21st Century Etiquette

Me and a friend have been jokingly putting together a list of no-nos to go in our Guide Book to 21st Century Etiquette. Sadly, there are many things we disagree about. My friend seems to think there are places where monkeys should not be allowed to go. She’s also against burping. I am a monkey and burp lover.

However, there is one area where we are in total agreement: PDA and phone etiquette. Especially this one, which should be the number one LAW of 21st Century etiquette:

Do not text, email, tweet or make phone calls at your table at a restaurant. Your phone/PDA should remain out of sight throughout the meal. If the neeed to communicate with the outside world is urgent go outside or to the rest room.

Every time someone does that they’re basically saying to everyone else at the table: you do not interest me.

It’s extremely rude. Don’t do it.

Are we alone in being appalled by this particular behaviour?

Any of you want to contribute to our Guide Book? What etiquette breaches drive you crazy?


  1. Christopher Barzak on #

    Omg, yes. Stop texting and tweeting while with others, who you Should be spending your time with. Otherwise, stay home or go out alone and text/tweet. It’s rude. It’s like sitting at a table with people but constantly looking at other people in the restaurant/cafe/whatever and then looking back at your “friends” and saying, “I’m sorry, what? I wasn’t paying attention to you.” All. the. time. Argh!

    I understand if it’s an emergency thing, of course. But usually, it ain’t.

  2. Justine on #

    Exactly! It’s like those people at cocktail parties who are always looking around to see if there’s someone more interesting to talk to.

  3. Ellise on #

    I’m working part-time at a bookstore while I’m finishing up my degree. I have walked up to one of my managers in back room and said “I’m sorry, but you may have to fire me one day because I’m about this close to refusing to help anyone that is still yapping away on their phone.” Ugh!

    If they’re going to act like I’m not there, well then, I’m not going to be there.

    Also, cell phone does not equal Cone of Silence, I don’t want to hear about your custody battles/colonoscopy while I’m shelving in SciFi.

  4. Julia Rios on #

    While I do think there are times when this sort of behavior is appropriate, I agree with your general sentiment. I tend to assume that talking on a phone while out at a restaurant is very bad form, so I don’t do it. I am generally willing to excuse parents who feel that they need to make sure their children can reach them, and texting between members of the group who haven’t arrived yet and members who have (what if they are lost, or running late?).

    Also, in certain circumstances, photoblogging or texting makes sense. I had a pair of friends who both took pictures of each course at a fancy restaurant. I don’t mind that at all, nor do I mind when the entire group has a question, and one member volunteers to text a friend to find out the answer (e.g. What was that movie with Judy Garland and the lollipop thief? I know Betsy would know because she watched it just last night!). What is irksome is when one member of the party spends the entire evening chatting with another person and ignoring physically present friends. Also talking. Texting is at least quiet and easily ignorable.

  5. eric luper on #

    Monkeys SHOULD be allowed to go anyplace as long as they are wearing tuxedos (or jockey silks if they are riding a dog). Who is this insane friend you speak of?

  6. Susan Adrian on #

    Heh. Yes, it greatly annoys me. Had the following conversation with husband the other day at lunch out:

    Me: I can’t believe that woman is talking on the phone at the TABLE. If I were with her, I’d be pissed.

    Husband: Except she just moved someone into the ICU on that call.

    Me (hadn’t been listening to actual call; obviously the woman was a doctor): OH. *pause* Well, if she hadn’t been moving someone into the ICU, I’d be pissed.

  7. Sherwood on #

    The only time phone answering (or checking) doesn’t feel like a face slap is when I’m with a fellow parent, and they get that quick, anxious look, that atavistic “Let’s make sure this is not the hospital calling about my kid having just been minced.” Either that, or a call that the entire group would be interested in hearing about as it progresses.

    I don’t know what the etiquette of friends lists could be. No matter what they are called, there are some who obsessively watch to see who is in the first tier, who is in the second–who dropped or added whom–just like the school yard. I sometimes think that all such lists need to be completely hidden except to the user.

    The etiquette of friendship and lovers seems too complicated to deal with now, but wow, what changes in my lifetimes. Rosefox had an interesting LJ entry today about friendship and its definitions and demands.

  8. Chris S. on #

    The other thing to regulate, etiquette-wise, is cell phone volume. If everyone on your streetcar/bus/whatever is forced to hear what you did at the party last night, well, the call is community property. And as such, you don’t get to be annoyed when one of your fellow passengers hangs up your phone.

