Mister Boomer recently received a thank you note via U.S. mail from his grand nephew. He and his spouse had sent a birthday gift, and now, with help from the boy’s mother, Mister B’s niece, the note arrived. The boy’s mother, herself a daughter of Baby Boomers, believes strongly in the old school manners that were a regular part of our boomer upbringing. It has been Mister Boomer’s observation that this is unusual among today’s parents.
Perhaps there is no greater phrase to illustrate the difference between the manners ingrained into our boomer upbringing and the kids who followed than simply, “Thank you.” Boomers were taught at an early age that when someone said “Thank you” to you, the correct response was, “You’re welcome.” If any response is forthcoming these days, more than likely it will be, “No problem.”
Mister Boomer vividly recalls how parents, aunts, teachers and practically everyone would be quick to prod youngsters into saying, “Thank you,” and, “You’re Welcome.” The adults would often bend down to the child’s height and say something like, “What do you say?” when the child received a gift, an ice cream cone or any other favor. All adults were considered authority figures, and it was fair game for any of them to express to children, in private or public, that he or she should “mind your Ps and Qs.” Failure by children to do so reflected poorly on their parents.
So, when, exactly, did “You’re welcome” become “No problem?” Mister B has a theory that relates directly to the Boomer Generation: Though boomers were taught differently, by the time they became young adults, much of the manners of their parents were set aside. Once boomers entered the protest phase of the 1960s, everything connected to The Establishment was eschewed. Bob Dylan prophesied the coming changes in 1964 by singing,“Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command/Your old world is rapidly aging.”
TV shows of the 1950s through the ’70s mimicked the expected manners in the society at large of their time. Take a look at the manners displayed by the characters in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-66) and Leave It to Beaver (1957-63) and contrast that with All In the Family (1971-79) and Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-79).
Another foreshadowing of changing manners can be seen in the smiley face and subsequent ubiquitous, “Have a nice day.” The yellow smiley face was drawn in 1963 by graphic artist Harvey Ball for an insurance company. Since the iconic pop face design was not copyrighted by Mr. Ball, it was appropriated and distributed on shirts, greetings cards and, especially, worn as a button by retail store employees in the late 1960s and into the ’70s.
Mister Boomer believes this retail association was where the nauseating association with “Have a nice day” became widely popularized. Though the iconic image and phrase — the epitome of optimism — may have seemed innocuous, the use of this image and phrase all but replaced the “Thank you” that was expressed as a regular ending to a retail transaction before the introduction of the smiley face.
As the country’s Generation Gap grew, so did the casualization of speech along with the mode of dress. By the time a recognizable drug culture appeared in the late 1960s, “Thank you” was truncated by the more casual, “Thanks,” and “You’re welcome” had all but been replaced with, “You bet” or “For sure, man.” The slippery slide to “No Problem” had begun.
Mister Boomer is constantly reminded by his surroundings that language changes. So it would seem that manners and etiquette follow suit as well. Mister Boomer hears the voices of many boomer friends who are appalled by the lack of etiquette associated with cellphone usage today, yet it may very well be that our collective rush to embrace all that was anti-establishment 50 years ago set in motion the system of manners exhibited today.
In other words, hey kids, you’re welcome.
What role did manners play in your boomer days?