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Telephone Manners

It doesn't matter if you're ordering pizza or asking someone out, having good telephone manners is a must in America (especially if you order a pizza while your date is standing next to you).

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Manners: Telephone Manners

Americans use telephones for all kinds of reasons. They contact professors, friends, and family. They order pizza or other food for delivery. They call neighbors just to chat or invite them over. As in many countries these days, Americans use both traditional telephones and cellular telephones ("cell phones"), so the information here covers both kinds.


You will probably have a telephone where you live. How much you can use it will depend on your living arrangements—if you are living with a host family, for instance, you won't be able to use the telephone as much as if you were living alone. With regular telephones, most of the rules of etiquette govern how you speak to people when either you or they call, so here are some tips . . .

Answering the telephone at home:

Answer the telephone by saying "hello." You don't need to identify yourself right away, and as you will see later on in this page, it's not always a good idea to give your name immediately. The person who called you will probably either ask to speak to you (by name) if they don't know your voice well enough, or respond with a greeting like "hello, (your name), how are you?" At this point, just continue the conversation as if you were talking to the person in the same room. See our page on American language to learn more.

Ending a conversation:

When you finish talking to someone on the telephone, it is polite to say "goodbye" or some similar word or phrase appropriate to the conversation. The appropriate response will depend on how well you know the other person and why they called. See our page on American language to learn more.

Dealing with "telemarketers":

There are people who make money by calling people at home and asking them to buy products or services. In America these people are known as telemarketers (telephone + marketer), and they often call in the evenings. As a student, you probably don't have time to talk to these people. They may want you to change long-distance telephone plans, get a newspaper delivered to your home, or want you to donate money to their organization. No matter why they call, they want one thing: your money.

While it is rude to hang up on someone, many Americans have no problem with hanging up on telemarketers. This is a simple way to take care of the problem, but it is still rude, and it won't prevent further calls. The companies that hire these people buy large lists with tens of thousands of telephone numbers on them, and then they often have a computer dial the numbers for the people making the calls.

If you don't want to be bothered by these kinds of calls, interrupt the telemarketer and tell them you want to be removed from their list. By law they must make a note that you are not to be called by them again. When a company is finished with a list, they will often sell it to another company, but they cannot sell your number if you have told them to remove your information. If this doesn't seem to help because other people are buying new lists, then you can look in your telephone book for directions on how to prevent the telephone company from selling your name and telephone number in the first place or you can write to these people:

Telephone Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 9014
Farmingdale, New York 11735

There are other ways to deal with these calls, and some of them are even fun. First of all, remember that the person calling you is trying to make a living by doing this, and their time is valuable, so it is to their advantage as well as yours if you don't take too much time (unless they are selling something you want to buy).

  • It's alright to lie to one of these people if it will save you both some time. If someone calls offering you a subscription to a newspaper that you don't want to read, tell them that you already receive the newspaper and thank them for the call. They will feel they have succeeded, and the conversation will be short.
  • Sometimes telemarketers can be rude, and it is OK to have some fun then. If someone calls offering you long-distance telephone service, and you are happy with the plan you have, say that you don't have a telephone. Of course, you are talking to them on a telephone, but what can they say? Believe it or not, this works!

    Cellular Telephones

    In most respects, the proper way to handle telephone calls on a cell phone is the same as for regular phones, except when you get sales calls. Since you are paying for the time when they call, you can simply tell them that they are calling a cell phone, ask them to remove you from their list, say goodbye, and hang up.

    Though many of the same rules apply for all calls, there are some additional considerations to keep in mind when you are using a cell phone.

    Don't use cell phones in places such as libraries, restaurants, or movie theaters—places where people don't want to be interrupted by hearing your telephone conversation.

    Don't talk on the telephone while you are driving. In some places this is not only dangerous to you and other drivers, it's illegal. (Note: if you have a telephone that can be used while you have both hands free, this may be OK.)

    Don't hesitate to ask for a call back or offer to return the call later if a call interrupts a conversation. It's generaly considered rude to interrupt a conversation with someone in the same place as you in order to take a call.

    In general, the same rules of courtesy that apply to cell phones also apply to using paging devices. Turn them off before entering a movie theater or a good restaurant (pagers can be set to vibrate in these situations, and no one will notice but you).

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