    Not that I’ve done that. Much.

  9. Deanne on #

    One of my peeves: unless I’m lying on the couch and paying you to do so, don’t try to get into my head. Don’t ask me “Why did you choose to sing Knock Three Times by Tony Orlando and Dawn” at karaoke. “Is it because your ex is still living in your basement and it’s tearing your heart out?”

    No, it’s because I like the song… and step back before I tear something of yours out. >:

  10. Barry on #

    I’m willing to bet that this is a generational thing though. Dollars to donuts says teens wouldn’t even think twice about this…especially since half the time they’re texting each other with a second conversation going on around the spoken one.

  11. Justine on #

    Barry: I’ve got plenty of friends in their thirties who do it without thinking twice. And I know a few teenagers who wouldn’t think of texting at dinner.

  12. caitlin on #

    my co-worker and I were just chatting about this. I am becoming quite freaked out by the number of people completely focused on tweeting while strolling down the street. There’s a story in the tweets becoming so focused on their teles that people forget how to interact face to face.

    On an unrelated note I am completely bleary eyed because I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the brilliance of Liar until I’d reached the end.

  13. Meeks on #

    OMG, table-side phone and texting ENRAGES me. The other day I was at a restaurant and was forced to listed to a couple two tables over tag-teaming into a cell at a woman who, on the basis of their side of things, THEY WERE GOING TO CALL LATER. That was the whole purpose of the restaurant call (which, I should add, THEY initiated)–that they were GOING TO CALL HER LATER.

    Not. Okay.

  14. Q on #

    It’s less an etiquette faux pas than a safety hazard: people who text while driving. Holy cats. So dangerous and so pointless. Pull over if you absolutely must text. And if you absolutely must text, you may be addicted. Get help.

  15. Kevin on #

    Double what Ellise said! Not only is it rude to the store clerk/salesperson, it’s rude to the other people who might be waiting to be helped. I’ve been in line behind one of those people more than once, and I’ve been very tempted to grab the person and yell at them to pay the cashier first, and then finish their phone call.

  16. Liana Brooks on #

    The people who stop a conversation to text someone. Or the family members that demand you drive out to see them or visit for some major occasion and then ditch you so they can go party with their friends under the excuse, “Well, I thought they’d be out of town.”

    I really don’t care that you thought your best friend who lives down the block didn’t leave town. I’m mad because I drove 17 hours to see you and I’m at home with your cat because you wanted to see your buddies more and introducing your family to your friends is still embarrassing even though you’re an adult.

  17. Stephanie on #

    I would love for the etiquette guide to include covering one’s mouth when yawning in public. And standing to the right on escalators. And proper sidewalk umbrella etiquette. For a start…

  18. J on #

    I know, really. I mean, if you just wanna text/ tweet, just GO HOME! it’s rude when u r out eating even if u r alone. unless u r one of those business guys who are yelling at the thing on your ear. sometimes, if the phone rings and somebody stands up and says “Shoot, i have to take this” then it’s acceptable. it would be better if they talked in a corner though.

  19. Anne KG Murphy on #

    I really think social texting and other interaction with your phone varies by social group in terms of rudeness, just like whether you can hang out with someone while also on your laptop or not. Some friendships, that works, and you can multitask, others it doesn’t. Some of that has to do with whether or not the person knows the technology wel enough to understand how you interact with it. A couple weeks ago I offended my sister horribly by reacting to my phone’s notification that I had a voice mail message by switching to the screen to see who the message was from (I have an iPhone) while she and I were talking. Friends who are familiar with the technology will think very little of checking to see who a msg (text or voice) is from, knowing we all sometimes send urgent or time-critical questions to each other on those channels. Other people who don’t even use the technology that way won’t recognize the “just checking to make sure this isn’t urgent” low-attention activity for what it is, and so will be offended.

  20. Laurel on #

    In Spain and France trains have no-phone compartments where using your mobile phone will get you a fine, or at least the hairy eyeball. Nice and quiet on those trains.

  21. Justine on #

    Caitlin: Thanks so much! Just promise me you won’t spoil it for anyone else.

  22. Kate on #

    I am very much with you on the texting/phoning during meals. In a similar spirit, I had a panel-style job interview a few months ago where two of my four interviewers spent much of the time scrolling through messages on their Blackberries. I had been warned by a friend who worked there that this was the custom at the company and that I should expect it to happen. Still, I can’t imagine working for a place that is so uninterested in their hiring practices that they wouldn’t even pay attention to the interviews. Why bother?

