Columnists

Do Zambians lack telephone etiquette?

GODFREY Chitalu.

Analysis: GODFREY CHITALU
I’M NOT entirely surprised by the uncivility, lies, outrageous behaviour and lack of courteousness that is rampant with the ubiquitous mobile phone. While we do understand how cell phones have transformed our communication, most of us neglect the fact that the gadget is just a platform to talk to another human being in another location, without abdicating relationships. Unthoughtful use of mobile phones, unfortunately, leaves indelible negative verbal impressions impossible to obliterate.
Before I look for logs in other people’s eyes, my wife has always blamed me for being too loud on the phone. I don’t know whether the fault line is with my upbringing, but I find it rather hard and unfathomable to talk using lower cases. Being loud all the time on the phone is something she who must be obeyed abhors; although she has room to forgive me, I doubt if onlookers have that time, patience and civility to do so. I wouldn’t be surprised if they took my bad behaviour to another level! She says it rightly that there is no need to be megaphonic on phone.
Loud talkers need introspection all the time when using a phone. There is no need to broadcast our phone conversations to all and sundry! This being my weakest point, I fail to hold my disdain if my tranquillity is disturbed by another loud phone speaker. How apt is the saying – “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”.
One night, one of my siblings whose work involves chauffeuring high-profile people created a bugaboo that I will never forget. It was one of those nights in which I wanted to simply chat with him on phone but the response he gave worsened the situation. Imagine excitedly calling someone and instead you are rewarded by a rebuke – “What has happened? Is there a problem? Why are you calling me?” Has someone ever answered your call in a manner that deflated you? Phone conversations must take our breath away rather than annoy us!
A phone call is unlike a video call; definitely the one ringing will not be privy to the prevailing circumstances of the person being rung. It is incumbent upon the receiver of a call to answer in a manner befitting someone privileged to be rung. A simple answer like “I’m busy, call me later” would have done the trick. Many times, when one is busy, temptations to answer in a rude manner overwhelm our thinking.
Time and again, I have observed some of the worst scenarios involving phone conversations and have come to the conclusion that most have to do with conceit; Facebook has taught us to portray ourselves as overachievers. I have listened to loud phone conversations in buses that are laced with deceit and conceit that would make Lucifer die with envy. In one long-distance bus, a sheepish villager flanked by two beautiful ladies almost fainted when one after the other phone mates were told that they were in Lusaka when the bus had just crossed into Eastern Province.
There is no worse place at which to abuse our phones than our workplaces. Many are the times that workers conveniently forget to put their phone on vibration, silent or voice mail. Office etiquette, most times, demands that you handle your phone in such a way that it does not bother others when you answer it. I always laugh at the irony of hushed but highly disturbing answers; “I’m in a meeting, ring another time – I don’t want to disturb others”. Be in control of your phone and let it not control you! It is even better to turn off your phone when in a meeting than pretending that you are not disturbing others.
Then there is also this common but rude way of the “caller – receiver” competition of hiding names. How annoying for someone to call and start the conversation with – “who are you?” To worsen matters, most receivers, when asked who they are, also respond by asking the same question. Always identify yourself at the beginning of any call. Is it hard to say hello or good morning, whatever it is, and follow it up with your name? If every person answered promptly in this manner, there wouldn’t be any need for “who are yous”.
One day I was in a taxi going home when a common caller tune disturbed our silence. The driver, with pomp, proudly and carelessly removed his Samsung phone from one of his pockets and started one of those loud conversations. I told him to stop and that I was disembarking; since it was a shared taxi, other passengers thought I was trying to avoid paying my part of the taxi fee. I explained to the bemused taxi mates that mobile phone use, though common while driving, is wrong. Although they laughed it off and suggested that there was something wrong with my thinking, I stood my ground until the driver obliged.
Empirical evidence is unanimous in attributing dangerous accidents to impaired, distracted and cantankerous behaviours from drivers who use phones when driving. I did not want to be part of a potential accident in the making.
As to whether Zambians lack mobile phone etiquette, that question can only be answered by us. The mobile phone has plagued etiquette worldwide; the few countries I have visited have worse mobile phone manners than ours. The caveat is that bad phone manners in China, USA, the Netherlands, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe are still bad manners!
The author is a social and political commentator.

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