The erosion of manners may signal bigger trouble

  • By Larry Simoneaux / Herald Columnist
  • Monday, December 6, 2004 9:00pm
  • OpinionCommentary

I’m confused.

As an aside, I spend a lot of time in that state and usually get there without any help at all.

I have reached a point, though, where I need something explained to me.

It’s about manners.

Used to be we (society) thought they were good things. Words and phrases like “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse (or pardon) me” were taught at home, reinforced at school, harped on in public and written about in (best-selling) books.

Holding doors for others was common. Letting people into line seemed normal. Use of someone’s first name came only after friendship was established.

Manners provided us the wherewithal to get through situations wherein all we wanted to do was strangle the bejabbers out of the individual nearest us. They set boundaries, kept discourse amicable, and helped ensure hand waving included all five fingers.

I know that every generation in history has thought theirs was the last flickering hope of humanity and the next was on the express train to hell.

I’m no different.

These days, though – even without the NBA fights, road rage and an increasing use of language in daily life that’d make a sailor on Hong Kong liberty blush – I think that flicker’s getting dimmer, because it sure seems as if manners are becoming scarce.

I have a story to tell here but first, some words in my defense:

On the day of this incident, I’d been up since 3 a.m. I’d dropped my wife off at the airport before sunrise. I’d put in a full day’s work. I’d come home and thrown together a dinner for my son. Then, I’d gone to the local (extremely enlarged) mall to do some Christmas (not “winter holiday,” thank you very much) shopping.

On my way to the mall, I’d fed the ravenous beast that is my beloved truck, and consequently had about $2 left in my wallet.

I was a bit tired and my brain was in semi-standby mode. I was in the mall, staring at the store directory, and trying to figure out where they’d put a certain shop. Fully alert had come and gone about six or so hours ago.

“You got any money?”

It didn’t really penetrate and I kept staring at the directory.

“Have you got a dollar?”

I turned to find a nice-looking young girl of about 17 staring at me. I was shifting mental gears and grinding a lot of cells in the process, but I’d figured out that she was talking to me.

“Have you got a dollar?”

Now, parts of my brain were coming up to speed – fast.

“And it would be for?”

“My friend and I need some money to get on the bus.”

She was well dressed and carrying a bag of merchandise from one of the stores.

Right about then, I started thinking of some words that would’ve been nice to hear. Words like: “Pardon me, sir. Could you help me?”

Such words would’ve instantly put me in a better frame of mind.

She might then have said something like: “My friend and I were shopping and without realizing it, we spent the money we were going to use for transportation. I’m terribly embarrassed at having to ask if I might borrow a dollar or two for bus fare home but, if you’d give me your address, I’d return it to you as soon as possible.”

For the price of a few words, I’d have given her what was in my wallet and then asked if she needed more. I’d been in similar situations myself and there was a cash machine a few yards away.

By the look on her face, though, I could see that she thought she’d already expended enough words and that they were the right ones to boot.

So we just stood there looking at each other – she fully expecting some money, me wistfully hoping for a polite request – neither of us getting what we wanted.

I finally said, “This really isn’t working is it?”

At which point she said something I (thankfully) missed, spun around, and went over to her friend to relate her encounter with an alien life form.

OK, maybe I should’ve just handed over some money, but my son has told me about scams that kids work in malls to get a little cash.

Maybe I just took it all wrong and behaved like my wife says I’m perfectly capable of behaving when I’m tired.

Maybe I was just way off base because I was out of sorts.

Wouldn’t be the first time.

But, somehow, I don’t think so.


I think they’re becoming scarce.

I know we’re going to miss them when they’re gone.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Comments can be sent to

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