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When the Looney Tunes theme song starts blaring in the middle of a crucial scene in a movie, it’s impossible to ignore the catchy tune. No matter how quickly the owner turns the phone off, the mood has been shattered. No amount of warning prevents these interruptions. New York city now bans the use of cell phones during public performances including concerts, movies, plays and lectures and at museums, libraries and galleries. Violators are punished with a $50 fine. Those of us in other cities, though, are still at the mercy of others to remember to turn their phones off.

“Rude cell phone use has reached an epidemic,” said Jodie Vesey, an etiquette consultant. While there are some unspoken rules—turn your phone off in class and avoid using your phone in a group of people—when is it okay to answer your phone, and when are you committing a social faux pas?

[FACE-TO-FACE]

Nothing beats personal interaction. “The person you are having a face-to-face conversation with always gets priority over a cell phone,” Vesey stated. “Always.” Picture this: You’re in the middle of a conversation with a close friend who gets interrupted by a phone call. As your friend chats with someone else, you politely look the other way and try not to listen to the details, all the while resenting the fact that your friend is ignoring you.

Cell phone users sacrifice quality face-to-face time with people when they persistently chat on their phones. “They are allowing a piece of technology to become more important than their friends or family,” Vesey continued. Remember, when calling someone’s cell phone, to ask if it’s a good time to talk. “Don’t assume that they are in a place to have an extended conversation,” Vesey said. Being a conscientious caller is an easy way to alleviate ­­­­­­­­­­awkward situations.

[10-FOOT RULE]

If you’re using your phone in public, always talk at least 10 feet away from anyone. This is the unwritten law for cell phone users. When you’re stepping away from someone you’re with to take a call, make sure you’re not intruding on anyone else’s space. Standing next to a group of strangers doesn’t solve the problem. They shouldn’t have to listen to your conversation. If you have to take a call, excuse yourself from the room.

Avoid talking on your phone in confined spaces such as buses, subways or planes. If you must take a call, keep your conversation brief. Remember people are within several feet of you and probably don’t care to know every detail about your hot date last night.

Allison Jackson, 22, recently endured listening to a lengthy phone conversation on an airplane. When the pilot announced cell phones could be turned on, “The woman sitting cattycorner to me immediately whipped out her phone,” Allison shared. She didn’t mind at first because the conversation seemed to be business-related. However, the conversation turned to personal matters. Soon Allison knew all the details of the woman’s sister’s wedding—the first and second—from how much it cost to the color of the dresses. “All I wanted to do was chill out, but I couldn’t even pretend to sleep with her talking a foot away from my ear,” she said.

[RINGER]

Phones come with vibrate and silent settings for a reason. Leave your phone on these settings whenever possible. “Your phone should never be heard ringing during a class, meeting, job interview, or during a meal,” Vesey stated.

Michael Novotny, 22, was at a funeral when someone’s phone went off. Talk about embarrassing. Thankfully it was just a standard ring—not Happy Birthday—and was turned off quickly. However, that isn’t what you want people to remember at your funeral. When your ringer is on, maintain a quiet ring tone and don’t use a popular radio hit—not everyone will appreciate a Justin Timberlake remix.

[R-E-S-P-E-C-T]

Avoid multitasking while on your cell phone. The worst perpetrators of this are those who insist on using their phones in the bathroom. No conversation needs to be conducted in there. And others in the bathroom certainly don’t want to listen as you break up with your boyfriend while they are relieving themselves.

Finally, remember to keep your voice down. Whisper and walk away from a group of people to create as little distraction as possible. Also, be aware of what you are discussing in public, and stay away from discussing personal topics—like your last visit to the dermatologist—no one else needs to know what new zit cream you’re using.

[TURN IT OFF]

Contrary to popular belief, just because you have a cell phone doesn’t mean you need to be available 24/7. “Take a break from the epidemic once in awhile,” Vesey said. It’s OK to turn off your phone. Say it out loud. “It is OK to turn off my phone.” The world won’t end if you can’t be reached for a few hours, and your voicemail will always pick up any missed calls.

It may seem like the only place it is acceptable to use your cell phone is locked in your bedroom. That’s not true. Use your phone in public, but keep these guidelines in mind. And when in doubt—turn off your phone.

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