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Manners Still Matter: Turn it down, please

I was waiting in line the other day for my turn to pay for some groceries.

Manners Still Matter: Turn it down, please

Carole TownsendThe store was crowded, and the few open lanes had long lines. Those waiting in line were shifting impatiently from one foot to the other, obviously irritated. Babies fussed and cried. You get the picture; it’s a common scene these days.

In the midst of this spectacle, a man’s cell phone rang. The ring was loud, and the man who answered his phone was even louder. To make matters worse, he put the other party on speaker. So there we were, the rest of us waiting in line, now being forced to listen to a strident, boisterous two-way conversation. The two men were arguing about money owed. They were slinging profanity with sheer abandon. But the thing that struck me most was that the loud man in line at the supermarket was entirely unaware that people were glaring at him, annoyed by the intrusion. Or perhaps even worse, he was aware that he was annoying people and simply didn’t care.

Isn’t that where we are with things these days? We live in our own space, in our own heads, and in our own digital world, to the extent that we often forget that other people surround us. We forget (or don’t care) that those other people probably don’t want to be captive, forced to listen to a conversation that should be a private one. We seem not to care that, when we are shouting into our cell phones, we’re stifling all other conversation. We seem not to care that not everyone wants to hear curse words or our inappropriate comments and discussions.

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” ⁠—Emily Post

Manners in library 730px

We have become so dependent on cell phones and the connectivity they afford us that we truly can’t leave home without them. We’ve become “one” with our phone; it’s a natural extension of our bodies, our thoughts and our lives. And because we’ve become so dependent and comfortable with them, sometimes we forget the basic rules of etiquette.

Since Emily Post has long been the go-to expert for all things “polite,” I thought I’d consult the Emily Post Institute’s list of “dos and don’ts” regarding cell phones and conversations. I took the liberty of removing the rules that apply to safety – rules like “Don’t text and drive.” Surely we all understand that one by now.

Here are the top guidelines that speak to etiquette and consideration:

1. Be in control of your phone; don’t let it control you.

2. Speak softly.

3. Be courteous to those you are with; turn off your phone if it will be interrupting a conversation or activity.

4. Watch your language, especially when others can overhear you.

5. Avoid talking about personal or confidential topics in a public place.

6. If it must be on and it could bother others, use the “silent” mode and move away to talk.

7. Don’t make calls in a library, theater, church, or from your table in a restaurant.

8. Don’t text during class or a meeting at your job.

9. Don’t even look at your phone while having a face-to-face conversation with someone.
Don't make calls in a library, theater, church, or from your table in a restaurant.

I honestly don’t think we needed to be reminded of these very basic considerations just 20 years ago. But cell phones became more common in the early 2000s, when young children, the elderly, and everyone in between began carrying one. However, the very basic human need to be considered and respected has not changed, and I suspect it never will.

Of all the rules that the Institute lists, my favorite has to be the very first one. “Don’t let your phone control you.” It has an OFF button, and it has a SILENT setting. There are times and situations in which blabbing with someone on the other end of the line simply isn’t okay. There are times that it’s absolutely okay to be unreachable, if only temporarily. We were often unreachable by phone in the 1980s (and life not only went on, it was glorious!). Let’s not forget that we are human beings first, and cell phone owners second.

Carole Townsend has been a print correspondent and blogger for more than 16 years. As an award-winning author of six books, she has established a reputation as both an ardent researcher and an engaging writer. Blood in the Soil, her fourth book, was named a 2017 finalist for Georgia Author of the Year by the Georgia Writers Association. Her fifth book, The History of Peachtree Corners, earned her the distinction of being named 2022 Georgia Author of the Year. That same book was also awarded the Whitworth-Flanigan Book Award by the Gwinnett Historical Society. Her sixth book, Major League Deal, details the story behind the Atlanta Braves’ surprise move from Fulton County to Cobb County. Townsend is a graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her books are rooted in the deep South, mainly in Georgia and its rich history. Carole has been a guest on CNN, FOX, NPR, and other major network news and talk shows to discuss her books and related topics. A well-known advocate for women, Townsend also speaks to groups of women and works one-on-one with those who have survived domestic abuse. The author resides in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their two beloved dogs. When she’s not writing, Carole enjoys gardening, cooking, their grandchildren, and travel. Find out more about Carole Townsend by visiting