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Media Clippings: Mr. Manners

November 23, 2005 By:
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There must be something in the air, thank goodness. A few weeks ago, Lynne Truss published her new book, Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. As you may recall, Truss is the British author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

You may also recall that her grammar book was an improbable best seller here in the states. (In Britain, its popularity was understandable; they're consumed by language.) All I'm wishing for is that the same fate awaits this new book, and that some zero tolerance arises in our land over the issue of rudeness.

And I might just get my wish. I say this because the day after I saw a copy of the Truss book, The New York Times published a piece in its national section (the Nov. 9 issue) carrying the headline: "At Center of a Clash, Rowdy Children in Coffee Shops." The dateline was Chicago, where, in the Andersonville section, store owners are getting exercised about parents who can't seem to control their kids.

At a cafe called A Taste of Heaven, owner Dan McCauley put a sign in his window warning parents that "children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices when coming to A Taste of Heaven." As reporter Jodi Wilgoren noted, the posting has engendered a "nasty spat" that's "roiling the stroller set" in this changing North Side area of the city.

McCauley told the paper that he put the sign up, posted at child level, "with playful handprints," to bring a little order to "his tin-ceilinged cafe, where toddlers have been known to sprawl between tables and hurl themselves at display cases for sport."

McCauley was criticized since he has no children, and people wondered how he'd do trying to control three of them. His answer was classic, and diagnosed the problem exactly.

The shop owner said that the offended parents, who have now begun to boycott his store, were "former cheerleaders and beauty queens" with a "very strong sense of entitlement." Wilgoren noted that in an open letter McCauley distributed at the cafe, he warned of an " 'epidemic' of antisocial behavior."

"Part of parenting skills is teaching kids they behave differently in a restaurant than they do on the playground," said McCauley. "If you send out positive energy, positive energy returns to you. If you send out energy that says I'm the only one that matters, it's going to be a pretty chaotic world."

Wilgoren found that other stores in Chicago, and even across the country, have begun to take similar action. McCauley also offered other examples of pre-sign rudeness. "A couple were blithely reading the newspaper while their daughter lay on the floor blocking the line for coffee. When the family whose children were running across the room to throw themselves against the display cases left after his admonishment, Mr. McCauley recalled, the restaurant erupted in applause."

I've got an idea: Let's make this guy president. Or better yet, get him a book contract.

 

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