View Full Version : Corporate rudeness

09-19-2005, 12:47 PM
Corporate rudeness

Why is everyone so rude these days? Even the government needs to learn some respect in the way it speaks to us

Stuart Jeffries
Monday September 19, 2005
The Guardian

When did it become not just tolerable but desirable to have the word "juicy" written across your buttocks? This thought occurred to me yesterday as I passed a woman with that word on her bottom. True, she didn't win my title for the most vulgar word I've ever seen on a piece of clothing - that was won by a woman with a word I can't bring myself to spell out (it was an anagram of "uncty") across her T-shirt. She was queuing - this is what was so astounding about the incident - in Marks & Spencer's food hall. Surely it can't have been this that Voltaire was thinking of when he wrote: "I may detest what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Perhaps, you might be thinking, I should stop looking at women's bums and chests. That isn't my point. The point is that in a free society we are supposed to tolerate other people's vulgarity, impoliteness, and rude car stickers even if we hate them. John Stuart Mill's principle of liberty recognises as much. "The only purpose," he wrote, "for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." The kind of harm he envisaged is that purportedly curbed by Asbos, which are designed, according to the Home Office, to protect the public from behaviour "that causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress".
But what of sub-Asbo Britain, the land of public spitters and swearers? That place where mobile phone users walk on pavements with their heads down while making calls and expect you to move aside because they are so self-absorbed, damn them? Where no one holds doors open? What of the things that Asbos don't deal with? What, in short, about the utter bloody rudeness of everyday life, to take the subtitle of a book by Lynne Truss called Talk to the Hand which will be published next month?

That growing vulgarisation points up a problem for Mill's principle - what one person believes causes harm or thinks intolerable will be very different from another. But surely vulgarity and rudeness harm others and steadily make our culture uncivilised? Mill's principle needs to be recast for a new age.

Rude T-shirts and impolite sales assistants, you might well reply, are minor issues compared with terrorism or public services. True, but what kind of society are we defending from terrorism? Good manners and being polite are not enough in themselves (there were even, I believe, some polite Nazis), but they can lead us to develop the moral characters that allow us to imagine what it is like to be another person. From this empathy it is a small step to what learning to do what Tony Blair is always going on about, namely respecting others. Without that mutual respect, Britain is hardly a society at all, still less one worth protecting.

Truss is especially insightful about corporate rudeness, which she calls the "unacceptable transfer of effort". She relates the story of a friend who asked a store assistant how much an unpriced article cost. "What do you think I am - psychic?" said the assistant. Truss has become so irked at this sort of rudeness that she now takes a Sooty glove puppet on shopping expeditions to vent her spleen. "What's that, Sooty? Thank you very much? What's that, Sooty? Goodbye?" Sorry, Lynne, but passive-aggressive puppetry is no solution.

That unacceptable transfer is typified by the recorded refrain, "Your call is important to us" (if my call was so important, why have I been on hold listening to Chris de Burgh for 20 minutes?). But, argues Truss, such customer contempt is often hidden by "a shallow illusion of choice and autonomy". Choice is the great illusion of the modern age. It was supposed to be the hallmark of self-determination, but as often as not it makes us miserable, leaving us feeling baffled and disrespected.

What Truss doesn't consider is why, given how businesses increasingly operate by rudely exploiting their customers' time and patience, we should be pleased when the government tries to reform our public services on a customer model that has proved so vexing.

The notion that capitalism rampant rudely debases the values of free societies is explored in another new book entitled Your Call is Important to Us: The Truth about Bullshit, by Canadian Laura Penny. She connects this corporate rudeness with the unedifying nature of modern politics. Penny writes of this new ethos: "It tries to slather some nice on the result of a simple ratio: your time versus some company's dough. Like most bullshit, the more times you hear it, the bullshittier it gets. This is why bullshit is best served quickly, with many visuals, in mass quantities, with no questions from the floor."

If Penny is right, bullshit is the key feature of modern western political discourse. It would be nice if someone applied her thoughts to a study of Britain, and considered the ironic possibility that our political life has become so filled with bullshit that we don't recognise how we have become debased by it. Such a study would consider Sure Start programmes that frequently fail to give sure starts to our most deprived children, the simulacrum of choice in public health care provision that is irrelevant to people who want good local hospitals, anti-terror legislation that does little to reduce the threat of terror, the farrago of fussy education reforms that fail to make British state education significantly better, a government that preaches respect but disrespects its people by the way it speaks to us. Orwell would have recognised this political culture and the utter bloody rudeness that underpins it.

Scotland has finally won something, which is marvellous news. It has beaten England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand and Canada to a top international title. Admittedly that title, according to yesterday's Sunday Times, is the most violent country in the developed world, but it's a start.

Worryingly, the UN league of countries where you are most likely to be assaulted (sex offences and murders are discounted) include only English-speaking nations in the top five. Apparently, we have the world's most successful language but can't deploy it to defuse fisticuffs, nor can Asbos thwart our violent natures. Japan, Italy, Portugal and Austria head the least violent countries. Will liberalising drinking laws consolidate this superb Anglophone achievement? Let's hope so.

09-19-2005, 05:08 PM
My favorite hat declares "I've fallen and I can't reach my beer". I hope it isn't offensive. Mostly I get smiles. :p

09-19-2005, 07:39 PM
From the minor slights of sales clerks to the worst cases of "road rage," it's clear that Americans are intensely frustrated by the lack of respect they encounter in their daily lives. But what counts as rudeness today? Do Americans have a shared definition of what is rude and what is someone just doing his own thing? In our latest survey, Aggravating Circumstances, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Public Agenda takes a detailed look at what Americans are thinking about courtesy, manners, rudeness and respect.

