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Don't put your phone on the dining table...
September 5, 2013 2:39 AM   Subscribe

The guardian of the nation’s etiquette, Debrett’s, has now issued a handy 10-point guide to mobile (cell) phone etiquette in the digital age
posted by Mister Bijou (122 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Apart from rudeness, one reason not to put your phone on the table is that it's most certainly not the most sterile object you own.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:46 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, look, another list that polite people already do, yet still doesn't stop obnoxious loudmouths from yelling into their mobile on the bus.
posted by fireoyster at 2:53 AM on September 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


While the advice is probably perfectly sound for a typical Telegraph reader (middle-class, over fifty, Conservative), it completely fails to acknowledge that entirely different "phone cultures" exist among other groups, particularly the young. That these other groups can't be trusted to evolve their own rules and manners (dare I say it?) says more about the Telegraph and Debrett's than it does about etiquette.
posted by pipeski at 2:56 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


11. Please turn off the loud clicking typing sound and the "new text" sound when you are in a quiet area and texting up a storm.

click click click click click click BING BING click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click BING BING click click click click click click click click click click BING BING click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click

gets annoying for a two hour train ride.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:03 AM on September 5, 2013 [27 favorites]


I agree with fireoyster. The set of cellphone barbarians who read etiquette columns is probably tiny.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:08 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I found it interesting that these were almost all about making and receiving phone calls. I don't know anyone who really ever uses their phone to call people nowadays. If I were going to come up with an etiquette list it would be about things like messaging, watching youtube videos (sound on/off), sharing things on your phone with one friend when multiple others can't see what you are giggling over, that clicking typing sound, and checking messages or playing games when you are supposed to be involved in some social or business interaction.
posted by lollusc at 3:08 AM on September 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


The biggest issue with phones here is not Dom Joly-style shouting into them, but people playing music from them with no headphones on public transport. It's not just the young either - I was sat next to an older lady on the bus who was reading her Facebook feed and playing out loud all the YouTube videos she found there.
posted by mippy at 3:17 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Don't carry on mobile phone calls while transacting other business - in banks, shops, on buses and so on. It is insulting not to give people who are serving you your full attention.

Regardless of age, if you do this to me while I am serving you, you ain't getting served.

(disclaimer: I am no longer a barista, but despite clear posted signs at the register politely asking people to not be on their mobiles whilst ordering, people thought it only applied to others and not them. Nope. I will be helping the nice lady behind you while you chatter away on your device as though I am not a real person.)
posted by Kitteh at 3:52 AM on September 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


This list seems like it was written about ten years ago. No acknowledgement of smart phones at all. Amusingly, the phone in the stock photo looks like a wireless land-line phone not a cell phone.
posted by octothorpe at 4:03 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


I will be helping the nice lady behind you while you chatter away on your device as though I am not a real person.

Does this also apply to people who are talking to each other in line? Or reading a book? I'm just wondering what activity would be acceptable unto Emperor Barista, to while away the hours until I'm allowed to request the condescension of pouring me a coffee.
posted by DU at 4:11 AM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


Among my friends who have phones that are smarter than my brick I am a big fan of the cellphone game, which neatly addresses the problem of cell phones during meals.

To play everyone places their cellphone facedown in the middle of the table. Then, anyone who touches their cellphone pays for the meal while anyone who stares too longingly at it buys the next round of drinks.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:17 AM on September 5, 2013 [22 favorites]


Does this also apply to people who are talking to each other in line? Or reading a book? I'm just wondering what activity would be acceptable unto Emperor Barista, to while away the hours until I'm allowed to request the condescension of pouring me a coffee.

It's not what you are doing while in line; it's what you do at the head of the line while being served. It's really difficult to help somebody who is texting, listening to music, having another conversation, or reading. If you are not giving the person helping you your full attention, you are a) being really insulting, b) annoying the people behind you by owing things down, and c) not getting what you want efficiently. What you do in line is your business, as long as you have your order/question clearly in mind when you reach the front of the line. Ptherwise, it's not the barista who is being condescending.

Otherwise, the line about staring longingly at your phone rather than the person you are talking to or who is speaking? So true.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:25 AM on September 5, 2013 [26 favorites]


Haha, The Olds have issued a Decree that will be blithely ignored by 99.67% of its intended audience of Climbers. What a waste of pixels.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:29 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


> The set of cellphone barbarians who read etiquette columns is probably tiny.

But now you have something to thrust in their faces after you rip their mobiles from their hands while screaming, "To hell with your brutish ways!"
posted by ardgedee at 4:30 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Haha, The Olds have issued a Decree that will be blithely ignored by 99.67% of its intended audience of Climbers. What a waste of pixels.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:29 AM on September 5 [+] [!]


especially highlighted by the fact this is a list for people only using the phone as a phone.

//also am an old.
posted by fuzzypantalones at 4:37 AM on September 5, 2013


But now you have something to thrust in their faces after you rip their mobiles from their hands while screaming, "To hell with your brutish ways!"

Me? I'd be more likely to reach in my pocket and turn on my cell-phone blocker. If such things were not illegal, of course.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:40 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Remember there's always vibrate. It may surprise your companions when you lurch - seemingly unprompted - to answer an invisible, silent phone, but at least they'll be spared the ringtone.

Really? silent phone? Vibrate isn't silent, we just pretends it is.
posted by zinon at 4:49 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you are not giving the person helping you your full attention, you are a) being really insulting, b) annoying the people behind you by owing things down, and c) not getting what you want efficiently.

Let's be real about this. You are not necessarily slowing things down. If I'm, say, using a cellphone and I get to the head of the line, I'm enough of a New Yorker to already have the order ready to blurt out n full, the money or card in hand, and my feet already moving to step slightly to the side to let the next person move. Thus, not annoying the people behind or not getting what I want unless the person at the counter is unprofessional and deliberately delays me and everyone else.

What it at least appears to be about is American (and apparently, now British) discomfort with the very notion of service - and the desire for a social fiction in which one person isn't serving another, they just happen to be friends who talk and then one friend gets the food and the other friend gives the money. It may help also preserve the fiction that these are high-status jobs, where there is no service involved and you have the social power to refuse customers. But this isn't what is actually happening. At its basest form, the barista is there to serve you coffee in exchange for money, and if they do not do that for whatever reason, they're not doing their job. If someone skipped over me on a line because I happened to be texting while I gave my order, I would absolutely contact their manager and/or leave them bad feedback on whatever customer comment line or card was available.
posted by corb at 4:57 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Remember there's always vibrate. It may surprise your companions when you lurch - seemingly unprompted - to answer an invisible, silent phone

Yeah, I had a friend who always put his phone on vibrate so as to not be so rude as to interrupt social gatherings when being called. Unfortunately the vibrating would always startle him so much he would jump up uncontrollably. Sad to say some low people took advantage of this tendency and would deliberately phone him during a meetup
posted by MartinWisse at 4:58 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I will be helping the nice lady behind you while you chatter away on your device as though I am not a real person.

This is what my spouse does with such people. She puts it as "I didn't want to interrupt your obviously important conversation by doing business with you at an inconvenient time."
posted by Foosnark at 4:59 AM on September 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


The Debrett's guide to [sex] etiquette

Sex is killing British manners, according to Debrett’s. Here is its guide to rules for sex etiquette:

Having sex in bed or ignoring people who are present in favour of those at the end of the line are all banned according to Debrett's

1. Think what your orgasm says about you?

Think about what your orgasm says about you: head-banging rocker, fashion-conscious teenager, gamer, sci-fi nerd, smooth seducer, tv addict, 'invisible' (default)... Can you live with it?

If you're embarrassed by your orgasm in certain situations (trains, office, when you're visiting your mother) it's almost certainly wrong. Try again.

Monitor the volume of your orgasm; if you blare out and heads turn it's too loud.

2. When in doubt use a vibrator

Remember there's always vibrators. It may surprise your companions when you lurch - seemingly unprompted - to sex, but at least they'll be spared the orgasm.

3. Take notice of who is around you

Ensure that your having sex is not disturbing other people. Intimate sex is never appropriate in front of others - try and respect your own, and other people's, privacy.

4. Watch your language

Don't use foul language, have full-blooded sex, or talk about money, sex or bodily functions in front of witnesses.

5. Respect quiet zones

Don't have sex in 'quiet zones' on trains. Even if you're not in a designated zone, be aware that your having sex will distract a peaceful carriage of newspaper-reading commuters. If the sex is bad and conversations inaudible, explain that there's a problem and stop having sex.

6. Never shout

You're not a megaphone, so don't shout...

If you lose your desire, live with it. Refrain from shouting, and have sex with the other person as soon as you regain it, even if it's only to say goodbye.

7. People with you deserve more attention than those at the end of sex

People in the flesh deserve more attention than a gadget, so wherever possible turn off your vibrator in social situations.

If you are awaiting important sex when meeting someone socially, explain at the outset that you will have to have sex, and apologise in advance. Otherwise, excuse yourself and withdraw somewhere private to have sex. Do not have sex in front of your friends. It is the height of bad manners...

8. Step away from the sex at meal times

Don't have sex on the dining table, or glance at it longingly mid-conversation.

9. Don't have sex when in the middle of something else

Don't have sex while transacting other business - in banks, shops, on buses and so on. It is insulting not to give people who are serving you your full attention.

10. Think about where you're having sex

Don't have sex in inappropriate venues; sex in a bathroom is deeply off-putting.

Switch off your desire, or turn it on to vibrate, when you are going into meetings, theatres, cinemas and so on.

