Cell Phone Etiquette in the U.S.

As a child, my mother and father tried to teach me to have good manners. Some examples of good manners were things like saying “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me”, listening when my parents were talking to me, and being on time for dinner. If ever I exhibited bad manners, there would likely be a consequence. Perhaps your parents tried to teach you good manners, too.

Manners are the set of rules that a society agrees are polite and acceptable. There are manners, also called etiquette, for many types of situations: how to eat properly at a fancy dinner, how to speak politely to your grandparents, how to act on a date, and even how to use your cell phone.

Because manners are a set of rules embraced by a society, the standard for politeness is different from culture to culture depending on the values and practices of that culture. What is polite in one culture may be considered rude in another culture. It can be very confusing to navigate manners when living in a new country!

Let’s look specifically at cell phone manners. For example, as you can see from this infographic, in Japan it is often viewed as unacceptable to talk on your phone in a public setting where other people are present. However, cell users in China are known to answer a call at anytime, any place. And while your Chinese friend may call again and again until someone answers, it is more common in India to text instead of calling. Do you see how these practices may cause problems in communication between international students?

Have you ever been confused about what is considered acceptable phone usage here in the USA? Here are some tips about cell phone etiquette in the United States. We hope this helps you with your communication while you are living here!

Common Practices:

  • Americans commonly use texting (SMS) to communicate informally with friends.
  • Formal communication (relating to work or school) should be done by phone call, not by text.
  • No answer? It is normal to leave a voice message.

Other important tips:

  • Use a quiet voice when speaking on the phone in public. Talking loudly on your phone is considered rude. Also, if you are speaking on the phone in a public place, don’t talk about very personal topics.
  • Avoid answering a call or sending a text message in the middle of a face-to-face conversation or meeting. Does your mom get upset if you don’t answer her call immediately? I get it. If you absolutely need to take a call during a conversation, excuse yourself before answering your phone and return to your conversation as quickly as possible. Otherwise, silence your phone and pay attention to the person in front of you.
  • Don’t text or talk on your phone while driving. This is not just etiquette, but for your safety!
  • Put your phone away during class. I’m sure you hear this from your professors. Even if you are not using your phone, having your phone out in front of you may communicate to your professor that you don’t care.
  • Be conscious of what time of day you are making a call. Close friends may not care what time of day you call, but if you are making a professional call, stick to normal business hours. For non-professional calls, it is generally best not to call after 9 pm.
  • End phone conversations when paying for purchases. If you’ve been chatting with your friend back home while you’re waiting in line at Starbucks, end the call (or put the phone down) when you get to the front of the line and make your order.

What are some examples of cell phone etiquette from your country?


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