DEAR ABBY: “Aaron in Syracuse” asked whether it was rude of him to ask, “May I ask who’s calling, please?” when he answers the phone at home. His wife says it’s nosy and people will think he’s screening his calls.

Abby, the person who should decide if calls need to be screened and callers identified should be the recipient of the call. If the calls are for Aaron’s wife and she doesn’t want or need him to identify the caller for her, then he should not do it. On the other hand, if she doesn’t want to be bothered by calls and requests that he “screen” for her, that’s different.

Because he insists on doing it over her objections, I wonder if he’s motivated out of inappropriate curiosity, jealousy or insecurity.

Please note: My view is specific to adults in the household. Whether parents identify callers for their minor children is a matter for parents to decide. – CYNTHIA IN ALBANY, N.Y.

DEAR CYNTHIA: You have a point, but the mail that came in response to “Aaron’s” query indicates that various readers saw the problem in a different light. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: In my years of work answering a company telephone, I have discovered that saying, “May I SAY who is calling, please?” conveys the idea that the need to know is to relay the information to the call recipient.

“May I ASK who is calling” has a note of nosiness to it, and does not imply that the need to know is just to relay the name. Before I learned this trick, people would sometimes take offense at the question. However, using the word “say” instead of the word “ask” has never resulted in offense taken. – DIANE IN GARDINER, MAINE

DEAR ABBY: I agree with your advice to “Aaron” – however, there is one exception. When I was in my teens, my mother became an ordained minister. From that time on, if someone called for her and didn’t identify him/herself, we didn’t ask, as there might be confidentiality issues for the caller. – MARGARET IN PHILADELPHIA

DEAR ABBY: About 40 years ago, a grand old New York department store opened a suburban branch in our area. They had a team from the telephone company come in and give a few classes in telephone etiquette to all the new employees.

We were instructed to say, “May I TELL her who is calling?” in a pleasant tone, and I have done it ever since. People are invariably politely responsive. Also, we were told never to “mute” the receiver against our diaphragm while calling someone to the phone, because the chest cavity acts as an amplifier. Imagine a caller hearing, “It’s that pest again!” or something worse vibrating through the phone. I enjoy your column. – TAMPA READER

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.


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