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Single-finger line briefs

You are standing in line for a movie or to checkout, and suddenly you get a call that you must take.  Now this call can simply be your boss who has got you elsewhere when you should have been in the bathroom.  Or, it’s a girlfriend/boyfriend/partner/spouse who you need to talk to.   What should you do?

The first step is to determine whether you need to take the call, or whether it can wait.  Remember:  even if you are bored to tears, it is better to wait and have a relaxing conversation, than being rushed or having someone eavesdropping on your intimate details.

If it can wait but you are bored to tears, play a phone game.  There are tons of them and time flies.  Or attend to your email.  Or catch up on the day’s headlines.  All of these are inconspicuous and your line-mates[1] will treat you like a hero.

If you must take the call, make a mental calculation of just how long you think you’ll need.  Brief calls can usually be overlooked by the line.  But mental timers will immediately start.  So, beware.


You are standing shoulder-to-shoulder in line and your phone rings.  It is someone you need to talk to.  But at the same time, you don’t want to be a mobile dunce.  You realize it’s going to be a brief call.  Or, at least you can make it brief.


Employ one or more line briefs.  That is, make your call but keep it brief.


One of the easiest ways to diffuse any issues with your line-mates, is to simply keep it short, soft and focused.  Keeping your line-mates in the loop will go a long way to keeping them happy.  Remember:  you are not marooned on an island with these guys.  So, they don’t need to be your best buddies.  You just need to be considerate.

Here are the steps:

  1. Immediately inform your line-mate that you have to take this call.  Apologize and tell them “I have to take this call.  It’s my [fill in the blank].  But I will keep it short, not to worry.”
  2. Hold up your index finger to show them that this is an exception you’ve started your internal timer on the call.  As long as the finger is up, the timer is running.  When you lower your finger, for example, you get completely sucked into the call, it signals that you have lost your place.  Line-mates can give you the evil eye at this point, hoping to get you back on track.
  3. Simultaneously, accept the call and inform the caller, “Glad you called but I’m next in line at the register.”  At this point you can wink to your line-mates.  They know that you will not reach the ticket office for another hour or so, especially with the plebian in charge, but the caller will understand.  This is called line-bonding.  (See Section 9.5)
  4. Wait for the subject and wrap up your call immediately.  “Great, I’ll call you in a bit, OK?”
  5. Hang up and thank your line-mates.

You will notice that calls like these are easily tolerated in a line.  Be careful to keep your voice down.

[1] Line-mates refer to those folks around you in line.


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