The Dying Art of Telephone Etiquette

I am one of a dying – or perhaps already dead – breed.

That would be the breed of people that even understand that there is such a thing as telephone etiquette, never mind having an inkling of what that actually is.

I looked on the internet to see if, in this day and age, one could even find anywhere some instruction as to how telephones should be used and answered.  I was able to find this tidbit:

Think about what time it is, when placing a call. You would not want to call when there is the possibility that person may be asleep. For example on a work morning before 7:00 a.m. would not be a good time. (I would say on any morning before 7 am is not a good idea!) After 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. in the evening is not a good time, and remember to avoid calls around the usual period most people will be eating. Courtesy is expected when using the telephone just as if you are talking in person.

Apparently I am one of the dinosaurs that still think this sort of thing is important – although, I might add, given that it is how I was raised, I can depend on my family to adhere to these rules as well.  You will never catch us calling each other at early or late hours, because as much as we might love each other and want to talk, we also respect each other’s households and understand that, after a certain time in the evening, or before a certain time in the morning, forcing others to deal with the outside world is just simply rude.  And if you don’t live in my house, you are, no matter how much I love you, part of the outside world.

If this all sounds positively ancient, I also found this Etiquette for Dummies book in which telephone etiquette, including using cell phones, was also addressed:

Your behavior when the telephone rings can amount to the world’s fastest indication of how you feel about the importance of others.  This immediate impression has become especially true with the enormous use of cell phones…

You know, it’s hard to believe, I know, but there was actually a time when we did not have cell phones, or answering machines, or email or even phones.  And although I’m certainly not suggesting that we need to return to those times, or should not take advantage of these technological advances, I sorely miss the civility that prevailed when we first developed them, the days when people didn’t need to heighten their feelings of self-importance by answering every bloody call that chimed in, the days when people understood that someone’s phone was not the equivalent of a 24-hour store, when people understood that there was a proper time and place for calling just as there is a proper time for showing up on people’s doorsteps.  Unless there was a late plane arrival, of which I would previously be aware, I would not allow someone to show up on my doorstep unannounced at a late hour of the evening, or an early hour of the morning.  And most people would not dream of coming by unannounced at 8:00 in the morning or 10:00 at night.  So why do they think doing this on the phone is acceptable?  I still have to talk to you.  I still have to “entertain” you. I still have to turn my attention away from my children and my household, with whom I may be preparing for the day or settling down after a long day.  I still have to be mentally presentable and available to you at the expense of others in my house, instead of being able to relax and either prepare myself for my day or quietly rest after a long one.

This has long been a sore point in this household, and with the cellphone now being the one that rings, the idea is, hey, it’s not your cellphone, it’s not for you, it shouldn’t be an issue.  But it still is for me.  And clearly I need to get over it because it is not going to change, would be difficult to change when people have never even lived by such rules of etiquette as I refer to.  It’s like trying to teach someone who’s eaten with their hands all their lives not just how to eat with a knife and fork, but why doing so is more presentable in certain situations.  You can teach the rules but you will never see the dawning of true comprehension.  I might as well try to teach the cat.

So all I can do is make sure that my children understand such rules, which, like most etiquette rules, are not just about acting proper but about being considerate of other people.  About thinking before you act and saying, gee, I would like to talk to Mary right now but is it a good time for me to interrupt her household?  Might they be eating breakfast?  Or getting the kids ready for bed?  Or, perhaps, sleeping or just winding down?  Is there another time during the middle of the day that might be better for me and her?  Does she live alone or are there other people I might also be disturbing? Or, if you’re on the receiving end of a call, do I need to talk right now or would it be nice to interact with the people in my house for a few minutes? Are my children trying to talk to me? What example am I setting when the phone and the computer are almost reflexive actions for me?  Is it possible for me to not answer the phone or not check email at dinner? Or breakfast?  Can the outside world wait while I live my life in the present for just a few minutes?

Bloody amazing, people are these days.  And much as I try to chalk it up to a lack of upbringing, it’s really not that hard to just think about other people sometimes, or to realize that the world can and will go on if someone leaves a message, or if you don’t answer that email the second it comes in. But these days, you have better luck getting full attention by email or phone than you do when you sit with someone over dinner or breakfast, and even those who attempt not to answer still feel the need to see who is calling, still get momentarily distracted as they have to process the idea of not answering the call of the siren.  We’re turning into a world that turns away from flesh and blood to deal with people who present themselves virtually.  And that’s pretty sad.

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Posted in The Rants | 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “The Dying Art of Telephone Etiquette”

  1. Audrey says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this, and I couldn’t agree with you more. What’s sad is that most people are old enough to remember when we didn’t have these conveniences, therefore they should know how to behave properly. When I think back to those days, there are very few adults I know who would have dreamed of calling at unacceptable hours. But many assume that because the person they are calling has caller id, that that person can simply screen and not pick up the phone. Even having to check who is calling is an interruption and intrusion. What if everyone is asleep? It used to be a phone call in the night meant an emergency, and for me it still does, gets me upset and my heart racing if it’s after 11.