Only have sex in the car using a hands-free head set.
posted by chavenet at 5:02 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


11. You just came off the subway? You should probably get to the top of the stairs before you check your e-mail/text your friend. Stopping in the middle of the stairs is likely to get you killed.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:07 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you are not giving the person helping you your full attention, you are a) being really insulting, b) annoying the people behind you by owing things down, and c) not getting what you want efficiently.

Let's be real about this. You are not necessarily slowing things down...


You are, however, being rude, unpleasant and disrespectful to your fellow human.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:14 AM on September 5, 2013 [23 favorites]


Let's be real about this. You are not necessarily slowing things down. If I'm, say, using a cellphone and I get to the head of the line, I'm enough of a New Yorker to already have the order ready to blurt out n full, the money or card in hand, and my feet already moving to step slightly to the side to let the next person move.

I will take you at your word that you are a paragon of efficiency. Of course, 95% of the people who are as confident as you of their ability score rather differently in the eyes of the people behind them in line, not to mention the counter staff. Generally speaking "multitasking" just means that you are bad at everything you are trying to do. No, really, this is what studies have shown.

And the process breaks down if you actually have to have an exchange. I'm a librarian; I help people find things. There are students (and occasionally others) who expect to be able to play with their phones while I do their work for them. These are the people who get sent to the back of the line. I can't do my job unless they are paying full attention, and there are others waiting.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:15 AM on September 5, 2013 [20 favorites]


You are, however, being rude, unpleasant and disrespectful to your fellow human.

And tons of people are totally okay with that. That boggles the mind. Former occupation of barista or no, being in a service industry makes you very aware of your own behavior, especially when you are no longer in it. People who have never had to work in it don't understand that.
posted by Kitteh at 5:16 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


You are, however, being rude, unpleasant and disrespectful to your fellow human.

To be fair,corb identifies as a New Yorker, where this seems to be a cultural standard; I can't criticize that. It's like the way that Rhode Islanders fetishize hurricanes and are kind of disappointed when the coast isn't ravaged at least once a year. It's baffling, but it is a legitimate folkway.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


You are, however, being rude, unpleasant and disrespectful to your fellow human.

I'm not being snarky here - genuinely, how so? Could you break it down into pieces why precisely this is universally rude, unpleasant, and disrespectful? I would certainly agree that this is a cultural thing - as GenjiandProust notes, it would be rude here to carry on a cheery conversation with your barista, because you're holding up the line and everyone else has the same precious minutes to eat and get back to work that you do. In some parts of Latin America (or at least, 20 years ago, not sure about now), servants and portions of the service industry are supposed to be essentially invisible or as unobtrusive as they can make themselves appear.

And the process breaks down if you actually have to have an exchange.


This is true-ish. Ideally, you're on the lookout for that second that will signal the interaction and so you don't actually lose anybody any time, but I will definitely agree that not everyone does so and it is probably an acquired skill.
posted by corb at 5:32 AM on September 5, 2013


If I'm, say, using a cellphone and I get to the head of the line, I'm enough of a New Yorker to already have the order ready to blurt out n full, the money or card in hand, and my feet already moving to step slightly to the side to let the next person move.
Based on times I've been behind people ordering coffee while on the phone, you are unfortunately in the minority. The people I get stuck behind are typically 100% focused on their Very Important Phone Call and neglecting the transaction at hand.

(Amen to having money or at least wallet in hand before you even order. Few things make me crazier than being behind someone who waits until the last possible moment of a transaction to take a bag off their shoulder, fumble with the zipper, dig around for a wallet, take out some bills, unsnap a little change pocket, dump a pile of pennies onto the counter, and count them out one by one. And then of course the ritual must be painstakingly repeated in reverse order to put everything away, while still standing front and center at the counter.)
posted by usonian at 5:40 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


And, cheesy Pete, turn the sound off if you're going to play Fruit Clanker or whatever the latest game is. Better yet, app designers, stop making your games' sound effects sound like a kindergarten class running through a glockenspiel factory.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:44 AM on September 5, 2013 [17 favorites]


7. People with you deserve more attention than those at the end of a phone

Right on. I used to be (and still am) hugely annoyed when I am at the cash register paying my bill, or asking a question about something, the old-fashined fixed line phone rings and and the employee turns away from me to answer the phone! Cell phones make this sort of rude queue jumping all the more frequent and when someone does this to me, I turn and walk away.
posted by three blind mice at 5:47 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does this also apply to people who are talking to each other in line? Or reading a book?

From what I've seen, you cannot get the full and constant attention of someone who is on the phone as quickly and easily as you can someone who is just reading a book or talking to another person in line. Phone people are not in the room, they are somewhere else with someone else, and they think they owe any good manners they have to that invisible person on the other end of the phone, not to the cashier and all the other people waiting in line. Even when you get their attention for a response, they zoom back to phonespace and have to be drawn back out for followup communications.
posted by pracowity at 5:48 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm not being snarky here - genuinely, how so? Could you break it down into pieces why precisely this is universally rude, unpleasant, and disrespectful?

I would also like to know this. And I'm a looong way from New York (both literally and figuratively).

I've worked as a barista. It's a simple transaction, not at all comparable to helping someone find information in a library. As long as the customer looks me in the eye, says please and thank you, and conveys their order effectively, I don't care what else they do while I process their order. Why is it rude for them to be talking or texting on their phone but okay to be chatting with their companion, browsing the newspaper at the counter, rooting through their purse, or reading something on their iPad?

(Please note - I refrain from using my cell phone while ordering, because I am aware that other people find it rude. Personally, I do not think it is.)
posted by Salamander at 6:01 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


My cell phone peeve: Fucking carry it with you. Nothing is worse that someone's loud assed ring tone of "Play That Funky Music White Boy" playing incessantly while she is in the bathroom. Former co-worker used to do this, and I was going to dump it in a pitcher of water, but there was no pitcher of water handy, so I shut it off. I started doing this on a regular basis. For some reason this woman thought leaving it on her desk was what she needed to do whenever she went anywhere. Eventually she comes up to me, asks, "Do you know why my phone always shuts off?" I'm thinking, "Shit! She's on to me!" but instead I say, "No." She says, "It's weird because it only happens when I am at work." SHE KNOWS! Then: "Do you think there's some kind of interference in the building that shuts it down?" I work IT, so I say, "Well, with these intermittent kinds of problems it's really hard to diagnose, especially if you can't replicate it." I don't even know what that means, but she was satisfied. Eventually she bought a new phone and that one had the same problem, so she was convinced it was the building.

I continued to shut off her phone every time it rang and this made me happy.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:08 AM on September 5, 2013 [34 favorites]


More succinctly: you're either paying attention to the person serving you while you're actually transacting with them (i.e. asking for the coffee, making payment), or you're not. The use of the phone is neither here nor there.
posted by Salamander at 6:09 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not being snarky here - genuinely, how so? Could you break it down into pieces why precisely this is universally rude, unpleasant, and disrespectful?

There's a good discussion around this, and it's a totally valid point. So forgive me for derailing or even sounding dismissive, but I couldn't help but chuckle at that, since it is The Most New York Question i've ever read.
posted by graphnerd at 6:10 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


You just came off the subway? You should probably get to the top of the stairs before you check your e-mail/text your friend.

You should get at least 20 feet away from the damned entrance is what you should do. Stopping at the top of the stairs and blocking the exit is at least as aggravating as stopping in the middle.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:22 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Goddamn my wife and her best friend need to read this and then live it. I've grown to hate going out to dinner with them. As soon as we sit down, out come the phones and for the next 10 minutes they're both texting and facebooking and doing anything but interacting with me or any other people that we're out with. During the time we're at whatever establishment we're at the fucking phones are out and being more or less constantly used. Makes me batshit crazy.
posted by damnitkage at 6:27 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, let me enhance a few points here and add some.

Do not shout. The microphone is very sensitive and very close to your mouth. You can move the mic closer rather than talk louder. You do not need to shout in order to broadcast your sound hundreds of miles away.

Turn off your keypress sound. Especially if you have a dumb phone that beeps when you move around the menus. This isn't the 90s.

Put your Bluetooth headset in your pocket when you're not using it. There is a colorful term for someone who wears their headset all the time: Bluetard.

Do not use emergency klaxons or sirens as your ringtone. Not even for special calls or alerts you consider an emergency. Other people may react to it as if it is a real emergency, like a fire alarm for example (yes, I have seen this happen).

Be careful with vibrate. If you stick your phone in your purse pocket, the whole purse may vibrate and amplify it louder than your actual ringtone. If you set your phone on a desk, make sure it doesn't make the desktop resonate, which also can be louder than your ringtone.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:32 AM on September 5, 2013


The use of the phone is neither here nor there.

That's not quite true. Phones mentally remove you from your surroundings in a way that other common activities do not. To the people in the room, you are slower and dumber when you're on the phone, such that it takes more time and effort to process you and get you out of the way for the next person.

And I bet you could show this with hard numbers through some simple studies involving watching how quickly and accurately people conduct simple coffee shop transactions when they are on the phone compared to when they are doing other things.

I know there are studies of driver response times while texting or talking on the phone, and the results make it pretty clear that you should turn off your phone and put it right out of sight before driving, that driving while texting is like driving drunk, and that phones are worse than other common distractions such as tuning the radio or eating a hamburger.
posted by pracowity at 6:36 AM on September 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


During the time we're at whatever establishment we're at the fucking phones are out and being more or less constantly used.

