Are people ruder than they used to be?


I have a new schtick. Out with sea-change and tree-change. Gone is man-drought and the skills shortage. I will even put on hold my near obsession with the Baby Bust. My newest, and by far the most controversial “cause” of my columnist career, is “manners”.

That’s right, you heard me, manners. I am sick of Australia’s rudeness.

No. Don’t go all “who’s he referring to” on me. I’m talking about you. What do you mean what do I mean?

Let’s start with the fact that you don’t return phone calls or emails. Then we could move on to the fact you are prone to hogging the armrest on planes. I just don’t get this. There’s a shared armrest: why does one person assume they have the right to sovereignty over the entire armrest? Why wouldn’t they think, I’ll share the armrest with my neighbour?

Instead, they seem to think first in gets the armrest or, more likely, what neighbour?

And don’t get me started on drinks functions. Why are people so rude that they happily chat with each other in tight circles so as to exclude people unknown to the group? It’s like “circling the wagons” to keep marauding Indians at bay. (No offence intended towards Indians.)

Or what about when you are at a dinner and someone is speaking and a mobile phone goes off? And the owner pretends they don’t know it’s their phone, so it rings and rings!

Or how about the loud-talking, Bluetooth gesticulator in a public place? You know the sort; they flourish in hotel lobbies and airport lounges. They talk loudly into their telephone headset and pace and punch the air: it’s a look-at-me-I’m-a-man-in-control-type situation. No it’s not. You’re just being rude. And a bit of wanker, actually. Everyone else conducts themselves with quiet decorum and dignity. Why can’t you?

And as for table manners, words fail me. Your fingers should not touch the back of the fork’s tines or the back of the knife’s blade. Your mouth should be closed while you eat. Do not point with your knife. Please, don’t point with your knife. I’ll leave the table if you point with your knife.

And during the meal you should not just talk to the attractive or interesting person seated on your left; speak also to the dull and unattractive person on your right!

Why is it that whenever I am seated at a table I always get the end seat so that if the person next to me doesn’t engage in conversation then I am left sitting like a shag on a rock?

Oh, the relief to be seated next to someone who understands the social etiquette of a balanced conversation. It doesn’t have to sparkle. I am not expecting Billy Crystal witticisms. Just a polite, balanced social exchange.


It’s not hard. Here’s how it goes, rude people: you say something, then I say something, then you say something again. Back and forth this goes with each comment lasting no more than 60 seconds.

No, you don’t use this occasion to invade my personal space and launch into a 12-minute tirade about the evils of your ex-wife, the brilliance of your career or the problems with the government of the day.

And if you should be invited to a dinner or a lunch then it is polite to thank the host. Preferably as you are leaving or the next day by email, phone call or, heaven forbid, a hand-written note. The note thing is more of an obligation for a social occasion, but I have received them from business acquaintances and it has an impact: it conveys respect.

And this is what my manners “cause” is all about. It is respect for others. It’s almost as if a measure of how tough you are in business is displayed by how rude you can be to others. I’m so important that I don’t have to worry about being polite to little people. Politeness belongs in the middle of the 20th century along with other outdated mores and protocols such as singing the national anthem: it’s all a bit twee in the 21st century.

Well, I think it’s time to call this for what it is: a plague of rudeness. Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone’s rudeness to such an extent that you have thought, “Am I the only normal person in the world?” I have. And especially recently.

Indeed, to such an extent that I have created a Society for Normal People Facebook page. Here’s a place dedicated to those who feel aggrieved by the rudeness of others. Let it all out, Normal People, you will feel better for associating with others of a like mind.

You do realise that it is the not-so-secret ambition of the Society for Normal People to take over the world with our subversive ideals of manners and politeness for all? Yes, it’s true. But such asks are never easy, for there are forces of darkness and rudeness everywhere.

Join the respect revolution, become part of the Society for Normal People, and help stem the rising tide of rudeness.

What is your pet hate ?

This piece was first published in The Australian.

Bernard Salt is a best-selling author, a twice-weekly columnist with The Australian newspaper, a regular on the Australian speaking circuit, and a business advisor. He heads a group of consultants within KPMG providing demographic advice to business and government.