“Guys freak out when you do things like that…”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do about Daddy…”

“I just needed to show the clerk his credit card to check in, you know, I wasn’t going to use it…”

“Maybe she’s threatening to quit to try to get leverage…”

“The doctor says it would be okay, but he still says he doesn’t feel up to it…”

These are not conversations I have been involved in. They are just a random sampling of the things I hear all day long as people stroll around the store with phones attached to their ears.

Some of them actually have the phones attached to their ears. I assume that this is convenient and comfortable, but it makes the users look not merely like Star Trek fans, but like delusional Star Trek fans, walking around talking to themselves.It also makes it impossible to tell when they are talking to me. They frequently look right at me and hold conversations about things in the store.

“Dinosaur Matching cards,” they say, making eye contact with me, “for ages 4 and up.” 

Then it hits me that they are reading the box to someone.

I am not sure what they want me to do, unless it is to stand respectfully waiting until they are actually ready to speak to me, but I ignore these people entirely. I do not want to hear their conversations, and I do not intend to play guessing games. One of them yesterday said “Here!” in the middle of a discussion of what kind of food to have at her party, and probably was talking to me at that moment, but I ignored her anyway. I couldn’t be certain, after all.

However, people often come up to the desk with the things they want to buy, never faltering for a moment in their phone conversations. When it first began, The Empress and I discussed what to do, and decided that it was the equivalent of the customer’s being in a phone booth. We waited till they were off their phones before we greeted them or spoke with them in any way. But now I think 40% of our customers are on the phone at any given time, and many do not relinquish the phone the whole time they are in the store, including checking out. I do not make eye contact with them, since they are having a phone conversation after all, but I give them their total and take their money. I used to try to wait for a break in the conversation, as though they were talking to someone who was present, but now I just say what I have to say and if they don’t hear it, it is their fault. Listening for a stopping point feels like eavesdropping.

“She’s coming to the wedding, but I am not going to speak to her. She did things with my husband that she shouldn’t have done…”

“I’m calling about the job opening?”

“Our credit score turned out to be a lot better than I thought it was going to be…”

I am not sure why this sort of thing seems so much more rude on cell phones.

Girlfriends shopping together often share private information. People have conversations while checking out, or break off in the middle of a conversation with  a friend in order to ask about construction paper. Customers tell me the details of their kids’ school problems so I can help them find materials to work on the problems, and those conversations are private. It isn’t that I think the rules of interaction in a store are the same as the rules at a cocktail party.

But it isn’t just me. The coffee house a couple of doors down has signs on the desk: “We will serve you when you finish your phone call.” My book club meets there, the place is perfect for assignations and heart-to-hearts, no one objects to talking, but talking on the cell phone is over the line.

Chanthaboune thinks it is because people on cell phones don’t lower their voices. They blithely shout out the details of their surgery or their affairs, whereas they would moderate their tone if they were talking to someone in the room. It may also be that a lone person speaking gets an automatic “Is she talking to me?” response, and doing that over and over during the day gets tiresome.

Or it may be that we need a new set of rules for interacting with people who keep their phones pressed to their heads at all times.