Don't get hung up over phone drone etiquette

Published11/2/2007 1:40 PM

Back in the early 1990s, I sat in a Hong Kong restaurant waiting to be served when I witnessed a strange sight: Eight men were sitting at a round table all talking at the same time.

Upon closer inspection, I realized these guys were not in the throes of cross-talk but were simply speaking into their cells. "That's a rather rude way to act when you're in the company of others" is what ran through my mind.


The mobile phone phenomenon has come a long way since then. Today, signs are posted all over the world asking for cells to be shut off when you are in the theater, in a dining establishment or even in the post office.

I was busted once for not turning off my communication device while standing in line at a London pharmacy simply because my phone rang. As I started to answer, the cashier caught my eye, pointing to a sign behind her that showed a picture of a mobile telephone with two lines slashed through it. The silent warning slipped by me so I was humiliated into proper behavior.

That said, following are a few rules for using cell phones no matter where in the world you happen to be:

• While these handy little devices really come in handy when you are stuck at an airport, say, because your flight was canceled and you need to call your travel agent or an airline representative for help, it is not appropriate to hold up pedestrian traffic in the terminal to do so. Rather, step to the side where you aren't in the way of other travelers while you make your call to find out what to do next.

• If you are in a public place (such as a hotel lobby) where talking into a cell phone would ruin the mood, text instead. If your contact sends a text back that he or she wants to talk, move to another, more discreet location in which to hold the conversation.

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• If you are out and about, use common sense but also do what the locals do as far as cell phone etiquette is concerned. A recent trip to Madrid proved that although most Spaniards seem to be mobile oriente, they are also polite users for the most part, using their electronic devices with others in mind. For instance, at one point my Madrid colleague needed to make an urgent call while a bunch of us were languishing over coffee at an outdoor cafe. To do so, she excused herself and stepped away from the table beyond ear shot before punching in the numbers on her cell.

• If you don't want to turn off your phone while you are out and about, at least program the unit to operate on vibrate mode.

• Mentally check your cell phone at the door whenever you enter a restaurant to avoid the common faux pas of offending your fellow diner by speaking on the device during a meal.

• With regard to cell phones and airplanes, usage will soon be allowed not only before the doors are closed or after the pilot has landed the craft, but during the flight as well. As the transformation takes place, frequent fliers should practice their stage whisper so as not to annoy fellow passengers.

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