I’m going to go against the flow here and suggest that people are smarter than we’re giving them credit for. I think there’s three misapprehensions going on here:
The usual assumption that us SDMB folks are geniuses. We aren’t.
Observation bias. You always notice the dork whose grocery cart is in your way. You DON’T notice the other 100 people in the store who took pains to ensure they weren’t blocking the aisle.
I think the reason people sometimes don’t think, or aren’t very aware of their surroundings, is not that they’re stupid, but that thinking is hard and you can only do so much of it at once. I’m not denying that there are world-class morons around, but you know, sometimes people have a lot going on in their heads, and how they’re arranged in a grocery aisle might not be at the top of the priority list.
I don’t know about you folks, but at any given time I’m mulling over half a dozen issues; in a three-minute span in the canned good aisle I might work on a scheduling problem with my clients, think about the problem of my daughter still pooping her pants at night, come up with a way to approach an issue with my wife, consider that my car’s likely due for an oil change, fret over the plight of the Blue Jays, and plan out the rest of my evening because I need to figure out when I’m going to work out. If I briefly forget I’m in the middle of the aisle, well, sorry, I’m not stupid but I’m not Data, either.
I don’t mean to be picky, but how many times have you left your country? Americans are quite courteous.
As a Canadian, I was taken aback almost immediately at how rude people were in England. Especially European tourists. Halfway into the second day I was about ready to re-declare World War II just because of the number of Germans who didn’t seem to understand the concept of lining up.
But after a week I started to learn that it wasn’t that they were rude; they just had different levels of courtesy for different things. No, they could’t form an orderly line to save their lives, but on the other hand the attitude of service people was consistently, remarkably friendly. Yes, people littered to an extent that in North America would be considered gross, but on the other hand security guards and cops were much friendlier than I’m used to.
This’ll be true anywhere. One of my best friends remarked about how, when he lived in the Middle East (his Dad was a diplomat) they had to completely relearn ruled of courtesy; Arabs are in some ways unbelievably rude by our standards, but in others are almost ridiculously polite. When they come here it’s the reverse.
A little understanding and empathy goes a long way.