By Karen Sternheimer
In the second grade, I remember seeing a film in school about how to appropriately answer the telephone. This was way before cell phones came on the market and the phone we learned to answer was presumably the family’s main phone line.
I can still recall some of the lessons. Be polite—say hello first, and allow the caller to introduce himself or herself. If they do not do so after the hello, it is okay to say “who’s calling, please?” The answerer was never to pick up the phone and say “who’s this!?!” as it would sound rude. Interrupting was very bad; instead we should each take turns talking and listening. One was never to hang up without saying goodbye and we were told to be sure that the other party had heard that we were ending the call and said goodbye in response. When in doubt, we were taught, be as polite as possible.
As we were children, and thus considered vulnerable to callers, we were told not to reveal our names or whether our parents were home. If a caller asked for a parent who was not home (yes, it was more acceptable to leave kids home alone then), we were told to say that they could not come to the phone right now and ask to take a message, all while remaining polite. When making calls, we were to politely ask to speak to the person we were calling (“May I please speak with Jane?”), not to call too early or too late, and certainly never during dinner time.