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Seven Signs that Common Courtesy is Dying - An Observation

Updated on August 10, 2013
donnah75 profile image

I am a high school English teacher who is passionate about writing, theater, directing and enjoying a positive life with family and friends.

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Last night, my husband and I went downtown to watch the Fourth of July fireworks on the Empire State Plaza. It was a hot night, and the crowd was out in force. We arrived early, so that we would get good parking, and decided to walk up a few blocks to grab a sandwich for dinner instead of simmering in the heat eating deep fried pickles, cotton candy, and overcooked burgers from the food booths on the plaza. After a nice walk, it felt awesome to walk into the air-conditioned sub shop. As we checked out, I had an experience that seems to be occurring in my life more and more. The woman who finished up our sandwiches and checked us out made a comment that reminded me that customer service skills are on the decline and common courtesy may in fact be dying. These are my observations.

#1: The Sandwich Lady

My husband and I each ordered a large sandwich at a chain sub shop last night. I did the ordering for both of us, knowing that he wanted his usual sandwich, piled high with veggies. When I checked out, the sandwich lady kept giving me a look as she piled some napkins next to my husband’s sandwich, which she had made a bit of a mess of, but never mind. She said, “That’s yours, isn’t it.” I said yes, as I wanted to make sure that I was paying for what I ordered. She followed that with another look and, “humph, that is a biiiggg sandwich.” I was slightly speechless, as her words clearly implied that she thought I was about to make a pig of myself. I paid, handed my husband his sandwich and made my way to the other side of the restaurant to eat, slightly annoyed by her remark. Isn’t she there to sell sandwiches? Should she care if I order six sandwiches and eat them all myself? Shouldn’t she have said something more like, “Thank you. Enjoy your meal”? Wouldn’t that have been the way to get me back as a customer?

#2: The People on the Sidewalk

I didn’t let the sandwich lady ruin my night, but I think the experience heightened my senses for the evening. After our quick dinner, we made our way back downtown to the plaza to find a place to view the fireworks. We settled on a spot on the edge of the sidewalk just down the steps from the main part of the plaza. It was a perfect viewing spot, and a couple of families with children settled on either side of us with blankets laid out. There was a clear pathway between us and another group of people. I suppose it was the natural way of things, so that people could still pass by. Then, a couple with a small, and smelly, dog took up a spot right in the middle of the walkway. They were clearly in the way of people passing, and they clearly didn’t care. As the night progressed, a few people barged right through them, which left the woman with the dog shouting at passersby. One woman with a baby stroller was trying to pass and said, “excuse me” three times very loudly. The dog woman gave her a dirty look and an incomprehensible comment before she moved enough to let the woman through. I don’t know what is worse: those that barged through, those that ignore the politeness of others, or those that just blatantly stand in the way and inconvenience everyone around. Wouldn’t the courteous move have been to find a place on the curb a little further up?

These two examples of disregarding common courtesy last night got me thinking of all the other things I have observed lately that fit this trend.

The Grocery Store

I could write a whole hub about the lack of customer service skills that are displayed in the local grocery stores, but I will limit myself to two.

#3: The Bag Incident

When I go to the grocery store, I try to do my part by bringing my own reusable grocery bags. I really like to either check out myself or at least bag myself, but sometimes it is not possible. On one occasion, there was a woman doing the bagging who really broke the rules of common courtesy. As the grocery items moved down the belt towards her, I told her that I had my own bags. I handed her the pile and proceeded to empty my cart. As I turned back around, I saw her starting to put my items into plastic bags. I let her know that I would appreciate it if she used my bags first, knowing that there was plenty of room. “Oh, you don’t want me to put food in these dirty bags directly do you?” she said. I was gob smacked! First, my bags were not dirty. They are made of an off white canvas that has some speckles in it. Second, even if my bags were dirty, she should have piled the groceries into them with a smile and a “have a nice day.” I have to admit that my ability to be courteous died in that moment too, and I ended that trip by bagging my own groceries.

#4: No Cell Phones, PLEASE!

The other area where common courtesy has died in the grocery store also occurs at the checkout lane. On so many occasions, I queue up and check out with not so much as a “hello” from the cashier. I have faced cashiers who were talking on a cell phone, taking texting breaks between scanning items, and talking about very personal topics with the other cashiers within earshot. Sometimes I just want to stand there and shout, “Hello! I am standing here and would like some good service, PLEASE!” Is that too much to ask?

