hernando County, Fla., officials (I’ve been whining down here, too), there are 11 court cases against contractors who aren’t containing their trash on their building sites.They aren’t the only culprits. The other day I watched a guy with Nevada license plates toss a fast-food wrapper out his car window on a major highway.Littering tops my list for rude behaviors.The No. 2 rude behavior on my list involves grocery carts. What about those lazy jerks who leave the grocery carts in the parking lot or the middle of a parking space? It’s not only rude; it’s thoughtless and selfish, especially when the cart-holding areas are a few feet away.I could go on and on about my thoughts on rude behavior, but I asked a few of my more well-traveled friends to weigh in.My friend, Linda Catlin, is an anthropologist who lives in Colorado Springs.Her personal observation is that rude behavior is a result of a lack of accountability and an increasing number of people who don’t take personal responsibility seriously. “They don’t think about how their actions impact other people,” she said. “They don’t think about how their actions prevent or cause accidents and inconveniences for others.”The days when people relied heavily on one another are over, the exception being a national disaster. Linda’s grandfather was a farmer in upstate New York. He had 10 cows and raised hay for them, but he didn’t have a tractor. So, he traded hay with his neighbor for the use of his tractor.Does the move from an agricultural/industrial society to technology mean that we are disconnecting – detaching from others?Linda believes that sending an e-mail is two steps removed from calling someone. NFH’s own Kathy Hare received a mass e-mail announcing the divorce of her close friends. Although she realized that perhaps it was the pain of the situation that prompted the e-mail rather than a phone call, she initially felt insulted. Sometimes, we just need to talk to someone.Here’s another example of detachment. When visiting her family in New Jersey three years ago, Kathy went shopping for a dress. She made a point to tell the store clerk that she was going to try on a couple of dresses she had picked out so the clerk wouldn’t think she was stealing them. The clerk’s response: “I don’t give a damn what you do with those dresses, hon.”Crude behavior is often blatant. But Kathy pointed out that rudeness can be a “matter of cultural perception.” What might seem rude behavior to Americans traveling abroad – and vice versa – is often related to cultural differences.However, Americans are gaining a reputation for rude behavior. According to a recent article in The Hartford Courant, a worldwide survey by the Pew Research Center indicated that people in other countries think Americans are an “arrogant and brash bunch … self-serving and insensitive … exalting a culture of decadence and consumerism.”An incident Kathy and her husband witnessed between an American woman and a waitress at a bed and breakfast in Ireland backs the survey. “I once listened to this American woman … berate the waitress and shout in a loud voice about the service because she didn’t get her coffee the second she sat down,” Kathy said.Kathy and others attribute some of this unrefined behavior to Americans’ lack of knowledge about other cultures and countries.Business for Diplomatic Action, a nonpartisan collective of business leaders, has published a “World Citizens Guide.” The Hartford Courant reported a few of the BDA’s suggestions: “Soften the boastful talk of job status and wealth. Avoid debate on politics and religion. Slow down … most cultures aren’t as hurried when they eat, talk and move.” And remember that American pride is great but others have the same feelings for their country.No matter what, we must have pride in ourselves.I got tired of my mom’s nagging words: Put the napkin on your lap; get your elbows off the table; respect your elders; say thank you; you’re not wearing that unless you iron it; be polite; don’t say anything if you don’t have something nice to say; you are not the only one in this world – consider others … and so on.My college degree created opportunities. Good manners created relationships.Thanks, mom!

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