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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Thursday, October 05, 2006

When to Wipe

Get your minds out of the gutter. Not that kind of wiping.

So this morning I train it to work. No car. What can I say? I protect the environment by taking graffiti-covered, urine-smelling public transportation sometimes.

As I'm riding the first leg of my journey - I have to make one quick switch to a different train to get into downtown Miami - a guy sitting just across the aisle from me in a seat facing my direction looks at me and nods hello.

I nod back but don't speak, because I'm on my cell talking to my wife. We hit a dead spot and our call is dropped. Just as I'm about to take my phone and put it back in its holster the across the aisle leans toward me and says "Pardon me."


"I wonder how much you might charge me to make a quick call on your cell phone."

Pause: Note two things at this point - that I have a real problem with strangers wanting to touch me or my stuff, and this guy was sweating about the head and face.

But he catches me off guard, and with no time to think up a lame excuse as to why he couldn't use my phone I give him a manic smile and through gritted teeth answer "sure!"

He presses my phone to the side of his sweaty head and tries for a minute or so to make the call. But he can't figure out my phone, so he hands it back and asks me to dial for him. I do. He makes his call - true to his word it was quick, hands the phone back to me, and sits there smiling at me for the rest of that ride - about 15 minutes.

Here's the problem: I wanted to call my wife back after that, since we'd gotten cut off. But I'm a very very borderline germophobe - I mean, I'm no Seinfeld or anything, but I have my issues w/grime - and even more than making that call I wanted to wipe the phone off first.

Remember, it had been pressed for more than a minute to the side of this man's fat, sweaty head.

But I worry that I will appear snotty and offend the man if I wipe the phone in plain view. So I have no choice. I say a quick prayer, suck it up, think about pleasant things like puppies, and ice cream, and butterflies, smiled back at him and put the sweaty phone to my ear to make my call.

I survive this ordeal, but I once at work I have to fight the urge to join Van Gogh and rip my ear off of my head. Instead I just give my ear a good wiping.

All things considered, I think I manage to spare the phone borrower's feelings.


  • James, you are truly the king of etiquette. Personally, I would have offered to place the call and relay the message myself, but maybe that's just me. One question, though. Were there no other seats available on that train?

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 8:24 PM  

  • Tell the guy you got a bad ear infection and he might catch it. Turn the germphobic thing back on him.

    I used to do the same when my distaff friends used to constantly ask me to jumpstart their cars. (which usually fouled up MY alternator in the process)"I have something wrong with my alternator, last guy I jumped his battery blew up and his headlights don't go on anymore, but sure, I'll go get my jumper cables" They usually found someone else.

    By Anonymous og, at 9:02 AM  

  • Good idea, Og.

    And Sarc, two things: that was the only available seat on the train, and like I said I was caught off guard. I like to think I'm reasonably quick on my feet. But I didn't have time to think of an out. So I conceded. Another few seconds and maybe I'd have thought to tell him "I'll call. What would you like me to relay?"

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 9:59 AM  

  • Firste of all, I find it very impolite to ask for making calls on others mobile, unless you are really close friends. Second is, the receiver of the call now has your cellphone number on his mobile, and in criminal circles it will be easy to find your residence. Third... I would have excused;" no, because this is a business-phone and I lost a call I have to get back to right away."

    By Blogger Kirsten N. Namskau, at 10:46 AM  

  • Well, Kirsten, as always you make sense. But like I told the Sarcasticynic, I was caught off guard and not sure how to respond.

    Besides, this guy won't find me through my cell. My paranoia has led me to put all sorts of blocks and limits on my number, even down to making sure it isn't on lists, etc.

    And if for some inexplicable reason he did find his way to my house, I have something for him that I'll bet would cure him of coming to people's houses for nefarious reasons.

    Between me, the dog, the Louisville Slugger and other stuff he'd leave my place in a world of hurt.

    Now that I think of it, the insane kitten we rescued from Broward Humane Society a few months ago would likely put it on him too. She has a habit of attacking things that don't seem to be part of the household.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 11:09 AM  

  • JB, I see this partially as a failure on your part to bone up on the fundamentals of etiquette and it cost you the use of your phone. As our area's equivalent of Mr. Manners, you should have had such a contingency planned out (What if someone wants to borrow my cell phone? is a commonly experienced social dilemna).

    I don't think this means we need to find a new Emilio Post or anything, but part of why people read this blog is to get YOUR guidance on issues of respectful communication, not simply give you our interpretation of what it is or isn't. This is after all, called Burnett's Urban Etiquette, which sort of implies that you already know the answer to these complicating questions of protocol.

    For instance, in this matter, it appears that the man on the train forgot the first rule of public transpo--Never make eye contact. The crazy people on the train are the ones who, like a stray dog, make eye contact with you and attempt engage in unwanted communication. You, in not ignoring him, forgot to enforce this very practical rule. The penalty was having to ionize your cell phone and dip it in a solution to remove the memory of this man's face sweat all over it.

    Secondly, being a child of the South, you are ill equipped to exercise the proper emotional distance from strangers (which is why I call this a partial failure on your part--the other part is caused by the fact that your parents raised you right). When confronted by someone in need, most Southerners pride themselves on being helpful. It is one of the characteristics that helps define "Southern Hospitality". The only problem is that South Florida is more New England than Gentile South. Therefore, the response of kindness is unnecceary here and refusal to do so will not offend, which is another characteristic of "Southern Gentility".

    In other words, don't worry about being an a**hole to some loser clown on the train who wants to use your cellphone just because you think saying no is rude. In that situation, it is the only proper response. To do otherwise would upset the balance of the universe.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 11:56 AM  

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