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Line grunting

Another approach if your call is going to last more than a minute or two, is a technique referred to as grunting.  As the name implies, this method is aimed at staying in line but making it clear to the caller that you cannot speak. At least not in meaningful syllables.


You are in line and you need to take a call.  If it may be an extended call, but you’d prefer to have it brief, you are in a bit of a bind.  Essentially, the call is not entirely under your control.  Or course, you do not want to either lose your place or irritate your line-mates.

Solution #2

Use grunting, a technique that shortens your responses to single syllables and soft enough not to disrupt your line-mates.


This technique is based on the fact that most conversations can accomplish more with fewer syllables.  In fact, when you have face time with another person, a nod here and there can communicate a lot.

  1. When a call comes in and you do not know how long it’s going to take, but you want to keep it brief, inform the caller that you can’t talk very long.  This may be the only complete sentence of your phone call.
  2. Allow the caller to lead the conversation but answer in single syllables.  For example,
  • If the caller asks whether you want to catch dinner the next day, reply “hmmm.”  Yes, it’s not a complete answer, but it shows your interest.
  • If the caller wants to know why you are so abbreviated and why you can’t say more, reply “can’t.”  They will fill in the blanks.
  1. In the process keep your voice very low and cover your mouth and receiver.  Look at your line-mates and give an apologetic hand signal.  (Be careful in Italy not to have these gestures interpreted as ‘go fuck yourself,’ as is easy to do for many Americans.)
  2. Terminate the conversation at the earliest moment.
  3. Thank your line-mates for their patience.

Now anyone within earshot will appreciate your grunting.  It shows the line that you don’t want to disturb their tranquility.

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