August 26, 2019

Mind Your Manners, Says Edith Wharton

Americans have become very rude. A great nation cannot continue this way.

This week we turn the column over to Edith Wharton (1862-1937), the great woman of letters and author of the Gilded Age novels “The Age of Innocence,” “The House of Mirth” and “The Custom of the Country.” She was the first American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. She was also named a chevalier of the Legion of Honor for her valiant assistance to her beloved France during World War I.

Mrs. Wharton:

I have been invited this late August evening to speak to the American people about the decline in their public manners, which has reached crisis stage.

I would have preferred a radio address by what is called nationwide hookup but I am told my voice, which is reminiscent of that of Eleanor Roosevelt, carries inferences of another age, which might undercut the pertinence and urgency of my message.

I freely admit that there are several ways to describe me, and fabulous old battle-ax is one. But I know some things about human society, and can well imagine the abrading effect of a widespread collapse of public courtesy.

You have all become very rude. Not from ignorance, as Americans were in the past, but from indifference and amid affluence.

In your daily dealings you have grown slovenly, indifferent and cold. A great nation cannot continue in this way. Nations run in part on manners; they are the lubricant that allows the great machine to hum.

Among the harassments I see you inflict on each other:

It is discourteous to walk down a busy sidewalk with your eyes trained on a cellphone, barreling forward with disregard for others who must carefully make way and negotiate their bodies around yours so as not to harm you. You must think you are more important than the other citizens of the sidewalk. Who told you this? Who lied to you in this way?

Eyes on a phone and pods in your ears — have you no sense of community? You have detached from the reality around you, which is a subtle rebuff of your fellow citizens. You enter your own world. When Leonardo and Dr. Einstein entered their own worlds they encountered richness, a fierce originality that ultimately benefited all. Is that what you encounter?

You must have a sense of community! Take part, be part, see and hear. Share responsibility. Stop assuming everyone will work their way around you. That is the summoning of a calamity you will deserve.

You must come to understand that other people can hear you on the cellphone in confined public spaces such as the elevator. You must come to understand: Other people have a right not to hear your sound. They have a right not to hear your grating voice, your huffy exchanges that convey the banality of your interests, all of which, on a bad day, when spirits are low, can make those around you want to ruffle in their purse for a pistol with which to shoot themselves in the head.

It might be better if you were instead “there” — to make brief eye contact and nod, as if you are human beings on earth together. At the very least, understand you should delay the call until the elevator doors open.

Last week I was in a nail spa, as they’re called, idiotically. A woman in her 30s was screeching into her phone, which was on speakerphone mode. After a few moments I informed her she was disturbing others. She literally said: “I am closing a deal! I don’t care!”

And you wonder why socialism is making a comeback.

You have apparently forgotten that “Excuse me,” is a request, not a command. “Excuse me” is an abbreviated question: “Would you excuse me, please? Thank you.” All in a soft voice. It is not a command to be barked as you push down the aisle at Walgreens.

There is the matter of “No problem.” You perform a small courtesy, I thank you, you reply “No problem.” Which implies: If it were a problem, lady, I wouldn’t do it. “If it were at all challenging I would never be courteous.” Why would you admit this to a fellow citizen? Why demoralize her in this way?

Similarly with “No worries.” A young person emails and asks me to do something, perhaps attend an event. I reply carefully, with gratitude and honest regret, that I am unable. The response? Two words: “No worries.” I’m tempted to answer, “You don’t worry me, dearie.” Of course I don’t; it would be like slapping the maid. But “no worries” claims a certain precedence — “I am in charge and instruct you not to feel anxiety about frustrating my wishes.” Child, you’re not in charge. Try, “Thanks, I understand, I hope another time.”

First-name culture is fully established. It is vulgar and inhuman. It shows disrespect for person and privacy, and the mature experience it as assaultive. A first name is what you are called by your intimates, by friends and lovers. It does not belong in a stranger’s mouth. I may grant you permission to use it, that is my right. But you cannot seize permission — that is not your right.

I receive solicitations from people I’ve never met, “Dear Edie.” I honestly wonder: Do I know you? And then realize that’s what they want me to wonder, because if I think I might know them I’m more likely to respond. It’s not democratization, it’s marketing.

They take something from you when they take your name. And once they’ve taken that they will be taking more.

On the phone with the bank, regarding a recent transaction:

Bank worker: “Yes, Edith, how can we help you today?”

Me: “Ah. I am certain you are a very nice person and if I knew you I would quickly ask you to call me by my first name, but since we’re not old friends yet I would appreciate—”

Him (sullen, impatient, flat): “I’m-sorry-about-that-how-would-you- like-me-to-address-you?”

Me: “As your enemy. As the implacable foe of all you represent. Does that work?”

What the new world doesn’t understand is that when you address us as Miss, Mrs., Ms. or Mr., we usually say, “Feel free to use my first name.” Because we are democratic, egalitarian, and fear the guillotine. But we’re pleased when someone asks permission, and respond with the grateful effulgence of the losing side.

There is more to say but I must close.

I am not calling for a new refinement. That is beyond my capacity and your ability. It is possible you’re entrenched, as I said of the Vanderbilts, in a sort of Thermopylae of bad taste from which no earthly force can dislodge you.

Great nations have fallen over less.

I am merely suggesting a less selfish and vulgar way of being. Surely you can consider that.

If a political figure should come by whose slate consisted of “America, reclaim your manners” he would “break through” and win in a landslide. Because everyone in this country suffers — literally suffers — from the erosion of the essential public courtesies that allow us to move forward in the world happily, and with some hope.

Thank you. I am grateful to have you as a reader.

Republished by permission from

Start a conversation using these share links:

Who We Are

The Patriot Post is a highly acclaimed weekday digest of news analysis, policy and opinion written from the heartland — as opposed to the MSM’s ubiquitous Beltway echo chambers — for grassroots leaders nationwide. More

What We Offer

On the Web

We provide solid conservative perspective on the most important issues, including analysis, opinion columns, headline summaries, memes, cartoons and much more.

Via Email

Choose our full-length Digest or our quick-reading Snapshot for a summary of important news. We also offer Cartoons & Memes on Monday and Alexander’s column on Wednesday.

Our Mission

The Patriot Post is steadfast in our mission to extend the endowment of Liberty to the next generation by advocating for individual rights and responsibilities, supporting the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and promoting free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. We are a rock-solid conservative touchstone for the expanding ranks of grassroots Americans Patriots from all walks of life. Our mission and operation budgets are not financed by any political or special interest groups, and to protect our editorial integrity, we accept no advertising. We are sustained solely by you. Please support The Patriot Fund today!

The Patriot Post and Patriot Foundation Trust, in keeping with our Military Mission of Service to our uniformed service members and veterans, are proud to support and promote the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, both the Honoring the Sacrifice and Warrior Freedom Service Dogs aiding wounded veterans, the National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, the Folds of Honor outreach, and Officer Christian Fellowship, the Air University Foundation, and Naval War College Foundation, and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. "Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for his friends." (John 15:13)


“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington

Please join us in prayer for our nation — that righteous leaders would rise and prevail and we would be united as Americans. Pray also for the protection of our Military Patriots, Veterans, First Responders, and their families. Please lift up your Patriot team and our mission to support and defend our Republic's Founding Principle of Liberty, that the fires of freedom would be ignited in the hearts and minds of our countrymen.

The Patriot Post is protected speech, as enumerated in the First Amendment and enforced by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, in accordance with the endowed and unalienable Rights of All Mankind.

Copyright © 2023 The Patriot Post. All Rights Reserved.

The Patriot Post does not support Internet Explorer. We recommend installing the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.