MetaFilter to the rescue: there is a (partial) solution
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:38 AM on September 5, 2013


I would also like to add a pointer to those calling individuals who have cell phones. If we don't answer, it's most likely because we were in the middle of something important and couldn't answer the phone. It is not because we are "screening" or "hate you" and repeatedly calling over and over again because we don't answer doesn't change the fact that I have raw chicken all over my hands and I'm not answering the damn phone until I get dinner finished, mother. Leave a damn voicemail and I'll call you back. And if Daddy's not in the hospital or the world is not ending, there's no reason to call me 10 times in the space of 15 minutes. I get it, you need to ask me if I still like cheese, cause you saw that boy in high school who worked at a dairy. But damn woman, be patient.
posted by teleri025 at 6:40 AM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


I'm not being snarky here - genuinely, how so? Could you break it down into pieces why precisely this is universally rude, unpleasant, and disrespectful?

Probably not. If we're coming from such wildly different cultural contexts that you don't consider paying attention when you're interacting with someone, not exposing them to half of a conversation that is uttely irrelevant to them, and the standard pleasantries (please, thank you) that are the lubricants of life's many transactions to be part of basic politeness, then I doubt we'll see eye to eye on this.

[also not being snarky]
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:42 AM on September 5, 2013 [20 favorites]


Makes me batshit crazy.

To save your sanity, get out your own phone and call your wife, or whoever it is at the table you want to converse with. If the users you're with are even halfway sensible, they will find this absurd, and will maybe get the point.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:43 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


already have the order ready to blurt out n full

Here's my issue with this: I am a human being. I do not enjoy having your order BLURTED at me. I prefer that we conduct business in a civil, humane and courteous manner. We are engaging in a transaction and the likelihood that said transaction can occur in a correct, timely manner is dramatically reduced when you are spending time talking about what happened on the latest episode of Breaking Bad with your bestie or while you scream at the folks at Capital One because you made your payment late and now your interest rate has been raised to 27.99%.

It doesn't seem that hard to treat other people with the respect you would wish to be treated with.
posted by BrianJ at 6:43 AM on September 5, 2013 [15 favorites]


The lesson here is to blurt politely.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:45 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


It doesn't seem that hard to treat other people with the respect you would wish to be treated with.

This is really the crux of it, IMO.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:47 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here's a story from the Torygraph about a shop worker who refused to serve someone on their phone. I am always left feeling amazed that people do this. I live in London which is at least as rude as New York (exhibit a: the bruises on my upper arms where people shoved past me in a tube tunnel earlier this week; exhibit b: the man who threatened to beat me up on a train because I accidentally caught his leg when getting up, stopping only when another passenger intervened and asked why he would hit a woman) and I don't think this is a cultural norm here on a par with people at bus stops standing in a simulacra of a queue then all piling on when the bus arrives. It's just rude and dismissive.

Admittedly I do find the idea of people serving me weird and embarrassing in hotels and restaurants - maybe it's a working class thing - but I don;t see why it is necessary to ignore and, essentially, talk over the person stamping your parcel or scanning your groceries. If you don't want to deal with a human, then use the self-service checkout.
posted by mippy at 6:52 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


> As soon as we sit down, out come the phones and for the next 10 minutes they're both texting and facebooking and doing anything but interacting with me or any other people that we're out with.

This. My mother and I can spend hours talking to each other, but when we're in a restaurant she seems to interact with her phone more than with me. Almost as soon as we get to the table, she whips out her phone and she barely says a word until we're done eating. With anyone else, I would just conclude that I bore them and that maybe we don't have enough in common to sustain a lengthy conversation. But my mom and I have never had an issue with interacting until she got a smartphone....I certainly don't remember the same restaurant experiences during the days of the feature phone.

> To save your sanity, get out your own phone and call your wife, or whoever it is at the table you want to converse with.

I may try that next time. The last time, I simply sat and blankly stared at her (which I'll admit is also rude) until she lifted her head and said, "Oh...I suppose I should show more of an interest in my dinner companion... ." To be honest, I wouldn't mind her smartphone-fixation if she occasionally mentioned whatever it is that's so fascinating/exciting. My stepfather will usually blurt out some of the interesting headlines or videos he finds during dinner. In that way it feels like a contribution to the dinner conversation rather than avoidance.
posted by neitherly at 6:57 AM on September 5, 2013


It doesn't seem that hard to treat other people with the respect you would wish to be treated with.

This isn't going to work for the very simple reason that many of us don't think if we were on the service side, we would be disrespected by customers talking on the phone during interchanges. I've worked in cashiering jobs before. I was not offended by the customers paying no attention to me and/or talking on their phones. I did not find it rude. And I would not have preferred them to behave differently.

I tend to avoid talking on the phone at the point of sale because I know that other people find it rude. But I don't really understand why. And as a data point, I am not from New York. I have lived most of my life in rural Illinois.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:00 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's rude at the very least because it makes you look very self-absorbed.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:06 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


For me* public cell phone annoyance boils down to "What can all these people possibly have to talk about that is so goddamn important that they have to be on this call RIGHT THIS SECOND and also driving/grocery shopping/buying coffee? Can it not wait another 5 minutes until they can step outside or pull over to safely take a call?"

*I grew up in a world without cheaply available cell phones and am not a big phone talker in general, so don't mind me.
posted by usonian at 7:10 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Probably not. If we're coming from such wildly different cultural contexts that you don't consider paying attention when you're interacting with someone, not exposing them to half of a conversation that is uttely irrelevant to them, and the standard pleasantries (please, thank you) that are the lubricants of life's many transactions to be part of basic politeness, then I doubt we'll see eye to eye on this.

Oh, c'mon. This is a complete cop-out. Corb asked a question in good faith, can't you answer it the same way?

you don't consider paying attention when you're interacting with someone

I don't consider myself to be 'interacting' with someone while I'm using the coffee machine. They don't need to watch me silently and reverentially.

not exposing them to half of a conversation that is uttely irrelevant to them

How is this different if the customer is yapping away in monologue to their friend standing next to them?

the standard pleasantries (please, thank you)

It's rude not to say please and thank you whether you're on the phone or not. Again, the phone has nothing to do with it.

It's rude at the very least because it makes you look very self-absorbed.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:06 AM on September 5 [+] [!]


Other things that make you seem self-absorbed: examining yourself minutely in a compact mirror, general preening in public, telling the barista boring stories about yourself, tossing your hair constantly. Being self-absorbed is unpleasant, but it's not 'rude'.
posted by Salamander at 7:13 AM on September 5, 2013


Basically, all etiquette books and lists could be mostly boiled down to: "We all have to share this relatively small space, so be aware of the people around you, think about their needs and put them equal to your own, and if you can't do anything to make their lives easier at least don't do anything to make them harder. We've all got a heap of trouble, so making things easier for everybody makes them easier for you, too." But that seems to be something a lot of people aren't into*, and it's kind of tough if everyone's not on board.

Yes, a certain amount of it ends up being arbitrary, but I, for one, don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with that. You get your apes into big enoughgroups, and it just saves a lot of time and bother, like everybody driving on the same side of the road. It could be left, it could be right, but the important thing is we all do it the same way and you can reasonably base the expectations of your commute around that.

*Beats me why. A certain amount of personality seems to be inborn, and maybe there are some people who just aren't wired that way.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:14 AM on September 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


What is it with the notion that you have to be staring or talking into your damn glowing rectangle 24/7 at the expense of all other human interaction?

When I was young, people who lurched out into the street, oblivious to cars & passerby, while gesticulating & talking loudly to invisible people, were CLEARLY INSANE. Today, the list of clearly insane people seems to include anyone between the ages of 17 & 27.

It's unhealthy, as in you're going to get run the fuck over if you don't learn to look up from the glowing rectangle.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:14 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a die-hard New Yorker, and the sight of people on their cell-phone while at the cash register or ordering their coffee fills me with rage.

To the people in the room, you are slower and dumber when you're on the phone, such that it takes more time and effort to process you and get you out of the way for the next person.

I think the thing that fills me with rage as a New Yorker is this unnecessary handicapping of yourself that other people are required to deal with.

I have actually seen someone crossing the street, head down, looking at her phone, against a red light, with a car coming full speed, she did not miss a beat and I doubt she was aware of how narrowly she missed being hit.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:15 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now that we are deep down in the thread, I will throw in my gut reaction to the Debrett's link, sorry that its a derail: That website has more pages and more words than I've ever seen outside of straight up linkbait. And less content. More dully buried in more words.
Ay yi yi.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:17 AM on September 5, 2013


one reason not to put your phone on the table is that it's most certainly not the most sterile object you own
If you are eating off the table then you are doing it wrong.
posted by adamvasco at 7:17 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Admittedly I do find the idea of people serving me weird and embarrassing in hotels and restaurants - maybe it's a working class thing - but I don;t see why it is necessary to ignore and, essentially, talk over the person stamping your parcel or scanning your groceries. If you don't want to deal with a human, then use the self-service checkout.

I may be really overthinking this, but I actually wonder and would be really interested to analyze in a social science sense if this has a relation to the proportion of people that had servants or areas where people historically had more actual servants.

I remember reading that a lot of the uptick in service industries in general came along with the rise in wages/decimation of the working class after WWI and finally WWII that eliminated personal servants being ubiquitous in most of Europe and also to some extent in America. Ie, previously if you didn't want to cook food yourself (or make your own coffee) in a middle class home, you would have your cook do it. There were people to take over a lot of the small annoyances of daily life, that thanks to a lot of factors we no longer have on as large a scale anymore, even for the very wealthy. So thus, the service industries came into full roar as a sort of "shared servant" sensibility. Eating at a restaurant or getting coffee was like having a cook in your home that just happened to also be cooking or making coffee for other people.

