Miss Man­ners

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - COMICS, ETC. -

Dear Miss Man­ners: I rec­og­nize that the gen­eral rule is that it is po­lite to pay at­ten­tion to those peo­ple ac­tu­ally in one’s pres­ence, and not chat on a mo­bile phone when you have live peo­ple right there with you.

But what about the in­stance when you are in­ten­tion­ally off alone, on the phone, and oth­ers come up to you and in­ter­rupt the con­ver­sa­tion?

I am think­ing of a sit­u­a­tion in which I was wait­ing for my sig­nif­i­cant other to fill out some forms at his new job. We had driven to­gether be­cause we had some mu­tual er­rands to run af­ter he fin­ished. I hap­pily spread out on a blan­ket un­der a tree, rather far from the of­fice build­ing, got out a snack for my­self, and, once done eat­ing, called my brother on my cell­phone to in­quire as to the health of my sis­ter-in-law, who was quite ill.

We were dis­cussing whether I should come visit, when all of a sud­den, I barely heard my name be­ing called from afar. It was my sig­nif­i­cant other and his new boss, wav­ing at me and call­ing out; ap­par­ently, she ex­pected to meet me! So of course, I got up from my blan­ket, crossed the field to the build­ing and shook hands with her, telling my brother to hold on a minute and apol­o­giz­ing to her for be­ing on the phone.

But I won­dered ever since what the proper pro­to­col was. Is there a po­lite way to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m on the phone just now” (which ob­vi­ously can’t be done with a boss)? Or is it al­ways rude to ig­nore those right in front of you, even if they have in­ter­rupted you when you were quite ob­vi­ously try­ing to have a con­ver­sa­tion in pri­vate?

Gen­tle Reader: Your brother comes first, not be­cause he is fam­ily, but be­cause the con­ver­sa­tion with him pre­ceded that with your part­ner and his boss.

In ei­ther case, it is im­por­tant to con­vey to the in­ter­loper that he is in­trud­ing — while act­ing as if the rude­ness was un­in­ten­tional. If in close prox­im­ity, the cor­rect re­sponse is, “I’m sorry, but I was just in the mid­dle of a call,” but mouthed, so as to be only barely au­di­ble, and ac­com­pa­nied by your free hand point­ing at the phone.

The the­atri­cal de­liv­ery is meant to dra­ma­tize for the new­comer that this is an in­ter­rup­tion not only of the call, but of an ac­tual per­son.

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