At the Sound of the Tone, Please Don’t Forget Your Manners


I’ll just bet that Alexander Graham Bell was a real peach of a guy. A sweetheart. I’m just sure he didn’t mean any harm.

He could scarcely have known, back in 1876, that he was unleashing an instrument of mass destruction of good manners upon the masses.


As times have changed so too has our relationship with the telephone.

In it’s early days it was used to impart only crucial, necessary information. Endless chatter was not the norm. Later, it would be used to “socialize,” but mostly with people who lived within arms reach of you anyway. Long distance was prohibitively costly.

In fact, it wasn’t until about 15 years ago that we broke my grandmother of the habit of saying, if called, “well I’m going to talk fast because I don’t want to run up your bill.”

To this day I can really only absorb information about gardening and the canning of green beans if it is fed to me at the speed and cadence of an auctioneer.

People had a nice, polite relationship with the telephone back then. “Please,” “thank you” and “may I” figured prominently.

Then everyone got their own personal little cellular telephone and everyone just went ahead and lost their manners and their minds.

As more and more children receive their own personal telephones, I think it imperative to remind ALL of us to teach our kids basic phone manners. To be brutally honest, some adults could use a refresher course as well.

Top Ten

Here then are the top ten biggest offenses as discussed among my circle of friends who, after all, know everything.

1) Identify yourself when you call: “This is John Smith. May I please speak with Susan?”

2) If you forget to identify yourself and are asked “may I tell her who’s calling?” you should never reply with an incredulous “don’t you have caller ID?” as if you just misdialed the Amish and can’t believe they picked up.

3) If you are the caller a brusque “Who is this?” when someone answers is never acceptable.

4) Don’t call and hang up 15 times in one hour if you don’t get an answer. Caller identification gives away that you called repeatedly like a stalker or bill collector. It’s not attractive behavior.

5) Ditto leaving a half-dozen messages to “call me” in a single afternoon. One will suffice. When they want to, they will.

6) Please move the phone away from your mouth when you cough or sneeze & also say “excuse me.”

7) I don’t care how portable your telephone is. Unless you have been taken hostage there is never a good reason to use your telephone while in the bathroom.

8) Please don’t chomp and chew while on the phone. If people wanted to listen to a cow masticating food they would call one. There is a 1-800 number for everything. I’m sure that service exists somewhere.

9) Don’t assume that everyone has your phone number. Some people still live in the 1970’s when every telephone call was deliciously mysterious surprise. Leave your number SLOWLY at the beginning, AND again at the end of your message just in case one of these time travelers travels in your circle of friends. 10) “I called, where WERE you?” is a rude question to ask anyone you are not married to or parenting. Only one person on earth has the right to demand an accounting of my time (and then only if he asks nicely). Some people react to my not being home when they call as if the beeper just went off on my house arrest anklet. To them I make things up “Mars,” “FBI Interrogation,” “brothel.”


Telephones are a wonderful invention. They make our social connections richer, add convenience to our days, and our lives safer when used responsibly. In the wrong hands, however, they can make you want to sever not only the connection – but a few friendships as well (incessant texters, I’m talking to YOU. 200 “LOLs” is 199 too many in any single afternoon, and possibly, lifetime).

By keeping in mind the top ten rules for responsible phone ownership, you too can prevent Poor Telephone Etiquette from happening to you, and more importantly, me. If not for me then do it for Al. Although, come to think of it, Alexander Graham Bell was purported to have said, during that first, famous telephone call, “Mr. Watson — come here — I want to see you.” There is no note of a “please” so perhaps he was rather rude too?


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