Winnipeg Free Press
Sunday, January 7th, 2007

Mind yer McManners, youse guys
Many people sadly lacking in the social graces, uh-huh


I will begin today's sermon with a confession. In times of stress, my manners have slipped. I have honked at drivers going 20 kilometres below the speed limit. I sometimes treat gossiping waitresses and dreamy-eyed sales clerks with an exaggerated politeness my eldest daughter says fools no one.

I have even -- and there is really no excuse for this -- snapped when asked, "how are we enjoying our meal," when I am dining alone. But it was only that one time and only after I was asked twice if "youse" had been stood up.

However, I want to talk about your poor manners today, not mine.

Well, maybe not your poor manners, but certainly those of the convenience store clerk who, upon seeing your outstretched hand, drops the change on the counter. Certainly those of every person who believes the correct response to a sincere "thank you" is "uh-huh."

You know who I'm talking about.

Manners are the lubricant of our society, the grease that allows strangers to interact, provide goods and services and avoid hurt feelings and misunderstandings. They are the steps to an intricate dance, one that may seem ridiculously irrelevant to the uninitiated, but critical to their elders.

They seem to be vanishing in this MSN society where entire relationships are begun, acted out and ended without the two parties ever meeting. There is no time for niceties when you're busy LOL, IMHO.

I called Dauphin-born etiquette expert Louise Fox for her thoughts on manners in the modern world. Are people ruder than they used to be, I asked, or am I just an old scold?

(It was a trick question. No manners maven would ever call you an old scold, not even if that was what she was secretly thinking).

Lacking training

"Are more people becoming rude?" she asked rhetorically. "It appears that they may in fact be so. I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt. People are lacking training. Today's parents have directed their attention elsewhere. They focus on the child's special talents and self-esteem. They don't necessarily teach them how to relate to others."

Fox has coined a phrase to describe the lack of social graces seen in many people today.

"I call it McManners," she says. "Everyone is just rush, rush, rushing. People aren't interacting as much. Children aren't getting instruction. They're eating their meals out of boxes in the back seat of a van. There's no time to sit down at the table and actually have a conversation."

The problem, she says, comes when these children and teens enter a world for which they are woefully unprepared.

"They don't even know how to eat with a knife and a fork," she says. "They use their fork like a shovel. It might not seem to matter when they're younger, but suddenly they're an articling student and they don't know how to behave at a dinner."

Fox says our hurried society has resulted in a generation of people who have a difficult time carrying on a conversation.

"This even happens with professionals," she says. "They go to a networking event and all they know how to do is ask someone what they do for a living."

Because she's kind and very well-mannered, Fox tries not to react inappropriately when she encounters poor manners in her travels.

"Often companies don't bother to train their employees. You're getting minimum wage, here's a cash register, let's go," she says. "When people are rude or inconsiderate, I am very nice to them. I say, 'have a nice day.' I tell them it looks like they're having a difficult day.

"You never know if it's a mother whose children are ill or who has some other problem. I find these irregular acts of kindness work very well."

Today's sermon ends with a lesson for all of us. I should be sweeter when the convenience store clerk avoids eye contact, mumbles what I owe and doesn't say thank you.

I -- and you -- need to keep working on our children and grandchildren to make sure they can communicate in something other than grunts and eye rolls.

Thank you very much for your time.

Youse have a nice day.

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