Opening Lines: Ministry of Manners

A new national survey on politeness tells it like it is

By AMIR MIZROCH
September 17, 2010 12:20
A traffic jam.

311_traffic jam. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

It’s just plain rude when you cut into my lane, put us both in mortal danger and then pretend not to notice me when I honk at you. Did nobody ever teach you that a safe distance between two cars is not an invitation to cut in line? Or that honking at the car in front of you the split second the traffic light turns green is not polite? It’s also not polite when you dart into a parking bay I am clearly waiting to enter, even as you see my car indicator lights flashing. It’s even worse to then walk away and pretend you didn’t see me.

I hate it when you ask me to let you ahead at the supermarket counter because you just have one carton of milk and some cucumbers and you really need to get through because you’ve parked illegally outside. “Be considerate,” you say, “be a mensch.”

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I think it really stinks when you answer your phone in the middle of a movie and tell the person on the other end that you’re in the cinema, “there’s still an hour to go, the movie’s okay but could be better. Yes, I’ll see you tonight, no I didn’t get bread, why do I have to do everything?”

Ditto for when I’m sitting across from you at the doctor’s office, Interior Ministry, travel agency or bank and you’re talking on your private cellphone about this and about that, and “could you believe what she was wearing, she should be ashamed.” And when you do finally hang up and turn to me in that tired, distracted and frustrated way and say “Yes, what do you want”’ as if I’ve been put on this earth only to disturb you, it makes me want to hurt you.

Oh, and I really hate it when you raise your voice at me because you think the louder you speak the more you’ll convince me that your argument is right and mine is wrong. And stop saying takshiv (listen) all the time; if I’m not agreeing with you, it’s not because I’m not listening, its because I think you’re wrong, and if you’d let me finish a sentence, just one sentence without interrupting me, I’ll explain to you why.

AS a returning citizen to this country (after spending 18 formative years in South Africa), I still find the thing that bothers me most about Israelis, my greatest cultural gripe about a lot of people I interact with here, is politeness. Over recent Rosh Hashana meals spent with recently arrived and veteran Israelis, the common refrain about (the lack of) politeness, manners and the fiery Israeli temperament abounded.

While I love this country dearly, I still find it hard, after 10 years of living here, to come to terms with the abruptness and brash manner of my fellow countrymen. Is it the Middle Eastern temperament, or because we’re surrounded by enemies, or because it’s such a small place that we all bump up against each other all the time? Perhaps a combination of the above? It grates me, and while I’m generalizing, I feel that on average Israelis have a lot to learn when it comes to treating others with cordiality and respect. Now, and for the first time, a new survey sheds light on just how impolite Israelis see themselves.

The new national survey on politeness from the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, published on Tuesday, reveals which Israelis are the most polite and most impolite, and asserts that being polite has a large payoff in terms of income.

According to the survey, being polite substantially increases one’s earnings. So if politeness pays, perhaps we can be convinced, through our pockets, to treat each other a little better in the coming year.

“The results of the survey are important because it suggests that the public education system in Israel is making a series of disastrous mistakes,” says Prof. Robert Sauer, president of JIMS. “The survey shows that there is no correlation between education and politeness, indicating that focusing almost exclusively on improving grades and cognitive skills does not at the same time succeed in improving noncognitive skills such as manners, self-control and persistence. And since the survey shows that income substantially increases with politeness, Israeli employers highly value these noncognitive skills. In other words, the Israeli education system would do well to switch tracks and devote much more attention to fostering politeness and other noncognitive skills among the student population.”

The survey was conceived by JIMS and conducted by the Dahaf Institute. It included 992 adults representing the Jewish population. The maximal margin of error is 4.5 percent.

It included questions on many aspects of public behavior, including driving, speaking on cellphones, treatment of the elderly and use of foul language. Respondents were asked to report on their own behavior and were given a politeness score based on their answers.

According to the survey, the average score is 2.94 on a scale of 0-4. Interestingly, a 10% rise in the politeness score is associated with a substantial 5.8% increase in family income. JIMS experts posit a tenuous statistical correlation between income and politeness, showing that the more a person earns the more likely he or she is to display characteristics associated with politeness, manners and self-control. However, as the survey’s initiators admit, the opposite may also be true.

ACCORDING TO the survey, men are less polite than women (their average score is 0.11 lower), and new immigrants are more polite than sabras, scoring on average 9% more on the politeness scale. Since about 23% of the country is made up of olim who gradually sharpen their elbows here, and with aliya steadily dropping, this country could get even less polite in the future.

Older people were found to be better mannered than youngsters, with every 10 years finding a jump of 5.6% in politeness. The haredim are the most polite group, averaging 3.16. People who defined themselves as religious, traditional or secular received lower scores. No correlation was found between marriage, number of children in the household or education and politeness.

JIMS also asked where people most encountered rude behavior, and compared the findings to a similar survey conducted in the US. Thirty-one percent of respondents encountered rudeness in stores and shopping centers, 31% at work, 13% at the airport and 9% in their close environment.

These numbers are similar to or lower than the percentage reported in the US. But when dealing with government agencies, the survey found that the percentage reporting rudeness (28%) is 1.5 times the reported rate in the US (19%).

Respondents were also asked how frequently they encountered different expressions of rudeness. The most frequent rudeness is loud talking on cellphones in public, with 78% saying they encountered this often or all the time; 71% reported encountering aggressive and inconsiderate drivers regularly; 43% gave drivers a “very bad” mark for consideration and manners on the road.

Surprisingly, only 12% reported that they don’t make way for other drivers to merge into traffic, and only 15% said they honked for “righteous anger.” Also surprisingly, a majority of respondents said most people they know don’t litter, and 49% said they encountered inconsiderate and rude customer support and sales staff on the phone and at stores.

Rudeness, based on the results of the survey, seems to be a significant social problem for which no one seems to take responsibility. “The Education Ministry should take responsibility and adapt its curriculum so that it gives students important social skills in addition to the ability to pass matriculation exams,” Sauer says.

With all this in mind, perhaps it would pay to appoint one of the many ministers-without-portfolio in the current government as head of a new Ministry of Manners and Politeness.

amirm@jpost.com


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