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Monday, 22 May, 2000, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
So, how rude are you?

A BBC News Online quick quiz

The mask of good manners is slipping from our public face. Research reveals that while the British once took pride in politeness, they now prefer to speak their mind.

A survey by the Sunday Times found 70% of those questioned thought society is ruder now than it was five years ago, while 42% of the 400 sample thought rudeness was necessary "to get your own way".

The problem, says David Lewis, who has carried out extensive research in this area for Sussex University, is that people are not aware of their own bad manners. In short, one man's expletive is another's throw-away sentiment.

Maybe it's time to start applying some standards. With the help of past pronouncements from John Morgan's Modern Manners column - which appears weekly in The Times - you can judge your potential for causing offence with the quick quiz below.

Question one. You are a man, ordering a drink in a bar. There is one chair left vacant and next to you is a woman, who is also about to order. Do you:

A) dash to the seat, avoid eye contact and bury your head in a broadsheet newspaper?
B) gallantly offer the perch to the bashful dame?
C) shuffle away, leaving the chair vacant and let her take it from there?

Answer: Probably C. David Lewis says feminism has turned such situations into a manners minefield. John Morgan suggests you fix the seat in your vision, then ask the woman: "May I take that chair?"
Will Self in a cafe
Be seated: Do you or don't you take the last seat?

Question two. You are on a crowded train when your mobile phone rings. Do you:

A) hit the "off" button and let your voicemail take the strain?
B) answer in muted tones?
C) speak at the top of your voice, screaming intermittently: "I can't hear you. You're breaking up on me"?

Answer: B. Not answering is almost as disrespectful to the caller, as "C" would be to your fellow passengers. Again John Morgan has some advice: "Keep your voice low and discreet by keeping your face down and slightly into your shoulder."

Question three. Keeping with mobiles, when setting a tone for your phone, do you opt for:

A) a simple ring, similar to that on you home telephone?
B) a tinny rendition of the Yellow Rose of Texas?
C) silencing the ring altogether in favour of vibrate mode?

Answer: A. The clear advantage of "C" is outweighed by the potential embarrassment if the phone goes off while tucked into your trouser pocket. Mr Morgan says: "Not only are the little jingle merchants invariably more invasive ... they are also weirdly reminiscent of Muzak [or] noise pollution."
Man on a mobile phone
Sweet talking: Keep your voice low

Question four. Still on phone etiquette - you get home late one night and pick up an answerphone message from a friend, asking you out for the evening. Do you?

A) without hesitation, press last number redial?
B) save the message and call back in the morning?
C) wipe the message and hit the sack?

Answer: B. A late night call might have you marked down as thoughtless, while not returning a phone message, is, says Mr Lewis, one of the most irritating habits he comes up against.

Question five. A close friend has let you down, leaving you upset and hurt. You resolve to contact him by e-mail. Do you?

A) arrange to meet face to face over a drink?
B) set up a two-way instant messaging dialogue?
C) unburden yourself of all your pent-up anger?

Answer: A. According to Mr Morgan, discretion is the watchword when it comes to e-mailing. The problem is that while it is tempting to blurt out all your deepest feelings, it is all one-way - you are not around to "listen" to their response.

The closest you get to bad manners is listening to the early 1980s SKA-pop outfit of the same name.
2-3: A copy of Debrett's New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners wouldn't go amiss.
0-1: B@?#*y dreadful.
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22 May 00 | Talking Point
Are the British a rude nation?
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