Have Americans Forgotten Their Manners?

Then there's e-mail. The new language of the digital age may be efficient, but it can all too often come across as cold, even rude.

"We've become very noncommunicative," says Grosso. "We're happy when we can just send an e-mail. But we need to communicate more and when we do, we need good etiquette."

Playing Miss Manners

More communication was just what Joanna Oltman Smith had in mind when she created CivilCity.org, a Web site dedicated to, in her words, "helping people confront others while not being confrontational."

While Morisset and Grosso advise it's not good manners to criticize others' bad behavior, Smith argues it can be healthy to point out — in a gentle way — when people are being rude. Smith's site offers one approach.

It works this way: You see someone dropping trash on the street or cutting you off. Pass them a card, decorated with a pretty yellow flower that reads: "You are behaving badly. For more information, go to CivilCity.org."

The offender will then hopefully visit the site, which features categories including public transportation, cell phones and cleanliness, and learn why their behavior was rude.

"We're about human interaction," says Smith. "Maybe from an etiquette standpoint it may not be appropriate, but to us, it's about how people treat each other on a day to day basis."

The cards cost $6.99 for 100 and Smith says she has sold about 5,000 since launching the site in March. Sales are not quite as swift as she'd hoped they might be and she has heard feedback suggesting many may be fearful of angry reactions. But Smith contends as long as you approach people politely, there's no need to worry.

She uses the cards regularly and more often than not, she says, she's pleasantly surprised by the reactions.

"I don't try and give them to people who are clearly out of their mind, but if someone's being oblivious or lazy, I hand them the card," she said. "And you know what — most people, when they're called on it, they apologize."

Manners 101

As the hectic holidays approach, Morisset and Grosso offer some tips for staying civil:

Be Patient: Especially when shopping this time of year, realize that everyone wants attention and there are only so many sales staff.

Always say "please" and "thank you." It makes a big difference.

At the dinner table, don't eat anything until the host has begun to eat, no elbows on the table, keep your bites small and dab, don't wipe your mouth with your napkin.

Keep your alcoholic drinks to two at office parties.

Don't answer your cell phone at the table or in the theater. If you have to, excuse yourself and take the call outside.

Irritated with friends or family? Focus on the positive and remember the holidays will soon be over.

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