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Is "No Problem" the Same as "You're Welcome"?
"They never answer phone calls to their desks. Have you noticed that? They email in response instead. Is that a young person thing? Is it rude? It certainly seems rude, but maybe I'm being old-fashioned." I had no answer for her. It seemed rude to me too, but what did I know? I'd gotten my first email account in college. To these girls I was old-fashioned too.
It should surprise no one that good manners have largely fallen casualty to a world full of texts and screens and phone-averse interns. Lucky for us persnickety people who wonder just what good manners are anymore (is "no problem" the same as "you're welcome?" Is it uncouth to ask someone with an accent where they are from?), humorist Henry Alford has tackled the issue in his new book Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners. As he told NPR's Talk of the Nation recently, "Life is a public bathroom, and we are all perpetually inheriting the toilet seat." We share our lives with so many others, much of our lives happens in public. In Alford's estimation, bad manners are often result of ignorance and insensitivity, so when trying to navigate the etiquette of texting or emailing we just to keep in mind the common-sense considerateness that's behind good old-fashioned manners -- and the possibility that we do rude things without realizing it every day. This is a happier world view, I think, than assuming all Americans are jerks for the sake of being jerks. More likely, we're jerks accidentally.
Be sure to listen to the whole NPR piece for interesting tidbits on the origin of etiquette, what public transportation has to do with manners, and what Japan can teach us about ourselves.
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