For whom the cell phone rings

What to do when someone else’s cell phone rings:

I got my biennial pedicure a few weeks ago.  It’s our ritual, my friend Terri and I.  She lives in Ohio, so whenever we get together for our 18 hours of non-stop talking in our 24 hour visit, she makes sure to schedule a pedicure for us.  That way we can keep talking.  My husband is so relieved I have such a friend.  He says he would rip his hair out if he had to talk with me that long.

After not seeing each other for a few years, we had a lot to talk about.  So we’re happily chatting side by side in these amazing massage chairs …..

(If you like pedicures, you must try Blue Ocean on Rt 40, Ellicott City;


…blissed out on each other’s company, and getting our feet scrubbed, and our backs massaged.

And then she sits down, one chair over.  And her cell phone rings. In spite of all the signs saying PLEASE SILENCE YOUR CELL PHONE.  Embarrassed to have been caught?  Not her!

To be fair, the cultural norms around cell phone use have grown lax.  We see those signs all the time, and if we read them at all, we hear a suggestion, not a mandate.  I confess I routinely risk bringing a full airplane down by not turning off my cell phone for take off and landing.  And I’m highly risk averse.

She answered it, and proceeded to chat away in a loud voice, as though she were standing at a busy intersection with construction crews talking to someone hard of hearing.

I was irritated.  I shot her a dirty look.  She ignored my subtle hint.  I grew more irate.  I couldn’t hear my friend.  We were paying good money for this luxury.  I shot her a more pointed, dirty look.  Her ability to ignore it was astounding, as my husband calls it my “withering look,” that makes my household shrivel in fear.   But of course my family responds to my withering look – They want to remain in good stead with me.  This person was a stranger.  Obviously weighing the options of pain versus pleasure, unconsciously, to be sure, the pain of a scornful look weighed nothing on comparison to the delight of continuing her conversation.

Every time we make a decision, make a choice, our brain is weighing the pros and cons, the rewards and the punishment.  As with so much else, we aren’t aware of it, but this internal score card guides our behavior constantly.

And there I was, consciously weighing my options, even as I didn’t understand what was holding me back.  How hard is it to ask politely that she turn her phone off?  After all, I am just asking her to follow the rules.

Few of us want to be the enforcer.  It’s scary – we don’t know the other person will respond, how we’ll be perceived – And at the mere whiff of fear, our brains are working overtime to alleviate it.   Even with a stranger, the evolutionary impulse to be liked is so etched in our brains.  Being liked meant surviving.

In one corner of my brain, DO NOT CONFRONT!  It is risky, it goes against the social norms, it threatens your likability!  And in the other corner, irritability that she was ignoring the rules AND invading my space, ruining my experience.  Which will win?

I did ask her to be quieter, as Terri and I were having trouble hearing.  But every time a stranger cuts in front of us in line, or is yelling into their cell phone as though they are the only person in the world, or behaves badly in public, our brains are weighing the options.  And if we’re even conscious of it, it’s complicated.


4 thoughts on “For whom the cell phone rings

  1. Great start to a blog! I look forward to future entries. And glad you decided to ask her to be quieter. I’m guessing others there were quite grateful to you!

    • Thanks, Vern! I took it at our River House on the Thousand Islands in Canada. Love the great blue – I have several pictures blown up in my office of the same series.

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