DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the etiquette around a stranger in a public place trying to speak to you when you are obviously in a conversation on your phone? This has happened to me several times lately.
To be clear, it is not an emergency situation they are approaching me about. They are usually either trying to sell something or asking for directions. There is no "excuse me" first; they just start talking.
In one case, a woman yelled a question at me from several yards away. They have no way of knowing how serious or formal the conversation I'm having is.
Is this behavior rude? And what is the proper way to respond? Does it make a difference if it is someone obviously trying to sell you something? Does it make a difference if I am walking and the other person is in a car and pulled over to talk to me?
Am I obligated to stop the person I'm on the phone with, no matter the circumstances or what they are talking about, in order to address the person who approached me, even just to tell them that I am on the phone (which was already obvious)?
GENTLE READER: Given the deluge of complaints Miss Manners receives about people who are on the telephone when they should be helping a customer, paying for their groceries or listening to their doctor, it may be surprising to hear her agree that it is rude to interrupt someone when they are on the telephone. Assuming, of course, that the interrupter is not in one of the aforementioned situations.
The correct response depends upon the distance. For someone immediately at hand, excuse yourself to the person on the telephone and then explain to the interrupter that you are on the phone and would be happy to answer them when your call is completed. How long that moment lasts will depend on whether the interrupter is selling something or asking for directions. If the caller is sufficiently far away that you can plausibly claim to be unaware that the yelling is directed at you, assume it is not -- that the yelling is a normal part of the street noise -- and shelter your exposed ear or walk to a more secluded spot.