Cellular Etiquette

by Paul Niquette
Copyright 1996 Sophisticated:The Magazine. All rights reserved.

he phone rings. I click File, Save. The voice on the line is familiar and more than friendly.

"Hi, it's Gordon. How ya doin'?"


"Been a long time. Thought I might check up on you."


Several pleasantries later, I looked at my watch and back to the screen. "Gordon, I'm kind of in the middle of something here. Can I call you back?"

"Sure, got a pencil? I'll give you my cell phone number. The 405 is chrome-to-chrome. Ring me up later."


usy persons know that cellular enthusiasts have discovered a wonderful remedy for traffic jams and other boring situations. Unlike radios and tape players, however, this technology entertains the caller by demanding the unwelcome participation of the callee.

Then there's this other problem I encountered recently on a shuttle bus at LAX.

A person with an exceptionally loud voice in the seat next to me pulls out a flip-flop phone and thumbs up some digits. 

Flip-Flop Phone"Hey, we're here [beat]. On our way to pick up a car [beat]. That's right, a car, okay? Hahaha! Everything all set for the meeting? Hahaha! No, I brought them with me (grins at others on the bus). Hahaha, both of them, okay? Hahaha! So, who's going to be there? You can't be serious [beat]. I was afraid of that [beat]. But we won't let him get away with anything, okay? Hahaha! And you know what else he's looking for [beat]. Yup[beat]. Uh-huh [beat]. That's for sure. Hahaha!" 

    Wrested from my own contemplations, I found myself listening and not a little embarrassed. It was obvious that the caller next to me was not bored. I tried to remember the last time I saw a real phone booth. The kind with doors. 

    Calls were private back then. And non-invasive. I may be mistaken, but before cellular phones, nobody would think of blasting their half of a conversation all over a waiting room or a restaurant. Or a shuttle bus.

"We'll be there in a few minutes, okay? Hahaha! Bye-bye." The caller put the phone back in her purse as the bus pulled into the lot.

So here's my idea. If you get a call like this from me, just play along.

"Hello, may I speak to Emily Post? Yes, I'll hold [beat].  Miss Post? Thanks for taking my call. I'm sitting here with some time to kill, and -- 

Excuse me, will you please lower your voice, I'm trying to talk on the phone, too.

-- some time to kill, and I got to wondering: Are you planning to update your chapter on phone manners for cellular users? Hahaha! What's that? Yes, right next to me [beat]. No [beat].You wouldn't believe it if I told you [beat]. Hahaha!"

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Epilog Six years after this screed was published, an anecdote entitled "Brave New World" arrived by forwarded e-mail from several correspondents...

On a drive from Montreal heading toward Quebec City, I found it necessary to stop at a comfort station. The first stall was occupied, so I went into the second one. I was no sooner seated than I heard a voice from the next stall: 

"Hi, how are you doing?" 

Well, I am not the type to chat with strangers in highway comfort stations, and I really don't know quite what possessed me, but anyway, I answered, a little embarrassed, "Not bad." 

"And, what are you up to?" asked the stranger.

Talk about your dumb questions! I was really beginning to think this was too weird! So I replied, "Well, just like you, I'm driving east." 

Then I heard the stranger, all upset, say, "Look, I'll call you back.  There's some idiot in the next stall answering all the questions I am asking you."

And then another dozen years later, in 2015, this anecdote came along...

After a tiring day, a commuter settled down in his seat and closed his eyes. As the train rolled out of the station, a woman sitting next to him pulled out her mobile phone.


She started talking in a loud voice: "Hi sweetheart. It's Sue. I'm on the train. [beat] Yes, I know it's the six-thirty and not the four-thirty, but I had a long meeting. [beat] No, honey, not with that Kevin from the accounting office. It was with the boss. [beat] No sweetheart, you're the only one in my life. [beat]Yes, I'm sure, cross my heart!"


Minutes later, she was still talking loudly. When the man sitting next to her had enough, he leaned over and said into the phone, "Sue, hang up the phone and come back to bed."