How rude! From stolen wedding cookies to group thank-you notes, tacky behavior is on the rise

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Heather Vaill had 1,500 of her mother's most delectable homemade cookies set out at her wedding reception several years ago.

"Thumbprints, pizzelles, ladylocks -- all the good stuff," she recalls.

Anita Dufalla, Post-Gazette
Click on illustration for larger image.

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Which behavior do you think is tackiest? www.post-gazette.com/lifestyle

Even with more than 200 guests, the bride still was surprised the sweet treats went so quickly.

"I was disappointed when [a few hours into the reception] I went to get a cookie -- one stinking cookie -- and the trays held nothing but crumbs," says Ms. Vaill, 36, of Plum.

She later learned a cousin had brought Tupperware containers to the reception and absconded with a sizable amount of her wedding cookies.

"A few months later, this same tacky cousin served the cookies she stole at her mother's wedding reception!"

Now, that's tacky with a capital TACK!

Has society lost all civility? Where have all the manners gone? Whatever happened to ma'am and sir, please and thank you?

Jeanne Hamilton, who catalogs thousands of tacky tales spanning the depth and breadth of human rudeness on her Web site, www.etiquettehell.com, says America's self-centered, me, me, me culture is to blame for the erosion of class.

"When you become very self-focused like that, it removes barriers in your brain," says Ms. Hamilton, a wedding consultant and author of "Wedding Etiquette Hell: The Bride's Bible to Avoiding Everlasting Damnation."

American society is a morally relativistic culture with most people thinking that everything and anything is all right as long as it makes them happy, she says.

"The reason why people behave themselves is because there's a social stigma -- or used to be -- to behaving like an idiot," she says.

The brilliant-but-hot-headed actor Alec Baldwin leaves a screed on his 11-year-old daughter's cell phone voicemail calling her, among other things, "a rude, thoughtless little pig."

Tacky.

His former wife, Kim Basinger -- with whom he's embroiled in a vicious and bitter custody battle -- says she didn't make the message public. Hmmm? OK. Whoever released the voicemail or allowed it to be released, and thus opened up the child to public ridicule, is even tackier.

In the aftermath of the Don Imus brouhaha, someone has seen fit to merchandise teddy bears and T-shirts bearing the now infamous phrase, "Nappy-Headed Ho."

Constitutionally protected speech, to be sure, but tacky.

Pam Welsh and nine or so of her co-workers pitched in to buy a trendy portable playpen/crib as a baby shower gift for one of their colleagues. Two weeks after the shower, Ms. Welsh received a thank-you note on her desk at work with a routing slip attached.

"It turns out the guest of honor at the shower had sent separate thank you notes to everyone at the shower, but the 10 people that bought the expensive gift got one thank-you note with a routing slip to be routed around the office," says Ms. Welsh, 50, of Swissvale.

The routing slip was neatly stapled to the thank-you card and included the names of the 10 or so people to whom it was to be sent.

"You check off your name [on the routing slip] and send it to the next person on the list," she says. "I couldn't believe that this girl couldn't write an extra 10 thank-you notes. That was the tackiest thank you I ever got in my life."

Are people increasingly declasse or as uncouth and tasteless as they've ever been?

Etiquette really got thrown out during the anti-establishment, anti-authority '60s and '70s, Ms. Hamilton says.

"But I think people are realizing it's good to have a code of conduct in society," she says. "Frankly, that is what [www.etiquettehell.com] is designed to do; it's thousands of people saying, 'We think that behavior is tacky.' "

Other behaviors Post-Gazette readers offered up as classless included, people who talk loudly on their cell phones in public, people who never respond to e-mails, people who allow their pets to relieve themselves in other people's yards, people who dress sports casual for everything from theater performances to wakes, and people who force their way into elevators or onto the "T" before existing riders can exit.

Unfortunately, Bob Ternyey, 58, of Strattanville, Clarion County, has long had to ponder a delicate matter specific to public restrooms. Although only familiar with the infraction in men's rooms, he says his wife confirms the problem exists in ladies' rooms, too.

"Why don't people flush?" he asks.

Why don't they, indeed! Enough said.

"We're trying to re-stigmatize [tacky] behavior," says Ms. Hamilton of her Web site. "We want people to be mortified and concerned about what other people think of [them]."

People often have no idea how their tacky behavior affects other people, Ms. Hamilton says, and if they did, they might mind their manners a bit better.

"It's funny now, but at the time when I found out, I was so upset," says Ms. Vaill of the cookie thievery at her wedding. "My mom went to all that trouble, months and months and months of baking. ... If they had asked her to bake cookies [for their wedding], she would have."

Classy behavior also is a matter of personal dignity and choosing to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do, Ms. Hamilton says.

Is the milk of human kindness hopelessly curdled?

Robert Biller fears that it is.

Not long ago, he offered his assistance to a middle-aged woman he saw "staring at a flat, front passenger-side tire on her late-model Cadillac" in a cold, rainy Cranberry department store parking lot.

He used a T-bar wrench to loosen her wheel lug nuts. When he discovered her spare was almost flat, he inflated it with his 12-volt compressor and told her to stay dry in her car.

Drenched and covered with dirt, he changed the woman's flat tire and returned the car jack and wrench to the trunk.

"Immediately after I slammed the lid shut, she hit her accelerator and sped out of the parking lot without even a nod," says Mr. Biller, 58, of Franklin Township, Beaver County.

In her haste, she ran over his air compressor, too.

"I didn't help her because I wanted her gratitude, but a 'thank you' would have been appropriate," he says. "It's a lot easier than changing a tire."


L.A. Johnson can be reached at ljohnson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3903.


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