Have Americans Forgotten Their Manners?

You know the type. The kind who knocks your shoulder with no apology in his rush to his very important meeting. The one who unloads 37 items at the "10 Items or Less" lane. The harried shopper who barks orders at sales staff as though she's the only customer.

People can be rude and it appears rude people are on the rise.

After a surge of goodwill among fellow Americans following the Sept. 11 attacks, manner experts and others have observed a marked drop in courtesy. At a post-Thanksgiving sale last week, for example, Florida shoppers trampled a woman and rendered her unconscious in their rush to a Wal-Mart sale, while in Louisiana, video captured a shoving match between shoppers.

One survey commissioned from ORC International by Lenox, a gift company, confirms an increase in such brusque behavior. The survey found more than one-third of 1,000 people polled rate the manners of Americans as poor. That's nearly a 50 percent jump from 2002 and a 65 percent drop from results of the same poll in 2001.

Of course, none of these rude people include ourselves — or so we believe. Most Americans rate their own manners as … well, quite excellent.

And therein lies the rub, say etiquette instructors.

"Etiquette is not just about what fork to use," said Sandra Morisset, a professional etiquette trainer in New York City. "It's all about your self awareness and treating others with respect. If you're not aware of your behavior, that's a problem."

Economy, Parents, Tech to Blame?

Why do we behave the way we do? Ask a dozen people and you'll get a dozen answers from hard times to bad parenting to too much technology. All seem to point to a "me" focused society.

Among accounts solicited from ABCNEWS.com readers, many blame bad behavior on new generations. "Young people believe they are "entitled" to almost anything," says Donna Dickerson of Tampa, Fla.

Read accounts from readers here.

Others say people have become rude because they're too focused on money: "With the economy the way it is, employment low, and greed high, it seems that people forget what life is all about," says Jacqueline Simmons of Overland Park, Kan.

Some place blame on parents. "Many parents teach their children to avoid being bullied by speaking what's on their mind," says Vanessa Robinson, a schoolteacher from Newark, Del. "But unfortunately, they do not teach a polite, appropriate way to do so."

Cynthia Grosso, founder of the Charleston School of Protocol and Etiquette in South Carolina, cautions against pointing the finger.

"We all find people irritating, that's a fact," she says. "But the bottom line is — how you treat people is not about how they are, it's about how you are."

Still, Grosso and Morisset admit at least one factor does appear to stand out as generally detracting from polite society — the same factor that has supposedly made our lives easier — technology.

"It's assumed we can use technology any way we can," said Morisset. "The problem is technology was given to us but the instructions weren't."

Don’t Take That Call

Before cell phones, for example, people couldn't even consider yakking on the phone at the dinner table or in the theater. Last May, AT&T solicited a survey from Harris Interactive that found 51 percent of cell phone users said they think other Americans use their cell phones in a "somewhat" or "very" discourteous manner.

Grosso calls cell phones "one of the best but rudest inventions of our time."

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