Well, it would be wonderful to say that "yes, it is completely unacceptable" – but that’s unrealistic. I think we’ve bowed to the inevitable and these days people will use their phones on public transport. However, there’s the polite way to do so. The essence of good manners is to make another person feel comfortable, and if you are talking loudly on a mobile phone, this invades their personal space, making them uncomfortable.
So if you are going to speak on your phone on public transport, keep your voice down, don’t do it in a quiet carriage and don’t talk about anything intimate. Recently I heard a young woman on a bus who was having an argument with her mother on the phone and she was saying “I don’t know what kind of nightclubs you go to, but the nightclubs I go to…” which was completely inappropriate.
"Many people make unnecessary calls. They will phone to say 'I am on the train'. Sadly we all have to learn to live with this nonsense."
Also it depends to a certain extent what kind of transport you’re on. On a bus you’re likely to be taking a 10-20 minute journey. There could be an argument that the call could wait, but many people take that opportunity to make a quick call, which can be OK providing it’s not too loud. What is unacceptable is someone on a three-hour train journey talking very loudly the whole way. So short conversations are less offensive than long ones.
And of course the subject matter as I mentioned earlier is important. Don’t talk loudly, and don’t have personal or confidential conversations in public – often you hear people having business calls where you feel you could easily work out who they were working for and learn something that should have been confidential.
Also many people make unnecessary calls. They will phone to say “I am on the train”. I will not phone someone to say I am on Plan A, that I am doing what I said would do. Sadly we all have to learn to live with this nonsense, so why not confine ourselves to phoning to say that we have missed the train or that the plans have changed?
There are other situations where I don‘t think you should use your phone – such as in art galleries and museums, where again you are invading other people’s space. And you often see people continue their mobile conversations when they are paying in shops and cafes, and don’t even make eye contact or acknowledge the other person. That is just incredibly rude.
Caroline Taggart is the author of several books on etiquette, including Her Ladyship’s Guide to the Art of Conversation, published by Batsford.