Cell Phone Etiquette

When and where is appropriate to answer your cell phone.

Trent Armstrong
5-minute read
Episode #73

More and more frequently, I'm finding that people think it acceptable to take calls while in the library, bookstore, during movies, at the theatre, and even occasionally during a meeting at one's job. That, I argue is a disturbing and increasing trend. If you know that you might receive an urgent phone call during any of these events, either be prepared to quickly excuse yourself to a phone-friendly place or do not attend them at all. I certainly do not intend to be callous, but there are just some things that we simply should not do, and talking on a phone in an inappropriate place is one of them. In fact, if you know you’ll be in one of these types of locations during the day, just go a head and set your phone to “silent” of “vibrate” when you get up in the morning – okay, that’s a little over the top – just make sure it’s always in the front of your mind to take this precaution before your phone rings in the middle of your child’s ballet number.

Stop, Look and Listen

Now here’s the polite way to deal with a cell phone call. When your phone rings, take a quick look around and see if there is anyone within earshot. Then listen to your environment for ambient noise. If you find that you're not in a peaceful, quiet environment when you receive a call, and therefore cannot immediately answer, you have a few options:

  • Option one, part 1: silence the ringer as soon as possible and part 2: try to retreat to a location where you can answer the phone before the caller hangs u... [Click, dial ton

  • Option two: let the call go to voicemail. Then supposing you're not in a dark theater where you're cell phone is basically a light saber, listen to the message. If you decide that the person must be called back immediately, please refer to option one, part two.

  • Option three: again assuming that you're not in a quiet, dark theater, quietly answer the phone and politely ask the person on the other end to hold briefly while you excuse yourself to a place where you can talk freely.

Well, your Modern Manners Guy remembers a trip to the bookstore where he found himself sitting in a comfortable chair reading what was--most assuredly--a sophisticated volume, and being flanked by three other people quietly reading before being disrupted by the cell phone of one of the other seated patrons. The young lady answered the phone and upon discovering that the caller was her husband, proceeded to have a rather detailed conversation about her early morning trip to the baby doctor.

Needless to say, the other offended parties and I shared uncomfortable glances and by the time she hung up the phone, I momentarily considered changing my name to Modern Manners Guy, M.D., and then I decided that maybe one overheard conversation like that was enough for this lifetime. If you happen to be caught in such an awkward situation, feel free to sit in stunned silence like I did. However, it’s also reasonable to get the heck out of dodge. Disapproving glances aren’t really the best manners, but a hasty retreat is fine and might save you from a few nightmares.

Bottom Line: Please. Just, don't.

Another piece of cell phone etiquette that needs to be addressed is talking on the phone while in the check-out line of a store. It should be obvious that this is rude and is sure to be disrupting to the cashier.  And if something is disrupting to the cashier, it will cause delays for everyone else in line. We've already established that we need to treat people like they matter more than us. Wasting everyone's time with a conversation that could wait the two whole minutes until you are no longer in line conveys the exact opposite.