This week we discuss that affront to good manners that is Call Waiting.
Call waiting is alive and well in the USA. That helpful little beep when you’re on the phone that tells you someone else is calling in. I say “beep” but these days it’s loud and long enough to miss half a sentence of the conversation you’re having, so there’s no doubt that you have another call coming in. Call waiting is also the bread and butter of the psychiatric therapy industry over here; that and the plunging stock market, of course.
Think about it. You’re chatting away with your friend, and she suddenly interrupts you saying “Hang on, I have another call coming in”. You’re then clicked into the cyberspace holding zone, waiting to learn where you are in her pecking order of phone friends. She then comes back and, if you’re lucky says, “I have to take this” in a slightly worried tone, before you’re clicked off altogether. I say, if you’re lucky because there’s nothing worse than being told who’s on the other end, - followed by the dismissal. Anonymity of the caller allows you to think that her parents have met an untimely and grizzly end, which demands her immediate attention, or that her eldest child has just been expelled from school, rather than that’s she’s just bored with your conversation and needs any excuse to get off the phone. If this happens more than once a week to the average American, it can lead to serious self-esteem issues people.
There are two sides to this dastardly coin, and we should also pity the poor popular person whom everyone is calling. Again, picture yourself on the phone, and another call comes in. This time, because you also have Caller ID, a huge decision needs to be made. You can see who’s calling in, but is it a life or death situation? If you’re like me you might think, “Oh it’s my sister, I’ll call her back in five minutes and we can have a good natter”, then spend the rest of the current phone call unable to process thoughts because you’re imagining any number of family tragedies and you weren’t available. (Guilt for the next twenty years.)
Here’s a tip – If you answer the phone to a boring friend, start with “I’m expecting a call from the hospital/work/school so I might have to take it”. This gives you a great escape, although don’t try to fake a call-waiting situation as the other person can usually hear a beep too (i.e. know when there is a distinct lack of one.)
I think Oprah’s producers may be planning a special on Call-Waiting Anxiety Disorder (CWAD), it’s reached such levels here. In fact, I’m seriously thinking of launching my next business - “Call-waiting Techniques for Beginners”, available on CD or DVD in six easy payments. (That’s copyrighted by the way. Hands off.)
Yeah, what she said.
This post was my idea. It recently occurred to me that I had never encountered Call Waiting here in the UK, so I did some in-depth research on the subject (I asked my wife and a few of my co-workers about it). The consensus seemed to be that Call Waiting is sort of like NHS Dentists; people had heard of it, but had never actually experience it. Then I wondered if maybe the phenomenon had dwindled out in the US since I had left, so I asked Toni. Her response is above.
While in the States, I hated Call Waiting, for all the reasons Toni cites. It is simply rude, and that is why I think it hasn't made big inroads in the UK; they are too polite here to tell someone they are talking to that they would rather talk to someone else. The teenagers are rude enough, but they mostly text, and there is no need for Call Waiting if you're texting someone. (The exception to this rule is when they want to spill their personal life to everyone else in the train car by shouting into their phone about what they did the night before.)
Another reason it isn't popular could be the fact that is it £2.50 extra per month if you want it. Bad enough it's an invitation to be rude, but to pay for the privilege is just too much.
It always baffled me why anyone thought this was a good idea, to interrupt a conversation and then put the poor person in the position of having to choose between two friends. Needless to say, I never had it, and was always annoyed when a friend put me on hold to go off and chat with someone more important. I always agreed with Dave Barry who thought a better solution to this situation would go something like this:
"If you call someone, and they are on the phone, there should be some sort of signal that you receive to let you know the person you are calling is already on the phone so you could call them back later. They could call it a Busy Signal."
And if you really want to get a message to them, send them a text.
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