Americans may say â€œpleaseâ€? and â€œthank you,â€? but when it comes to being polite, saying and doing are two very different things. According to a survey conducted exclusively for American Demographics by Rochester, N.Y.-based market research firm Harris Interactive, most of us could use a little help from Miss Manners. The vast majority of Americans freely admit that they sometimes swear or cuss in mixed company, and almost half confess that they spit, burp and even pass gas in public from time to time.
A mere 5 percent of Americans say they have no complaints whatsoever regarding the politeness and manners of their fellow countrymen, according to the online poll of 2,295 adults conducted between May 21 and 23. The rest of us, however, have an another opinion on the matter. A whopping 85 percent of adults surveyed agree that â€œAmericans are not as polite as they should be,â€? and 64 percent believe that â€œwell-mannered individuals today are few and far between.â€? About a third (34 percent) of adults also believe that â€œunfortunately, manners have been completely abandoned by the majority of Americans.â€? (Multiple answers were allowed.)
Yet despite their opinions about the rest of the population's poor manners, people don't seem to think that they themselves are the source of the problem. Virtually all (96 percent) of the survey respondents report that they say â€œpleaseâ€? and â€œthank youâ€? either most of the time or every time they are presented with the opportunity, and 94 percent claim they say â€œexcuse meâ€? just as frequently. A majority of Americans say they will open doors for others (82 percent); offer their seat to someone who really needs it, such as a pregnant woman (74 percent); and address people by courtesy titles, like Mr. or Ms., almost all the time (63 percent). Most Americans claim that they regularly help strangers in need (59 percent) and write thank-you letters (55 percent).
Of course, Americans are not always on their best behavior â€” and at times, they can be downright rude. According to the survey, 86 percent of Americans admit that they put their elbows on the table at least once in a while, 80 percent interrupt others or speak out of turn, 69 percent honk their car (or monster SUV) horns, 63 percent swear or cuss in public, and 57 percent talk during movies or shows. Less than half of adults concede that they will spit, burp or pass gas in public (41 percent), cough or sneeze without covering their mouth (34 percent), or chew with their mouth open (27 percent). And just 16 percent of Americans own up to the fact that they sometimes cut in line.
We can't say for sure whether women are more polite than men, though we can say that the sexes tend to behave or express themselves differently. For instance, 66 percent of women say they write thank-you notes most of the time or every time that the occasion warrants it, versus just 41 percent of men. Women 55 and older are the most likely to put pen to paper to express their gratitude (88 percent do so most of the time), whereas men ages 18 to 34 are the least likely to do so (only 31 percent send thank-you notes as often).
Men are also a lot less couth than women in public. They're almost twice as likely as women to say they spit, belch or pass gas in public (55 percent versus 29 percent), and far more of them use â€œcolorfulâ€? language. About three-quarters (72 percent) of men swear in public, compared with about half (55 percent) of women. In fact, men are more likely than women to engage in all of the bad behaviors we asked about in our survey, except for talking during a movie and interrupting others â€” two activities at which women seem to excel.
We found other areas that prove guys aren't so bad. They're far more likely than women to open doors (91 percent versus 74 percent) and to pull out a chair for someone (43 percent versus 23 percent). They're also more likely to give up their seat to someone in need (78 percent versus 70 percent). Of course, not everyone appreciates such gestures. Almost half (49 percent) of all Americans say that traditional acts of courtesy, like opening a door, are sometimes misinterpreted as being sexist or ageist.
Contrary to popular belief, no one part of the country is more or less polite than any other. However, the ways in which we conduct ourselves in public do differ depending on where we live. Southerners are the most likely to put their elbows on the table at mealtime, but they are the least likely to cut in line and the most likely to use courtesy titles. Meanwhile, people in the Northeast are the most likely to send thank-you notes, though 72 percent of them honk their horns, more than in any other region. Denizens of the West Coast are the most likely to neglect covering their mouth when they sneeze but the least likely to talk during a movie. Midwesterners talk the most during movies and speak out of turn more often than anyone else. But at least they remember to keep their elbows off the table.
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