Proper Phone Etiquette: Then and Now

At Ruby® Receptionists, we’re obsessed with proper telephone etiquette, and we were fascinated to read this post by Matthew Lasar at ars technica about proper phone manners during the late-19th through the early 20th-centuries. Even if you’re not a virtual receptionist or a telephone answering fanatic like us, it’s still a lot of fun to hear about the beginnings of a service so many of us take as a natural part of life.

The article focuses on the book America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 by Claude S. Fischer, which discusses the history of the telephone and the debate over its use and practices not unlike the debate surrounding cellphones and social media today. Here are a few fun takeaways:

• In a push to win over middle-class Americans in the 1930’s, AT&T publicized the respectability of the telephone as a mode of communication. They even went so far as to send out a card entitled “The Telephone Pledge:”

“I believe in the Golden Rule and will try to be as Courteous and Considerate over the Telephone as if Face to Face.”

  • Another helpful suggestion from AT&T was to “speak directly into the mouthpiece, keeping mustache out of the opening.”
  • From the telephone’s inception in the 1870s and then up through the late 1940s, etiquette experts disagreed on an appropriate greeting when answering the phone — many considered the now commonplace “Hello” to be somewhat rude! However, telephone users continued to use the greeting regardless, and now it’s the norm. As writer Margary Wilson (no relation, I swear!) put it, “the experiment shows that any other words [besides “Hello”] sound funnier still.”

So if you’re ever in doubt about how to answer your phone, you can rest assured that our polite, knowledgeable, live virtual receptionists are up to speed on the proper etiquette and will make you look good!

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