So anyway, if you had non-shared servants in your home working full time (which again, is still the case or was very recently in a lot of places in Latin America, which is what made me wonder about this) and living there, you would absolutely not cease your conversation because of their presence, because you would have to cease your conversation for most of your day, as there would always or almost always be a servant around.

But at the same time, America, particularly in the last hundred years, has become not so much a largely egalitarian society as one that focuses on the aesthetics of an idealized egalitarianism, and finds it somewhat shameful to have or call attention to visible class differences. Thus, a push to separate the service industry from its roots in servants, as it were - so anything that appears like servile behavior is really upsetting. And so the complaint at the lack of "human" connection may in fact be a kind of unconscious "I'm not your servant" mentality.
posted by corb at 7:20 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, as a New Yorker, though introverted, I am a firm believer in small talk. Minimal small talk to be sure, but I think it's important to acknowledge other people's presence somehow.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:22 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


On the other side, it's tiresome to have to act as if every commercial transaction is a reunion with a long lost friend. I give money, you give coffee, we say "thanks" and "have a nice day" (NOT "have a good one") and we're done - easy
posted by thelonius at 7:24 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Other things that make you seem self-absorbed: examining yourself minutely in a compact mirror, general preening in public, telling the barista boring stories about yourself, tossing your hair constantly. Being self-absorbed is unpleasant, but it's not 'rude'.

Yeah, those things all suck, too. Maybe it's not rude to you. Don't speak for me.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:25 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sure, but most cellphoners don't seem to bother with that, even. As long as you pause to get the transaction done, and are polite, I'm ok with it. But that behavior seems rare.
posted by agregoli at 7:26 AM on September 5, 2013


And so the complaint at the lack of "human" connection may in fact be a kind of unconscious "I'm not your servant" mentality

This is an interesting take, and I think there's a lot of truth in it. But I also think that it has something to do with urban, close quarters living. Phones used to be a private thing - contained in your office or your home, cordoned off the the rest of the world. Phone calls were, to a certain extent, associated with privacy. Now that they're portable, people take that mentality with them. It's like taking this bubble of personal space with you, except without any of the actual privacy. It's effective for the phone user, but everyone else has to deal with them talking about how Sarah's boyfriend is such a jerk, while they all commute home. It's an imposition.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:30 AM on September 5, 2013


Okay, so some of us disagree with the article and many other mefites about point nine. What about point seven: People with you deserve more attention than those at the end of a phone?

I also think claim seven is a mistake. It seems to me that a person on the other end of a phone conversation is just as much a person as the people I am standing next to. I would have thought that any prioritization would be based in the relationships you have with the various people involved. For example, if I were talking with a colleague in real life and got a call from my wife, I would excuse myself from the conversation to take the call. My wife is more important than my colleague. If it were a scheduled meeting, I might ignore the call (or might not notice it to begin with because I put my phone on silent), or I might answer the call to confirm that it is not an emergency and then tell her that I have to call back.

In any event, the etiquette here seems more complicated than the article suggests.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:36 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm really not sure what's more depressing in this thread: the "WHY DO YOU NEED TO BE ON A PHONE OUTSIDE YOUR HOME OR OFFICE WHY IN MY DAY ALL WE HAD WAS A PARTY LINE" crowd or the "HOW DARE YOU ASK ME TO BE POLITE AND TREAT SERVICE WORKERS LIKE HUMAN BEINGS" crowd.

I use my phone in public a lot. (Rarely as a phone.) However, I also go out of my way to be nice and treat service workers like human being instead of vending machines, having been a service worker in my youth. Oh, and you people who don't know what the fuck you want at the front of the line? Step aside, you're holding things for everyone and it's probably a toss-up on whether it's the people behind you or the person in the counter want to shiv you in the kidneys more.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:36 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


My problem with Debrett's is that the whole thing is just too U and non U usage for me (or too NY and non NY as the case may be). But I like this thread for its thoroughly anachronistic juxtaposition of smart phones and noblesse oblige.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 7:37 AM on September 5, 2013


corb - I think middle-class people are more likely to go to restaurants as children. I had very less well off friends whose families only ate out when they were on holiday - they would never have gone out for breakfast on an ordinary Saturday. And I know people from much more middle-class backgrounds who find it hard to believe that the only dining options where I grew up were McDonalds and supermarket cafes.

I suppose there's something to what you say, in that the middle classes are far more likely to employ a cleaner or someone to cut back their trees, even though we don't see these jobs as servitude. I'm always as nice as I can be to the cleaners in my office, because I used to work as an office cleaner, and some of my school friends made their work out of office cleaning. Even when I'm really pissed off with the service I'm getting in a shop, I try very hard not to lose my temper, because my sister works in a shop, and my friends have worked in shops, and I know from my own job what it's like for someone to take out their frustration with a situation on you because you happen to be in front of them or on the other end of the phone.

It's taken me quite a while to feel comfortable in Actual Restaurants for a variety of reasons, but one of these is it's just not an environment I'm used to and I'm not sure why someone needs to pour my wine for me. I've been to two Michelin-starred places, the first was being taken by the parents of my much wealthier boyfriend, and I was terrified I'd do something wrong. I still find the idea of tasting the wine really odd. I mean, what do you say there that doesn't sound dim? For similar reasons, we tend to go cheap with hotels when overseas, because I'd rather have more money to spend on doing stuff than pay for fripperies that make me feel awkward. (And that's with living and mostly travelling in countries where tipping is only really done in cafes and taxis.)
posted by mippy at 7:37 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The communication section of Debrett's website is a more comprehensive and interesting read than the small selection that the Telegraph posted.
posted by Morriscat at 7:44 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


An issue not mention but one that I find very troublesome:
people use cameras on cells to photograph just about everything they do and thus seem one step (at least) away form enjoying The Thing itself...Ie, a selfie: here I am in my room. Here is what I will eat. Here I am at the beach. Here is my daughter on a swing in the park.
tip: if you use a cell to check whatever in a restaurant while sitting with me I am going to pick up a book I brought and begin reading it.
posted by Postroad at 7:49 AM on September 5, 2013


people playing music from them with no headphones on public transport

Even worse; people playing videos with sound in restaurants. Typically trying to entertain and distract their young children by playing some insipid musical dancing cartoon characters. I'll keep my opinions about raising a child addicted to video entertainment to myself. In return, you keep the noise that video makes to yourself. Thanks.
posted by Nelson at 7:53 AM on September 5, 2013


I'm really not sure what's more depressing in this thread: the "WHY DO YOU NEED TO BE ON A PHONE OUTSIDE YOUR HOME OR OFFICE WHY IN MY DAY ALL WE HAD WAS A PARTY LINE" crowd or the "HOW DARE YOU ASK ME TO BE POLITE AND TREAT SERVICE WORKERS LIKE HUMAN BEINGS" crowd.

Eh. What's more depressing for me is the insistence on breaking things down into a false dichotomy, because it's easier than discussing what people are actually saying.

Some of us have said that we are/have been service workers, and we do not think the mere act if having a phone to your ear at the counter is inherently rude. We are not saying 'How dare you ask us to be polite?', we are saying that *we do not think that act, in and of itself, is necessarily impolite*.

Frankly, I think any service worker who expects the undivided attention of every customer for the entire duration they are at the counter, needs to get over him/her self. If someone needs to fit 'make a phone call' and 'buy a coffee' into their 10-minute break, they're entitled to. I don't feel like any less of a human being because they prioritize talking to their boss/friend/mother over shooting the breeze with a complete stranger while s/he pulls their latte.
posted by Salamander at 7:57 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I don't slow the line down or cause delays when I'm on the phone at the register" is a lot like "I don't drive any worse when I'm drunk," or "I'm not obnoxious with the PDA's when I first start dating someone." It's one of those things that you are simply not qualified to judge for yourself.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:00 AM on September 5, 2013 [17 favorites]


"I don't slow the line down or cause delays when I'm on the phone at the register" is a lot like "I don't drive any worse when I'm drunk," or "I'm not obnoxious with the PDA's when I first start dating someone." It's one of those things that you are simply not qualified to judge for yourself.

I actually classify these sorts of absolute statements in the same category as "I'm a great driver" or "I'm a real charmer with the ladies", in which the utterance of the statement is often proof that the opposite is in fact true.

"I'm a great driver" is Nature's way of saying do not get in this person's car.

"I don't slow the line down or cause delays when I'm on the phone at the register" is Nature's way of saying do not queue behind this person.

If you say "I try to be as efficient as possible, but being on the phone probably does slow me down a teensy bit," I'd buy it. Claiming to be a super-unicorn with a magic multitasking horn sort of has the opposite effect.
posted by Shepherd at 8:17 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


The biggest issue with phones here is not Dom Joly-style shouting into them, but people playing music from them with no headphones on public transport.

This. A thousand times this. I'm actually convinced there's some form of mental illness at work here.
posted by panboi at 8:31 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not being snarky here - genuinely, how so? Could you break it down into pieces why precisely this is universally rude, unpleasant, and disrespectful?

This is an asinine derail. Something is rude because enough people in that time and place consider it rude; there can't possibly be any other answer. Demanding that something be universally rude or disrespectful is a challenge that's impossible to meet, since rudeness isn't a fundamental physical property of the universe.

It's possible to imagine settings where treating retail workers similarly to old-style invisible servants is the polite thing to do, and where attempting what we would think of as a polite and friendly interaction would be seen by the workers as a rude imposition of familiarity. It's also possible to imagine settings where the polite thing to do when ordering coffee is to rub the barista's round little tummy, or where it was accepted that when interacting with retail workers the first thing you should do is slap them to assert your public dominance.

