This morning I found myself at Pep Boys waiting for a headlight fix and was delighted to find that the waiting room was all mine. A cashier attended to my wish for volume reduction—I could’t reach and they keep the remote wisely hidden—so that I could bust out the laptop and make use of the time without the distraction of whatever nonsense was blasting above my head.
No sooner had I opened my computer than an old dude ambled in to wait for his car. (Hah! I thought, I win! Get yerself a magazine. There will be no Artificially Inseminated Transvestite Tweens of Rubicon Valley for you, mister!)
And no sooner had he settled into his chair with a disintegrating periodical than my phone buzzed with a work call that really I needed to take.
Now cell phone etiquette is a thing for me. One of my mostest favoritest “compliments” that I've received was when Rabid told me that she appreciated how I left my phone alone during out first lunch out together. I was tickled that she noticed. (It also confirmed for me that she was everything I’d hoped she’d be.)
Never answer a cell phone when you’re at a restaurant with companions of any kind—friends, colleagues, family, anyone. If you’re anticipating an important call during the meal, alert your company that you’ll be keeping an eye on the phone off and on, and then once the call comes, beat it. Leave the table and go to the lobby or, better yet, outside to handle the call. Talking on a cell when you’re with people—formal or familiar—is rude.So that left me with a bit of an issue. I needed to take the call, but I wasn’t alone in the room anymore. And my computer and papers were sort of spread out on the two seats next to me, so I could’t quickly get up to leave.
And that goes for being at home too. When you’ve got company over, ditch the cell. When you’re the company, ditch the cell. When you’re watching a movie with just the people that live in your own home, ditch the cell. If a call comes, make haste to the next room. Cell phone conversations have no business being broadcast as interruptions to those around you.
Taking your conversations into a private space is polite to the people you’re with and polite to the person on the other end of the line. Take yourself away from distraction so that they get your full attention.
(I wish it went without saying, but it’s also unacceptable to answer your phone while being examined by your doctor. Oh how I wish that went without saying.)
So I broke my rule and answered the phone. I did my best to speak softly and in clipped responses, not so much to keep information private as to be polite to guy resigned to flipping through Woman’s Day October 2007.
The conversation lasted eight minutes—about six minutes longer than I would have liked.
When I was done I apologized to the man, telling him that though I know it’s rude to talk on a phone in public, it was a work call and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get the caller on the phone later in the day. I said that I’m sorry if I disturbed him.
No problem, he said, I might’ve learned something new.
It was a terrific thing to say for two reasons: one, it was kind, and two, it was an unabashed admission that he was actively eavesdropping, as is I believe the right of bystanders when someone is rudely talking on the phone in an elevator or waiting room. Lean in, listen up, see what you can snatch. If you’re going to be disturbed by someone else’s conversation you may as well see what you can get out of it.