Cell Phone Etiquette

To most of us, cell phones are a life saver, but rude cell phone users are the thorns in our sides. They're pretty much anywhere that there's a cell phone signal. The thing is, we could all probably use a little primer on cell phone etiquette. After all, most people who are being annoying don't realize they're being annoying. Could that be you?


  1. Keep a 10-foot (3 meter) distance between you and anyone else whenever you talk on your phone. No exceptions.
  2. Don't talk too loudly. Generally you don't have to shout in the microphone to be heard on the other end.
  3. Don't multi-task. Don't make calls while driving, shopping, banking, waiting in line, or doing pretty much anything that involves interacting with other human beings.
  4. Don't talk on the phone in any enclosed spaces, even if you're more than 10 feet away from anyone. They can still hear you (because it's an enclosed space) and usually, they're forced to just sit there and listen.

    • Bathrooms
    • Elevators
    • Waiting rooms
    • Auditoriums
    • Taxicabs
    • Buses
    • Trains
  5. Don't even let your phone ring in any of the following settings:

    • Meetings
    • Libraries
    • Museums
    • Places of worship
    • School
    • Lectures
    • During live performances
    • Funerals
    • Weddings
    • Movie theaters
    • Work Place
  6. Don't use your phone when having a meal with someone. Ideally, you should turn it off entirely. If you're anticipating an important call, let the person you're with know beforehand that you're expecting a call that you'll need to take. No matter what, don't hold a conversation at the table; step away, follow Step 1, and don't stay away any longer than you would for a bathroom break. Never, ever text at the table, even if the conversation died down.
  7. Turn off your phone at the movie theater. Even if your phone is on vibrate, people can hear it during quiet parts of the movie. And even if they can't, the light from your phone's screen is very distracting. Don't check the time, don't check your text messages; just turn it off until the movie is over.
  8. Learn to text. When you're in an enclosed space, or you can't put yourself 10 feet out of everyone's way, it's inappropriate to talk but it's acceptable to receive and send text messages. In such cases, keep the following rules of texting etiquette in mind:

    • Use the vibrate feature instead of an audible text alert.
    • Only text when you're standing still or sitting and out of anyone's way. Don't text while you walk or drive.
    • Don't text while doing anything that requires you to be attentive. A good example would be while waiting at an intersection for the pedestrian signal.
    • Don't text while at a meeting or conference when you should be attentive to the guest speaker.
  9. Don't discuss personal things while waiting at an airport - believe me, people can hear you and don't really want to know about your date last night!
  10. Be aware of people around you if you insist on talking on your cellphone whilst walking through the mall - please don't run into them!


  • Get a Bluetooth earpiece. Their use is less intrusive since you're not holding a phone to the side of your head, and talking on one while driving is no more dangerous than talking to passengers in the car. Just don't fall into the habit of making eye contact with strangers as you talk on one; some do this and it's probably never appreciated.
  • Be aware that using a hands-free headset or earpiece while driving can be just as distracting as holding the phone to talk. Be extremely careful, and opt for emergency use.
  • Many mobile phones have a side button that, when pressed, will immediately silence the ring tone when a call is received. If you leave your phone on, try to silence the phone as soon as possible. Keep your phone close about your person, so others do not have to listen to "I Dream of Jeannie" while you search all of your pockets, your purse, and your pockets again, only to find it in your purse.
  • Control your volume. Not only is this annoying to people around you, but many mobile phones have very sensitive microphones.
  • Do not talk about personal details in public. Personal is just that: personal. Tell callers you will call them back later, move someplace where you can have a little privacy, or switch to text messaging.
  • When you leave a voice mail, state your message clearly and in as few words as possible. You don't need to identify yourself if you're in their contacts list; they already know whose call they missed. You also don't need to give the date and time; they hear it before your message plays, so don't be redundant. By far the worst thing you can do is say "This is John, call me back" or whoever you may be - you may as well be asking to borrow $100 or at least sit with their screaming kids while they go to the movies. They'll know you want something that, if they knew what it was, they wouldn't call you back so soon. (If this is the case, however, don't leave a voice mail at all - curiosity will get the better of them, but you will not have wasted their time.)
  • Turn your phone off at someone else’s house. If someone calls you while someone is at your house, follow the same procedure as if you were answering a landline phone: tell the person you have guests over and you'll call them back.
  • Make sure that there is no sound associated with striking the keys. Although texting is non-invasive, incessant sounds made while pressing each key can be unnerving for others. The key tone can be raised, lowered, or disabled on many phones.
  • Remember that this is a guideline. Everyone has different expectations about proper etiquette. Handle your situation accordingly.


  • Talking or texting on the phone and driving is dangerous. Don't do it.
  • If in a medical office, hospital, or airplane, your phone could negatively affect the equipment. You should turn it off in these places. Alternatively, your phone may have an option called Airplane Mode which prevents it from communicating with the cell towers, which is what disrupts such equipment. You won't be able to send or receive calls or text/media messages, or go online, but you can still use the camera, media player, calendar, or other features.
  • Don't take pictures of others without asking them first, and especially if they express an unwillingness to be photographed. While it is true that in many jurisdictions if a subject does not have a "reasonable expectation of privacy", such as being in a public place in which one could expect a camera to be, it is still considered to be rather rude to take pictures without permission. (Of course, legal prohibitions against certain types of photography, such as child pornography, are still valid, even if you are legally a child yourself, including if you're taking pictures of yourself. Minors have been charged with distributing child porn simply by taking lewd pictures of themselves and sharing with friends.)