    Telephones, including cellphones, computers, even television and radio can be an intrusion on your life because they are bringing outside stuff into your home. My rule is, unless it is a dire emergency or you are my mom, do not call me in the morning before work, before 9 am on the weekends and any time after 9 pm ever.

    I also have found I’ve had to reevaluate friendships with friends who feel it is necessary to answer every cell phone call while we are out trying to socialize (a phone call from the babysitter or other important calls are another matter). To me that says that I either don’t deserve their uninterrupted attention, or hanging out with me is so boring that constant phone calls are welcome. Either way its unbearably rude. I’ve even started to evaluate whether I need a cell phone. It is a convenience, but do people need to reach me that bad?

    Next person who shows lack of phone etiquette, I’m going to direct them to your blog. Thanks for writing this!

  2. Leian says:

    Oh, it’s just bloody awful!! You can be out to dinner with someone and they MUST check to see who is calling. As you point out, of course those of us with kids love being able to be found immediately – but this behavior is not limited to those with kids. It’s all the time, everywhere. But it goes both ways – in our house, his cell phone will ring at 8:00 am – his mother calling. Has someone died? Because when the phone rings at that hour, that’s what I assume. No, she is just calling because that time is convenient for her. It is not impossible for her to call him midday or on the weekends, but that’s when SHE likes to call and therefore, that’s all that matters. I suppose I should be happy because it used to be 7:30, which I thought was worthy of divorce proceedings, it was so annoying. I have tried and am still trying not to let this rankle but oh, how it does, because like you, when I hear a phone ring at that hour, I am primed to think emergency. And then when it is not an emergency, I am primed to think “rude and thoughtless” – because we are still awakening, having breakfast as a family, trying to get out the door, perhaps, and I would like to think that there is SOME time that we are allowed to be awake but free of intrusion. But people just do what works for THEM, and because she used to call him at that hour when he was single, I presume, the concept that maybe now with other people in the house it might NOT be such a good idea has neither occurred to her, nor been accepted by him despite my having expressed my vehement displeasure at it.

    Etiquette is definitely dying, my girl, dying. No one cares anymore about other people – you see it in the way people drive, in the way they yap loudly on the phone, it’s a me me me world. I think back to stories I’ve read set in Victorian and Edwardian times and although the rules from those days can seem quaint and stifling, at least there WERE rules, designed to consider others and also – and this is the part people don’t get – allow consideration for YOURSELF. But now, we are “on” 24-7. And we don’t realize that we are actually LOSING touch with people because when we do see them, we are so busy checking emails and cellphones instead of giving our friends and family the undivided attention they deserve at the PROPER TIME. Hubby comes home from work, sits down at the table, and while he’s waiting for dinner out comes the iPhone. What about talking to the kids or listening to what they’re saying? What about sitting back and allowing yourself to breathe and hear the breeze outside in the trees and feel the sun on your face as you wind down from a long day? This is not the example I want the kids to see of how they should function, and it is not the idea I want them to get of how they are regarded, that they are less important than someone sending an email. Can we never be “off-duty”?

    Thank you for understanding. Maybe we should start a club…

  3. Here is a says:

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  4. Country Girl says:

    And whats the deal with people calling and if you are busy and don’t answer they first of all don’t even have the courtesy to leave a voicemail but they stay on the phone long enough for your whole voice mail message to play through and then once they hear the beep they hang up so you get a bunch of hang up messages. ARRRRGH!! and they know you saw their call on the caller ID and instead of waiting for you to call back they continue to blow your friggin phone up until you either answer or call back. You see a zillion missed calls and panic thinking someone died or got in an accident and when you get them they are like oh hey girl I didn’t want nothing. WHAT?? SERIOUSLY?? and men…forgetaboutit. I never assigned my cellphone to be a GPS device and I am not obligated to answer it when I am in the store or driving or just don’t feel like talking to you right then… and I am not obligated to return your calls or answer your text messages immediately… that irritates the crap out of me. LEAVE A FRICK FRACKING MESSAGE AND I WILL GET BACK TO YOU WHEN I FRICK FRACKING HAVE TIME TO TALK. and my last rant is that if its too late to call its also too late to text. There is nothing so important you have to say that you have to text it to me at 2 in the morning…no matter if I am awake or not. Thats my time!! Ohhhhh you got me started LOL OKay one more. I give a guy my number and then text me. I respond to his text and his response is what??? because he has no idea what I am talking about because he deleted his text message as soon as he sent it. Player player move. If you have to clear your phone logs and text messages please don’t bother trying to get to know me. The last person I am interested in is a player or someone trying to be one. Cell phones made a whole different playing ground. Thanks for clearing up some of the rules! Oh and LOL at the comment you got from “here is a”. Don’t you love just spam?