Telephone etiquette should not go the way of the rotary telephone

Editorial & Opinion, Wednesday, January 9, 2008, p. A8

The other day my telephone rang and my four-year-old daughter yelled, “I’ll get it.” She raced to the telephone with a determined look on her face. I watched her cross the room and stifled a giggle. Her arms were pumping, her legs high-stepping, and she was almost leaning backwards. She sounded like a herd of charging wildebeests (though I admit I haven’t heard that myself – for simplicity I should just say she was really loud).

She made it to the telephone before it went to voicemail and addressed the caller. I am proud that she handled the caller with grace. I have taught her to say hello, and always ask, “Who is speaking, please?” before passing the receiver to me. She has been doing this since she was three.

Of course it goes without saying that if a grandparent or a friend of the family calls, she may pause in handing me the receiver so that she can regale the caller with stories of her latest scratch or bruise, what her brother just ate off the floor, what she’s watching on television, the birthday invitation she just received, or an elaborate description of baking she and Nana made last week.

Once I get on the telephone, the caller is wowed at my little girl’s telephone etiquette, saying that she is very polite and well taught.

Occasionally, a telemarketer decides that they don’t want to tell her their name and they hang up. My daughter is confused, but I am downright pleased. Soon I will teach her other things she may want to say to the telemarketers that call during dinnertime, including, “please take us off your list” (which has drastically reduced the number of unsolicited calls we receive).

Back to the reason I am writing. Perhaps callers can take a lesson from my daughter. Telephone etiquette is still valued by many of us.

I do not have call display. Your telephone number and name are not visible on the screen before I take your call. As such, just saying hello is not really adequate unless your voice is uniquely distinctive. Please tell me who is calling.

I was taught to say “Hello, may I please speak to (insert name here)? It’s Nadine calling.” Or if the person I want to speak to has answered the telephone, I always say “Hi, it’s Nadine” (even if I know that they have prescreened my call with call display).

I don’t believe in call display. I like surprises. Call display takes some of the fun out of answering the telephone. I don’t screen my calls – I was taught to do unto others, as you would have done to you – because I don’t want to be screened. If you choose to subscribe to call display, please don’t assume everyone has it.

Call waiting is another beast altogether. I do have a problem with this feature.

Unless you have a teenager in the home who is constantly tying up your telephone line, why do you need to be able to receive another incoming call at the same time as you are talking to me? Some of my conversations have been cut short by the other party because of an incoming long-distance call or a seemingly more interesting caller. Are we so busy that we have to multi-task even our telephone calls?

Let’s also review the economics of this equation. The call display feature costs around $8 a month. Call waiting is another $5.50 to $13.50 a month. Annually, these two can add up to $162 to $258, but I cancelled them on my telephone years ago. I have a block plan for long-distance calling, which, while researching this article, I found out I am being overcharged $4/month (which I will have rectified by the time you read this).

I also subscribe to call answer, the answering machine function, at $7 per month. Call answer has cost me around $84 per year, for more than 10 years. Considering the cost of a middle-of-the-line answering machine, for the amount of money I am paying annually for call answer, I could have been the proud owner of more than 10 answering machines in 10 years.

No wonder the shareholders are happy. I may have to reconsider my subscription and start to compare features of call answer to digital answering machines on the market. Alternatively, I should buy shares in a telephone provider.

Whether etiquette or economics grabs you, regardless of your telephone technology, when communicating with others, the golden rule and a little politeness can go a long way.

Please introduce yourself when you call, ignore the call -waiting beep (or remove this feature from your telephone completely), and please don’t hang up on my answering machine.

Nadine Robinson is a freelance writer and a marketing and communications consultant. Her column appears every other Wednesday. Contact her the.ink.writer@gmail.com

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