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    Busy Americans are just #%*! rude

    Constant yammering on cell phones. Cursing. Driving like maniacs. A nationwide poll finds Americans are not nearly as nice as we used to be.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 3, 2002

    People think you're rude.

    They think Americans in general are getting ruder and cruder -- a nation of inconsiderate jerks.

    Nearly eight out of 10 Americans say a lack of respect and courtesy is a serious problem in our society.

    Six out of 10 drivers say they often see others driving recklessly. Nearly half of us stalked out of a store last year because of poor customer service. And half of us are regularly forced to listen to people carrying on loud or annoying cell phone conversations in public.

    Those are the findings of a nationwide survey on manners that were released Tuesday. Apparently, we have no manners.

    "Lack of manners for Americans is not whether you confuse the salad fork for the dinner fork," said Deborah Wadsworth, president of Public Agenda, a New York nonprofit research group that surveyed 2,013 people around the nation, including Florida. "It is about the daily assault of selfish, inconsiderate behavior that gets under their skin on the highways, in the office, on TV, in stores and the myriad other settings where they encounter fellow Americans."

    Many of those surveyed thought Americans' increasingly busy lives are making them ruder.

    People around the Tampa Bay area say they run into rudeness on a daily basis.

    Beth Sweeney, a St. Petersburg environmental organizer, tells an anecdote about a woman chatting on a cell phone as her grocery cart blocked an aisle in a supermarket. When other shoppers asked her to move, the woman glared at them for interrupting her phone conversation.

    "She was disgusted that she was interrupted," Sweeney recalls. "People like that are hopeless -- you're so rude, you don't know how rude you are."

    Rob Glazier owns Tattoo Emporium in downtown St. Petersburg. Tall, bearded and intense, Glazier cuts an imposing figure. But people still wander into his business and give him grief.

    "I'm a 6-foot-6, 300-pound, tattooed biker. You wouldn't think people would be rude to me," he said. "I'm forced to be rude. People push me and push me. In Europe, people are never rude to me."

    Eduardo Prieto, a parking enforcement supervisor for the city of Tampa, has seen a rise in bad tempers over the past dozen years. People angry over parking tickets call his employees names and make obscene gestures.

    "It's a way of venting," Prieto said. "It's part of the job. You block it out."

    And bad drivers . . . don't even get people started on that subject.

    "The driving is despicable. A person on a bicycle is a target," said Thomas McGowan, who rides a bike to his job at the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.

    Social researchers think rudeness is a symptom of growing social isolation -- a byproduct of television, computers, suburbs and a mobile population.

    "In a very mobile society, you don't have to suffer the consequences of being rude," said Darrel Bostow, professor of educational psychology at the University of South Florida. He said people are less likely to be rude to people they know, which is why residents of small towns are thought to be more civil than those in large cities.

    "People who are overcommitted in time tend to be short with people, even people you live with and love," Bostow said.

    Robert Moffat, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Florida, has another theory. He thinks we're rude because we're rich.

    "That may sound odd, but our increased prosperity makes people feel more independent. If they're not as dependent on other people, they can be more selfish, more self-centered," Moffat said. "In societies in the past, you had an elite that was very well off. There's never been a society in previous history with the breadth of prosperity that we have."

    In Public Agenda's nationwide survey, more than a third of the respondents admitted to rude behavior themselves. They confessed to occasional bad driving or using foul language in public.

    The results were remarkably consistent geographically, with little difference in rudeness awareness between the heartland and the coasts. Opinion on only one issue -- the use of foul language -- split significantly among regions. While three out of four Southerners said it is always wrong to take God's name in vain, half of those surveyed from the Northeast said that there is nothing wrong with it or that it falls somewhere between right and wrong.

    Among the other findings:

    73 percent of the respondents thought Americans treated each other with more respect in the past.

    62 percent said witnessing rude and disrespectful behavior bothered them a lot.

    60 percent believed the problem is getting worse.

    On a more positive note, at least half of those surveyed said they think things have gotten better when it comes to the treatment of African-Americans, the physically handicapped and gay people.

    People had few solutions to rudeness.

    Thirty-six percent said that when confronted with rude behavior, the right thing is to respond with excessive politeness. Twenty percent said it is best to point out the bad behavior. But 42 percent said the best thing to do is just walk away.

    -- Staff writer Tamara Lush and Times wire services contributed to this report.

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