The Toronto Star
Nancy J. White,
Aug 09, 2008
He's the avenger, the cellphone vigilante.
John Clifford, a 60-year-old ex-cop, roams New York's Long Island Rail Road screaming and cursing at commuters gabbing loudly on their phones, and, on occasion, he's allegedly slapped the gadgets out of their hands.
"The etiquette enforcer," as the New York Post called him, has been arrested several times, but the charges never stick.
Maybe that's because, although the enforcer's methods are a might extreme, we can all relate to someone trying to end the cellphone madness.
On street corners and buses, in lineups and doctor's offices, in the already claustrophobic confines of elevators, even – God help us – in toilet stalls, where multi-tasking hits bottom. Rumour has it that certain men have even perfected a urinal side stance allowing simultaneous talking and tinkling.
There are as many different etiquette breaches when it comes to cellphones as there are ring tones. But the top gripe is blithely blabbing. According to a national poll in 2005, 72 per cent of Americans agreed that cellphone users' worst habit is conducting loud conversations in public.
"It's the height of narcissism," says Donna Chevrier, an etiquette and communications specialist. "No one else exists except them and their phone."
At airports, Roz Usheroff, a communications and image specialist, will find a quiet corner to make her calls, but inevitably a man talking into his Bluetooth headset barges over.
"Guys like gadgets and they like pacing into your space," she says.
But her worst experience was in a Toronto taxi, with a driver engrossed in a cellular gabfest.
"Oh my God, I thought I was going to get killed," she says. "He was holding the cellphone and talking, I think to his wife, in a language I couldn't understand. I was paying him to get me somewhere, not talk on the phone."
At a bus stop, Chevrier was sucked into what sounded like a soap opera plot: A distraught woman on her phone loudly saying her boyfriend was in jail and she'd been kicked out of her home and had no where to live.
"I thought, `Should I go to her aid?'" says the etiquette specialist. "All of a sudden you're drawn into something that's not your business."
That time she did nothing. On another occasion she tried to squash the squawking.
At a grocery store checkout, Chevrier was behind a woman gabbing on the phone, which she held in one hand. The other hand balanced a child perched on her hip — leaving no hands to pack the groceries. Chevrier pointed out the piling up produce, and the woman snapped: "Mind your own business."
"I was fuming," says Chevrier. "Lineups are where you find out who was raised with manners and who was raised by chimpanzees."
No matter where they are, oblivious yakkers aren't likely to bow to criticism.
On a Hong Kong bus in 2006, a young man asked a middle-aged man to speak more quietly on his phone. The older guy erupted, screaming obscenities.
Another passenger filmed the ugly outburst on a mobile camera phone and posted it on YouTube, where it's been viewed by more than a million people. Tech Justice.
Of course, short snatches of intriguing conversations, the odd glimpses into strangers' lives can be amusing, helping pass the time when travelling.
But does that make the listener the manners miscreant?
No way, according to the etiquette experts.
"They push you to listen to them," says Usheroff.
"Just eavesdrop. We all do it."