Why Manners Matter

A podcast from Alex Packer, etiquette guru and author of How Rude!® The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out.

Fourth in a monthly series of podcasts from Free Spirit Publishing.

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Podcast transcription:
HowRudeSome days you leave your house and it seems like you’ve stepped into Hunger Games. With daggers of discourtesy and arrows of annoyance coming from every direction, these weapons of mass disruption can sap your confidence and spoil your day. Is there anything you can do? Etiquette expert Alex Packer takes a look at why manners matter and how you can keep the barbarians at the gate.

When I asked teens, “What’s the rudest thing anyone’s ever done to you?” here are some of the things they said:

Someone . . .

lifted me up by my underwear
spread rumors about me
slammed my arm in my locker
pretended to be my friend
said I was fat
called me a name


Are people really ruder today than ever before? 75% of adults I surveyed think so. While that’s bad news for society, it’s great news for you. Why? Because if you have good manners, you’ll stand out from the crowd. Good manners are attractive. They impress people and put them at ease. And people who are impressed and relaxed are more likely to respect you and agree to your requests. Good manners also make you feel good, since you’ll know you are doing your part to make the world a better place. And best of all, good manners don’t cost a thing. You can have the very best for free.

Doing the right thing. Getting ahead. Getting what you need. Here are the Top Five ways being polite paid off for teens:

  • NewJob_Got a job.
  • Got something I wanted from my parents.
  • Got compliments and respect.
  • Got in good with somebody I liked.
  • Got help from teachers.

Learning good manners helps you deal with all sorts of situations from the trivial to the life-changing, from how to tell a friend he has a booger in his nose, to how to impress an admissions officer or ace a job interview. You’ll know just what to say when a friend asks you if she’s ugly, or goes out with your ex, or tells you he’s gay.

“But what if someone’s rude to you, is it okay to be rude back?”

Not according to the teens I surveyed. They say . . .

If you respond to rudeness with more rudeness . . .
you may offend someone who had no intention of being rude
you may end up in trouble yourself
you add to the general level of rudeness in the world

But when you use good manners to respond to rudeness . . .
you stand the best chance of stopping the behavior
you maintain your own dignity
you set an example that may change the behavior of others

There are two good ways to respond politely to rudeness.

The first is to ignore it. You could yell and stomp your feet. But this is how fights or road rage start. So sometimes it’s wisest and safest to just let it go.

The second way to respond to rudeness is to act as if the Rude One didn’t intend to cause offense. This works because “accusing” puts people on the defensive. Giving them the “benefit-of-the-doubt” provides a face-saving way out. Suppose someone cuts into the line you’ve been waiting in for over an hour. If you say: “No cuts. End of the line, buttface!” he may get in YOUR face. But if you say, “Excuse me, it’s a little confusing, but the line actually begins back there,” he’s more likely to slink away since giving him the benefit of the doubt lets him leave without being humiliated.

Another way to respond politely to rudeness is to ask the Rude One to do you a favor rather than to stop being a jerk. Let’s say you’re at the movies and some bozo is blabbing away. If you say, “Shut up! If you want to talk, go outside!” he may ask YOU to step outside. However, if you say, “Excuse me, it’s hard for me to hear in movie theaters. Would you mind not talking?” Bozo is more likely to quiet down since he can see it as doing a favor rather than giving in.

Now that you know how important good manners are, which manners would parents most like their children to practice?

1. Saying “Please,” “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” and “Excuse me.”
2. Writing thank-you notes.
3. Looking people in the eye.
4. Cleaning up after yourself.
handshake5. Not interrupting.
6. Using good table manners.
7. Giving people a firm handshake.
8. Having compassion.
9. Not saying hurtful things.
10. Responding when spoken to.
11. Using electronic devices in appropriate ways at appropriate times.

Any questions?

“Do you have to extend your pinkie when drinking from a teacup?”
This practice is no longer necessary. But under NO circumstances should you extend your middle finger!

“Why are manners so important? Isn’t it what’s inside a person that counts?”
Certainly, but nobody’s going to stick around long enough to know the “real you” if being in your presence grosses them out.

Until next time, this is Alex Packer, etiquette guru and author of How Rude!® The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out.

Wise Highs from Free Spirit PublishingAlex J. Packer received his Ph.D. in educational and developmental psychology from Boston College and his master’s degree in education from Harvard. He has been headmaster of an alternative school for 11- to 15-year-olds and director of education at the Capital Children’s Museum. He is president emeritus of FCD Educational Services, a Boston-based provider of drug education and substance abuse prevention services to schools worldwide. He is also the author of an e-book for teens Wise Highs: How to Thrill, Chill, and Get Away From It All Without Alcohol or Drugs

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