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#5: Hold the Sugar, please...

I am an avid coffee drinker. Many days on my way to work, I will drive through a local branch of the coffee shop chain that all of America supposedly runs on, and order a cup to take with me to work. Since I have to drink the coffee, I, like so many others, would like it prepared to my taste. That means only one sugar, please. One morning when I got to the drive up window to pay, the young man at the window made quite a scene about my cup of coffee. “You only get ONE sugar? How can you drink THAT!? I can’t drink coffee unless it has like five sugars…” He went on and on dangling my coffee just out of reach. Couldn't I have just got a “thank you” without being bombarded with his criticism and disgust? As far as I am concerned, he can drink his coffee however he likes, as long as he only puts one sugar in mine.

#6: And Hold the Mayo too...

The last time I moved, I had a hard time finding a good place to get my hair done. On one occasion, I was slightly desperate for a trim, and I ended up in a mall salon that looked respectable. My hair cut came out fine in the end, but the experience was far from the pampering one expects at a salon. As she was cutting my hair, the hairdresser got a visit from a friend who worked in the restaurant across the hall. Her friend brought her some dinner, wrapped nicely in foil to keep it hot. The hairdresser couldn’t wait. She ripped open the foil and started to multitask. She nibbled with one hand as she applied dye to my hair. At one point, I thought I saw some sauce or mayo on my hair. I didn’t want to be rude, since she was about to take scissors to my hair, but I thought the courteous move would have been to wait until she was finished to take her “dinner break.” Needless to say, I didn’t return for a second cut.

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#7: Apparently the Customer is NOT Always Right

A few months ago, we purchased a new, custom built computer from a local business. We felt great about supporting a local small business, and we were excited to get a product built to our specifications. Then we brought the machine home. For three months, we struggled with this machine. It crashed continuously and just didn’t work properly. Over and over, we took it back to be fixed, as our warranty guaranteed. We knew that one of the components must be faulty, but we didn’t know which one. On the first trip in, the computer guy tried to tell us that we had a virus and that he wouldn’t cover the repairs. I put my foot down and insisted, and thankfully he complied. On subsequent visits, he insisted that we were having software difficulties, which were not covered under the warranty. He would do a quick fix and we would go home hopeful that the machine would work “this time.” After a day or two, or maybe a week, we ended up back in his shop. In the end, it turned out that we had a faulty hardware piece. The computer guy had spent three months denying that he could have built a faulty machine and that we must be doing something wrong. What happened to the concept that the customer is always right? What happened to small business owners who go above and beyond to make things right for their neighbors? In the end, we were right, and it took a threat of small claims court to resolve the issue. When did customer service deteriorate to the point that one has to resort to court to get what he or she paid for?

Final Thoughts

I think common courtesy is a skill that we all need to practice consciously. When I am out for a walk in the neighborhood, I smile or say hello to people I pass on the sidewalk. When I start a class, I say “good morning.” When I end a class, I say, “Have a good day.” It amazes me how many neighbors and students don’t return the sentiment. Have we become that disconnected? Is common courtesy dying? Thankfully, I think the positive experiences still outweigh the negative. Most of the time, a cashier will say “thank you” and exchange small talk. Often, neighbors will smile back, and there is always at least one student who will return with a “you too” when I tell them to have a good day. These positive moments make me hopeful that we will all remain human, as I believe being kind and courteous to others is one of the things that makes us human beings.

© 2012 Donna Hilbrandt

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    • Cesky profile image

      Cecilia Karanja 3 years ago from Nairobi

      I liked this article. These small things might can really be irritating. I especially hate when people have an opinion on how I should take my coffee eat my food or spend my money.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 3 years ago from Upstate New York

      Nero Walker: Life is short. We have to laugh at the ridiculous moments. Glad you found the humor. Thanks for the great comment!

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      Nero Walker 3 years ago

      As awful as it is, some of these were hilarious (though I'm sure they weren't at the time). The mayo in your hair! Gross. If she was really that starving, she could have asked to be excused for a moment to quickly wolf down her sandwich. Or not have even said anything - my hairdressers often disappear for a few minutes to get whatever they need anyway.