    As for other rudeness, this has less to do with the times, I think, but I am continually annoyed by people who have no sense whatsoever of the space they take up. People who stop suddenly on a busy street, obstructing all foot-traffic, people who cut in line without even realizing it, people who assume they have the right of way at all times. And really people who talk very loudly on their cell phones – as someone mentioned before it makes the call public domain. I am often tempted to join in the conversation by at least nodding as they are speaking and making it clear they are now talking to me too… but so far I’ve never tried it.

  23. caitlin on #

    This does relate to etiquette I will not spoil Liar. After finishing it last night my first thought was no one better spoil this brilliant Printz worthy novel in a review.

  24. rockinlibrarian on #

    What about when the person on the phone is NOT ignoring the other people at the table? Like, one person has the phone, but it’s technically everyone at the table calling a mutual friend. It’s still in public, but if it’s at a reasonable volume and everyone is involved, okay? Or, for example, when we just finished at the doctors’ and found out our firstborn was on the way, and we went out to eat, and while waiting for our food, called all our immediate relatives?

    My biggest etiquette peeve is people not using their turn signals, but that’s more of a safety issue too. And combine the two, my husband was just in a major car accident (luckily got out relatively okay, compared to the car) because the other guy was chatting away on a cell phone and missed the stop sign…. I suppose safety issues cross the line PAST etiquette, but they get my hackles up more.

  25. Rachel on #

    Re: teens: I am 15 and I would be absolutely appalled at the thought of a companion or myself talking at dinner. The purpose of having dinner with someone is to enjoy their company! If you would rather talk to someone else, have dinner with them.

    On a related note, don’t forget: Please, please, take out your earbuds when talking to someone! This needs to be in the guide. Also, private music should never be loud enough for others to hear; it’s not only rude but bad for one’s hearing.

  26. Rachel on #

    Oh, I meant to say “talking on the phone or texting”, not “talking”. How DARE you talk at dinner! 🙂

  27. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    I actually have a certain relative who I frequently have dinner with and wind up sitting there feeling like an idiot because they are on the phone with someone else. It’s even worse when our food hasn’t come yet, and I’m left staring at the table without even a salad to focus on while being ignored. Happens in the car, too, though that’s less embarrassing.

    Also, same person uses a bluetooth earpiece in excess, and loudly. People are *always* getting confused, thinking this person is talking to me or to them, when really it’s a phone call. And people who know what’s going on are just annoyed. Although not as annoyed as I am, I can assure them.

    I second Rachel’s music volume peeve. It doesn’t worry me if you want to murder your eardrums, but I don’t want to listen to your music. Even if I like the music. And I especially don’t want to listen to your music when I have to raise my voice to be heard over it. However, you raising your voice to be heard over music that nobody else can hear, that’s okay, because it’s kind of funny. Go ahead and do that one.


  28. Sara on #

    I work in retail and I think it is rude to check out while on the cell phone. At least say excuse me this is important, I’ll take that. Also (as mentioned a few times above) having loud phone conversations in public places.

    The time a woman started having a speaker phone discussion on her cell phone in the middle of our tiny store during a packed sale was surreal.

  29. Karen Healey on #

    Oh my god people, stay to one side on escalators if you’re just going to STAND there. Yes, even if you’re a couple! It will not hurt to release your deathgrip long enough to go single file.

    NYARGH get out of my WAY.

  30. Dave H on #

    You’ll be happy to know that when I took out my cellphone at dinner today, my wife immediately said “You know that Justine said you aren’t supposed to do that!”

    (To be fair to myself, I was actually taking it out of my pocket to turn it off, because the low-battery alarm was driving me crazy.)

  31. Aimee on #

    Augh, people who talk on the phone while serving. I work in the curtaining department of a retail store and the number of times I’ve been left waiting for someone to get off the phone so I can ask them a question about measurements is ridiculous.

  32. liliya on #

    not strictly etiquette as such – but don’t you think it’s weird how it is now perfectly acceptable to talk and sing out loud to yourself in public? No one gives you funny looks anymore, they assume you’re just singing along to your i-pod or jabbering away to your friend/lover/mum via your mobile even if they can’t actually see said i-pod/phone…. Liberation! we are now all free to be totally and uninhibitedly insane.

