Thursday, July 14, 2011

Just when I think I've seen it all...

People often ask me to name the worst etiquette faux pas.  While there are some basic etiquette rules that should never be broken, there's no list that ranks gaffes in order of most egregious.  Besides, people are annoyed by different things and what might be the height of rudeness to one person is perfectly acceptable to another. Having said that, I know what my answer would be.

 In order, the top three things that drive me crazy are:

1. Inappropriate cell phone use
2. Cheating at four-way stop signs
3. Chewing gum with your mouth open

So I'm always ready to share cell phone horror stories and remind people of cell phone etiquette courtesy (whether they ask for it or not).  In Toronto, we are surrounded by a cacophony of jangling ringtones, loud talkers and people trying to balance phones between their shoulder and jaw as they try to multi-task.  While other people can tune it out, I never get used to it and it continues to rankle me day after day.

Just when I thought I had seen (and heard) it all, I witnessed something the other night that shocked even me. 

I was getting a pedicure in a local salon. It's a small shop and in addition to myself, there were three other customers and three staff members.  One of the customers was making very loud, back-to-back cell phone calls all through her manicure.  When the technician was working on one hand, she would hold the phone in the other.  When it was time for that hand's nails to be painted, she would switch hands.  You get the picture.

When her nails were finally finished, the technician politely asked her to refrain from using her phone until her nails were completely dry.  I breathed a sigh of relief that we would finally have some respite from her incessant, one-sided chatter.  But it was not to be.  Without missing a beat, she placed the phone on the table, carefully punched in some numbers and then (gasp), put it on speaker phone.  A man called Boris answered and she proceeded to have a loud, annoying conversation with him without even telling him that a) he was on speaker and b) seven other hapless victims were hearing the entire call. Their conversation lasted about 10 minutes, turned into a heated argument, revealed lots of personal details about poor Boris and had the cumulative effect of making all of us squirm in our seats and look at each other in amazement.  We tried to give her the look of death but she was absolutely immune to it, so wrapped up in her own world.

The salon staff apologized to the other customers but didn't seem to feel comfortable asking her to end the call so I did it for them, in the most polite way possible of course. She looked at me like I was the rude one, stood up and stormed out of the store.

This example is rife with examples of poor cell phone etiquette but, just as a refresher, I'll summarize the usage guidelines here:

1. Don't have a long cell phone conversation in a place where people cannot escape from you - this means elevators, grounded airplanes, cafes, restaurants, retail checkout lines and salons.
2. If you must have a cell phone conversation in public, try to maintain at least 10 feet between you and the next human.
3. Unless it's a business boardroom and a conference call is planned, never have a speaker phone conversation in the vicinity of other people.
4. Never put the person on the other end of the line on speaker phone without asking their permission, or at the very least, giving them a heads-up.
5. Don't yell.  The microphones on cell phones are so good these days that you could almost use a whisper and people would still be able to hear you.
6. Don't share sensitive information in the vicinity of other people - for security and embarrassment reasons, refrain from sharing personal details, phone numbers, email addresses, snail mail addresses, negotiation or proprietary information or information of a competitive nature.
7. Ditch the cutesy rings if you're an adult - I know many people disagree with me on this one but I don't want to hear a tinny rendition of "All the Single Ladies" squeezed out of the tiny speakers on your iPhone.
8.Turn off your ringer in any place where it would annoy others (e.g. during a speech, at an awards show, at a  performance, at the movies, etc.) and if you happen to forget, please for the love of God, don't pick it up and start talking.

Hope this is helpful.  Let me know if there are any other cell phone situations that bug you.

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