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Cell phone etiquette


Cell phones have become a mainstay in the lives of most Nigerians and an unavoidable part of modern life for many people. However, their presence in so many places can lead to situations in which users are inconsiderate of others.

Just as general rules of etiquette vary among cultures, so do rules of cell phone etiquette. Still some basic principles cross-cultural norms – common sense and courtesy are the cornerstones of polite cell phone use. Respecting public and personal space, maintaining privacy, and not disturbing others are some general principles a person should keep in mind when using a mobile phone.
Public vs. private use

Cell phone etiquette is usually at its most important in public spaces, where one loud talker can disturb a large number of people. How a person uses his or her phone in more private situations matters, too, however, to those who are concerned with being considerate. Many people find it rude when someone takes a cell phone call on a date or during a private social engagement with others.

Along the same lines, it’s usually thought to be inconsiderate to take a call in the middle of a conversation; if the caller were there in person, he or she would likely wait to politely interrupt at a more appropriate time. When in a small group or one-on-one situation, it’s best for someone receiving the call not to pick it unless it’s an emergency.

Focus on the situation, not the call

Public settings such as restaurants, waiting rooms, banks and buses are usually bad places for casual cell phone conversations. Unless the user is expecting an important call, it would be best to put the ringer on vibration or silent mode and let any calls that do not need to be answered immediately go to voice mail. This is not only more considerate to other people in the public space, but it also helps the caller maintain his or her privacy by not divulging personal information in public.

It is also generally considered bad cell phone etiquette to stay on the phone when dealing with cashiers or customer service people. If using the phone in a supermarket or other store, the person should hang up before going to the checkout lane. In a casual restaurant, it’s usually considered impolite to both the counter staff and the person on the other end of the line to stop in the middle of a conversation to place an order.

Although cars are usually considered private spaces, taking a call while driving is usually not a good idea. A number of jurisdictions ban cell phone use while driving unless a hands-free system is used. Even when a driver does not have to physically hold the phone, however, studies suggest that drivers who talk while they drive tend to focus less on the road and other cars and more on the conversation. Most calls can wait, but if one can’t, it is safer for drivers to pull up before answering.

Important phone calls that can’t wait

If the cell phone user thinks a call might be important, he or she should try to step outside or find a secluded area to take or return a call. For urgent calls that cannot be missed, polite cell phone users should try to keep their voices low and the conversations brief. If the call interrupts a conversation, it’s best for the person to apologize before stepping away to answer.

Cell phones typically have sensitive microphones that can pick up a soft voice while blocking out ambient noise, so yelling into a cell phone is usually not necessary. When people are nearby, polite cell phone users try to keep their voices low and the tone unemotional and even. Arguing or airing dirty laundry in public is almost universally considered to be poor cell phone etiquette.

Maintaining a distance of at least 10 feet (three meter) from the nearest person when talking on a cell phone is usually a good idea. No matter how quiet the conversation, if a person is standing too close to others, it may force them to overhear what is being said. If it’s necessary for a person to speak loudly to be heard by the person he or she is speaking to due to a noisy location, it’s probably not a good place to be taking the call.

Places where the phone should always be turned off

In almost all cases, phones should be turned off in movie theaters, public functions or any other public place where an audience’s attention is focused on a performance or event. A ringing phone or a conversation can be very disturbing to other audience members, who have often paid money for the experience. In some cases, performances have been stopped in progress as the performers wait for an audience member to leave or silence his or her phone.

Phones should be turned off anywhere in which silence is important and disruptions should be kept to an absolute minimum. This includes courthouses, libraries, places of worship, doctors’ offices, weddings, and funerals, where a ringing phone could indicate a lack of respect. It’s also best to turn off a phone during a job interview, as it can suggest that the person being interviewed is more concerned with personal issues than the job.


Loud and distinctive ringtones are good for catching the phone owner’s attention, but they can be a major distraction to other patrons in a restaurant or movie theater. If a phone must be left on in a public space, the owner should put the ringer on silence or vibration whenever possible to create the least disturbance. Turning the volume down or even changing the ringtone to one that is more subtle – such as the sound of bells ringing rather than the latest pop song – may also cause less of an interruption.

Texting and surfing the web

Using a smartphone to text someone or look something up online is usually appropriate in public spaces, as long as doing it does not disturb others. Smart phones often have very bright screens, and can even be used as flashlight in some cases, but using them in a dark environment like a movie theater can be very distracting.