      But eating while fixing your hair! Nasty. I probably would have been sick. Especially since I don't like mayo. :D

      Great hub, and entertaining despite the bad behavior incidents.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Moonlake: I do believe it, as I have seen that same scenario before. Next time, ask for a manager. Sometimes that helps. Thanks for the read.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      You would not believe what happened to me at Burger King a couple weeks ago. I paid for my food and left without my food. The girl gave me something I did not order and I would not accept the food. I just gave her the bag back and drove off because I could not convince this girl she was wrong or get my money back from her. Voted up on your very interesting hub.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      PS, thank you for spreading the positive and for reading and commenting:)

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Unfortunately there are those who have forgotten or never learned the lost art of courteous behavior. Being courteous seems not to be taught to our little ones---when I was teaching I spent a good deal of time on that part of social interaction.

      Often workerbees seem to be unhappy with their jobs, their lives--whatever---and they try to pass it on. When the negatives happen, I pour on more positive. As you say, more positive is out there than negative.

      Sending Angels your way this evening :) ps

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      maggs224: I am glad that you had a positive experience in the US. It makes me happy to know that not all hope is lost :) Sadly, I find that where I live, the younger generation (teens, twenties) has lost their sense of respecting others and having manners. Not everyone, mind you, but a portion. Hopefully, as they grow older, they will mature and lose the rudeness. Thank you for your in depth and thoughtful comment.

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 4 years ago from Sunny Spain

      I am a Brit living in Spain, and the Spanish think that we Brits are over polite that we say please and thank you far too much. I don't know if it annoys them or they are just amused by us.

      I know that some things that at first glance seem rude to we Brits is just the normal way to act if you are Spanish. Other Spanish people do not view it or think it is rude it just appears rude to us Brits.

      One such thing is when answering the phone they will answer with digame which just means tell me or speak to me, waiters and waitresses will also say that when they come to your table to take the order.

      When I first heard it it seemed so abrupt and sharp but now I am use to it and I see that it is not rude just different.

      I have been on vacation to the USA many times and my daughter is married to an American and now is a citizen herself and I must say that my experience has been quite different to yours.

      On my first visit to New York I must admit I was a little anxious, as all my perceptions of what New York was like came mainly from American TV cop shows.

      I thought that it would be full of rude short tempered people full of smart sarcastic quips and put downs. One of the many reasons why it took me so long to visit.

      However, when I finally visited I found the city clean, the people courteous and friendly and in the fast food outlets that we tried the service we had was always polite and gracious.

      I have been to many places in the USA over the years and only had one bad experience in one restaurant and our impolite server I am ashamed to say was Irish so she might have been that way to us because we were clearly English, who know.

      I have noticed though sometimes when I have been in a Walmart or other big supermarkets, people being rude and impatient with the poor overwhelmed cashier.

      As an outside observer I think that good manners and kindness are still more usual in your society than bad manners and rudeness, at least it has been my good fortune to have had this as my experience.

      I enjoyed the read I will be voting up and hitting relevant buttons on my way out.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the read, healthylife2.

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      Healthy Life 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I couldn't agree with you more that on a daily basis there seem to be so many instances of a basic lack of courtesy. Often people block me from going by in the aisle unintentionally but it just seems that so many forget that they are not the only ones in the universe. I am so impressed when people look me in the eye and say thank you and have a nice day because it's no longer the norm. I guess we can do our part by continuing to be courteous to others. Voted up!

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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      donotfear: Oh if only everyone understood and acted on it! Thanks for the read :)

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      donotfear 5 years ago from The Boondocks

      Good one here! I understand whole-heartedly.

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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Well said, grandpaB. You are right about common sense slipping away. I cannot take disrespect. I had a conversation with a student the other day who couln't figure out why she was being disrespectful. I think things have slipped so far that young people don't even know that they are disrespectful sometimes. It is a scary prospect for our future. Thanks so much for the read and comment.

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      grandpaB 5 years ago

      I cannot agree more with you. Common Courtesy is no linger Common anymore. Just like Common Sense seems to be slipping away from the general populace. The 2 combined make for our disrespectful society we are allowing to grow in this country. We all need to slow down and smell the roses and learn to appreciate things again, including the benefits of being courteous to each other. Being courteous brightens everyone's day.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      rajan jolly: It is indeed disturbing. Thank you for the read and share.

      my mastiffpuupies: I agree. I was raised in the North, but my parents would have been mortified if I didn't show people common courtesy.

