Etiquette, where art thou?

  Brrring. It is a glorious Friday night, and your cell phone is ringing. Ignoring the person sitting next to you — with whom you are in the middle of a conversation — you lunge for your precious device and immediately commence talking. We all have been there: reaching the best part of your story, when a cell phone rings and suddenly your audience is gone. It is rejection at its finest. As William of Wykeham said in the 14th century, “Manners maketh man.” Now, William may not have had an iPhone, but even in the 1300s he knew a few things about right and wrong. As kids we learned that good manners gave us what we wanted. We were schooled in the art of writing thank-you cards and in sharing our toys. A simple “please” or “thank you” kept the cookies coming — or my case, juice boxes. But then the cell phone caught on. By this time, our parents were long tired of molding their offspring and schlepping them all over the country for soccer matches, so they bought us phones and told us to be quiet. Or so I think. How else can you explain the epidemic of lewd, cell phone behavior? From the loud conversations one overhears to the exasperating interruptions during class, clearly we missed a critical lesson in our development. Letitia Baldrige, author of more than 20 books on etiquette and former Chief of Staff for Jacqueline Kennedy, writes that, “You don’t answer the phone ever in front of anybody … You never make a call in a restaurant.” And yet we see people texting through dinners and placing cell phones on the table. Baldrige also says, “If you’re not paying attention because you’re so into your iPhone or Blackberry, you might miss somebody who needs help, even an old friend.” Texting is a perfect way to pass time when you are alone or waiting to meet someone, but when you are with them, show some respect and listen to them. This applies to your professors too. The best thing about etiquette is that it is easy — all you have to do is be considerate. Before embarking on a texting or phone call crusade, observe who is around you. I don’t want to hear every detail you have to say to your significant other or to your mother, and I’m guessing that the other 50 people in the room don’t want to either. Like Justin Timberlake “brought sexy back,” let’s bring decorum back to the 21st century. Enough with the self-absorption — put the phone away and live a little. Who knows what you are missing while you play Angry Birds.