By MATT CRENSON, AP National Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - People say you're rude.
You walk around bleating into that cell phone as if you're the only person for blocks. You curse like Madonna on Letterman, your kids think the world is their personal playground, and you drive like a maniac.
That's what respondents to a national survey had to say about America's manners.
A full 79 percent of the 2,013 adults surveyed by telephone in January by the research group Public Agenda said a lack of respect and courtesy in American society is a serious problem. Sixty-one percent believe things have gotten worse in recent years.
"You really do see the majority of Americans pretty anxious about these issues," said Jean Johnson, director of programs at Public Agenda, a New York-based nonprofit organization. "People do think this is an area of the society that they would like to see some improvement on."
Poor customer service has become so rampant that nearly half of those surveyed said they have walked out of a store in the past year because of it. Half said they often see people talking on cellular telephones in a loud or annoying manner. And six drivers in 10 said they regularly see other people driving aggressively or recklessly.
Many people admitted to rude behavior themselves. More than a third said they use foul language in public. About the same percentage confessed to occasional bad driving.
However, at least half of those surveyed said they think things have gotten better when it comes to the treatment of blacks, the physically handicapped and gays.
The results were remarkably consistent geographically, with little difference in rudeness awareness between the heartland and the coasts. Opinion on only one issue -- the use of foul language -- split significantly among regions of the country. While three out of four Southerners said it is always wrong to take God's name in vain, half of those surveyed from the Northeast said that there is nothing wrong with it or that it falls somewhere between right and wrong.
The survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
The researchers followed up their telephone survey with focus groups held in Cleveland; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; St. Louis; Frisco, Texas; Danbury, Conn.; Fort Lee, N.J.; and Berkeley, Calif.
In those discussions, some people blamed overcrowding in malls, stadiums and other public places. Others said Americans' increasingly busy lives are making them ruder. And one woman in Texas blamed The King.
"It was shocking when Elvis was shaking his hips up there, but now we see whole naked bodies," she said. "It started with Elvis, and that was a little overboard, but that was the beginning of what we have today."
Harvard University professor Robert D. Putnam said the rudeness epidemic is a symptom of growing social isolation. In his 1999 book "Bowling Alone," Putnam argued that television, automobiles, suburbanization and other forces have led to the decline of community organizations that once held Americans together.
"That's causally linked to all sorts of other bad things, like schools not working as well," Putnam said. "Lots of things are connected to this collapse of social connectedness."
People surveyed by Public Agenda had few solutions. Thirty-six percent said that when confronted with rude behavior, the right thing is to respond with excessive politeness. Twenty percent said it is best to point out the bad behavior. But 42 percent said the best thing to do is just walk away.