Man vs Manners

Manners maketh man, the old proverb goes (it predates the 2014 film Kinsgmen, apparently).  If that is the case, then I would like to introduce my own observation on current society: lack of manners maketh shit.  Many people have scapegoated the pandemic as this all inclusive excuse for people becoming increasingly incapable of common courtesy or behaving in public, but I think we have been heading this way for a lot longer (I believe the cell phone and Donald Trump were like steroids for indulging or permitting our worst instincts, and dulling our collective consciousness. The pandemic was more like the oven that allowed those awful ingredients to bake).  Because of my resolution to resume writing my blog at least once a week and, more importantly, because the topic this week feels like it is taking years off of my life, I decided to write on our epidemic of diminishing courtesy.  And yes, seeing a man in a sleeveless t-shirt at a Broadway show was probably my last straw.

My older nephew is autistic and since being accepted into a special boarding school I have seen an improvement in his communication, his eye contact and his behavior in the relatively limited time I see him.  And as an uncle I am happy for my nephew and the rest of my brother’s family that their difficult, but necessary decision to send him away appears to be bearing fruit. But the comedian in me had to ask, “what world are the preparing him for?”  Eye contact?  Asking people about their day? Behaving well in public?  Sorry, is my nephew preparing to time travel back to 1958 (hopefully a progressive woke part of the country as he is Black)?  Staring at a screen and mediocre interpersonal skills are the norm today. Eye contact will only make him stand out as odd!”

Because this is a topic I could probably write and Encyclopedia Britannica on, I will focus on just a few areas that I think embody how and why we are losing our courtesy.


I am both unfashionable and do not care about fashion.  I have found in my life, that when I am fit, a t shirt and jeans look good and a suit looks better.  But I believe flip flops are for the beach, tank tops are for the gym and crocs are for the fiery depths of hell.  When I see a man in a sleeveless t-shirt at a Broadway show, it cannot be surprising that the interrupting ring of a cell phone will follow (not necessarily from the shirtless, but from the generally permissive space that the theater has become).  I have a friend who works at the Comedy Magic Castle in LA, a swanky, members only, jacket and tie establishment. It is sort of a Heaven on Earth in that, everyone has to dress nicely, the food, drinks and entertainment are good and there are no cell phone pics or videos permitted.  But he has told me stories of men coming in sweatpants or expensive jeans or shirts and explaining that the cost of their clothes should make up for the lack of compliance with the wardrobe.  As Countess Luann said in her infamous song, which I had the pleasure of hearing in one of the only Real Housewives of New York episodes I have seen, money can’t buy you class.  Perhaps a Real Housewife is not the ideal messenger, but the message is valid nonetheless.

Venue and occasion-appropriate clothes convey a level of respect, not just for yourself, but for your surroundings.  I’ll admit I think this has been the area that I will complain about most directly attributable to the pandemic-work-from-home culture shift.  But it feels as though in the age of sweatpants to the restaurant-bathrobe to zoom work-suit to make Tik Tok dance videos, we have lost where to prioritize dignified dress.  And to be clear, this is not a classist argument. I am not asking that the impoverished man or woman dress above their means. But when you show up to a $200 play with $60 crocs, I am judging.  Because, while in and of itself, it is “harmless,” the tone it perpetuates concludes with show-interrupting cell phones.


Speaking of “harmless,” there is no phrase that I think has done more harm to day-to-day courtesy than “what’s the big deal if I’m not hurting anyone?”  Pain, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  On public transit, it increasingly appears that instead of “the world is my oyster,” the phrase now should be “the world is my footrest.”  Look on a Metro North train in the winter – salt and snow on feet is clearly not an inhibitor of using another seat as a footrest.  And when did the phrase “excuse me” become extinct.  The amount of times I have seen and experienced someone exasperated with the slow pace of someone unknowingly blocking their path and rather than say “excuse me” they will huff, puff or in the case of weirdos, slither past the person like they are passing tripwire lasers in a re-enactment of Entrapment.  Obviously I would love to link this to one of my pet peeves, parents of newer generations letting their children call adults by their first names, but I have no data, other than my disgust at it.  “You’re welcome” has been replaced by “no problem,” which Brendan Gleeson dispatches with brilliantly in the first season of the great Peacock (formerly Direct TV) series Mr. Mercedes (one of my favorite Stephen King adaptations of all time). Unlike my uncle and mom, I don’t really have a problem with “no problem,” but it seems to speak to younger people’s seeming discomfort with anything formal.

And then there is the loss of even common pleasantries.  The other day I was in the supermarket and I am always one for idle chit chat, but I can also read a room.  I can have a long conversation with the woman who once colorfully asked me about my pasture-raised, organic eggs, “why the fu*k ate these so expensive – ooops sorry for that.” I also know when a mere hello or hi as a *gulp* courtesy will be all that is welcome. On the day I am referencing, I began to put my dozen items on the conveyer belt and said, “hello.”  No response. Employee looked up from their phone, began scanning the items and then handed me a receipt.  It is when it feels like it takes more energy not to say hello back that I wonder, “WTF?”

