Somebody ought to teach a course on answering-machine etiquette. Well, maybe somebody does, but I wish everyone would take it.
Recently, I had to tell off an old friend who lives in a faraway city because of his lack of answering-machine etiquette.
“Would you PLEASE stop second-guessing, berating and bullying me on my answering machine?!” I yelled into the phone. “Or don’t call anymore!”
By that time he’d hung up. I don’t think I was out of line. I’d warned him – and others – about their answering-machine tactics.
Here are the kinds of messages I mean:
“Dalman, answer the phone! I know you’re there. You’re in your recliner, and you’re too lazy to get up and answer the phone. Haven’t you had enough sleep? Come on now, get your lazy butt up and answer the phone!”
(Well, to be honest, sometimes I actually WAS in my recliner when I’d hear such an insulting message, and I purposely, spitefully chose not to answer the phone.)
“C’mon, Dennis. You can’t be writing all the time. You can’t be covering meetings night and day. You can’t be sleeping again. You can’t be shopping all day? So why don’t you answer your phone?”
Who are these people who apparently think I do nothing but write, sleep and shop? I have news for them; I have a few other talents and preoccupations that keep me busy.
Some of these telephone pesterers I haven’t seen for awhile. They are aware I work mainly from home, so apparently they think I’ve morphed into an at-home moldy couch potato whose favorite hobby is not answering my phone.
Here’s another message that gets my goat:
“I know you’re there. Come on, answer the phone. (long pause). I know you’re there. (another long pause). ANSWER THE PHONE! Can’t you just answer the phone? Why won’t you answer the phone and talk to me. (long pause). Hey, you’re just hopeless. I know you’re there. Cripes, what a lazy slob. Can’t even get up and answer your phone.”
Sometimes, when I return home from somewhere, there are three or four of those messages on my machine. I can’t delete them fast enough. I don’t call the friends back, either, because I have a long-distance block on my phone. I also do not have – nor do I want – a cell phone.
A couple of friends, retired, assume foolishly that “working at home” means the same thing as “retired.” I can assure you they aren’t the same thing. I work very hard, and my work often includes driving miles to go to meetings, to interviews and to take photos.
On Mondays and Tuesdays, my busiest work days, these friends call and often, yes, I purposely don’t answer the phone because I’ve warned them not to call on those busy days as I have to keep the phone line open for news work.
“C’mon, Dalman, you can’t be writing ALL day on a Monday! Don’t you ever take a break?! Answer the phone. I know you’re there. You’re probably just writing.”
As I continue to “just” write, I have to listen to that guff on my machine.
The irony is I really do like those friends, despite their ill-tempered messages. When we do connect on the telephone, we always have good talks filled with laughter, happy memories, shop talk and loud political arguments.
I would like these friends even better, however, if they would enroll themselves in an answering-machine etiquette course.
Then they could learn to do it this way, the courteous way, the kind way.
“Hi, Dennis. It’s me, Mike. I’ll try back at 8:30 tonight.”