Not only do eight in 10 Americans in our study say a lack of respect and courtesy is a serious problem, but six in 10 say things have become worse in recent years. A surprising 41 percent admit that they're part of the problem and sometimes behave badly themselves. More than a third (35 percent) admit to being aggressive drivers, at least occasionally, while 17 percent of those with cell phones admit to using them in a loud or annoying way.

The average store is also prime territory for incivility. Three-quarters of those surveyed said they've often seen customers treat sales staff rudely -- while 46 percent also say they've walked out of a store because of the way the staff treated them. Nearly everyone surveyed (94 percent) said it's frustrating to "call a company and get a recording instead of a human being" and 77 percent said telemarketing is "rude and pushy."

Yet the news isn't all bad. Nearly half say they often meet people who are kind and considerate. Many Americans say things have gotten better in showing respect and consideration to African Americans (59 percent), people with physical disabilities (51 percent) and gay people (50 percent). Large numbers acknowledge, however, that treatment of those groups still needs improvement (45 percent for gays, 42 percent for African Americans, and 34 percent for the disabled).

The warmth and support shown after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks raised hopes among many that Americans would reconsider what was important to their lives. Originally, Public Agenda intended to field this survey in late September, but postponed it until January to insure that the immediate reaction would not affect the research. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said that people had become more caring and thoughtful to others because of the attacks. But only 34 percent said the feeling would last a long time; 46 percent thought it would only last a few months and 18 percent believed it was already over.

It might seem that conducting a survey on courtesy is less important than exploring citizens' views on, say, health care or education policy. Yet most human enterprises proceed more smoothly if people are respectful and considerate of one another, and they easily become poisoned if people are unpleasant and rude. As part of our joint work with The Pew Charitable Trusts, Public Agenda will host a series of conversations over the next year asking key decision makers in many industries to discuss the research and consider what, if anything, can be done to address the public's call for a more considerate, more respectful society.

Just a Little Common Courtesy
Americans say that disrespect, lack of consideration and rudeness are serious, pervasive problems that affect them on a personal, gut level. People acknowledge that Americans' behavior has improved in some areas, such as the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities and the disabled. But in many others areas, Americans say they are witnessing a deterioration of courtesy and respectfulness that has become a daily assault on their sensibilities and the quality of their lives.

Bad for Business
Americans say that the way they are treated by business and customer service employees is frequently exasperating, and sometimes even insulting. Too many workers, they complain, are careless, apathetic and unhelpful. Almost half of those surveyed say that they have walked out of a business specifically because of bad service, and the number is even higher among affluent Americans.

Driven to Distraction
If Americans are exasperated by the way that businesses and government agencies treat them, they are equally disenchanted with the behavior of many of their fellow citizens. Majorities of Americans complain about inconsiderate, even dangerous drivers; rude cell phone users; and a virtually ubiquitous onslaught of profanity and coarse language.

As the Twig Is Bent
Americans are particularly concerned about the discourteous and disrespectful conduct of children, and they hold parents primarily responsible for this phenomenon. People say that too many parents don't invest the energy needed to teach their children good behavior, and that too often they fail to set a good example themselves. But even when parents try hard, Americans say, social forces-especially in popular culture and the entertainment media-routinely undercut their efforts.

Why Are So Many People So Rude?
Americans point to a confluence of different factors to explain the deterioration of courtesy and respectfulness in today's world. In part, they say, too much crowding, too much anonymity and the pressures of fast-paced lives invite rude behavior, and then rudeness begets more rudeness. Other explanations point to the times we live in and the values we live by-a declining sense of community, offensive and amoral entertainment media and an overall rise in selfishness and callousness.

The Day Things Changed
The shock and loss of September 11 changed the behavior of Americans for the better, most people believe, but they also suspect that the change will be relatively short-lived. Many expect that we'll soon return to business as usual, if we haven't already done so.

09-20-2005, 12:50 AM
I've worked with the public for *mumble mumble* years now in various roles. Our favorite excuse for the rudeness of people is that the moon is full. :) If that were true, the moon would be full for over half the month, on average. I've met children who were the rudest little snots every spawned (oops, I think that was my outside voice, sorry) but just the other day I met a 10 year old with exquisite manners that had every woman in the vicinity just gah-gah over him.

I've met people in their middle years who were rude and unfeeling, then would turn around and hold open the door for someone with their arms full of packages. I've seen older people who acted like spoiled brats and expected us to wait on them hand and foot just because they were of a certain age.

Ive found myself acting in ways that would cause my papa (great grandfather) to send me out to cut a switch. Because I'm tired, because I hurt, because I'm worried about the bills.

I don't think it is something confined to one age group or one place or any finacial strata, it's just people being people because they can.

09-20-2005, 01:29 AM
"Bad for Business
Americans say that the way they are treated by business and customer service employees is frequently exasperating, and sometimes even insulting. Too many workers, they complain, are careless, apathetic and unhelpful. Almost half of those surveyed say that they have walked out of a business specifically because of bad service, and the number is even higher among affluent Americans."

Someone should send a copy of this report to Ebay. They take the cake when it comes to customer service. Oh wait, they don't have any.

What is with the new mindset in corporations (especially communications companies - they are the worst) that the customer's time is patently worth less than their employees? Ever call your phone company with a question about your bill? And it's downright rude to offer 8 different menu options that always lead to the same place: waiting on hold. They just offer menu options so you have something to do while you're waiting.

And remember the good ole days when you only heard profanity at sporting events? Now waiting in line for a movie you can hear children as young as 10 (who shouldn't be in line to see an adult movie) swearing at each other as a means of communication.

Remember the old Lenny Bruce line, "if you can't say fuck then you can't say fuck the government?"

I'd like to change it to "If you haven't done the act, then you cant say the word."

Great thread, btw. Thanks.