How polite are Americans? Measuring our manners

June 28, 2012, 8:39 AM GMT+0

Most of us were told as children that “good manners don’t cost a penny” – but in a nation where time is money, do Americans have room for politeness? Last week, YouGov conducted a nationally-representative survey to ask how respondents would act in certain situations to find out how polite Americans really are.

We share two very different stereotypes in terms of our manners. One is that of a hard-working individual – often ambitious and sometimes demanding – whose life is too hectic to leave room for niceties. The common rules of politeness go out the window when we’re in a rush to get somewhere or are having a stressful day. But the other preconception – and more common, according to this survey – is that Americans still tend to strike up a conversation with strangers and have an old-fashioned courtesy.

Here’s how we responded to the YouGov politeness test.

  • 58% of Americans say they will sometimes or often chat to strangers
  • 25% know the name of their mailman or mailwoman
  • 5% think it is still good manners for a man to open a door for a woman
  • 76% say they would address a strange at least 10 years older than them as "Sir" or "Ma'am"

Older generation favors courteous language

It’s no surprise the older generation are more conservative when it comes to addressing others. 75% of over-65s would address an older person as “Sir” or “Ma’am” compared with 67% of under-30s. But good manners aren’t just about the language we use – it’s about being friendly, too. In this sense, over-65s are still more ‘polite’ than young adults. They are more likely to chat to strangers at places like the supermarket and gas station than those younger than them, and 40% claim to know the name of the person who delivers their mail.

‘Gentlemanly’ behavior is more popular among women

The overwhelming majority (95%) of respondents thought it is still good manners for a man to open a door for a woman. There was a slight gender imbalance as more men (8%) believe it is outdated than women (3%).

So while most of us don’t know the name of whoever delivers the mail, we are nonetheless a nation of gossipers, (mostly) gentlemanly men, and respect for our elders. Would you consider yourself a good-mannered person? And how would you measure politeness? (Well-mannered) comments below, please.