      Kathleen Cochran: You may have something there.

      Thanks everyone!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Your commenters are right on target. Manners must be taught from a child's earliest days. It doesn't just happen. They also need to observe Mom and Dad practicing what they preach.

      I have a theory that America started losing its manners when college football players stopped waving and saying "Hi Mom" when they saw a TV camera on them. I could probably write a hub on that!

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      MyMastiffPuppies 5 years ago

      Amen Sister! I am amazed every day at the lack of courtesy people seem to have these days, glad to know I am not the only one noticing. Being raised in the South it was really like committing a sin if you did not speak to people, hold the door open for others or just have good manners in general but even that seems to be fading. It's up to us to teach our kids what common courtesy means and how to implement it every day. Thanks for a great article!

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      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Good manners are on the decline and ever so often now, donnah. It is very sad and disturbing.

      Voted this up & interesting. Sharing this.

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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Happyboomernurse: You are right on many points. Hopefully enough of us will spread the positive that customer service will return to the friendly service it should be everywhere. Thanks for the read and votes.

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      Gail Sobotkin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      The only one we really have control over when it comes to courteous behavior is ourselves, and like you, I try to make it a habit to be courteous to others. Most people do respond in kind, but I must admit that it truly baffles me when people whose jobs and income depend on providing good customer service act like in the examples you've given here, all of which I have encountered at various times.

      I used to get annoyed at those kinds of actions, but now I tend to shrug it off and remind myself that I have no way of knowing what their day is like or what problems they are facing and try not to take offense.

      When I encounter people like the couple with the smelly dog I move myself out of their way because in the end, I'll be happier when I don't have to repeatedly watch them being rude to others.

      Like you, I believe that positive experiences still outweigh negative ones when it comes to common courtesy.

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Hyphenbird: I like your philosophy of "one by one we must make up the difference with a smile..." I agree :)

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      Brenda Barnes 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      I also am constantly appalled at the lack of consideration and manners I see. I suppose many of us could write a book on situations that have happened to us so I won't go there. Common courtesy is sadly lacking and even simple consideration is rare. One by one we must make up the difference with a smile, a comment on how nice someone looks today and in other small ways. My little boy holds doors open for people and uses Sir or Ma'am. Some people ignore him and others commend him. I tell him either way, it is not about the response but about the act of respect we give. One by one.....I must remind myself sometimes. lol

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      jpcmc: It will be a loss to our world when we stop treating people how we ourselves wish to be treated. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Wrong attitude and improper training (especially with customer service) is a huge concern right now. The death of courtesy is looming. but I still hope that it will stay alive. What will the world be without courtesy?

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the read and comment, Rebecca. Sadly, the coffee guy was not just chatting. His tone and facial expressions were those of disgust and judgement. It was actually a bizarre experience. And, he doesn't work there anymore as far as I can see. I stop there every morning on the way to work. I think it wasn't the job for him.

    • Rebecca2904 profile image

      Rebecca 5 years ago

      I agree with you, it's unbelievable how rude people can be sometimes and I don't think it's just younger generations. Quite often when I'm out and about I will say hello to an older person to be polite, and they look at me like I'm about to mug them.

      I wanted to query number 5 though. Obviously I wasn't there so I don't know how it was said, but I think maybe the guy was just chatting? I always drink black tea without milk which is quite uncommon in England, so when I ask someone to hold the milk they normally make a comment. I don't think that's necessarily rudeness though, just someone remarking on my different tastes.

    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      I can confirm that manners are pretty much non-existant in NY, both in and out of school. I might say "good morning" to a class and one out of thirty will respond. It is a sad reality. Thanks for reading.

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      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      How true. Schools would do better teaching kids to say " Please,Thank You and Your Welcome". A few years ago a child came into my class. He said, "Thank you Mam", when I helped him. All the other kids laughed at him, which was a teaching op for me, but I was horrified. They do teach manners in some parts of this country but, apparently not in CA and NY

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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, suzette. It is a sad reality that customer service is going down the drain. I appreciate the read and comment.

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      Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

      I have to agree with you. Courtesy is rare these days. And, the customer is always right, doesn't exist where I shop anymore. Your examples are great, and I have been frustrated by situations the same as yours. Insightful article and very well presented. Thanks for sharing.

