Defending Private Space
It used to be considered impolite to show up unannounced at someone’s door, especially if you were a stranger calling at an odd hour. Traveling salesmen did it, if we can believe the movies, but they were the epitome of impolite, boorish, unwanted intruders.
It was polite in those days to call first. Unless you were an idiotic salesman, you called and asked if it would be fine if you stopped by. You gave the host a chance to know that it would be you ringing the doorbell at the appointed time.
People don’t drop by in quite the same way any more. In fact, these days we are usually pleasantly surprised if someone does drop by unannounced. It is a rare event done by someone you know.
Today’s equivalent of yesterday’s boorish intrusion at the front door is, I realized this morning, the telephone call. It was 9:05 and I still hadn’t had breakfast and class started at 10:00. I was juggling tea in a thermos and sandwiches for school with toast and tea in a cup for breakfast when the house phone rang. I dropped everything and went to answer… it would have to be my 13-year old daughter who couldn’t reach me on my cell because I had the sound turned off, or some other family member with an urgent need, or maybe someone from my job. Otherwise the house phone doesn’t ring. At least not at that hour.
Hey-ya this here’s Stig Arild Slåbakken, yup, yup, from know-your-neighborhood yup, yup, at the local newspaper, ya so yup —
I was too taken aback to hang up or respond, I just lay the phone down on the sideboard and turned back into the kitchen in a trajectory that had been one seamless swoop from kitchen counter to phone on sideboard and back to kitchen. It was only as I heard Stig Arild yapping from the tiny amplifier in the phone — huh? yup, huh? yup, yup… that I realized how angry I was at this idiot’s invasion of my morning. He wasn’t a telephone solicitor either, the kind we know (and some of you pity) as the modern door-to-door salesman trying to make a buck but down on his career-luck.
No, this was a local journalist.
As I fumed into the kitchen, weighing the risk of going without breakfast against the risk of being late to class, I briefly wondered if this had been a wise action on my part. This is a small town. I have been featured in the newspaper on various occasions for my writing, teaching, or as a local representative of Norway’s growing population of foreign residents. Had he wanted to do a feature on my neighborhood? Did he get my name from someone? I had left the phone lying on the sideboard, left him talking stupidly into thin air until he realized he was talking stupidly into thin air and hung up. I let him pay for a long worthless phone call. Should I have been more polite?
A more generous person would have been, no doubt. But then I thought, balderdash! He should have EMAILED me! That is the new protocol. That is the new rule. That is the polite way to introduce yourself to a stranger you want something from: You email and ASK IF YOU CAN CALL THEM! Just like in the old days you called someone and asked if you could drop by.
It seemed I had hit upon an brand new urban truth, an insight of no little sociological consequence. But later as I related this to Veronica she said, Yeah, too bad there isn’t a public register of email addresses.
Of course! Public directories are geared so that anyone can approach you on the phone (where you can’t identify them before having to deal with them person-to-person) and no one can get the necessary information to email you, where you will have full control over the choice to pursue the contact or delete them from your life with the push of a button.
Poor Stig Arild. Maybe he had wanted to email me and ask if he could call, maybe he had tried many avenues of finding my email address and only in the bitter end did he resort to the intrusive phone call. Poor Stig Arild. Maybe he had spent the rest of the day agonizing over the fate of his feature article. Poor Stig Arild with his tiny voice in the plastic receiver going huh? yup? yup huh yup?
Well, if it was that important he’ll call back.