The Etiquette of Cell Phones and Symphonies

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It happened again.  A cell phone rang in the midst of a concert, and this time it made all the national media, including several international publications. It seems that while the New York Philharmonic Orchestra was playing Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, a cell phone began to ring.  The proud new owner of an iPhone had set his ring tone to play “Mirimba,” not exactly a good fit for Mahler’s Symphony. The ringing continued so long that the conductor, Alan Gilbert, stopped the orchestra until the disruption ceased.

When will people  learn about the etiquette of cell phones?  This particular person claimed that his was a brand new iPhone and that although he thought he had turned it off, an alarm he had set earlier went off anyway. There is much debate about this part of the story.  Many iPhone users claiming that this could not have happened if in fact he had truly  turned off the phone. Not being a iPhone user (sorry Apple) or skilled in the complexity of cell phones, I will leave this issue alone.  My expertise is in business etiquette and my focus here is cell phone etiquette.

Here are my thoughts on how this situation could have been avoided:

  1. Leave the cell phone at home or in the car, but don’t take it to the concert. If you have to have it with you, and I will concede that are a number of justifiable reasons for doing so these days, make sure you follow rule #2.
  2. Put your phone in silent mode, on vibrate or turn it off. You can check for messages or send them during the intermission.  There probably is no one on the planet who has had a cell phone for any length of time who has not experienced that embarrassing moment when the phone that was supposed to be turned off rang.  Mine once rang on an airplane during landing of all times. I never for a moment  considered that it was my phone, and like everyone else was looking around to see who the culprit was.
  3. If your phone rings in the midst of a public event, turn it off immediately.  If you can’t or don’t know how, find the nearest exit and head  for it as fast as you can. Don’t try this on an airplane.
  4. Never let your phone continue to ring and try to pretend that it is not yours.
  5. Absolutely never answer the phone during an event and engage in conversation.  That actually happened  during one of my business etiquette presentations. One of the participants who, for obvious reasons sat in the back of the room, had his phone on. This was no accident. When a call came in, he not only answered it, but he also remained seated and launched into a lengthy conversation. I stopped talking. Fifty participants in a presentation, which included the topic of  cell phone etiquette, turned to stare or glare at  the offender. I walked back to where he was seated and stood in front of him until he got up and left the room.

Some people can’t be helped, but others can.  The people in my etiquette session understood how inappropriate this behavior was.  The crowd attending the concert got it as well. We stop the presentation or the concert and we wait, hoping that these thoughtless people will get the message. And people like me who make a living teaching, preaching and coaching on manners in the workplace do have followers and believers in the importance of being courteous and respectful of other people.

Cell phones are as much a part of our daily lives as eating, sleeping and breathing. Let’s use them appropriately.

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Hire Lydia to work with your staff to improve customer service and employee relations through the use of those priceless and often over-looked soft skills called manners. Lydia is the “unstuffy” business etiquette expert who helps individuals and organizations add the polish that builds profits. We’re talking about your bottom line here.

Since 1996, countless people have benefited from her wisdom through keynotes, seminars and conference breakout sessions.  Her Southern charm and sense of humor have made her a sought-after speaker and consultant.

Based in Savannah, Georgia, Lydia is available for national, regional and local speaking and training engagements. She has suitcase; will travel.

Contact her via email at or call 912-604-0080. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter and visit her website,

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