Does Etiquette Evolve? -- or, That Should've Been a Text

Judging from old movies, up until maybe oh let’s say 50 years ago, dropping by someone’s house unannounced wasn’t considered inappropriate. Doing so today is downright creepy. Or at the very least impolite. You don’t knock on someone’s door without calling first.

But has that etiquette evolved even further? After ~15 years or so of cell phones being a universal necessity, to the point where it’s pretty rare–even shocking–to come across someone who doesn’t have one, is it now considered rude, or at least inconsiderate, to call someone “unannounced”; i.e. without texting first?

Whenever my phone rings, my immediate reaction is annoyance; I feel intruded upon. I’m vaguely offended that someone thinks they have the right to make me stop whatever I’m doing and focus all of my attention on their needs.

Is that just me and my control-freak neurosis? Or do others feel the same way? If so, have we reached a tipping point where “it’s impolite to call without first texting” can be considered an established rule of modern etiquette?

If I want to speak to somebody or intend to speak, I send a text asking if and when it might be convenient to call them. I ask the same courtesy in return.

It’s funny how my outlook changed over the past 30-something years. When I first got my own place, and my ( newly connected ) phone rang, I felt mild elation. “Somebody’s calling me!”. Now when the phone rings, unless I’m anxiously expecting a call, my reaction is of scorn: “Awwwww! Who the hell could that be?”

Etiquette is always evolving. That goes without saying.

That said, you do not bang on someone’s door uninvited. Even today. The old-school method was to deliver (via a servant) your card to the other’s servant, and, if they were willing to receive you, they would later reply with an invitation.

Still, telephoning or texting someone is not rude or shocking. If you do not want to be disturbed, do not turn on or answer your phone.

Yes. I do not feel so bad calling to ask my neighbor if I may come up and borrow a cup of milk, but I would not call out of the blue if we need to talk business for an extended length of time.

This is not true at my house.
I’ll say that most do call ahead, these days, but not always. And unexpected guests are not a burden to me.

A minority of people had servants. How did people without servants visit people? How did the servants visit other servants.

(Answer, you showed up unannounced a knock. And for the rich, you didn’t necessarily send a servant around, you would show up unannounced and knock - the staff would take your card and see if you were available - though some people kept “at home” hours when it was assumed you would be there to receive guests.)

I don’t consider it the least bit rude to call someone without texting first. If I don’t want to answer the phone I’ll let it go to voicemail. It’s weird to me that anyone would consider a phone call to be any more intrusive than a text.

Before telephones, if you wanted to speak to someone, what else could you do except go round to their house and knock on their door?

Cards, servants… meh. They were only for very formal dealings among the wealthy and privileged. Ordinary people just turned up and knocked on each other’s doors.

Technology has changed this. Telephones, then cell phones. It takes a few years for social conventions to update.

See, I’m just a barbarian so I would have to look this stuff up. Emily Post (American/1922) already wrote:

So by 1900 nobody in New York who was actually cool would be so formal or old-fashioned as to leave a card.

Well said.

If you had a servant to answer the door, then there was the convention (or polite fiction) of the servant saying you were ‘out’ if you didn’t want to see someone. You might genuinely be out, so it was a good excuse.

Often people were genuinely out when you knocked at their door, so you might walk all the way to their house for nothing, but that’s just the way things were.

You mean nobody in New York who was a fashionable member of the wealthy social elite. :slightly_smiling_face:

How do I indicate to someone, without being too intrusive, that I’d like to text them to ask if I can call them to ask if I can come visit?

Honestly I wonder if it was ever “a thing” outside radio and TV shows. I don’t know what the first radio comedy show was, but I’d be willing to bet they adopted this trope fairly quickly so the show was less monotonous.

The modern evolved way is, you clear it by talking to the person’s A.I. personal assistant.

How very old-fashioned of you. :smile:

When the phone was new, and just being adopted, that is precisely one of the complaints that some people had. Many people welcomed it in the office, as a work-related technology, but shunned it at home.

Only reason I call ahead is to see if they’re home, so I don’t waste time driving to an empty house.


It’s a multi-step process of successive approximations. First, you publish a notice in your local newspaper of record announcing your plan to establish contact. After a suitable time (three to five days?) you send a snail-mail asking for leave to send a text. When you get an affirmative response to that, you send the text. When you get an affirmative response to that, you can call. Then, during that call, you wrangle an invite to visit in person.

I have a friend who would occasionally come over after work on Friday and spend the weekend, Generally she would call me before doing so, just to make sure I didn’t have other plans (which I usually didn’t). One Friday evening, well after she would have gotten off work, my phone rang and it was her, asking if it would okay if she came over. I said sure, when will you get here? She replied, in about ten seconds, I’m sitting in your driveway.

She had gone home after work and then decided to go for a drive, something she did occasionally when she was having emotional issues. Somewhere on the road she decided to drive to my place, and rather than pull over to call me she waited until she got there.