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20-40-60 Etiquette---Can I check the time?

by Helen Ford Wallace Published: October 28, 2012

YOU ASK! WE ANSWER! YOU DECIDE!

 By Callie Gordon, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace

QUESTION: Are watches obsolete? I was recently at a dinner with several people. Two of the women kept looking at their cellphones (to check the time, they said), but I felt like they were taking a quick look at their text messages. It was annoying and distracting. Am I wrong to think cellphones should be put away during a lovely dinner and if you need to check the time, look at your watch.

CALLIE’S ANSWER: Today people do business through email and checking their phone is part of their job. No one is trying to be rude. Sorry. It is now part of our culture and immediate response is sometimes needed or required.

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: People are more distracted these days, and yes, cellphones have replaced watches as a timekeeper for many people — after all, they reset themselves and are accurate. And yes, people may miss out on a meaningful time with friends by being in constant communication with the world beyond their immediate one, thanks to cellphones.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to live like that or stay upset with those who do.

Keep in mind that sometimes the cellphone is the tool that allows people to get away from work or their families long enough to steal dinner with friends. By staying in touch with people who are counting on them, your friends might get some time with you that they wouldn’t normally have. Parents often need to be available to children at home or with a sitter. Others have something going on at work that needs attention. It would be nice if people who fall in a group like this explained why their phones were out so you would understand or if they involved you in their social media conversations somehow.

It is a bit jarring to have dinner with someone who checks messages more than a few times, and that behavior can make a person feel like they are unimportant when they sit there silently while another friend returns lengthy texts. We all need to remember the importance of staying present and attentive to the friends who are sitting at the same table with us, even though there is a lot competing for our attention.

But all you can do is be mindful of your own use of a cell phone with friends, accept some interruptions and enjoy the time with them anyway.

HELEN’S ANSWER: Unless you have an appointment immediately following dinner and you have told your group that you have to watch the time so you won’t be late or have an emergency telephone call you need to make, it is very rude to continue checking your watch OR your cell phone during dinner with acquaintances or friends or family members.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Mary McReynolds, book author: One should be discreet when checking one’s watch at social events and invisible using cell phones in public. In my opinion, cell phones should be used for emergencies only and left in the car while attending social functions, especially a lovely dinner that hosts have taken the time and effort to prepare.

The level of rudeness among many “cell-ists” is becoming epidemic and also dangerous on the road, with drivers juggling keypads the size of lipstick tubes. Also, trust me: No one wants to hear cellphone users cataloguing, broadcasting and otherwise proclaiming their presence in stores while shopping.

Good sense and good manners should accompany the use of cellphones. The worst is to hear the things go off in church. Put the mobile phones away when in public. And if you want to discuss, I’ll only be too glad to text you. :)

Signed, Mary McReynolds, Cellmudgeon of the first order

Callie Gordon is 20-something; Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s; and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. You’ll also find a guest answer. To ask an etiquette question, email helen.wallace@cox.net.


by Helen Ford Wallace
Society Editor
Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for...
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