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POLITENESS BY DECREE?

After more than 45 years of communism, the Chinese are having a welcome change of heart.

No, they're not about to abandon their repressive form of government. But at least Beijing is perceptive enough to realize that its artificially egalitarian ideology has resulted in certain excesses - one of which is a pervasive rudeness that makes life needlessly abrasive.Consequently, the Chinese this week issued an official list of more than 50 rude but common phases that are to be banned from now on in public places.

If the decree against rudeness works, here's hoping the Chinese find a way to package this product and start selling it. There's a great need, if not a great demand, for it, since neither China nor communism have a corner on impolite words and deeds.

In the United States, for example, there should be a big market for any product or program providing fast relief from a long list of daily irritations such as:

- The driver behind you who leans on his horn the second the traffic light turns from red to green.

- The moviegoers who loudly discuss the film or a variety of other topics as if they were the only ones in the theater.

- The restaurant patrons who linger at their table long after the meal is over even though other diners are waiting to be seated.

- The grocery shopper who wheels a fully loaded cart into the express lane plainly marked for only 10 items or less.

- The salesperson who keeps customers waiting while engaging in idle chitchat with a colleague.

- The casual acquaintance who keeps pressing for intimate details about your personal life.

- The men who evidently think it's manly to lard their conversation with expletives that should be deleted - and the women who evidently think their use of the same language is a sign of independence.

The list could, of course, be extended to great length. But maybe we've gone too far as it is. One of the rudest things, after all, is going around offering unsolicited criticism of other people's manners. On second thought, maybe China's new politeness program should be marked "for domestic consumption only."