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How do I deal with habitually rude callers?
March 14, 2006 8:10 AM   Subscribe

What, if anything, should I do about in-laws who won't identify themselves when they telephone?

I'm a newlywed. My wife's extended family calls the house often, and they never identify themselves or so much as offer a greeting -- they just start talking. (eg: "Hey. What are you doing?") This is both rude and often quite confusing, in part because there are always other people without the good sense to identify themselves, so it's no good figuring rude person == in-laws. I've tried training them by interrupting to ask "who's this?", but after a few weeks of this I failed to change anybody's behavior, with one family member stating that she will never identify herself when calling, because I should simply know who it is. We do not have Caller ID.

How do I handle this? Do I stick with my tactic of asking who it is? Have an explicit discussion with the family? Invest in Caller ID? Suck it up and get over it?
posted by waldo to Human Relations (57 answers total)
 
Repeatedly mention you have trouble telling them apart on the phone and call them by the wrong names. Start doing the same to their homes from anonymized or public phone numbers. Do they all have Caller ID and assume you do too?
posted by mikeh at 8:13 AM on March 14, 2006


I would just start screening my calls, but then I don't like to answer the telephone much to begin with.
posted by MarkAnd at 8:22 AM on March 14, 2006


Just keep saying "Sorry, who is this?" It'd be unusual for X randomly selected people to not identify themselves, so it's probably a family habit. They'll either pick up on it or not; other than asking who's calling, it's out of your hands.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:22 AM on March 14, 2006


Keep asking who is on the line, even if you do actually start recognizing the voice. You don't have to be rude back, but you should let them know this is not acceptable behavior.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:23 AM on March 14, 2006


Invest in Caller ID?

Good Lord, I don't know what I did in the pre-Caller ID age. This is miles better than the Suck It Up option, as instead of having to suck anything, you may simply look at the caller display and think, "Oh, it's sister-in-law! No need to pick up the phone at all, then!"
posted by Skot at 8:23 AM on March 14, 2006


one family member stating that she will never identify herself when calling

Sorry, wanted clarification: will she not identify herself even after you ask?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:23 AM on March 14, 2006


If you don't know who it is, ask who it is. After a while, you'll know who it is. I expect this to be marked best answer.
posted by poppo at 8:24 AM on March 14, 2006


one family member stating that she will never identify herself when calling, because I should simply know who it is

"Well, I'm happy for you that you're so good at recognizing people's voices over the phone, and I wish I'd been as lucky, but it's never been that way." Man, that's rude of her!

Stick with your tactic. It probably won't change their behavior but at least you'll know who's calling.
posted by Aknaton at 8:26 AM on March 14, 2006


1. Invest in the caller ID.

2. If the person on the caller ID is a habitual offender of this type, do not answer the phone unless you're in the mood to jump into the middle of a conversation.

There are people to whom I do not expect to have to identify myself. These are the closest friends and family I have, and I know for a fact that they have caller ID, so between those facts, a "Hey, girl, how ya doin'?" or "Hey baby, just got off work, what's up?" are reasonable beginnings to conversations. For anyone else, from business associates to new or more-distant relatives, "Hello, Waldo, this is Cricket" is not something unreasonable for you to expect in the name of simple courtesy.
posted by Cricket at 8:26 AM on March 14, 2006


Well, if you know who it is, then you don't need to ask who it is. If, on the other hand, you can't tell who it is, you can ask them. So my vote is for sucking it up and getting over it, though I'm not sure why you'd have to suck it up or get over it, because it wouldn't be that big of a deal to me. It's somehow gotten under your skin and you can't shake it. Do what you can to not let it bother you. Roll with the punches, little white boy, you got to roll with the punches.
posted by billysumday at 8:27 AM on March 14, 2006


Did they exhibit this behavior before you got married, or is this a new phenomenon? Does your spouse do the same thing when she calls people on the phone?

I think, ultimately, though, you would start to recognize their voices. If it were me, I'd have stuck with the "who is this?" bit until they were retrained.

Ultimately, if this is the worst thing about your in-laws, consider yourself lucky!
posted by clearlynuts at 8:27 AM on March 14, 2006


I agree with poppo. Don't get all indignant about it (even though it is rude). Just get the information you need and let the rest of it go.
posted by occhiblu at 8:28 AM on March 14, 2006


Yes, it's rude. But you're beginning to learn something that most all newlyweds learn: in-laws are weird. They do annoying, irritating things. Of course, your family does, weird, annoying things, too -- just ask your wife.

The judgement call here is whether you think this is a genuine lack-of-respect issue, in which case you should probably hold your ground. If someone's trying to undermine your marriage somehow, then by all means be assertive. But if it's possible this is just another weird, annoying thing that families do, then you should probably try to deal with it without making it a major issue. Don't think you're going to change their behavior -- just keep asking them, politely and calmly, to identify themselves. If they insist you should be able to figure it out, just state that you can't identify their voice over the phone. And then move on to the usual greetings, inquiries, handing the phone off to your wife.

