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20-40-60: Gas station Etiquette — say what?

[File Art: Unsplash]
[File Art: Unsplash]

QUESTION: Do you know of any service station etiquette? I went in to pay for gas and stood in line behind a man who continued to talk on his phone after he paid his bill. He just stood there talking, and I was behind him. Should I have asked him to move?

The next time I filled up, a car took up two parking places at the pump and he sat there talking on his phone while a line formed trying to get in both of the places. Should I have honked, reported him, or left?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: I would have never thought of service station etiquette. But there is a polite way to approach everything in life. I absolutely would have said “excuse me,” and moved up to the register. Whenever there is a car in the way or not enough spots, I usually go to another station or go again to the original choice at another time. Honking in that close proximity isn’t how I would approach it.

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: Both of these things have happened to me before, and it is definitely irritating when people are so absorbed in their lives that exist on the phone that they forget to live their life where they are. Both times, attempts at eye contact and/or a gentle wave to try to get their attention didn’t work. In one instance, the person at the counter at the gas station stood texting at the counter for a full minute or two while the attendant waited for him to get out his money to pay for the transaction. He didn’t even try to explain to the attendant what the holdup was. At first, everyone thought he was trying to open a mobile pay application on his phone, but it turned out he was just texting and wouldn’t finish his purchase. There were about five people in line behind him and he didn’t notice anything but what was on his phone.

I don’t have a good solution and don’t think there’s any gas station etiquette at play here — just basic human etiquette and decency that some seem to lack when there’s a cell phone around. On the flip side, we can be mindful and avoid being the people who distracted and are unaware of others who are waiting.

HELEN’S ANSWER: As the man was so involved with his phone, he probably forgot there were others around him. You could have said, “Excuse me, I have to pay my bill,” and hope he heard you. Outside, I probably would have given a quick tap on the horn as I would have not wanted to jump out of the car to confront him. Usually horn honking is not my favorite way of communicating, but in this case, it might be the answer.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Devonne Carter, licensed clinical social worker: These are excellent questions! but I have never heard of any resource for gas station etiquette. I do think if everyone adhered to basic manners, we would all appreciate it. Many people are not very aware of their surroundings, so I think it is perfectly appropriate to politely point out to others when they are blocking two spaces, even if someone is on the phone.

I might encourage you to make eye contact, or walk around in front of him, at a safe distance, and start speaking to him. He might tell the person he is speaking to on the phone, "just a minute" and listen to you. If he wasn't aware that he was blocking everyone, he might be appreciative of you informing him. Other people do not care if they are being rude, but we don't know unless we speak to them.

Any time we speak to someone in an angry manner, it puts the other person on the defensive, so even if you are feeling anxious or angry, I would not encourage you to speak abruptly to the person who is acting in an obnoxious manner.

Many times I just say "excuse me" to people who are talking on their phone and are in my way in the store. I hope it is helpful and polite. The only way we can change the world is through our OWN BEHAVIOR, not ever by trying to control others and their actions. So, go out there and see how you can change the world today!

Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is 40-plus, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email helen.wallace@cox.net.

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