Call it a “Midwest Nice” malfunction: a recent study ranks Wisconsin as the least courteous state.
The Marchex Institute analyzed the use of words like "please" and "thank you" in phone conversations between consumers and businesses. It found Wisconsinites lacking. The institute is the research arm of the Marchex Company, which seeks to maximize the return on cellular advertising.
But not everyone agrees that Wisconsin displays bad manners. Etiquette consultant Margery Sinclair, author of A Year of Good Manners, says her home state’s discourteous designation surprised her.
"I thought we would be the most courteous in whatever way it was being ranked or studied," she says. "I thought we were very nice people."
Sinclair says because the study was about customer service when it comes to dealing with large corporations, it likely involved some already disgruntled respondents.
That said, she thinks it's good to occasionally get "gentle reminders" to say our "pleases" and "thank yous." She says we have to go beyond the Golden Rule.
"The platinum rule is you should treat other people the way they want to be treated – not everyone wants to be treated the same way. How do you know? They give hints – you want to pay attention," she explains.
She says being thoughtless can be almost as bad as being outright rude.
"Thoughtless is accidental, thoughtless is being in a hurry, thoughtless is saying something that you shouldn't have," she says.
The study also looked at which state's residents swear the most. While Wisconsin didn't rank quite alongside sailors, Sinclair says she does see an overall cultural "coarsening" in which swear words are used more casually.
"We get into the point about different manners in private or in public - I say there should be no difference," she says, "because what we do in private tells who we really are, and if you use these words in private, in just regular, casual conversation, they will tend to slip out at the most inopportune moments."
Sinclair explains that etiquette is essentially the "how-to" guide governing proper behavior, but "between the two, manners are more important than etiquette."
She says it's really quite simple: treat others with kindness, respect and patience.