You asserted that the norms in early-90s Latin America would be different. Great. But that doesn't make the slightest damn bit of difference, because we aren't talking about cell phone etiquette in early-90s Latin America. We're talking about cell phone etiquette in the early 21st century, and with a strong bias towards the Anglosphere because we're all speaking English. In the Anglosphere of the early 21st century, it's almost universally regarded as polite to treat all people, including retail workers, as if they and their dignity mattered to you.

I can tell you that the inferences I would draw about a person's character from them blethering on on their phones in such a way would be similar to the inferences I would draw about their character from seeing them treat retail workers in other negative or inconsiderate ways. And those would be deeply negative inferences, with exceptions of course for people who seemed to be foreign travelers.

What it at least appears to be about is American (and apparently, now British) discomfort with the very notion of service

...and you write that as if it's self-evidently stupid. But if that discomfort exists, then it does. And ignoring or exacerbating it is -- you guessed it -- rude, if that discomfort is wide enough.

and the desire for a social fiction in which one person isn't serving another

...but again, if that desire is held commonly enough, then the social fiction exists, and violating it is rude. That it wouldn't have been rude in some other society in some other time is irrelevant.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:37 AM on September 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


But at the same time, America, particularly in the last hundred years, has become not so much a largely egalitarian society as one that focuses on the aesthetics of an idealized egalitarianism, and finds it somewhat shameful to have or call attention to visible class differences.

And for someone to understand that this is the norm in the contemporary US, and yet routinely break that norm, that would make them...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:41 AM on September 5, 2013


ROU_Xenophobe,

I think the question is (or could charitably be rephrased as): Why do so many people regard talking on a cell phone during a business transaction at a coffee shop, grocery store, or what have you as rude?

Presumably, the convention follows the perception that the behavior is rude. So, pointing to the convention itself does not explain the perception of rudeness. And I would like to understand the perception. I just don't see it. It's like a bunch of people looking into the sky and saying, "Oh neat, a rainbow!" while I look up and see plain empty sky.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 8:51 AM on September 5, 2013


While the advice is probably perfectly sound for a typical Telegraph reader (middle-class, over fifty, Conservative), it completely fails to acknowledge that entirely different "phone cultures" exist among other groups, particularly the young. That these other groups can't be trusted to evolve their own rules and manners (dare I say it?) says more about the Telegraph and Debrett's than it does about etiquette--pipeski

My kids are certainly not going to 'evolve their own rules' if those rules involve being rude to the people around them. When they get a phone, I'm going to give them a list like this and explain what kind of behavior I expect of them.

I might tell them the story of a former collegue whom I hadn't seen in years. We met for lunch and he spent the entire lunch texting and talking to his wife about what to pick up at the store on the way home. I don't think we said more than a couple of sentences to each other. I already have my excuse ready in case I ever see him again.
posted by eye of newt at 8:57 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This discussion makes sense to me - I suspect those who don't think it rude to be on the phone, and yet not fully interact with the world right in front of them do this on a regular basis. No one wants to think of themselves as rude.
posted by agregoli at 9:02 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I would like to understand the perception.

Why? If I'm traveling for work in Asia, I don't need to understand precisely why I'm expected to exchange business cards in a particular way, and why my habitual way of doing so would seem rude. I only need to know that it's the local norm. And, I suppose, that adhering to that norm won't violate any principles I hold dearly. Or, if you'd rather, even if you don't understand it you can still not violate it.

In any case, I would guess that talking on your mobile while trying to do business with a retail worker is seen as rude, by the people who do so, for two reasons. First, because it treats the worker as someone whose dignity doesn't matter by ignoring them.* Second, because it probably inconveniences other people waiting to be served.

*Yes, this might not be true in other societies, where ignoring them might somehow be the preferred acknowledgement of their acting in a "professional" mode. But how 18th century British aristocrats or early 90s Latin Americans or Caesar or Klingon warriors would consider that treatment is irrelevant, because you're not interacting with any of them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:14 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why it's rude to be absorbed in your phone at the front of line.

Corb, someone had mentioned that 1) the service person might not like being "blurted" at. People sound differently when they're telling you what they want, versus saying what they want and expecting it to be heard.

Moreover, if they don't hear you, and need to ask you to repeat yourself, or they need to say, "Sorry, we don't have A, would you like B instead?" you'll be forced to take your attention away from what you were doing, which will tends to cause annoyance, and the annoyance will likely sneak out in one's tone and words. You're attention was elsewhere, you were prepared for your factory approach of paying by debit (and missed the 3 other people in front of you being told to get cash), and suddenly your preparations aren't sufficient and you need to regroup your attention for the unexpected. You only take a second or two; because you're regrouping you don't really notice that second, but the person at the register is stuck waiting, and anyone paying slight attention behind you is rolling their eyes in annoyance.

Sure, maybe you are the 1% who will pay attention (and pay attention before you're being served, so you know that their debit machine is down). You might be the 1% who really can multitask well enough (and again, studies point out that many people think they multi task well, but don't), and you might be the 1% who won't respond poorly to the additional stress from the multitasking if the transaction isn't 100% what you're prepared for. But 99% of the people who do this behavior don't, and it makes things slower, it makes the person respond rudely, and it generally makes everyone in the immediate vicinity have a bit worse of a day. People won't know you're able to be patient, polite, and aware while operating a cell phone because you're the first that they'll ever have seen do it.

While the role of a primary servant might have been to be unseen, that's not the role of a shared service person, or it hasn't been for the last couple of decades. The rudeness would be because of the expections of the service person being a person (and thus worthy of some attention while interacting with them. This isn't a servant silently refilling your cup when it hits the 1/3 point; this is walking into a starbucks and waiting in line - there's nothing unobtrusive about it. Unless one's attention is so far into their phone activities that they went into the store and started waiting in line out of routine.

But then we're really hitting my earlier points about not having the awareness to efficiently handle the transaction. Being wrappy up in your phone is delaying your awareness just like the person who waits to get out their money/cards until the cashier gives the total. As you mentioned having your card out, I assume it annoys you when other people seem surprised to get to the point that they do actually have to pay for what they're getting.

That's just assuming texting (which you mentioned) or playing a game. Actually being on a voice call with someone (bluetooth or not), and I can't imagine how this could be a sincere question if you've ever seen anyone else on a voice call interact (both rudely and inefficiently) with the cashier. I guess playing a game could be worse, if it's not turn-based, and thus as attention grabbing as a voice call.
posted by nobeagle at 9:17 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sure. And I understand that. Which is why (as I said above) I try to avoid using my cell in line at the grocery and other places where I interact with cashiers.

But that doesn't make me any less curious about why people have the views that they do. Moreover, since I don't think it would be rude and would, all else equal, prefer to use my cell without feeling guilty in the line at my local grocery store, I would like to understand the reasons for the practice. Because if there is really no good reason for the perception -- just a social convention that has taken root and is now self-reinforcing -- then probably that can be changed by pointing out that it is just tradition that supports the prohibition. And/or by giving reasons to think that it isn't rude.

Also, if there are good reasons that I'm just not seeing, it will help me to know them because it will reinforce the non-rude behavior. Right now, I act basically non-rudely out of respect for what I regard as the mistaken beliefs of other people. If I become convinced that I have been mistaken, then my actions will be more resolute. I will be more cautious not to violate the norm. And I will do so for a different reason, which some people think matters to whether an act is moral or not.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 9:23 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Livengood,

So, pointing to the convention itself does not explain the perception of rudeness

ROU_Xenophobe's answer explained this already:

Something is rude because enough people in that time and place consider it rude; there can't possibly be any other answer. Demanding that something be universally rude or disrespectful is a challenge that's impossible to meet, since rudeness isn't a fundamental physical property of the universe.

Asking "why" is a pointless derail. It's rude because many people view it as rude. For instance, I lived in Japan for a while. There were many things considered polite or proper that I thought were pointless or stupid, but I didn't want to be a rude person so I followed the conventions.

Honestly, this attitude of ignoring the discomfort of others because you personally are okay is the very definition of selfishness.

Not to mention corb's ugly naked contempt for service people. I'm an attorney whose firm has offices in midtown and the Financial District. I know all about grabbing a quick coffee or meal order in a crowd. Yes, the person behind the counter is just someone serving me in a transaction, but the mark of human decency is treating others with respect and kindness even when not required to do so. Giving the service person a moment's attention isn't too much to ask.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:23 AM on September 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yeah, the people who don't think certain behaviors in dealing with service people are pretty much thisclose to saying, "If they had had a better education or job, then they wouldn't be service people, and I wouldn't have to hang up my mobile call for them."

It's very depressing.
posted by Kitteh at 9:31 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Because if there is really no good reason for the perception -- just a social convention that has taken root and is now self-reinforcing

"Just a social convention" isn't no good reason. It's the same reason why you don't masturbate in public.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:35 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Let's be clear;

Using your phone at the point of sale when you are bad at using your phone and conducting business transactions simultaneously is rude to the people behind you and to your server. I would expect New Yorkers to understand this as implicitly as having your cash ready. Don't screw up the rhythm, we're all busy here too, jerk, including your "servant" the barista.

And we are willing to bet you are probably not as good at that multiple interaction as you think you are.

Also, if you're physical interactions with the world are mostly conducted while stoop necked in thrall to things that are broadly defined as entertainment, well, others may consider you a bore, and possibly not that bright.

This may not be a fair judgement, because you are actually using SSH to configure an expected deployment of remote cloud servers to support the incredibly rapid growth of your company's new wonderful product that will feed starving babies around the world using charming cat videos But if every interaction people have with you is while you are sharing your attention with multiple other things they might feel that you are too busy to interact with them in real life, and they may choose to not interact with you as much in the future.