  33. Amber on #

    I’m going to show my sister this. She texts all the time at meals and everywhere, and it is so annoying! Yes, it is rude and I am glad others think this too!

  34. Nisha on #

    yeah this is totally one of my pet peeves. Another one I have is when someone interrupts me when I’m talking. If I’m in a group of friends and I say something, DO NOT CUT ME OFF TO TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE! That’s so rude. Ugh.

  35. Tim on #

    I never take phone calls at the table, but if I get a text I’ll normally read it. I generally won’t reply unless it’s urgent, at which time I apologise profusely, or it involves somehow including the other people at the table.

  36. Shveta on #

    Oh, gods, sending text messages while you are driving! I have one friend who does this, and I had to ask her not to, at least while I’m in the car. Not only is it rude, but it’s incredibly dangerous.

  37. Shveta on #

    I see Q already mentioned mine. Okay, then, how about people who chew gum with their mouths open and smack loudly? Or yell around the office because clearly what is bothering them is more important than the rest of us being able to concentrate?

  38. Feywriter on #

    I went into a business recently that had signs saying (paraphrasing due to memory) “If you are on the phone, others will be helped first.” I think that’s a great rule. Pay attention to those whose attention is ready.

  39. john cash on #

    I hate use of the phrase “What you’ve got to understand is…” It seems innocuous, but it is actually a subtle rhetorical tool that turns the tables on the other guy. It implies (1) “You don’t really know what you’re taling about here, (2) But I do, (3) And unless you come over to my standpoint you won’t ever know what you’re talking about.” What’s wrong with saying, “I think you’re missing something, and that is…”? It is good etiquette to let the other person make a fool of him/herself without putting him/her down in the process.

  40. Kim on #

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned this, but it squicks me out to no end when I’m in the bathroom and I hear someone in a nearby stall talking on their cellphone. Please, can’t you wait until you’re outside?

  41. Nif on #

    If your cell-phone rings while you are with other people, excuse yourself to go answer it. Taking your conversation to someplace more private is definitely more considerate than having the conversation right there, even if you have said, “Excuse me please.”

    But don’t use your phone in the bathroom. That’s icky! If you are at a restaurant, take the phone outside.

    Do not ever use your cell phone while in line for any sort of customer service. Customer service is thankless enough work without further trampling on the consequence and personhood of any persons involved in such transactions.

  42. caitlin on #

    eeeww! I agree with you Kim seriously it’s pretty gross to be chatting with someone while your on the toi. Also, gum is gross. What about people who bathe in fouf (perfume) ? Don’t they know that the reason fouf was invented was to cover b.o.

  43. Miss Tammy on #

    My best friend texted the entire way through my 30th birthday party meal. It was almost enough to make me want to end the 25 friendship.

  44. anna tambour on #

    Put it in! I think there is a ratio between how late someone is and how phone-obsessed they are while they’re with you. In both cases, I’d say it’s time to get another friend because either this person is a boor, or s/he thinks you’re a bore. In many cases, if you get up and walk out, the otherwise engaged won’t even notice till how many calls later? I end “friendships” like these, except for my friend who gets calls all the time, always asks me first if it’s okay to pick up, and apologises for taking them even though I happily say go for it. The key to this working is that she doesn’t WANT this intrusion but really should keep connected. This isn’t a power play or insensitivity. She always keeps her voice so low that only someone sitting right next to her can, with strain, hear. Since the calls invariably have to do with a murder or something equally fascinating, they are better than radio, better than most books. She’s so relieved that I don’t mind her doing her followup calls then, and I’m so eavesdropping.

  45. alys on #

    Not that the phone thing isn’t annoying, but:

    Spitting in public.

    If I could choose just one thing to never have to see anyone do again…

  46. Jaya Lakshmi on #

    I think one etiquette rule that should be added (although it doesn’t apply to cellphones) is that people should not give unnecessary advice (or peer pressure) to acquaintances they don’t know well. I’ve been given grief over my decision to not attend prom; no one has respected my decision.

  47. martha on #

    oh my goodness! I completely agree. Texting at the table drives me bonkers! I have one friend in particular that does it ALL the time. She knows how I feel about it, but seems to think that I am the one being rude because I roll my eyes every time she gets her phone out!
    This same girl also texts and drives which scares me. A LOT.
    Also, dinner table related, i hate it when people start to eat before everyone has been served or before the hostess (if at home) has even sat down!

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