And I do believe there is a generational divide when it comes to common courtesy.  When I lived in NYC, I said hello to all my neighbors and 96% of them said it back!  As comedian Gary Gulman spoke of during his special The Great Depresh, nice little interactions with people release serotonin, a hormone that can decrease depression. One time, having lunch with Gulman, I mused, “but when I have all these rude interactions they must have the opposite effect.”  I see a direct proportion to people’s comfort with everyday interactions and their common courtesy to their age. Of course this is neither scientific, nor is it 100 percent correlated, but I have too much anecdotal experience to ignore what I have experienced.

I used to complain about people not saying thank you when you held the door for them, but now I am lucky to get eye contact from a neighbor walking down the hall.  Perhaps this is the perfect storm of cool parents, I’m not hurting anyone laissez-faire values and a resentment of formality and perhaps the inadvertent intimacy thanking someone genuinely or accepting that thanks genuinely, but I think one thing above all has hastened our demise into a courtesy free society.


When I say devices, I am really only referencing the “smart” phone, though i did see a man looking at his iPad during a movie yesterday, so we may have someone pushing the boundaries of rudeness to the next frontier. Stay tuned!  If the Bible were written for the first time today, the serpent wouldn’t tempt Eve with an apple. He would present her with an iPhone. The smart phone has, through a combination of corporate and psychological intentionality, unleashed the absolute worst impulses in humanity. It literally creates a society of naval gazing.  I believe most problems involving lack of manners and courtesy have been uncovered, augmented or created by the smart phone.  Walking while texting, driving while texting, forcing the world to be part of your amateur films and the abandonment of headphones while listening to music are all bad developments for society and the last gasps of manners.  Earphones and ear buds are readily available. But the culture around the cell phone of navel gazing, self-importance and disproportionate access and power from a device in your hands made listening to shows and music and forcing them on others almost an inevitability.  When no amount of announcements and signs can lead to a cell hone free Broadway show it is clear we are no longer collectively in control of our phones.

A brief message of hope – I will give this to the animals that inhabit Phish shows (I kid my Phish show brethren rom my 2 shows I have attended): I have not seen that small a number of smart phones out at a concert since before there were smart phones. In all their dirty glee, the Phish Phans were still able to prioritize being in the moment and enjoying the show, rather than trying to memorialize it like a well-trained cell phone slave.  Much like Rhianna, I found love in a hopeless place when I saw hope for society at a Phish show.  But then you merely have to walk into a cafe, a store or anywhere and see that parents are allowing tablets and phones to be adjunct babysitters. If we, who at least were able to form ourselves without cell phones, have become pathetic tools, how can a generation raised on them not come out worse?

In the aforementioned supermarket I have seen a manager informing cashiers not to have their cell phones out while actively working. The tech marvel of cell phones has empowered bad instincts and created bad impulses as our society furthers the message that in person social interaction is unnecessary and courtesy completely irrelevant. And then we wonder why depression is up – perhaps because the thing we use so much is destroying some of the things that have made generations and generations of humans feel good.  Small talk, eye contact, flirting, pleasantries, courtesy, awareness of others, sympathy, empathy, interaction – I think the cell phone has not lessened our need for these things. It has simply made us worse at them while, in a self-serving manner, convincing us we don’t need those things anymore.  Though not cell phone related, I think my former co-worker who was frequently pissed off that our job required in person work after the pandemic, demonstrated the catch-22 of all of this perfectly when he recently lamented to me that his new fully-remote job would “have him all alone.”  Technological convenience blinds us to the harm until we are already harmed.  And all I am asking is that we remember to say please and thank you and to look where we are walking!


I had to include him because he has set a tone that has clearly influenced large swaths of the population. He cleverly (or more likely instinctively because he is more animal than man) cultivated a norm where being offended by something was “woke” and “politically correct,” even when the thing is actually deeply offensive.  Morgan Wallen gets caught Hard R-ing the N word?  Well, that’s just wokeness – let’s push his album to #1.  Being decent is actually being a pussy. Not wanting to offend people is never the right answer, so we begin seeing comedy that is more focused on triggering emotions than triggering laughs.  And the racism?  I can just say that since 2015, members of my family have experienced direct racism more than I recall hearing the previous 36 years of my life.  He has emboldened the worst in a lot of people and has created a culture where not giving in to your cruelties and your base instincts is somehow weak or *GASP* “liberal.”

Whether an erosion of courtesy came first or resulted from many of the things above, it is irrelevant now because these things are happening and I see no reason to be optimistic of us improving.  I am sometimes dismayed when I see how much time my nephew spends on his phone, not because I would have been better than him if I had a cell phone in my teenage years, but because of the stories, experiences and memories I have from not being buried in a phone in my formative years.  There are so many ways to scold what we have become (you just read it) because of diminishing manners, more controlling technology and horrible leadership examples. But perhaps the best way forward is for the people who know a life before all of this to share why courtesy and all its accompanying behaviors were and are good. Because the truth is, in 30 years I would hate for my nephew to be writing something about “how much better society was when all we did was stare at screens and said ‘no problem’ when someone gave you something.” Because that might mean his and our future became a Hell not even fit for Crocs.