Abroad, Americans are known for some positive things and some negative things. Americans are friendly and polite, always remembering to say “please” and “thank you.” They are also known for fanny packs, loud voices and culturally sensitivity, but I’d like to think that the good outweighs the bad, right?
Turns out, Americans may be abandoning their polite demeanor. In her piece at Time.com called “Are Americans Over Being Polite?”, Aylin Zafar considers whether Americans are using “please” and “thank you” less and less because they are losing interest in being polite, or rather that they’re simply using newer phrases, but are still considerate in their interactions with strangers. She uses considerable information from a NPR piece, as well, where both sides of the debate have been examined.
Americans have been abandoning traditional phrases like “please” and “thank you” in favor of other sentiments. When dining out and asked for more food or drink, Americans may tell waiters “I’m good,” instead of “no, thank you.” And—much to a linguistic purist’s chagrin—instead of saying “you’re welcome,” plenty of Americans say “no problem” instead.
NPR interviewed Lisa Gache, the co-founder of Beverly Hills Manners, on the issue. This manners expert said that the abandonment of formal phrases like “thank you” in favor of really casual phrases like “no problem” indicates a larger cultural trend: Americans are obsessed with making everything as casual as possible. She thinks this obsession is making Americans ruder. Most Americans seem to agree—76% of Americans surveyed in 2011 said that Americans were indeed becoming more rude.
On the other side of the debate, Zafar ponders whether the replacement of traditional words with newer—still civil—phrases really signals that Americans are becoming ruder. Emily Post Senning, the great-granddaughter of Emily Post who formalized standard American manners in 1922, says that manners and standards for manners have always changed over time, as have the words to say thanks and offer appreciation.
Certainly, the issue seems to hinge primarily on the appropriateness of using casual words in a formal settings. Americans are certainly way too prone to make formal things much too casual; for example, our propensity to wear jeans to the opera or order a Bud Light at a fine restaurant. Is “no problem” appropriate for a waiter at an upscale bar? Of course not. Is it fine for a bartender at some divey joint? Probably.
What do you think that the erosion of “please” and “thank you” means? Do you think that Americans are becoming less polite?