By making a big deal about it, there's a risk the caller(s) will begin to enjoy baiting you. So don't. When I get annoyed with my husband's extended family -- about some little thing -- I try to just concentrate on what I like about them and let the rest go. Seriously, it's just not worth getting into a spat with your wife's family over small stuff. And at least they call -- better than being estranged and having a whole other set of issues to deal with.
posted by handful of rain at 8:29 AM on March 14, 2006


Invent a person. I propose that he be named Humberto X. Barbecue. Humberto lives in Antarctica, has a wooden leg and a glass eye, and is allergic to plastic. He collects tarantulas.

Now, assume that every person who calls you on the phone without providing a name is, in fact, Humberto X. Barbecue. Treat the caller as such, regardless of gender. Ask the caller about the weather in Antarctica, and about the health of the tarantula collection. Ignore any protests that the caller is not, in fact, Humberto X. Barbecue, and insist that you would recognize Humberto's voice anywhere. The caller will be forced to provide an identity, at which point you may simply apologize for the confusion and treat the caller as normal.

Your inlaws will, ultimately, identify themselves upon placing a phone call, or they will stop calling you.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:29 AM on March 14, 2006 [2 favorites]


Sorry, wanted clarification: will she not identify herself even after you ask?

That's right. Every other family member is happy to identify themselves when asked (but still doesn't volunteer it when they first call) -- this particular family member gets annoyed when I ask, refuses to identify herself, and says that she shouldn't have to say who it is when she's calling the home of my wife.
posted by waldo at 8:29 AM on March 14, 2006


Er, that was a lyric from a Randy Newman song. Sorry. I have no idea if you're a little white boy or not. I stand by the ethos, though.
posted by billysumday at 8:30 AM on March 14, 2006


If you're newleyweds, a united front approach to this might help. It's possible your in-laws are just trying to orient you to life in "their" family, or it's possible they're insensitive clods. Talk to your wife about this first to see if she has any suggestions or insight into why they do the things they do. Then move on tactically to try to see if the TWO of you make an issue out of this, if there can't be some middle ground met. Clearly since you have the one family member already saying they won't abide, this issue has already gotten a little bit of attention.

At the end of the day, if they won't change, you may have to, but there may be a middle ground which isn't too extreme. You've outlined some of the options, maybe you can turn them into situations where everyone is contributing.

- Ask for Caller-ID as a present from your in-laws somehow? (might not fly in your family, this sort of thing is easy in mine).
- Stop answering the phone entirely and let them announce themselves to voice mail and don't call back people who you don't know.
- Make your wife answer the phone (this rarely works)
- Continue to ask in a more and more direct manner. I do this at home when people do this to me. "Hi. Who is this?" which seems like an okay compromise. If you can not mind asking and they can not mind answering, everyone is a little inconvenienced but no one feels that they have to totally change their life for the other person.

I have no special insight into dealing with in-laws, but I know the the first few months/years that you cohabitate, your partner's parents are sizing you up in different ways than they did before. Trying to find a graceful solution will prbbaly have a ripple effect that lasts for years, and not making a good impression may do that as well.
posted by jessamyn at 8:30 AM on March 14, 2006


Well, think of it this way, after you ask her to identify herself and she says, "I will do no such thing!" you'll know it's Aunt Betty, or whomever.
posted by billysumday at 8:32 AM on March 14, 2006


I should say that I otherwise have a great relationship with my in-laws. I've known them since I was a kid. This is not some kind of an authority-challenging thing -- this is just how their family uses the phone. No hellos, no goodbyes, no identification.
posted by waldo at 8:32 AM on March 14, 2006


They're your in-laws. If you've got a woman who absolutely refuses to identify herself like it's some mission from God, there isn't much you can do about it. People like that can't be reasoned with — and when they're your in-laws, you can't just walk away. Look on the bright side: You'll learn their voices soon enough, and then it'll be a moot point.

Personally, it would bug the hell out of me, too; but there are greater tragedies in life, and you've got to pick your battles. Be the bigger person and let the snotty witch have her petty victory.
posted by cribcage at 8:35 AM on March 14, 2006


I'm surprised nobody (on quick read-through) mentioned this:

Talk to your wife about it; it's her family. Get her to tell them "My husband has a hard time telling you guys apart, and (pick a name) sounds an awful lot like his boss; could you be sure to let him know who you are when you call? We'd hate to have to get Caller ID, you know how tight money is when you're newlyweds!"

If your wife talks to her family, nobody's being a jerk. It is her family, after all, they're not going to think she's being rude. You're being communicative with your wife, that's all.
posted by Merdryn at 8:39 AM on March 14, 2006


I would feel flattered that your in-laws feel comfortable enough with you that they assume you can tell them apart on the phone.

If that's not enough, get caller ID.
posted by pollystark at 8:42 AM on March 14, 2006


I think you should play it like you're goofying around - pretend you think it's someone else, i.e. if it's Aunt Betty say, "Hey, Martha from biology at Springfield High! How have you been all these years? How's the goiter treating you?" Don't give up the joke until they identify themselves in exasperation.
posted by mullacc at 8:44 AM on March 14, 2006


Talk to your wife about it; it's her family. Get her to tell them ...

