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Tuesday, 21 March, 2000, 18:15 GMT
Mobiles: Dial 'E' for etiquette

Novelty ringing tunes have an uncanny ability to annoy
By BBC News Online's Jenny Matthews

Despite the fact that almost half of us own them, mobile phones still seem to have a unique power to infuriate.

There have been cases where mobiles have been seized, smashed or stamped on in fits of "phone rage".

And a chorus of eye-rolling and tutting can be expected when - like overloud Walkmans or nocturnal car alarms - mobiles are used "inappropriately".

Mobile phone use has spawned its own unwritten rules of etiquette - and beware those who break them.

'I'm on the train...'

The whole point of mobile phones is that they allow you to have conversations in public places, such as the train or the street.

"I've just passed Northampton, I'll be home in 10 minutes"
But those around you may not appreciate being told that you're "on the bus" or "just turning into your street".

Similarly, technological advances mean there's no need to bellow anymore.

John Morgan, editor of Debrett's New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners, advises keeping your voice low and discreet by directing your face down and slightly into your chest.

Obey the bans

Where there are rules about switching mobiles off, etiquette experts say manners and common sense demand they are obeyed.

Do not engage in conversations in a bar, bus or train or have phones switched on in a church, theatre or cinema

Debrett's New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners
In aeroplanes and in hospitals, the signals can interfere with vital equipment.

Several train companies introduced mobile-free carriages after customers demanded guaranteed peace, quiet and personal space.

And many restaurants, clubs, cinemas and theatres now have "No Mobile" signs up - sometimes to no avail.

"Tell them we're busy," actor Kevin Spacey told the owner of a ringing mobile during a London performance of The Iceman Cometh.

Novelty tunes

Like the ancient Mediterranean practice of whistling a special tune to distinguish family members in a crowded market square, distinctive ringing tunes can be useful.

"How do I get Auld Lang Syne?"
They can prevent 30 people diving for their coats and bags whenever they hear a tinny Fur Elise, wondering if that is their phone, for example.

But they can also prove incredibly irritating.

Two years ago a German businessman became one of Europe's first mobile phone rage fatalities, being clubbed to death with a beer bottle after a fight broke out over his mobile.

Later one witness told the police that the phone had not only been loud, but it "had one of those terrible melodies too".

BT Cellnet's Switch It campaign advises choosing a simple ring, use the vibrating option - or switching the phone off.

Accidental dialling

Police say hundreds of thousands of false 999 calls are made each year, by people accidentally hitting the number on their mobiles.

There are also endless anecdotes of people who have had their phone clogged for 15 minutes by strange rustlings on the other end, because a friend has accidentally rung up.

"Hello, police? Should I get the Chardonnay or the Chenin Blanc?"
Police advice is: Don't keep your phone in a back pocket, ready to be sat on, or allow it to bump against other items in your pocket or bag.

Buy hard covers to prevent key pads from being hit accidentally, carry your mobiles separately or clip them to your belts.

In front of friends

One of the most frequently cited causes of phone rage is a user answering a phone call in company, leaving their companion to fidget impatiently while ostensibly trying not to listen.

BT Switch It postcard
"The crowd went wild when John was ejected for taking a phone call": BT Switch It postcard
BT Cellnet's "Switch It" campaign encourages users not to break off face-to-face conversations to answer their mobile.

Debrett's John Morgan agrees, saying if a phone rings during a face-to-face conversation you shouldn't answer it, or, if it's important, apologise before breaking the flow.

Communications psychologist Dr Guy Fielding says abruptly turning from the person you're with to your call tells the other person you have more important things to attend to.

He says it also infuriates companions because they can only hear one side of what could, potentially, be a very interesting conversation.

The joy of text

Modern ear pieces can save the mobile user from neck injuries brought on by hours spent with a mobile glued under the chin.

Five mobile-free areas
The British Museum and most other museums
Petrol station forecourts
The Groucho Club, unless next to the public phone booth
Houses of Parliament, except MPs' own offices
But they can also encourage wild gesticulation and overloud conversations conducted while walking down the street.

This may alarm fellow pedestrians, who think the user is either a) talking to them, or b) talking to him or herself in a potentially frightening lapse of sanity.

A discreet alternative is to use your mobile phone to send text messages - a comparatively cheap and increasingly popular pastime.

However, loquacious users will not prove very popular with those around them if their keypad emits a beep every time they press a character.

Callers to mobiles

Callers to mobiles also have duties when it comes to etiquette.

"I've just been fired?"
Many PAs, for example, say they wish their bosses would remember that just because they can contact them at 3am, it doesn't mean they should.

Callers should also bear in mind that their idea of an emergency might be slightly different from the receivers'.

And employers should also remember that the person receiving the call may not appreciate being told certain things over a mobile - such as that their football team has lost, or that they've been fired, for example.

Some users have to pay to pick up their messages. So phone experts say don't leave a novel; keep messages brief.

Finally, when you get a mobile, learn how to programme it. Otherwise you risk becoming as irritating as those people who still can't set their own video.

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