Travel & Leisure
updated 1/4/2012 2:48:09 PM ET 2012-01-04T19:48:09

Which is worse when you’re traveling: the local driver who blithely cuts you off in traffic or the surly cabbie who gives you attitude right to your face?

Such skirmishes no doubt fueled this year’s America’s Rudest Cities contest, voted on by Travel + Leisure readers. Three-time-champion Los Angeles, home of road rage, went head-to-head with classically brusque East Coast cities such as Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.—all of which landed in the top five.

New York ultimately claimed the title of No. 1 rudest city, a dubious award determined as part of T+L’s annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, in which readers rank 35 major cities in categories such as the best pizza, the most pedestrian-friendly streets, and even the most reliable wireless coverage.

A look at this year’s rudest top 20 reveals one overarching trend: the bigger the city, the bigger the attitude—or at least its perceived attitude. “People in big cities tend to be very direct,” says Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and owner of Protocol Etiquette School of Texas. While that alone can be fine, she adds, “it’s no excuse for being rude. ”

Smaller cities often have a slower pace, which may help explain why New Orleans, Savannah, and Charleston all ranked in the top five for friendliness. They are also literally warmer cities, which may further mellow the locals.

But don’t give too much credit to southern hospitality. Atlanta made it into the rudest top 10—perhaps because it’s a sprawling metropolis, or because visitors expected more charm from the Georgian capital. Similarly, some visitors assume that they’ll get an all-smiles welcome in Orlando; any subsequent disappointment helped land the city at a grumpy No. 9.

New Yorkers, meanwhile, have long endured the notion that everyone expects them to be hostile. But are they just misunderstood?

“People in New York are constantly in a rush,” says Big Apple manners expert Thomas P. Farley, who writes the blog What Manners Most. “Certainly, they don’t linger on corners smiling, waving, and waiting to help people. But once you’ve stopped a New Yorker and asked them for directions, they’re usually more than helpful.”

And if someone gives you guff anyway? “Move on,” says Gottsman. “You can’t take it personally. If you do, then you start getting rude.”

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