NEW YORK – "I'm on the train ... Hello? Did you hear me? I said I AM ON THE TRAIN!"
Cell phone conversations of questionable importance have become part of the soundtrack of our lives.
Modern-day etiquette is being highlighted in July, deemed National Cell Phone Courtesy Month (search), and mobile manners are being encouraged with special phone zones created by businesses.
With 147 million wireless phone (search) users in the U.S., restaurants have become particularly problematic as offending users gab away, oblivious of other patrons.
"When people go to restaurants they’ll take a cell phone call while dining,“ said Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach (search) and cell phone etiquette spokesperson for Sprint, adding that personal conversations overheard in public is the most frequent cell phone related complaint she hears.
"If you’re at a restaurant, let your companions know ahead of time if you are expecting a call, then step away from the table, take the call and make it brief," she said. "Find a place that’s not within hearing range of other people – and that does not include a bathroom.”
Answering that call, some restaurants have installed cell phone booths to preserve the peace and quiet.
The Brooklyn Cafe (search) in Atlanta recently installed an antique red phone booth from the streets of London just outside to give diners a private place to converse. While mobile phones aren’t banned at the café, owner Greg Pyne said he wanted to guide patrons toward politeness.
“It’s my job to provide my customers with a napkin, not to teach them how to use a napkin,” he said. “I’m giving [people] an opportunity to use their manners if they are so inclined, and a lot of people have been so inclined.”
Another booth has popped up at the Main Street Bistro in Sarasota, Fla., (search) where live entertainment can make cell phone calls problematic.
“You can go into it for quiet, and not sound like you are talking in a loud bar," bistro staffer Heather Mushrush said of the old French phone booth now used by cell phone owners.
Since its installment in January, Mushrush said the booth has been used daily and is particularly popular when bands play. “It’s right in the bar so you can just walk a few steps and be in the booth instead of going outside.”
If there's a rude wireless user in proximity, the best way to deal with the offending person is to get someone of authority involved, Whitmore said. Speaking up against cellular noise sparked execs to action in one case.
In 2000, transportation giant Amtrak (search) added “Quiet Cars” to its fleet after 20 daily commuters between Philadelphia and Washington asked for a quiet oasis, said Amtrak spokesperson Dan Stessle.
“From that request the Quiet Cars spread. Now almost every train in the northeast corridor has one Quiet Car in which cellular and other electronic sounds are prohibited," he said.
Even elsewhere on the train, Stessle said passengers are becoming more cell phone sensitive. “Many people are now using the vestibules or the café car if they have a long conversation to make.”
Whitmore said advisories to silence cellulars are also becoming commonplace.
"The first thing most speakers say when welcoming a crowd is 'Please turn your cell phones and pagers off.' When you open up a program at a play there is a request to turn them off and at the movie theater there are signs that say 'Silence is golden,'" she said. "This is just something we didn’t see five years ago.”
Rude behavior on mobiles can also be curbed by using options such as text messaging, distinctive rings to ID an urgent call and silent mode, Whitmore said. However, “most people aren't even aware that they have them.”
Pyne agreed that people are enamored with their cellular gadgets, but he senses a change in some customers' behavior.
"Every time there's new technology you need to have list of etiquette. Manners are the fine-tuning that comes last. Right now we're still in the, 'Oh cool, I can take the call' phase," he said. "But those who are cognizant of that here can use the booth."