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Etiquette: Phone Conversations and Texts While Interacting With Others

     
9:06 am on Jul 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

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A relatively small story broke this week about a supermarket checkout operator that refused to serve a person while they were talking on their mobile phone.
One Sainsbury's customer tried it recently, and was shocked when the shop assistant refused to serve her until she'd hung up.

The supermarket apologised to the customer but should they have done? Etiquette of mobile phones: When should you hang up? [bbc.co.uk]

It seems that it has stirred many into declaring it's acceptable, or it's not.

Is it rude to use a mobile phone whilst interacting with another human being?

Have we become desensitised to interacting with others?

Is it acceptable to carry on a mobile phone conversation while at a checkout?
9:26 am on July 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Personally I would not have done it. I have had calls in the past while I have been interacting with another person and I have always made it very brief or told them I would call them back. IMO it is rude to do otherwise.
9:29 am on July 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Yo. Wake up.

The Telephone Is More Important Than A Human Being. At all times, under all circumstances. Haven't you ever seen a cluster of teenagers walking down the street, half of them engrossed in phone conversations? The living, present humans are just there to keep the phone-wielders from being alone with their thoughts
:: insert stereotypical wisecrack ad lib. ::
in the moments between ending one call and beginning the next.
9:49 am on July 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

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hehehe, Lucy, nice one.

BeeDeeDubbleU, you're right, imho, it is common courtesy.

I do wonder if future generations are losing that ability to communicate in any other way than text or phone. That eye-to-eye contact is so valuable in interpretation.
10:10 am on July 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

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While I see the point that is being made, I have to disagree. It should be fine to speak on the phone at a checkout.

Why is the customer there? To interact with the checkout operator or to pay for their goods? I sure do not go to the supermarket to interact with the staff, I go to buy stuff. Can I do that whilst speaking on the phone? Yes. Does that hinder the job of the checkout operator? In most cases, no. They can do their job, which is allowing me to pay for stuff.

Obviously, if they needed to ask me something and I couldn't answer, that's another story. But there is no principle involved here, just necessity.

How about this other situation - what if I and a friend went shopping together, and at the checkout I was engaged in a conversation. Would I have to cease speaking to my friend in order for the checkout operator to do their job? No.

Having been on both sides of the checkout in my time, I don't see this as a problem.

(But, personally, I don't like speaking on the phone when other people are around.)
11:52 am on July 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Sure I heard a story recently about a coffee bar owner who won't serve anyone with a phone stuck to their ear...

Edit: [bbc.co.uk...]
12:39 pm on July 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

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LOL, Lucy, VERY FUNNY :-)
4:10 pm on July 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

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"Haven't you ever seen a cluster of teenagers walking down the street, half of them engrossed in phone conversations? The living, present humans are just there to keep the phone-wielders from being alone with their thoughts..."

Finally! A good reason to punch a teenager!
9:00 pm on July 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Would I have to cease speaking to my friend in order for the checkout operator to do their job? No.

Yes. You would-- and you do. How else do you find out how much money you are expected to hand over, if 100% of your attention is on your friend?

Talking to a human passenger while driving is different because the reduced attention to the road is counterbalanced by the second set of eyes and ears:

Oi! Watch out for that motorcycle!
That's our turnoff coming up.
Oh, there's a CheapGas station. Weren't you looking for one?

etc.
10:07 pm on July 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

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If a checkout operator refuses service on the grounds of the customer not paying attention to him/her, does that mean I don't have to pay when (not 'if') I encounter a checkout operator who is talking to a colleague, another customer, chewing gum, etc. whilst serving me?
10:14 pm on July 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

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>>does that mean I don't have to pay

Yes, that's exactly what it means. Don't pay - just walk out. Keep your money in your pocket. Your unjust enrichment is justified. There is no difference . . . (Waiting for someone to slap me and shut me up)
12:07 am on July 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I'm less concerned about the checkout operator, who is paid to serve, and identify more with the customers waiting in line for the inefficient transaction to complete.
12:35 am on July 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

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The phone is the single most powerful device on the planet right now. It can stop nearly all conversations in their track.

I've had people walk in my office, interrupt my work, then ask me to wait while they answer their phone. If I'm in a meeting with someone and they answer the phone, I do the polite thing, I walk out. ;)

Someone told me once to never take a phone call when talking to someone. The person in front of you should feel like the most important person in the world.

To this day, if someone's in my office I will let the call go to voicemail. If I'm expecting an urgent call I will apologize before picking up the phone.