Watching videos or playing music without headphone is also likely to be a disruption in any space, and should be avoided. Many smart phones also include games, which should only be played in public if they do not include loud sound effect or likely to result in the player making a lot of physical movement or vocal reactions.

Just like taking a phone call in the middle of a conversation would likely be considered impolite. Focusing on the phone’s screen to check sport scores or email while talking to others is usually bad cell phone etiquette. If an email or text must be responded to, the cell phone user should apologise and excuse himself to do so privately. Texting or surfing the Internet should never be done while driving.

How to practice cell phone etiquette

The first principle

It is not other people’s responsibility to cope with your mobile phone use; it is your responsibility to use your mobile phone inoffensively. Please note that “inoffensively” is not defined by what you expect others to tolerate, but by what others do in fact find offensive. Ignore this principle, and you are sure to be rude.

Following directly from the first principle

You should assume that someone who asks you to turn your cell phone (or audio player) down or off is in good faith and you should comply in good faith. They have a reason for asking, and it’s probably not that they’re trying to dominate you or hassle you or restrict your God-given right to free expression. (For example, people with temporal lobe epilepsy may find that certain sounds trigger seizures, and some people have neuron- sensory issues that cause extraneous noise to be a severe difficulty rather than a mid annoyance.)
Stay away from others while talking on the phone

If possible, keep a 10 –foot (three meter) distance between you and anyone else whenever you talk on your phone. Most people do not want to hear what you’re talking about.

Try not to talk on the phone in any enclosed spaces, even if you‘re more than 10 feet away from anyone

They can still hear you (because it’s an enclosed space) and usually, they’re forced to just sit there and listen (and maybe be annoyed to some extent).

Don’t talk too loudly

Generally, you don’t have to shout in the microphone to be heard on the other end. In fact doing so often makes it harder for you to be understood. In addition, shouting on the phone disrupts people around you.

Don’t put your phone on speaker

Just as many people do not want to hear your end of the conversation, they don’t want to hear the other person either.

Do not talk about personal details in public

Personal is just that; personal. If callers want to talk about personal details, tell them that you will call them back later, move someplace where you can have a little privacy, or switch to text messaging.

Don’t multi-task

Avoid making calls while driving, shopping, banking, waiting in line, or doing almost anything that involves interacting with other human beings. In some situations it puts your life and the lives of others in danger, and in other situations it can bother some people.

Know where not to use your phone

Some places are inappropriate for cell phone usage, so avoid talking on your cell phone or having it ring while in the following places:
Bathrooms, elevators, hospitals, waiting rooms, auditoriums, taxicabs, buses, planes, meetings, libraries, museums, schools, lectures/public or private functions, live performances, funerals, weddings, movie theaters, while visiting relatives,turn your phone off at any time that you are asked to when on a plane.

Or, in fact, anywhere else where people are likely to be disturbed, unless it is important and you can’t go anywhere

Don’t use your phone when having a meal with someone. Ideally, you should turn it off entirely. If you’re anticipating an important call, let the person you’re with know beforehand that you’re expecting a call that you’ll need to take, no matter what, don’t hold a conversation at the table; step away, follow step 1, and don’t stay away any longer than you would for a bathroom break. Never text at the table, even if the face-to-face conservation dies down. It will be seen as disrespectful.

Turn off your phone at the movie theater

Even if your phone is vibrating, people can hear it during quiet parts of the movie. The light from your phone’s screen is also very distracting. Don’t check the time, don’t check your messages; just turn it off until the movie is over. If you get an important call that you must answer, exit the theatre before taking it.

Learn to text

When you’re in an enclosed space, or you can’t put yourself 10 feet out of everyone’s way, it’s inappropriate to talk but it’s potentially acceptable to receive and send text messages, in such cases, keep the following rules of texting etiquette in mind:
Use the vibrate feature instead of an audible text alert

Only text when you’re standing still or sitting and out of anyone’s way. Don’t text while you walk or drive

Don’t text while doing anything that requires you to be attentive, such as waiting at an intersection for the pedestrian signal.

Don’t text while at meetings or conferences. You should give the speaker your undivided attention.

Limit phone use during gatherings with your friends. Some friends (with or without cell phone) will find it annoying and inconsiderate.

Avoid sending others text message containing anything that you would not say in real life. It is very hard to convey tones and sarcasm in texting and email, so realise that something may come across as sounding unusual or offensive. Never send a message with sexual overtones, or one that could be construed as a threat.

Inform everyone in your mobile address book that you’ve just adopted the new rules for mobile manners and ask them to do likewise. Please.

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