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Amy Vanderbilt’s Cell Phone

April 18th, 2008

Daniel Pontius

I am fond of etiquette books. I am in love with Amy Vanderbilt’s Etiquette, 1971. 8th edition. Although Amy Vanderbilt was not related to the Vanderbilt family, she writes in the preface to the original edition of her book, 1952: “My own line of descent [was] from the first Vanderbilt to settle in America –Jan Aoertsen van der bilt, who had a farm near Flatbush, Long Island…My great great grandfather …was one of the founders of the Bank of Manhattan Company…he seems to have owned a number of “shoe manufactures,” and I do not doubt that he could apply a sole with the same expertness that he used in some of the fine mahogany furniture he made for his family and which I still use.” (Ah, WASPS)
“I believe that knowledge of the rules of living in our society makes us more comfortable even though our particular circumstances may permit us to elide them somewhat…some of the rudest and most objectionable people I have ever known have been technically the most “correct.”Some of the warmest, most lovable, have had little more than an innate feeling of what is right toward others…Only a great fool or a great genius is likely to flout all social grace with impunity, and neither one, doing so, makes the most comfortable companion.”
I love the last line. Only a great fool or a great genius is likely to flout all social grace with impunity, and neither one, doing so, makes the most comfortable companion.
Etiquette, I find a comforting context from which to view the world. It simplifies things:
Bachelor on the Phone
A bachelor answering his home phone merely says, “Hello.” If he has a servant or servants, they answer, “Mr. Robinson’s residence.” even though it may be an apartment. Any friends answering for him in his absence merely say, “Hello” as he does. They do not use the phrase a servant would use” (p.237).
Some may ask, “Pontius, how does this apply to me and my life? It is not 1952 nor even 1972!” So I say, let’s look:
Bibelots Cell Phone Etiquette
First off, one does not need to answer their phone saying their name. (I have been known to do this at times and it utterly annoys me when I do. That which is suppose to provide certainty to a caller, really is only an attempt to validate ones self worth. It certainly doesn’t expedite a call–a simple, Hello will do. Let the caller respond. *
If you are answering another’s cell phone. Which is highly unusual, as it is simple enough to turn off the ringer if a phone is left unattended. This would be the better response if one is in a public place. Nonetheless, a simple Hello will also suffice unless a servant/assistant is answering a phone at which point answer, “Mr. Robinson’s Phone.”
Caller ID
It is a great misuse of Caller ID to call some one back that you can not identify from their number and then say, “This is Mr. Robinson, someone just called me from this number.” It points to self-aggrandizing. If the caller did not leave a message, it is probably a wrong number or they will return your call if necessary. See note.*
In Cars
General etiquette; turn off the phone. Just because one can do something; it doesn’t mean one should. If you must talk in the car, and no one is with you, use a hands free device. **
Phone calls in cars with others present. Do not take them. Two exceptions: If it pertains to pertinent information to the trip at hand.*** Second exception, a work related call in a car is acceptable with another work related person in the car.
Do not take a phone call in a dining room at a table. EVER. It just makes you look like at ass. If you are expecting a very important call. Check your messages in the restroom when appropriate.
Dinner: See Dates above.
Taking a quick call (less than a minute) at breakfast or lunch, if casual, is acceptable, but not appreciated–be as inconspicuous as possible. If urgent, excuse yourself and take it away from the table out of your companions view i.e. to the lobby, restroom, or outside.
Answering one’s cell in bar is acceptable if it pertains to the evening at hand, but it should be kept to a minimum. People aren’t going to think you more interesting or popular if your phone keeps ringing. It doesn’t make you less lonely to be sitting at a bar by yourself talking on the phone. If you must have a phone conversation in a bar see above.****
Etiquette gives us a clear answer to what’s appropriate or expected. And inside of that one can think of it as providing good service to another. Being polite and appropriate is always a way to provide good service. You can read here for my example of not good service.
Vanderbilt’s book is a gem–some illustrations done by Andy Warhol– I’ve always been fond of champagne glass #22 as the bubbles fizzle faster and one must drink accordingly.
* As Nancy Mitford thought, It is bourgeois to be in a hurry.
**Hands free devices, need to be left in the car. Walking down a sidewalk with a HFD while having a conversation just makes you look like a crazy person, which is not interesting, no matter what you think.
***Meaning making plans and getting directions to where you are going. On going chatty conversations about the day etc. are not appropriate. Wait until you are alone; have a conversation with your companion. If you are bored with your mate; consider getting a new mate. Or, try some self examination as to why you are so bored. Consider the following, Bored = Boring
****It is the behavior of the emotional exhibitionist to have a full out argument in a restroom on a phone with many others around. As well, it is never acceptable (flushing anyone?) to be having a business call in the middle of –ah hem–you know who you are, JFK September 14, 2007.


Post a comment
  1. April 21, 2008

    Why do people on cell phones seem to talk twice as loud as they would if the person were in front of them? Apparently they don’t trust the technology – but it only distorts their voice on the receiving end. And women who have a distracted conversation while they’re shopping are very annoying too. My two cents!

  2. April 21, 2008

    So True Valley! As someone said to me–are you practicing what you teach? And, I said, I’m starting to–it’s all one can really do; one phone at a time!

  3. Anonymous #
    April 23, 2008

    Oh Mr. Bibelots – does the world ever need your passion for etiquette and translation of it for the harried populace. And I love the Mitford comment that being in a hurry is so bourgeois. It is, of course. But these are materialistic bourgeois times. Sigh.

  4. April 23, 2008

    Dearst Anonymous,

    Thank you so much for your comments. Spread the word!

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