It's rude to consume other people's time without concern for their time.

It's rude to have your interactions with friends and family make them uncomfortable about interrupting your busy schedule.

It's rude to make those you have chosen to interact with personally or professionally feel that their interaction with you is being time-sliced by you in competition with an entertainment product. They may feel that you don't value interacting with them and may react accordingly (often phrased as "Goodbye.").

You can order latte, charm a friend, drive, engage with clients, text, talk, and check stock prices interchangeably without buffer, or attention drift, and give each the due cycles that those around you think is appropriate? Congratulations, UNIX operating system, you aren't rude.

It is more than likely that if someone did these things to you, you might consider them rude, and you don't think that you do these things. But you might be doing rude things and are unaware that you are bad at doing multiple things at once.

Oh, and I am definitely old.....
posted by dglynn at 9:40 AM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Jonathan Livengood: "For example, if I were talking with a colleague in real life and got a call from my wife, I would excuse myself from the conversation to take the call. My wife is more important than my colleague."

Ah, but doesn't that confirm #7 rather than disprove it? The fact that you excuse yourself from the conversation first rather than simply getting up and taking the call suggests that dealing with people in your immediate surroundings is more important than answering the call. If it weren't you'd simply take the call and not bother with the effort of doing so in a socially acceptable way.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:44 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


You know a recent trend that I hate? You know what really grinds my gears? The tendency for cashiers to refer to customers in the third-person as "this guy", rather than "this gentleman" etc. For example, I have my groceries, I go to an open checkout, and two clerks, one of whom is the cashier, are engaged in chitchat. As they finish their conversation, the cashier will often say, "I just gotta help this guy here."

Grinds my gears.

Couldn't give a damn if you want to talk on your cellphone on the bus though. Life's too short to care about that.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:01 AM on September 5, 2013


...timing?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:32 AM on September 5, 2013


Not to mention corb's ugly naked contempt for service people.

I would wager hard cash that I generally tip better than a majority of the people who are currently claiming that my not stopping to chat with service personnel when there's a large line or I am in a hurry is a fundamental unkindness.

Everyone's mileage may vary, but I know if I were the person behind the counter, I'd prefer someone who paid me well but didn't ask me how my day is going to the person who chatted with me about their mother but didn't tip.

Moreover, if they don't hear you, and need to ask you to repeat yourself, or they need to say, "Sorry, we don't have A, would you like B instead?" you'll be forced to take your attention away from what you were doing, which will tends to cause annoyance, and the annoyance will likely sneak out in one's tone and words.


This I'll concede is probably accurate. While I do think I'm pretty good at multitasking in this instance, I also am probably pretty irritable while doing so. If the transaction goes smoothly, it's fine, but you are probably right that if the transaction goes poorly, I would find it irritating and possibly it would make my next words sharper.
posted by corb at 10:52 AM on September 5, 2013


That's what the money's for.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:55 AM on September 5, 2013


Asking "why" is a pointless derail. It's rude because many people view it as rude. For instance, I lived in Japan for a while. There were many things considered polite or proper that I thought were pointless or stupid, but I didn't want to be a rude person so I followed the conventions.

Honestly, this attitude of ignoring the discomfort of others because you personally are okay is the very definition of selfishness.


As a philosopher, I tend to like pointless derails. But I strongly disagree that my question in this case is one.

Also, I do understand that an act can be wrong in virtue of the fact that people regard it as rude. That is why I typically don't talk on my cell phone while checking out at the grocery store. I am, frankly, a bit offended by the presumption that I feel free to do whatever I think is unoffensive regardless of what others think. I do not. And that is not the attitude I am expressing.

Similarly, in response to this:

Yeah, the people who don't think certain behaviors in dealing with service people are pretty much thisclose to saying, "If they had had a better education or job, then they wouldn't be service people, and I wouldn't have to hang up my mobile call for them."

I'm not saying anything of the kind. I am saying that I don't see it as rude to talk on your phone as a customer during a business transaction. I didn't see it as rude when I was a cashier (ten years ago or so), and I don't see it as rude now. Or maybe it would be better to say that I was not offended by people talking on their cell phones while I cashed them out, and I don't understand why other people are offended by similar behavior. (Maybe there's some difference between baristas and cashiers that I'm not picking up on? I usually didn't need to get responses from people as a cashier, beyond them paying.)

"Just a social convention" isn't no good reason. It's the same reason why you don't masturbate in public.

Are you intentionally misreading what I'm saying? Clearly there is a social convention. I even recognize the convention as a good reason for my behavior. And hence, I behave according to the convention (for the most part -- I make mistakes, too). But the convention itself is not a reason for the perception that the behavior is rude, is it? Either a perception of rudeness has to drive the convention or some other independent reason justifies the convention. If not, the convention is unjustified. And although I still typically follow unjustified conventions, I don't respect them.

The convention against public masturbation has justifications that are not themselves rooted in convention. To pick just one, it's a public health concern. If you are avoiding masturbating in public solely in virtue of the social convention against it, something has gone wrong. Maybe something has gone wrong with me that I'm not seeing why talking on the phone during a routine business transaction is rude. That's a possibility. If so, I would like to be repaired.

Some people have expressed the thought that by talking on a phone, a customer is not treating the cashier as a person. This would work as a justification if it were true. But again I don't agree with the observation. I don't think talking on a cell phone instead of chatting with a cashier in line at a grocery store is dehumanizing or a way of treating the cashier as less than a person.

If I pass people on the street without talking to them, am I treating them as non-persons? If I exit the bus through the rear door (as I just did), am I treating the driver as a non-person? What if I enter the bus and simply pay my fare? (Usually, I exchange a pleasantry, but would it really be rude not to?)

Some other people have suggested that it comes from the facts that (1) people using cell phones while conducting routine business transactions are slower and (2) customers have an obligation to be efficient. I believe (1). And I can sort of see (2) with respect to other customers. I have a harder time with respect to the cashier whose job it is to cash people out. I would have thought that units of time-at-work are fungible. If I'm not cashing this person out, I'm cashing someone else out or doing maintenance on my lane. Maybe the typical cashiers are more noble than I was in the degree that they care about the success of the business they work at -- and hence care about moving through as many people as possible. I suppose that would be a reason supporting (2). But even sort of seeing the point, I wonder. If (2) were true, then shouldn't we regard it as rude for people to pay by check at the grocery store, for example? Or to count out pennies? (Does anyone still do that?)

Steely-eyed Missile Man suggests that it is self-absorbed to talk on the phone rather than engage the cashier or barista. That also doesn't look right to me. If you are talking on your phone, you are absorbed in a conversation with someone else. That is not being self-absorbed. It is treating the person on the other end of the phone as more important than the cashier. But ... why is that bad?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 10:59 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm on the "using your phone while conducting business with a clerk or cashier is rude" camp. The main reasons have already been covered, but I've also seen why the "I always pay attention and move quickly" assertion is not always the most self-aware thing to say.

Some time ago I was at a deli, waiting in line behind a woman talking on the phone. When it was her turn to order she absentmindedly rattled off her order. She didn't hear when the barista twice asked her a question about her coffee. The cashier eventually just shrugged and chose something for her. Then she paid with her card, scribbled her signature on the receipt, and moved a couple of steps to the side, still talking. Not 30 seconds afterwards, she hung up. "UM, WHY DIDN'T I SIGN A RECEIPT? I SHOULD HAVE SIGNED A RECEIPT" She was told that she did sign, "UM, NOOOOO, I DID NOT". The cashier pulled out her receipt with her signature, which elicited a grunt, and off she went to make another call. Her name was called out twice before she ambled up to the counter to get her coffee. I sure hope her coffee ended up the way she liked it, for the barista's sake. And the thing is, not everyone is rude in this situation, but enough people are that I can totally understand a "No Phone Calls" sign at a register. At best they can be rude, at worst they accuse staff of making mistakes they didn't make.

She thought she was paying attention. Everyone thinks they're paying attention. But you're competing with 2 different stimuli and no, either your conversation suffers or your interaction with the person in front of you does. And even if you do conduct your transaction quickly and efficiently, rendering the person helping you invisible by not acknowledging them or concentrating on what that person is trying to do for you.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 11:00 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah, but doesn't that confirm #7 rather than disprove it? The fact that you excuse yourself from the conversation first rather than simply getting up and taking the call suggests that dealing with people in your immediate surroundings is more important than answering the call. If it weren't you'd simply take the call and not bother with the effort of doing so in a socially acceptable way.

Hmm ... Yeah, reading it again, you're probably right. I was too fixated on the wording of the title of the point, which I took to express the thought that people are more important when they are physically nearby.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:04 AM on September 5, 2013


I know if I were the person behind the counter, I'd prefer someone who paid me well but didn't ask me how my day is going to the person who chatted with me about their mother but didn't tip.

You don't have to be on the phone to not engage in mindless chit chat.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:05 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry...left my sentence unfinished: "...rendering the person helping you invisible by not acknowledging them or concentrating on what that person is trying to do for you is kind of unpleasant."
posted by DrGirlfriend at 11:07 AM on September 5, 2013


Everyone's mileage may vary, but I know if I were the person behind the counter, I'd prefer someone who paid me well but didn't ask me how my day is going to the person who chatted with me about their mother but didn't tip.

