Get a signed copy of our latest book, Emily Post's Etiquette - The Centennial Edition, for yourself or to give as a gift, and support Vermont's independent bookstore Bridgeside Books.

Join our Substack newsletter for more from Emily Post.

Answering Your Cell Phone in Public Hero Label

Answering Your Cell Phone in Public

They sure do bring their cell phones with them now. If you’re the type of person whose cell phone rings constantly, keep in mind how difficult it is for the people you’re hanging out with to be put on hold every time your phone rings. When you’re with friends, use your judgment before reaching for that ringing phone; in fact, think twice about even leaving it on. After all, your caller can always leave a message on voice mail, to be returned as soon as you have a free moment.

When you decide to break off to take a call, excuse yourself and step away. If the call involves anything other than a very brief conversation, let the caller know that it’s not a good time to talk and that you’ll call him or her back later.

If your cell phone rings and you’re…

...In a restaurant

If your cell phone rings while you are sitting at the table, never disturb your own table and other diners by making or taking a call. If you must take or make a call, excuse yourself from the table and go to another room, such as a lobby, or outside.

...On the street

Be careful not to talk too loudly. And since talking on a phone has been shown to distract people from their immediate surroundings, for safety’s sake, pay extra attention to where you’re walking.

...At the movies

If there’s an all-important call that you absolutely have to take, set your ringer ahead of time to “vibrate,” and try to sit in an aisle seat if possible. When your phone rings, quickly excuse yourself to the lobby to answer the call.

...In a car or on a train or bus

Since the people traveling with you in a car or on a bus or train are a captive audience, you should restrict yourself to only the most essential calls—let your rehashing of last night’s party wait until the trip’s over—and keep all phone conversations as short as possible. On a train, consider stepping into the vestibule area between train cars to make any lengthy calls. If you’re riding in a “quiet car” on a train, keep your phone on “vibrate” and move immediately to the vestibule or another car if you need to answer a call. Finally be aware that speaking on a handheld phone while driving is now against the law in many places; so if you need to make or answer a call while you’re at the wheel, either pull over or get a headset that will let you talk while leaving your hands free.