Why We Should Stop Treating Public Places As Our Private Phone Booth

My car dealership has a business lounge, which makes waiting for inspections and minor services tolerable. I hate to admit it, but I actually relied on my last appointment as a means to get some work done. I treated myself to a cappuccino and entered the lounge where several people were quietly watching the news, reading the paper and, of course, texting. I set up shop and started composing an article on - of all things - manners when the guy across from me called his wife to check in. "So what are you doing?" he said rather loudly into his cell phone. Obviously, he was bored and needed entertainment. Several "love you babes" later, he hung up, but this was only the first of a series of calls he made. Even if some of the calls were work-related (does it matter?) he could've taken it outside the quiet zone, and away from us, his captive audience.

What is it about loud cell phone conversations that is so bothersome? I wasn't annoyed at the two customers sitting beside me, drinking coffee and chatting. The T.V. also didn't bother me. That's the kind of noise I can tune out, find almost soothing, and dare I say, normal.

I was irritated all day (because why not let every little thing get to me?) and decided to treat myself and my daughter to a relaxing pedicure. We sat side by side, sinking into the large massage chairs, feeling like we just won the lottery. I closed my eyes momentarily when a loud voice pierced my zen.

"I demand to speak to the manager!" The woman three seats down was beet-red and screaming into her phone. "Those are not the cabinets my mother I ordered. I want everything ripped out, and I want her money back!" I admired that she stuck up for her mother with such fervor. I really did. Just not at that moment.

Maybe she had a legitimate beef, but did she have the right to vent it to the detriment of everyone around her? She continued to yell for 30 minutes, getting transferred from one customer service rep to another, oblivious to the resentful stares of virtually everyone at the packed salon. The owner whispered apologies to all the eye-rolling, exasperated patrons, but didn't ask the woman to take it elsewhere.

Is it my imagination or do our vocal chords take on a higher volume and pitch when we speak into that device? Perhaps it's speaking at inappropriate times and venues that highlights tones that would otherwise be barely audible. We are all adults. It seems intuitive: if it would bother others, don't do it.

I did what any reasonable person would do, and called my friend that night to vent. She shared that her gym has signs banning phone use on every piece of equipment. While this seemed extreme at the time, I'm beginning to think my gym needs signs, too. During my last pilates class, a woman came in 25 minutes late, smacked her mat down next to me, and fidgeted with her bag, shoes, and sweatshirt. When she finally settled down, her cell phone rang. I took cleansing breaths and rationalized that she must've forgotten to turn it off, but then she answered the phone and proceeded to have a conversation. And now I understand why many doctor’s offices and movie theaters post reminders about cell phone use. When we can't self-regulate and act considerately, establishments have no choice but to treat us like kindergartners.

In some kindergartens, teachers post rules on the walls. When the five-year-olds forget how to behave, they look at the colorful chart and self-correct. Does it need to come to that for adults? Can't we just use common sense and good manners? Let's just not talk on our phones publicly unless it's an emergency. I know that for some, an emergency is a heart attack, while for others, it's the kids calling to see what's for dinner. I'm not stuck on any one definition of "emergency" - just make it quick and hang up!

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