I've worked in locations where customers talk on the smart phone while being served. It's just plain rude. Ironically, most of these people were coming in to tell us they needed more time to pay their utility bills.
4:13 am on July 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I'll make a deal -- if the supermarkets will remove the "human voiced" self-serve checkout lines, (where one is expected to scan and bag their own groceries, but the computer controls the flow of scanning, and constantly says, "Please remove item from belt and scan again" if I go too fast, or refuses to accept my perfectly valid coupon because someone didn't update the database, or I press the a wrong button and the whole precess stops and sets an overhead "Assistance Needed" light blinking until a clerk with a key comes over and resets the thing)... yeah, then I'll stop using my cell phone in that store.

By the same token, I think, to "use a clerk" but treat them as an in-human fixture at the checkout while you're gabbing on your cell is extremely rude, (and if it's someone who will be preparing food for you, I wouldn't be surprised if the slice of cold-cut that fell on the floor ended up in your sandwich)...
4:27 pm on July 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Just this past Wednesday I walked out on a business lunch after the potential client took a call and kept talking on his phone at the table. I was able to pay the check was almost out the door before he noticed. I don't need business that badly (Actually, I don't really want new business, the lunch was a favor for a friend.), and I can just imagine what the "working relationship" would have looked like.
7:42 pm on July 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Someone told me once to never take a phone call when talking to someone. The person in front of you should feel like the most important person in the world.


I've always thought the same, (I only "take a call" as a strategy to let someone know "I don't think your that important" e.g. -- if they are trying to sell to me, and I want to see them sweat a bit)... <g>

I wonder if it's an issue in Japan. Social norms (and especially business-social) are usually taken pretty serious, (like committing suicide if you disgrace your company by plunging it into bankruptcy, or there's a "scandal" and it gets related to the business).

I heard when a Japanese businessman hands you their business card, if you don't focus on it and appear interested and reading it, it's an insult.

Anyone in Japan? Do people talk rudely on cell phone at the checkout there?
11:09 am on July 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I once had a client that would often take calls while we were in a meeting together. The result was that the meeting ended up going on a lot longer than it should. Additionally, after each call we had to recap on our discussion. It was intensely, frustrating.

I don't have a problem with someone saying excuse me, then take a call to let the caller know they will talk later. Of course, it's better if the phone is off during a meeting, but at a supermarket, my phone is probably switched on. However, I wouldn't hold a conversation at the checkout. Firstly, privacy is an issue, and secondly, if it's just chit chat with friends, it can wait.

I have overheard some conversations that go on, usually because the person has to raise their voice when talking on the phone. One person, I remember quite clearly, was having a discussion about what some z-list celeb wore at a party.
Yawn!
It was hardly important enough to inform the whole rail carriage.
11:39 am on July 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Yes, it's quite strange how many people raise their voices when on cell phones but not on landlines. ;)
1:57 pm on July 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I'd say talking louder is usually a direct result of not hearing what's being said to you.
Daft really, since your speaking louder doesn't help you hear your mobile any better....8)
3:51 pm on July 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

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It's a pattern learned in face-to-face conversation. Unless you know for a fact that the person you're talking to is hard of hearing, you have to assume that the two of you can hear-- or not hear-- each other equally well. I've caught myself dropping to a whisper when speaking to someone with laryngitis. So far, mercifully you don't see a lot of toddlers with cell phones. That's when you learn conversational patterns.

The raised voice is also more noticeable because bystanders only hear one side of the conversation, so inevitably it goes UP and down and UP AGAIN and down again... which may be a ### of a lot more annoying and distracting than standing next to someone shouting continuously. Every time you think they're done they start up again.

Rhetorical question: Have you ever found yourself in the grocery line behind someone having a phone conversation about something urgent and important?
11:39 pm on July 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Whole article in my Sunday paper here in the UK today, yawn.

It's about respect, even if you are not talking to the check-out girl/boy, which I always try to do and maybe make their boring day slightly less boring, she/he is serving you and deserves attention, rather like a waiter.

I heard when a Japanese businessman hands you their business card, if you don't focus on it and appear interested and reading it, it's an insult.
actually I spent about 3-4 years+ dealing with Japanese corporations , our lawyer even bought a book 'How to deal with the Japanese'. In a meeting take their card, bow slightly. Next problem, who is who, lay their cards out opposite the person who gave them to you, it will be in English one side, Japanese the other. Watch out for surnames called Tanarka ( if I recall correctly ) it's like Smith in English ! They also respect honesty , even if it's not what they want to hear, so don't hold back, just be polite ( as you should be to the check-out person )