SOAPBOX •ÊCell phone use, pushiness mark the onset of new me-first sensibility

Etiquette and good manners seem to have gone the way of the eight-track tape and the dinosaur. This fast-paced world is just getting faster and meaner as society 'progresses.'

Ironically, as humans evolve, embracing diversity, stomping out political incorrectness, nurturing our inner children and all that, we're becoming less kind, less patient, less appreciative, less civil Ñ and kids are becoming jaded much earlier.

Our supposedly narrow-minded, backward thinking, xenophobic grandparents and their forebears were a much more congenial lot. Sure, they're set in their ways, and grump and grouch about walking 10 miles to school in the snow, etc. And maybe they weren't so accepting of big city strangers who waltzed into their quaint little towns, spouting new ideas, sure to topple the beloved status quo.

But in rejecting many of the values and traditions of past generations, we've given up something dear in pursuit of gadgets, promotions and better ZIP codes:

We're no longer practiced in the art of social decorum. In days of yore, this simple protocol, with its dispensation of cordial behaviors, communicated civility and eased daily interactions.

I recently witnessed conversational etiquette reach a new low when I sat near a twosome at a local restaurant. Two women had begun a conversation, when one of their cell phones started ringing. The woman answered her phone without excusing herself and then spoke at length with the caller. The purpose of the call didn't seem to be an emergency, and after hanging up the woman failed to apologize to her companion for the interruption.

The most polite action would have been to turn the phone off as she sat down to avoid interruptions. The next socially acceptable thing to do would have been to turn the ringer off, and let the call go to voice mail. If she was expecting an urgent call, and had to leave the phone on, she should have excused herself as she answered, then informed the caller that she'd call back. Returning to the conversation, she should have apologized for the interruption.

I encounter other examples of bad behavior frequently. For instance, if I must pass someone or maneuver my way through a crowd, I always excuse myself for intruding on close quarters. I've noticed that most of the time, I'm the one offering the 'excuse me,' while people are quite happy to bump shoulders or walk over me without so much as an 'oops!' It seems that folks are in their own worlds, oblivious to the people around them, plowing through the masses as though they were diaphanous holograms.

Have you noticed that it's becoming commonplace for salesclerks to send off a customer with a sullen 'there you go' instead of a smiley (even a fake smiley) 'thank you'?

As a person with a modicum of couth, I always thank clerks and other service workers after they've helped me. I've worked in the service industry for years, and I know how taxing it can be, having difficult customers needling you day after day. But I've found that a common response to my gratitude is a tersely grunted 'uh-huh.' People expect to be treated royally but fail to reciprocate with common courtesies such as 'please,' 'thank you' and 'excuse me,' underestimating the significance of the respect and acknowledgment that such ordinary expressions convey.

We could surely benefit from some old-fashioned values that, while not revolutionary, would be a welcome change from the coarse, boorish conduct so prevalent in this narcissistic age. I truly believe that good manners are not merely antiquated niceties, which no longer have a place in this world of Corporate Executrons and yuppified technophiles, but are crucial components of our ever-evolving humanity.

Cindy St. Onge is a student who works as a receptionist for a real estate office. She carries a cell phone with her most of the time.

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