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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, wonderwriter11. I have never come across this Gandhi quote. Thanks for sharing it :)

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      Bobby 5 years ago from New Jersey

      I concur with a lot of your statements as they are quite valid and I have seen this happen quite often. It occurs to me more often since I am younger most people don't care how they carry themselves around a college aged kid.

      Although I must say that in some of these instances the people cannot take all the blame. Perhaps the woman who served you and your husband sandwiches was recently laid off and could only work in a sandwich shop and is quite bitter about this. It is possible she just had a bad day maybe a different customer insulted her or the like. Maybe these people just absolutely hate their jobs but cannot find something better in this downtrodden economy.

      Whatever the reason we cannot let discourtesy get us down. Courteous people may be a minority in this country's modern day society but that doesn't mean we all must live unhappily. Never let them see you angry, kill them with kindness!

      "When restraint and courtesy are added to strength, the latter becomes irresistible."

      -Mahatma Gandhi

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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      So true Rochelle, on all fronts :)

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      Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country

      Apparently, we have become seriously disconnected from each other. People have forgotten the 'do unto others' thing.

      On the other hand, I have heard that mayo is good for your hair.

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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Wow, Tammy, I am so sorry. There is nothing worse than having the neighbors from hell. As an apartment dweller, I know it is a gamble. You never know who will move in next door. Glad you won that battle.

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      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      The lack of common decency is something that really stuns me to at times. I tried to fight it but I now I sit back and watch and use it as something to write about, kind of like documenting the behavior of primates. I recently moved into an apartment after living in a house far off in the country and it is really challenging. A bunch of pot heads moved in above me, party all night and throw their bongs on my porch when they are done with them and I have a 3 year old. Lets say, they USED to throw them on my porch. I feel your pain!!!

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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      B in blogs: Your sentiments are right on. It is kind of sad, isn't it? Hopefully it won't get too much worse before it gets better. Thanks for reading.

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      B in blogs 5 years ago from Alabama, USA

      This is far too common in society. I think it harkens back to parental discipline. Many people in the "me" generation were parented with the "hands off" approach, (not the "don't spank" approach, I'm not getting on that debate, which is an entirely different discussion). I mean the approach that it's not okay to discipline kids for fear of self-esteem damage when all it really was is the excuse not to have to deal with the difficult parts of child-rearing. As a result we have a generation of people who've never had to consider the feelings of others. Sad.

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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Jean: Thanks for reading. You are right. Even if we are busy and have a lot on our mind, it is our responsibility to be civil to those around us. :)

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      Jean Bakula 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Hello donnah75,

      It's not only you, I am stunned by the lack of manners I experience every time I go out. I understand it's a buzy world, but we all have responsibilities, and we all have problems. There's no reason to take them out on everyone else. "Excuse Me" said loudly and in a nasty tone while somebody is pushing you in the behind with their shopping cart seems acceptable now. People close doors in your face. I also bring my own reusable bags to the supermarket, and get the attitude about it. They are not dirty, and I would rather use them than have to carry in 50 little plastic bags that clutter up the environment.

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      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks everyone.

      Bill: I agree. We all need to do our part and hope that others follow.

      Efficient Admin: I don't think it is worth a complaint. People don't tend to change.

      dmhenderson: I'll look that up. Thanks.

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      Dave Henderson 5 years ago from Missouri, USA

      Can a metaphor be built from your experience on the 4th of July? Is it the world or just us? I can't say for sure, but as a teacher I certainly see a lot of less-than-stellar behavior.

      Jonathan Franzen has some interesting and relevant comments on cell phones in his essay "I Just Called to Say I Love You," which is included in his new collection, "Farther Away."

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      Efficient Admin 5 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      I agree that people are more rude nowadays, and that No. 6 was a real kicker! I am thinking a lot of parents just don't teach their kids manners and right and wrong anymore like they used to.

      I think I may have (emphasis on may have) complained to the Subway manager with a phone call the next day to make them aware that they have at least one employee who made a bratty comment to a customer.

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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I am in complete agreement with you. When Bev and I are out in public we wear people out being polite and smiling. Half of them look at us like we want something. It's unbelievable where common courtesy has gone, and that's down the toilet!

      We are going to have to change this matter one person at a time. I am on a mission.

      Great hub my friend!