Is Rudeness Inevitable In A Service Economy?

The funny thing about a service economy, writes Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal, is that it’s created a world where people who interact with the public are deliberately trained to be rude and compassionless. She thinks it’s partly because we threw out manners right as we reached a cultural moment where we interact with strangers more than ever. But that’s only part of it–she also notes that clerks are trained to get in your face and aggressively push for higher sales, and that the dreaded “Dead Face”–that stony look that’s used to shut down any communication at all–is probably taught by consultants as an efficient way to handle people.

“I pay them to be rude to me” is kind of an anthem of the service economy.

To an unusual degree people now feel they have to protect themselves from each other. You have to put forward the rules of behavior, every day. When the person from the bank on the phone says, “Margaret, I’d like to talk to you about your account,” you have to say, “I’m sorry but I didn’t invite you to call me by my first name.” Or perhaps it’s, “I didn’t really want a freelance mammogram, and I’m not sure it’s right that you give me one,” or, “I have to tell you that it’s not polite to block my path and attempt to force a conversation.”

But such vigilance is tiresome. Most of us give up and accept the thousand daily breaches and violations.

“We Pay Them to Be Rude to Us” [Wall Street Journal]
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