New York, New York, A Mannerless Town?

I’m in New York … arrived here Friday the 23rd, and will go home (if I’m not buried under 18″ of snow) on the 29th.

The most prominent thing I’ve noticed on this visit to the Big Apple is the steady decline in the importance of manners to most people. I see this in the South too, but nowhere is the dearth of polite behavior more pronounced than here in NYC.

A couple of days ago, I was babysitting an audio console I’d just commissioned, during PGA golf coverage on the ABC television network. The control room was being used for integration and was very small and crowded; there was a shortage of chairs. On the back row were the audio operator, myself, and a female technical director who was only observing. Since there were two chairs, I stood.

A couple of hours into the program, the TD started asking me to sit down. I politely refused, several times. Each time, she shook her head as if I were completely crazy.

I was brought up on Southern values, but I never knew they were Southern, really, until I got older. I just thought that was the way people were supposed to behave, regardless of geography. A gentleman doesn’t sit while a lady stands. The fact that she didn’t know this must mean that no such rule exists here, or that if one does exist it’s never followed. I have never been anywhere where such simple manners weren’t ingrained!

I have been glared at here for holding a door open for a lady. I’ve been amazed at how many times, in indoor situations, I’ve been the only man whose hat was in my hand and not on my head. I have smiled at or offered a friendly “Good morning!” to dozens of people I’ve passed in hotel corridors or along the street, and in most cases they’ve passed me by, stony-faced, without so much as a nod of acknowledgement. Even the hotel doorman seems to find it odd when I thank him each time he opens the door for me.

I can only conclude that someone with manners, here in New York, is an oddity … a novelty, perhaps, but clearly out of place. That’s frightening.

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