Cell Phones at the Bookstore

Josie Leavitt - March 14, 2011

Like the opposite of that old Seinfeld episode that centered on people who are “low talkers,” today I want to talk about loud talkers. Lots of folks have conversations at the bookstore, and I encourage that. I never want the store to have a library reverence about it, where people feel speaking above a hushed whisper is frowned upon, but there need to be some standards.
People generally are great about modulating their voices for their surroundings. But all too often, the cell phone throws that skill away. Bad connections often have folks resorting to shouting. Admittedly, our store seems to be a weird black hole for all cell phones, so a connection is a rare and tenuous thing. But listening to someone shout through a call, where every other word is either “what?” or “can you hear me?” can make it hard for other customers to shop in peace. And I’ll be honest — the last thing I want to hear are two divorced parents arguing about whose turn it is to be take their son to hockey. I feel bad for the parents, and I feel really bad for the child. And during that argument, I really hate being asked to gift wrap.
While I can understand a quick call home about which book was asked for or what to do if the desired book is out, it’s another thing to come in on the phone. When you walk in the store talking on the cell phone like you would at home, at well above the “inside voice,” that’s not right. And folks need to know that if you’re standing at the counter, not only can I hear you loud and clear, nine times out of ten I can hear the other person on the phone pretty clearly too. Once a mom called her sick teenager at home to ask what books she wanted. After going through only two titles which we were out of, the teen said, “Does that store actually carry any books?” You know, at the end of a long day, I wanted to say “no” just to end the agony,  but instead, I asked the mom if I could talk to her daughter.
Next thing we know, the girl is explaining to me what she likes, and I found two great options that she was actually excited about. Imagine that, an excited teenager.

16 thoughts on “Cell Phones at the Bookstore

  1. Dani

    Boy, did that bother me when I was behind the counter….I particularly remember a woman going through the whole financial aid package at the local state university with someone while she was browsing… Several customers tried to make her stop, but it was impossible….then she walked out without buying anything.. I think I made some other sympathy sales though from the other people in the store!

  2. Janet Lawler

    I agree – I came back to CT from BEA last year listening to one man’s conversation intruding, for a full hour, on my ARC and catalog browsing time on the train. It was SO annoying.
    When I first got my cell phone, my teenage son kept telling me I didn’t need to yell – and informed me that there is a technology-related reason why many people do. Unlike land line phones, where you hear the whole conversation (including your own voice) through the transmission to your ear, on a cell phone you are only receiving the voice of the other person. So that makes people tend to talk louder. As my son assured me, the person on the other end can hear me fine without shouting. I share this so maybe shouters (like me a few years ago), who use otherwise proper cell phone etiquette, can tone it down!

  3. Stacey

    We weren’t all too fond of cell phone talkers at the bookstore where I used to work either. Especially the one’s who would either take calls or be on calls when they came up to the registers for checkout. “If you can’t give me two mintues of your full attention and time don’t expect me to give you mine.” I actually had one coworker delete an entire sale and move on to the next customer once because the phone talker was completely ignoring her so she couldn’t finish the sale and our other customers were being forced to wait out this persons extreme bout of self-centeredness.
    Some might consider this to have been rude on my co-workers part but let’s be honest.. how many of us haven’t had to resist the urge to do the very same thing at some point??

  4. Ellen R

    A couple weeks ago, a young woman…on a cell phone…walked into my store, chatting away to someone. The customer I was waiting on and I both looked up as she walked down the aisle toward the back of the store. About halfway down, she “hung up” and, immediately, the phone rang again; she answered it. Chat, chat, chat as she reached the back of the store, looked around briefly, and then chat, chat, chat as she walked back to the front and out the door! We never even made eye contact and I didn’t have an opportunity to get a word in edgewise to ask if I could help her with anything! ARGH! To most people’s credit, they are very apologetic if their cell rings and either don’t answer or explain, very quickly, that they’ll call the person back.

  5. Susan in AZ

    It’s just as embarrassing to be shopping with someone who shouts into a cell phone. My Mother did this to me once: we were at the local Hallmark/Gift Store where they have always treated me well, special-ordering hard-to-find items, etc. Mom was shouting on her cell phone to her sister in Phoenix, with the whole thing on speaker-phone setting.
    Yes, in a small store in a small town, this shut down the purchase ongoing at the register until the noise ended.
    I’m not sure how I got Mom to turn down her volume, only that after I did so, we bought several expensive items and so got back into the good graces of the proprietor.

  6. JessB

    Funnily enough, I just got a message from a friend this morning who said she missed our early morning talks. We both take public transport to work, and would often call each other to chat.
    That was fine with me, but not every morning – I have books to read, pal!

  7. Joanne Fritz

    You’ve touched a nerve, Josie! This drives me bonkers. Especially when I’m trying hard to help a customer find the right book (and they never have the correct title) and their phone rings, and they apologize but answer it anyway. Doesn’t anyone ignore phone calls? That’s what voicemail is for!

  8. Debbie Kaufman

    Oh, my favorite was the guy in the store when the conversation started with “I don’t care what her mother says, I didn’t touch that little girl.” Customers exited as he continued to rant on. Me? Guess I just can’t stop from watching a total train wreck 🙂

  9. gabrielle

    i love that you talked to the daughter directly. i used to work in a bookstore and remember one time a mother came in with her kid and asked what the difference was between a dictionary and thesaurus. i wanted to call child protective services. sometimes it takes a bookseller.

  10. Kitti

    In summation, I think we can say that rude people are irritating, regardless of method. The cell phone is just a new embodiment of this fact!

  11. Kym

    I loved your posting, especially the phrase, “I never want the store to have a library reverence about it.” Libraries deal with exactly the same issue every day. I see it at our local branch all the time. “Library reverence” no longer exists.
    Do you sometimes think people believe they carry a little bubble around them that no one else can hear what they’re saying? Or do they just not care?

  12. Vicki Kouchnerkavich

    I work at a public library and just as I finished reading this article, an adult worman came into the youth area talking on her cell phone. I have a huge smile on my face right now. When will people ever get it???


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