“If possible, the telephone should be placed so that one can have privacy and quiet while talking,” wrote Marianne Meade of the Junior League. “In many houses this is not possible, so the family must make up in courtesy what is lacking in convenience. [Once upon a time, families shared one telephone, or perhaps a main phone and one extension.] They must not consciously listen to what is being said, and they should also refrain from unnecessary noise or loud talking. This does not mean, however, that conversation should give way to a dead silence until the telephone call is completed, but rather that the family should continue to talk in low tones.
“While not in the best of taste, some member of the family may ask who it was that phoned, and he should receive a courteous answer. But the questioning should go no further unless the call concerns the entire family, or unless the person who received the call is inclined to give more details. Incidentally, it is not considerate to engage in prolonged telephone conversations, because you thereby prevent others from making and receiving calls which may be much more important than yours.” [Yes, children, entire households used to share not only one telephone, but one telephone line to the house. Some even shared the line with other households in the neighborhood, called a “party line.” Oh, the horror!]
Writing for teens, Eleanor Boykin added, “You can never be sure when you telephone a friend that you will not interrupt a visit or call him from a shower bath, but you can considerately void telephoning very early in the morning or late at night, or at the usual hours for meals.” [Do families even have set meal times anymore? Well, it’s a nice idea.]
On answering the telephone: Miss Boykin went on to say, “When you are on the answering end of the telephone, put a smile into your voice. As soon as you hear who your caller is, greet him as pleasantly as if he were at your front door. ‘Hello, Billy, how are you’ or ‘I’m glad to hear from you, Helen.” Don’t grunt”Yeah, what is it?” It is the caller’s place to bring the talk to a close.
On taking messages pre-voicemail: “Telephone messages for absent members of the family should be written down just as carefully and delivered just as faithfully as in an efficient office,” wrote Hallie Erminie Rives. “If a pad and pencil is kept beside the telephone, or better yet, fasted in place, there will be no excuse for not writing the message exactly as it is given. The message may then be put with the proper person’s mail, or left in a designated place, so that the individual can get it even if no one is around to tell him about it when he returns home.”
On using a public telephone: Miss Rives cautions, “Always note if someone is anxiously waiting to use it. Long gossipy chats while others wait should be taboo.”
In You’re the Cream in My Coffee, Marjorie runs into this situation when she stays at the YWCA and must share a public phone:
“In the lobby, I tapped my foot and tried to catch the heavily shadowed eye of the bottle-blonde now hogging the sole telephone.
“‘So I says to him, I says, “Just how do you expect me to do that?” And he says to me–get this, Myra–he says, “I dunno, you figure it out, you’re supposed to be the smart one.” So I says to him–hold on a sec, Myra.’ The blonde placed her hand over the mouthpiece and glared at me. ‘You want something, sister?’
‘Yes, the telephone. Are you almost through?‘”
You can see the problem.
In her book of etiquette, Miss Rives says, “Certainly one should never use a coin box telephone for the ‘Guess-who-this-is’ type of all or for the continuation of the family argument started the night before. Men should not smoke in the tiny, airless cubicle.” [Note: Women were not to smoke at all. Elsewhere the author notes, “In the larger cities women now smoke so generally that it almost seems as though they are destined to use the weed wherever and whenever men do. As yet, however, women of breeding do not smoke on the street, or in a public conveyance.” ]
Yes, texting is convenient and carries its own set of rules. But it never hurts to brush up on the basics of actually talking to another person on the phone.