Luckily we don't live in this world of false dichotomy. You seem to think that either you treat service people as worker drones or you have long conversations. But no one is saying you must hold a conversation, they're just saying get off your damn phone for the second it takes to acknowledge the other person even if you're just going through the quick, basic transaction. This is the common courtesy.
It's not a choice between treating people with respect and tipping well. You can amazingly do both. And treating someone with respect doesn't mean chatting them up; it means acknowledging them as a human being and not a coffee bot. Not because you have to, but because it's the decent thing to do.

It's kind of baffling that you think the choice is respect or pay as if people are saying respect is a replacement for compensation. How about you both tip well and treat people well?
posted by Sangermaine at 11:08 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


people thought it only applied to others and not them.

Ah yes, this is called the It's OK When I Do It Principle. It also applies in traffic, littering, picking up after your dog, screaming "WOOO" as you walk down the street at 2 in the morning, biking on the sidewalk downtown, loudly revving your totes sweet motorbike while driving among highrise residential buildings...the applications are virtually endless
posted by Hoopo at 11:18 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know if I were the person behind the counter, I'd prefer someone who paid me well but didn't ask me how my day is going to the person who chatted with me about their mother but didn't tip.

You know those two things are completely unrelated except in your strawman assertion that you tip better than the rest of us. It's actually possible to tip well and also not be an asshole to the server.
posted by octothorpe at 11:32 AM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Because if there is really no good reason for the perception -- just a social convention that has taken root and is now self-reinforcing -- then probably that can be changed by pointing out that it is just tradition that supports the prohibition. And/or by giving reasons to think that it isn't rude.

So, you think that it's less effort and a more worthwhile expenditure of energy to try and single-handedly disprove the necessity of common decorum than it is to say "hold on a sec" when ordering coffee?

As a philosopher,

Oh.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:04 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jonathan Livengood, when you pass people on the street and don't acknowledge them, its fine, I have no quibble. A person ringing you out at a register is assisting you. That's why you should treat them with more respect and attention. Just because it's their job to help you doesn't mean they should be treated like a machine.
posted by agregoli at 12:10 PM on September 5, 2013


As a cashier, I've found that a good strategy for dealing with cell phone users oblivious to anything around them is to stare and smile vacantly at them until they look up and notice me waiting to tell them their total. It usually creeps them out enough to mutter to the other person, "... Let me call you back."
posted by book 'em dano at 12:45 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, you think that it's less effort and a more worthwhile expenditure of energy to try and single-handedly disprove the necessity of common decorum than it is to say "hold on a sec" when ordering coffee?

As a philosopher,

Oh.


Yeah, sorry. I know I'm a weirdo. ;)

I'm not trying to disprove the necessity of common decorum. I quite like common decorum. But in this case, I have a hard time seeing what makes this a requirement of common decorum. I would like to have reasons for our conventions. That's sort of my role in life.

A person ringing you out at a register is assisting you. That's why you should treat them with more respect and attention. Just because it's their job to help you doesn't mean they should be treated like a machine.

I agree that we shouldn't treat people as machines.* What I'm having trouble seeing is how talking on a cell phone while going through the checkout is to treat the cashier as a machine in this sense. If I were to talk on my cell, I wouldn't be denying the cashier's agency. I wouldn't be treating the cashier as emotionless. I wouldn't be treating the cashier as lifeless. Really, I'm not sure how I could do those things in the context of the imagined interaction. Do I just think "you're just a machine" at them really hard?

Suppose I go to the store with my wife, and we have a conversation all through the checkout line. We talk about our parents and our son; we talk about our house; we talk about yesterday's baseball game; whatever. One of us pays, and we pick up our groceries and walk out, never really stopping our conversation. Did we fail to respect and adequately attend to the cashier?

Typically, when I go through the checkout line, the cashier asks me how I am, I reply that I am well, and I ask how he or she is. Sometimes I remark on how busy they are or ask about whether they are at the end of a long shift -- especially if the cashier looks frazzled. But I don't really see any of this as a moral duty. Do you think that there is some required level of respect and/or attention that must be given to people that assist you as part of a job? Is it the same level for all jobs or only for some? Is there a further justification or do you hit bedrock at the level of "you ought to respect people who help you as part of their work"?

* In fact, I think that all persons are machines. We are all fantastically amazing meat robots. But I know that's not the sense at stake in this conversation.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 12:49 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


But in this case, I have a hard time seeing what makes this a requirement of common decorum. I would like to have reasons for our conventions. That's sort of my role in life.

You're attempting to "disprove" that people find things rude? And you think that you have a shot at it?

I have to say, I envy your confidence.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 1:03 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nearly every day I give thanks that the Internet didn't exist as it does now when I was a young, iconoclastic firebrand.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:06 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, I think there is a required level of respect you must pay people if you don't want to be perceived as rude, yes. If you don't care about being rude, that's fine. But many will consider you to be.

People on the phone are fundamentally not listening to those in front of them. I see many not even make eye contact. That is dehumanizing, hence my machine comment. Whether you do this or not, I have no idea. But to argue that paying more attention to your device than the person in front of you is not rude, well, you'll have to make a stronger case, cause I don't see what your argument is...you just stated it wouldn't be treating them with disrespect. Why do you think that?

Also, cell phone conversations have been proven to be more annoying to the human ear than being able to hear a two-sided conversation. So there's that too.
posted by agregoli at 1:08 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


But in this case, I have a hard time seeing what makes this a requirement of common decorum. I would like to have reasons for our conventions.

Think about this for about 5 minutes and you realize it's turtles all the way down. At some point in this everlasting chain of "why", there will be no reason; it is then that you realize that "because other people think it's rude" becomes much more compelling as a foundation for a convention. That's not to say there aren't other issues that weigh on whether you follow the convention in different circumstances, but for social beings "people think that behavior is rude" is in fact enough to *make* it rude. There's no definition of rudeness that isn't a social construct.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:15 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are you intentionally misreading what I'm saying?

No. Because your behavior here has been functionally identical to someone trying to justify talking on their mobile while they're buying their coffee, I've been treating you as if that were your motive.

Some people have expressed the thought that by talking on a phone, a customer is not treating the cashier as a person. This would work as a justification if it were true.

This is another example of that, so I'm going to continue treating you that way.

I don't think talking on a cell phone instead of chatting with a cashier in line at a grocery store is dehumanizing or a way of treating the cashier as less than a person.

Since this implies that you don't mind if other people treat you in the same way, all this says is that you have unusual preferences about how people treat you.

If I pass people on the street without talking to them, am I treating them as non-persons?

I find it difficult to believe that this is an honest question. People who have been brought up in the US or similar cultures, and who are neurotypical or otherwise don't suffer from problems with social cues, understand that it is generally polite to return a similar amount of attention to that which you were given by someone who does not appear deranged. So making eye contact with a passing stranger generally merits a brief nod to acknowledge it, a greeting generally merits a greeting in return, and full attention deserves something like that in return. I imagine you actually understand this full well, and are again simply trying to explain why talking on the phone while dealing with someone somehow doesn't count.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:20 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a really simple solution to all of this. Pretend you don't have a cellphone. That they just don't exist. Is what you are using it for at this very moment in time so important that it takes absolute precedence over what ELSE you are supposed to be doing? If so, carry on talking or texting. If not, put the phone away and finish up.
posted by Kokopuff at 1:24 PM on September 5, 2013


Twice in the past week I have been on subway cars with kids who were blasting music on some sort of portable radio, bigger and louder than a phone but smaller than a boombox. I am praying that they were outliers and not the thin edge of a trend.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:16 PM on September 5, 2013


If I pass people on the street without talking to them, am I treating them as non-persons? If I exit the bus through the rear door (as I just did), am I treating the driver as a non-person? What if I enter the bus and simply pay my fare? (Usually, I exchange a pleasantry, but would it really be rude not to?)

If I take the bus where my mum lives, you get on, tell the driver where you're going and pay with a thank you. When you get off at the front, it's customary to thank the driver.

In London, on the other hand, it's entirely possible to take the bus without speaking to the driver at all. I scan my pass on the card reader on entry, and passengers exit through the rear/central doors, so even if the convention was to thank drivers here, you can't easily do so. I still find the idea of taking a bus and not having to speak to the person driving it really odd, and I've been here eight years.
posted by mippy at 3:51 AM on September 6, 2013


People on the phone are fundamentally not listening to those in front of them. I see many not even make eye contact. That is dehumanizing, hence my machine comment. Whether you do this or not, I have no idea. But to argue that paying more attention to your device than the person in front of you is not rude, well, you'll have to make a stronger case, cause I don't see what your argument is...you just stated it wouldn't be treating them with disrespect. Why do you think that?

I was thinking that there are at least the following three categories of behavior: disrespectful behavior, respectful behavior, and neutral behavior. At a first pass, respect requires some positive actions (e.g. giving direct answers to questions and using proper titles, like "Yes, sir" or "No, you honor") or intentional refraining from action (e.g. in moments of silence). And at a first pass, disrespect requires some positive actions (e.g. giving a rude gesture) or intentional refraining from action (e.g. not attending an award dinner for a subordinate just because you do not like him or her). In both kinds of case, there is an expectation of some kind of behavior or lack of behavior that seems to attach to the situation. Giving respect is to behave accordingly. Giving disrespect is to fail to behave accordingly -- possibly with the additional requirement that the failure be intentional.

But there are (I think) lots of times where either the demands of the situation are unclear or there are clearly no demands, and in such cases, one may behave neutrally -- neither showing respect now showing disrespect. To show respect in such a case is supererogatory: simply behaving decently -- i.e. neutrally, but not disrespectfully -- is adequate. At least some of the other cases I mentioned seem to fit this category. It would be supererogatory to exit the bus at the front and say some kind words to the driver. It is clearly respectful and nice to do so. But it isn't required. It would be supererogatory to smile and wave to everyone you pass on the street. It would (if done the right way) be nice to do so. But it isn't required. And we could think of other such cases. For example, it would be supererogatory to strike up a friendly conversation with someone on an elevator. It would be nice, but you're hardly treating other people on elevators as non-persons or disrespecting them if you get on and stare at the numbers till you get to your floor.

