Emily Post, please phone home

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 30, 2002

Calling home has become a long, agonizing lesson in telephone etiquette. My husband decides - on my nickel - to use our nightly chats as an opportunity to teach the subtle rules and regulations of telephone manners - especially Southern telephone manners - to our 10-year-old.

He's wasting his time of course - unless there is a superhero or video game involved, Ben has the attention span of Robin Williams, not to mention the attitude. It's not as though Ben is rude on the phone, on the contrary. We pride ourselves on the manners of all our sons, and Ben is a true Southern gentleman, even more so than the other two. But Ben is also 10, which means phone calls are accompanied with giggles, burps, mouth breathing and imitations of Ed from Ed, Edd and Eddy.

It can be amusing - and admittedly irritating - but it is de rigueur for a 10-year-old boy. With Terry's constant prodding, he will no doubt grow out of, or at least save it for when his father is not listening on the extension.

Some people either don't grow out of bad phone manners or were never taught them. This isn't about drivers talking on their cell phone -

that goes beyond rude to criminally negligent. This is about how to answer the phone, how to take messages, and what NOT to do while you are on the phone.

Eating - There is nothing more distracting - and disgusting - than listening to the smacking as your caller eats and talks at the same time. It is the phone equivalent of chewing with your mouth open, and it isn't any easier to listen to than it is watch.

Call waiting - I can deal with this in an office environment, it's even to be expected. But to call after hours, to a home, and have a friend put me "on hold" is a bit much. I'd rather you just tell me "I have a another call - can I call you back in a minute?"

Talking to toddlers - Unless you're a Gramma or a masochist, those long silences on the phone , with Mommy in the background going "Say Hi, sweetie. Tell her hi!" are frustrating for you and the toddler.

Cordless phones - I have nothing against cordless or cell

phones. I love mine - when I remember to charge it up. It goes out on the front porch with me, it goes to the kitchen with me, it goes into every room with me - but one. There is one room into which a phone should never be carried, in which it should never be used.

The quality of phones thee days leaves no doubt as to where the phone call is being made. The flush of a toilet rings crystal clear across the airwaves, leaving those on the receiving end wondering whether to be insulted or amused.

There seems to be an inverse ratio between technology and manners. The more hi-tech we go, the more we neglect common courtesy. We leave curt messages on answering machines. Teens have perfected a series of digital insults they can leave on each other's pagers. Emails coded with smiley faces and bereft of any real information are zapped across the phone and cable lines, as meaningless and ephemeral as the pixels that form them.

This has been called the Communication Age - we may be connected to the global village, but I'm not sure how well we are communicating with it.