Slice of Life Story Day 23 In A Manner of Speaking

This morning while in  my favourite coffee haunt, Via Boffe Vicki the barista asked me a question. With a look that suggested something was concerning her, she posed the question, ‘Alan what do think has happened to manners? Everyday, I encounter people who don’t seem to think it’s important to acknowledge your presence when you speak to them. When a customer comes in, I make a point of greeting them with a smile and a welcoming comment and some of them just ignore you. They don’t even make eye contact. They disregard your words and tell you ‘I‘ll have a skinny latte, or how much are they? -and point to something on display. It’s like you don’t exist.’

Vicki is consistently upbeat, possesses a welcoming disposition and a ready smile. In short she has impeccable social skills and is always friendly. She also makes a great coffee. She readily connects with peopIe, so I can readily understand her frustration when on a daily basis she encounters people who place a low value on civility in public situations. ‘What have we as a society done to create this?’ Vicki then asked. Her genuine concern touched me. ‘It’s not young people. Often it’s older people who you would think would know better- but they don’t!’ she continued.
We talked about a range of possible reasons for this apparent breakdown in standards of social intercourse without finding one root cause.  

I assured her that in schools we work hard to create a sense of awareness of the importance of using good manners, but you only have to watch television or observe the way people behave with their phones to see that sections of our communities now operate in a different way. The models provided by many adults are less than edifying.  The rights of the individual prevail above all else it seems. Rude, overbearing, impatient people seem to have a disproportionate effect on the lives of the socially able. Being polite and pleasant has evaded many, unfortunately.

Vicki’s discomfort stayed with me throughout the day. I recalled an experience I had in a shop in Brooklyn when I first moved to New York

I had been in the habit of frequenting a wine merchant on Seventh Avenue while living in Park Slope, Brooklyn. On four separate occasions I entered the store with high expectation of discovering good wine and maybe encountering staff with a desire to provide a level of service that would make one feel at the very least, comfortable. My dreams did not eventuate. Yes, the store had some excellent wines from which to choose, but on each occasion I managed to get through the entire purchasing experience without the person behind the counter uttering a word to me. One on occasion the attendant spoke to someone else on their cell phone about a third person who was supposedly a real loser. I left and the conversation continued without further interruption.

On another occasion the two people serving me (I use the term loosely, very loosely) conducted a mostly inane conversation and managed to not to look at their customers once. Miraculously, they managed to get the purchases right and apportion change correctly. As I walked out I instigated an instant boycott on that particular establishment. It didn’t matter how good the wine selection was, they just didn’t give a rat’s back cavity about customer service.

I wonder if this was just a case of not caring about individual customers because there were plenty more to take my place. Or was it just a case of poor training and low expectations on the part of management? poor education?  poor social skills? -Maybe it’s a mix of all those things. My Dad used to stay, manners cost you nothing, but they are worth so much. Hmmm?


  1. Interesting piece today...manners do appear to be missing a lot these days. Even beyond manners, just appropriate conversation seems to be absent. Do you suppose as we increase our social skills via technology and not face to face that things like eye contact, social conversation, and body language are becoming extinct?

  2. Hi
    Interesting post and observations. I wonder if it is perception, and not necessarily reality, that people are more rude now than they used to be. But it does seem as if students are a little less respectful these days, and less likely to add a polite tone (without prodding) than I remember as a kid.
    But then, we usually had one parent home, or at least a neighbor who kept the kids in view, and it may be that the latchkey universe we are now tossing our kids into has some ramifications. Manners are not something we are born with; we learn them.


  3. Dear Alan,
    Thought provoking post. Are manners on decline? Your Dad's comment was what played in my head even before I read the sentence. Smile and thank you don't cost a cent. We can not change everyone, but if we continue teaching manners to our own kids and to our students, the smiles and kind words will continue.
    Warm regards,

  4. The world is running faster and faster. I'm retired and still feel like I have to still move fast to get all the things done that I need to. In busy cities, we are not going face to face with those running along side because we are on cell phones and the like. But I do feel in my neck of the woods, businesses are hurting and shop people are bending over backwards to greet people. Manners, in general, are lacking and don't think children have been taught enough--too much to do and many places to go. And if schools don't do it and babysitters and daycare people and coaches, that leaves working parents who have little time with their kids to do it. A School of Manners wouldn't hurt. Sounds like another posting, but you've opened up a good issue.

  5. Some places, and some people still have manners. My experience is more like yours in Brooklyn--the sales help never speaking to me once.

    I have tried to change it in my own way. Today when I went grocery shopping, I called the clerk by name, chatted with her while the young man to her side bagged my groceries. I thanked her, and thanked the young man. Can you tell I'm old? Manners matter a lot when you're not in a hurry and when someone's in a hurry--or distracted--that seems to be the first thing to go.

    And like you, as a teacher, I try to expect manners and civility in my classroom.

    Elizabeth E.


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