My claim, then, is that transactions with cashiers at grocery stores, hardware stores, and the like at least -- I'm increasingly unsure whether the same is true at fast food restaurants, coffee shops, and the like, mostly because those cases seem to require more input from the customer or more back and forth or something -- place very minimal decency requirements on the customers. It would be disrespectful to verbally abuse the cashier or to make awful remarks about the cashier's appearance or similar. So, there are some demands, but they are slight.

If that is right, then transactions with cashiers at the grocery store admit (a larger range of) neutral behaviors. And talking on the cell phone during a transaction strikes me as neutral, rather than disrespectful.

Also, cell phone conversations have been proven to be more annoying to the human ear than being able to hear a two-sided conversation. So there's that too.

Interesting. Do you have some specific research in mind?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:41 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find it difficult to believe that this is an honest question. People who have been brought up in the US or similar cultures, and who are neurotypical or otherwise don't suffer from problems with social cues, understand that it is generally polite to return a similar amount of attention to that which you were given by someone who does not appear deranged. So making eye contact with a passing stranger generally merits a brief nod to acknowledge it, a greeting generally merits a greeting in return, and full attention deserves something like that in return.

Oh boy. I'm going to break down in parts exactly how problematic that answer is, because there's a lot.

First - the expectation that "it is generally polite to return a similar amount of attention to that which you were given by someone who does not appear deranged" may, in fact, be a societal expectation in Anglo cultures. If it is, however, it is an extremely bad one. It is this kind of expectation that leads men to feel entitled to harass women on the street for not smiling back at them, for not saying hello back. Because after all, they're being rude! They owe the men their smiles, their nods! They are not content with simply a lack of disrespect, they want to receive exactly what they feel like giving to other people, and this societal expectation, if true, would say they are right to do so. If you are correct, this is something to fight against, not to endorse.

Secondly, you are suggesting that anyone who does not agree with your specific belief in what constitutes politeness is not merely wrong, but mentally ill or in some way damaged. This is extremely offensive all around.

Thirdly, your focus on the "US or similar cultures" is, in fact, a false expectation. We are talking about etiquette around cellphones. Are Americans and Brits the only people who keep cellphones? You noted upthread that since we are reading it and discussing it in English, it must be meant for Anglos. That implies not just that Anglos have the One True Culture that is important to talk about, but also that they are the only ones who can read and converse in English. Which, let me tell you, is categorically not the case.
posted by corb at 7:49 AM on September 6, 2013


Think about this for about 5 minutes and you realize it's turtles all the way down. At some point in this everlasting chain of "why", there will be no reason; it is then that you realize that "because other people think it's rude" becomes much more compelling as a foundation for a convention. That's not to say there aren't other issues that weigh on whether you follow the convention in different circumstances, but for social beings "people think that behavior is rude" is in fact enough to *make* it rude. There's no definition of rudeness that isn't a social construct.

Maybe it's turtles all the way down. But I'm skeptical. I think Paul Boghossian makes a good case against the idea that everything is socially constructed. And while I agree that social convention is a perfectly good reason for action on any individual's part, no social convention is a good reason for itself. Often, a social convention has a purpose. Social conventions are often grounded in something that is itself not convention-driven. And to complicate things, there are sometimes good grounds for having some convention or other but no good grounds for any specific convention. For example, in the U.S., we drive on the right side of the road. That is a convention. There is no compelling reason for that convention rather than the UK convention of driving on the left. But there is good reason for some convention or other. Moreover, the grounds for adopting some convention are not themselves conventions. It isn't just a convention to minimize automobile deaths. (Here, I'm thinking of something like the moral/conventional distinction, where some actions are regarded as more and some less open to revision by society or authority or what have you.)
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:52 AM on September 6, 2013


When someone is on the phone and I need to interact with them, it irritates me. This goes no less for my loved ones than it does for complete strangers. They are invariably distracted.

I don't really need any more justification than that.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:56 AM on September 6, 2013


I don't really need any more justification than that.

That's fair. And given that so many people feel the way you do, I have new reason not to use my cell phone during transactions at the store. I will keep this in mind in the future.

Question: Is it wrong or unfair to try to persuade you (or people I know in real life) to be less irritated in such cases? Is it possible that your irritation is a mistake?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 8:02 AM on September 6, 2013


Jonathan, you can google it yourself...it's a well-studied phenomenon at this point.
posted by agregoli at 8:15 AM on September 6, 2013


I don't think you can persuade someone to be less irritated. I mean, the feeling of irritation is going to be there or it's not. I could try to just let it pass in a zen meditation kind of way, but I can't choose to not feel irritated any more than I can choose to not feel hungry.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:15 AM on September 6, 2013


Irritation is an emotion. Further, irritation in this case is based upon extremely good logic as to why the person is being rude. So no, it is not a mistake. I don't want to be less irritated with rudeness. That would mean accepting rudeness, and I don't.
posted by agregoli at 8:21 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Question: Is it wrong or unfair to try to persuade you (or people I know in real life) to be less irritated in such cases? Is it possible that your irritation is a mistake?

It's not "wrong/unfair", but you've acknowledged that you either cannot or will not accept that yes, people's feelings do matter, regardless of whether or not you share them. However, if people here and people you know in real life are telling you that you are being rude, and your response is not to change your behavior, but argue with them over it? It gives the impression that being "right" is more important to you than being civil, and you should probably brace yourself for people thinking you are rude for more than your cell phone use.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:03 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


First - the expectation that "it is generally polite to return a similar amount of attention to that which you were given by someone who does not appear deranged" may, in fact, be a societal expectation in Anglo cultures.

...in which case, violating that expectation (with exceptions for deranged people and harassment) in Anglo cultures would be rude.

It is this kind of expectation that leads men to feel entitled to harass women on the street for not smiling back at them

Yes, I forgot to include the obvious exception for harassing or threatening attention. It falls in the same category as attention from the obviously deranged person accosting you with their delusions.

Secondly, you are suggesting that anyone who does not agree with your specific belief in what constitutes politeness is not merely wrong, but mentally ill or in some way damaged. This is extremely offensive all around.

No, I'm suggesting generally that someone who actually does not understand that this is the norm in contemporary American culture is either very unfamiliar with that culture or, yes, has some sort of problem with social cues. People can understand this norm without agreeing with it -- you just did.

More specifically I was suggesting that Livengood was not actually confused about what expectations and norms are in the US, and that he was feigning his confusion in order to argue that talking on the phone while interacting with retail staff is just fine. Which seems to be true.

Thirdly, your focus on the "US or similar cultures" is, in fact, a false expectation. We are talking about etiquette around cellphones.

...on Metafilter, in English. That introduces a strong bias towards the Anglosphere. Metafilter's membership is strongly concentrated in English-speaking countries. While it's not a great thing that this is the case, unspecified discussion can generally be assumed to be about Anglo cultures if not simply the US.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:36 AM on September 6, 2013


By and large, service workers are specifically trained to verbally engage with their customers. It's a huge part of their directive from their bosses. If a mystery shopper comes along, or a customer submits a review, and the worker does not engage with the customer, the worker's job performance will be considered poor by his or her supervisors, and it may lead to repercussions depending on other factors.

Service workers who stay on the phone during a transaction and don't get in trouble for it are either employed by supervisors who have given up the fight, or are sneaky enough to get around their supervisors.

Customers who stay on the phone during a transaction and refuse to engage with workers are preventing the workers from doing their jobs the way they were trained to do, and are probably causing them a great deal of frustration and worry about what the supervisor will think, and what will happen if they need to interrupt the customer to get information.

Suppose I go to the store with my wife, and we have a conversation all through the checkout line. We talk about our parents and our son; we talk about our house; we talk about yesterday's baseball game; whatever. One of us pays, and we pick up our groceries and walk out, never really stopping our conversation. Did we fail to respect and adequately attend to the cashier?

Maybe, maybe not. Did you pause the conversation to return your cashier's greetings and answer any questions she asked? Did you keep your conversation in a low enough voice that you could hear her interject if she needed to? Did you make sure your conversation didn't touch on any TMI topics you wouldn't want to hear about if your roles were reversed, refrain from saying anything generally offensive, and take pains to keep your discussion from turning into a disagreement? Did you make sure not to face away or keep your head down, so she could catch your eye if she needed to? Did you return her goodbye? If you did all those things, then I guess you met the minimum of courtesy, but it was probably a bit annoying for her because you could have just as easily stopped at any moment, which you would have been less likely to do if you had had your full attention on the matter at hand.

Do you think that there is some required level of respect and/or attention that must be given to people that assist you as part of a job?

Yes. They are human beings, after all, just like you or me. We're there together, trying to accomplish the same objective.

Is it the same level for all jobs or only for some?

Just as in most situations in life, it's bound to vary. Buying a tank of gas is a different level of interaction than buying a car. I'll be just as polite to both workers, but I'll certainly be exchanging more words with the latter.

Is there a further justification or do you hit bedrock at the level of "you ought to respect people who help you as part of their work"?

I think we all owe it to each other as members of society, because it keeps society running smoothly. I don't expect to be treated like an untermensch at my own work, and I don't think I could live with the hypocrisy of turning around and doing it to others.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:43 PM on September 6, 2013


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