Where Have All the Manners Gone?

Lea Wait, here, and today I’m posting about something that has bothered me for some time.

People ‘connect’ on Facebook. They text each other (sometimes) constantly.  They email instead of telephoning.

And I’m not against those things. In fact, I’d rather get an email than a telephone call when someone wants information. It gives me the time to ensure I’m giving the right answer.

What does concern me is so many people’s lack of concern for what used to be called “common courtesy.”

No, I’m not asking anyone to open doors or pull out chairs for me. Although, yes, it would be nice if men removed their hats indoors. I’d like to see their faces.  But we live in a modern world. We’re equal, thank goodness. White gloves and handkerchiefs and removing hats are no longer essentials.

What I’m concerned about is the lack of basic manners.

If you know anyone who’s hosted a wedding or large party recently, you know what I mean. If the invitation says “RSVP” that means – let the host know whether or not you’ll be coming. It’s important for planning purposes. And if you’re invited with a “plus one” – then let your host know whether you’ll be bringing someone. And “someone” doesn’t mean your sister-in-law and your best friend and her current beau.  It means … “one.” And the host shouldn’t have to call you a few days before the event to find out whether or not you’re coming.

If you’re lucky enough to receive a gift — birthday, Christmas, anniversary, Father’s Day, flowers when you’re having a rough time — whatever — you should thank the giver. If you’re critically ill it doesn’t have to be done that day. (Although someone in your family might call.) Maybe it’s my fault that the majority of gifts I send are never acknowledged. I thought I’d taught that basic skill to my children. But I must not made it clear enough. More times than not, I don’t get a call or note to even acknowledge that a gift has arrived … much less a thank you for the specific thing it was. I’d think this was just my problem — they’re my family, after all — but I hear the same complaint from others.

So – I have a family that’s forgotten how to say “thank you.” courtesy. But what about strangers?

During the past few months I’ve received, as always, many email requests from people I’ve never met. Usually the requests have something to do with my antique print business, or my writing, or, increasingly often, with the need for information about Maine history. I’ve been asked to appraise prints, and collections of prints; answer questions for students writing book reports; give advice about agents and editors. One person asked me to trace their family history in a local town. A French on-line journal asked me to write an article (unrelated to my writing, and uncompensated.) Teachers and librarians have asked me whether I make school visits, and could I talk about particular subjects. New authors have asked for advice about self publishing versus traditional publishing. Others have asked me to read their manuscripts. I’ve been asked to speak at libraries (without compensation)  6-8 hours from my home. I’ve been asked for advice about reading lists. Asked to explain the figures on the State of Maine official seal.

And those are only a few examples. In every case, I have answered; in many cases, the answer required research, and, at minimum, the answer took me away from my writing and my family. For the record, I don’t want to discourage teachers or school children from contacting me. And I will probably continue to answer questions, even if the answer is “no,” in the future. And, yes, answering those inquiries is my choice. I suppose I could have ignored them. But I didn’t. It wouldn’t have felt polite.

What makes me angry, and, yes, sad — is that in a very few of those instances did those questioners have the courtesy to my answers with a simple “thank you.”

AT&T used to have the slogan “reach out and touch someone.” They meant “and call someone.”  In today’s world reaching out is easier than ever. That old “six degrees of separation” is probably closer to four.  That’s good.

But that doesn’t mean that saying “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome” should be forgotten skills.

Old-fashioned? Perhaps. But to me they make an immense difference.

What about to you?

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3 Responses

  1. Amen, sister! I’ve stopped sending gifts to most of my nieces and nephews, since I never got thank-yous even for wedding gifts (!). A written thanks might be a lot to expect, but an email or phone call would be welcome. I must say, however, that I do get thank you notes “from” my grandson, who is not quite 4yo. At least he scribbles on his mom’s notes.

  2. Love those scribbles, Nikki! I have one set of grandchildren who do call (with their mom’s help, which is fine) to thank me for gifts. And I really do appreciate hearing those young voices, on my hone or answering machine.

  3. I think you’ve touched a nerve, Lea. there is certainly a lack of common courtesy, but the kinds of questions we get are also surprising. I am no longer surprised with a wannabe writer who hands me a 200 page mss on our first introduction. I am no longer surprised when a supposed friend drops me after I have to tell her that my former agent is no longer looking at mss by unpublished writers. I have watched readers at a panel or talk walk off with books without paying (3 times in the last couple of years). We have forgotten there are rules for social behavior, I guess.

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