What the Heck Happened to Manners?

I beg your pardon, are manners a thing of the past?

By Marilyn L. Pinsky


I realize I am outing myself as an old fogey by even bringing up this issue. There are some things I am getting more flexible about, but what is going on today in regard to manners?

For instance, I’m sure we all must have said a million times to our children during their growing years, “cover your mouth when you yawn,” but now I know I was right — nobody listened to a thing I said.

Everywhere I go I’m seeing the back of more throats than anyone except a doctor looking for strep. Let alone other body parts that only the person who diapered them used to see, is now being seen in public.

How did this happen?

Did somebody suddenly declare some things are no longer important?  Like holding doors open? If the person is at least older than 50, they will usually hold the door or even let me walk ahead of them. But if they’re younger, I’ve learned not to assume it will be held only to find myself walking into a door that will slam in my face if I’m not quick enough to stop it.

What are the latest rules about elbows on the table? As I’ve gotten older even I have changed my mind about that, as after one martini I really need that table to be there.

What about pulling out chairs? I think we have gotten so used to not having the chair pulled out, that it is dangerous when it is. I’ve heard of two women who didn’t realize the chair was being pulled out for them, sat down, fell hard on the floor and really hurt their backs.

I’ve also changed my mind about the younger generation calling me by my first name. I remember being unhappy when I took my 90-year-old mother to the doctor, and the young receptionist called out, “Mae, come up to the desk.” Now I realize it is a privacy thing not using your last name, so I’m OK with it. It is even starting to sound funny when I’m called Mrs.

All that not withstanding, since when did RSVP become optional and you just turned up or not? I figured those were people who had never given an event and had to worry about how many reservations to guarantee or meals to prepare or people to invite. But still, they’re off my list.

This one is definitely not limited to any generation, as many older people are guilty of this—cell phone conversations in a public space that go on forever. They pollute the atmosphere for everyone around them.  If you’re stuck someplace, such as in an airline terminal, you have no choice but to sit there and listen to someone’s boring conversation. At least if they were confessing to something awful it would be interesting, but it never is.

Then there’s the Generation Z thing about “being authentic.” I think it’s just an excuse to be nasty and hurt someone else’s feelings. Little white lies serve a purpose; they keep feelings from being hurt.

On the other hand, my children have told me there are rules about things that I don’t know, and didn’t even know I didn’t know, about. For instance, responding to a text message by writing “k” vs. “OK” vs. “kk” or putting a period after any one of those responses. Writing the wrong letter, with or without a period, can be offensive to the receiver and cause hurt feelings. Who knew?

And exclamation points. I love using exclamation points when I’m excited about something. I’m told that is a no-no now. (I loved writing that!!!!)

How are we even supposed to know about those things? And there are thousands of them to know. I still read Miss Manners in the newspaper and haven’t seen anything about Ks. Even yawning hasn’t come up. So is it a wash then? My ignorance of their manners vs. theirs of mine?