Depending on the pettiness of this family, he'll just become the guy that's being difficult about the thing with the phone. If he's ticked off about the way they use the phone, giving them the ammunition to mock him for it won't help much. I guess it all depends on the in-laws.
posted by clearlynuts at 8:44 AM on March 14, 2006


I would keep asking who it is too. If they don't want to identify themselves, that's stupid and rude.

I don't talk to people when I don't know who's calling. They'd get a few "Who is this?" questions from me and then I'd hang up.
posted by agregoli at 8:44 AM on March 14, 2006


While it may seem like a cop out, you will wonder how you ever lived without Caller ID.
posted by Robot Johnny at 8:50 AM on March 14, 2006


I vote for Caller ID. It's a lifesaver. And I don't think it costs much anymore, either? It was a free add-on to my plan.
posted by visual mechanic at 8:55 AM on March 14, 2006


this particular family member gets annoyed when I ask, refuses to identify herself, and says that she shouldn't have to say who it is when she's calling the home of my wife.

Well, she gets the crank-o award for the year I think. Maybe you can commission a trophy.

There's no future in getting wound up with them over it; the worst thing about dealing with irrational and impolite people is that they'll just continue on with their passive-aggressive bullshit till you call them on it or get irked... at which point they will make you out to be the bad guy for daring to raise your voice.

As other have said, you need to just roll with it and have a steady response. "I'm sorry, I don't recognize your voice. Who is this?" said pleasantly and calmly every time they do it to you is how I would go. The above-mentioned whacko can snipe that she "shouldn't have to" and you should just calmly say "Well, I'm sorry your feelings are hurt but I have a hard time identifying people by voice."

She certainly doesn't HAVE to do anything except eventually die - even paying taxes is optional if you don't mind jail. So, like taxes, just make this something that's easier for her to go along with than fight. The IRS doesn't get angry or take it personally, they just plod along. Do the same. "I'm sorry, who is this?" and never behave as if it's anything but a reasonable question.

Recognize if you take this advice that it's coming from someone who thinks nothing of suggesting you handle family as if you are a tax collector....
posted by phearlez at 8:57 AM on March 14, 2006


Hang up the phone on callers who do not identify themselves. It's not rude to refuse a call. Miss Manners and I agree on this point wholeheartedly: You are under no obligation to be interrupted in your home by a stranger merely to satisfy their ego.
posted by majick at 8:58 AM on March 14, 2006


this particular family member gets annoyed when I ask, refuses to identify herself, and says that she shouldn't have to say who it is when she's calling the home of my wife.

What the Christ? Get Caller ID, get an answering machine and screen your calls because those people are fucking psycho. (Sorry, Mrs. waldo, but they are.)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:16 AM on March 14, 2006


I understand your annoyance, but it's really a kind of backwards compliment -- they're treating you like one of the family.

The only real problem is the one person who is offended by your asking who it is. Either she will get used to you, you will get to recognize their voice, or you will drive each other crazy -- or you will do as everyone is suggesting and get caller ID.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:19 AM on March 14, 2006


1. Get caller ID. Do not tell your in-laws.
2. Entertain a lot. Invite people your in-laws do not know.
3. Wait for Ms. No-name to call.
4. Have guest answer the phone, "Waldo residence."
5. Enjoy your Pyrrhic victory.

Okay, seriously, talk to your wife. She'll have a lot more input on how to deal with her family than would your extended AskMe clan.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:20 AM on March 14, 2006


Jeez, if you care enough to ask this question, just get caller ID. That way you can go one better and simply never pick up on rude Aunt Betty.
posted by jellicle at 9:20 AM on March 14, 2006


I wonder if she'll restrict ID if you do get caller ID.
posted by delmoi at 9:21 AM on March 14, 2006


Having done both, I prefer having an answering machine to having caller-ID, because it puts the onus on the caller to convince me to pick up.

(It requires an answering machine instead of phone-company voicemail, though, because you have to be able to hear the person begin to leave a message. People that know we screen calls always start with "mendel? you there? nope, ok. Hi, it's..". Even better, solid-state answering machines cost all of $15 these days, which would buy only four months of voicemail service for me.)
posted by mendel at 9:21 AM on March 14, 2006


Some of us don't like the idea of Caller ID. I personally feel that Caller ID is a cop-out and that people who use it are pansies. "Just invest in Caller ID you freak" should be replaced with "Just answer the phone you freak."

Just start calling them random names that come off the top of your head, like Winston or Gertrude until they finally get the idea you have no idea who in the world they are. If you did wimp out and get Caller ID, when they call just answer the phone with, "Ajax Funeral Parlor" or something.
posted by vanoakenfold at 9:29 AM on March 14, 2006


Possibly more entertaining suggestion: send them copies of "How to Make Friends by Telephone." Bring it up the next time you see them.

Seriously though, ditto majick's comment. When you answer the phone you have right of refusal, period. Caller ID simply makes it easier by not having to pick up.
posted by chuma at 9:31 AM on March 14, 2006


Answer the phone "Waldo house, who's calling?"

But Faint Of Butt's idea is best.
posted by bonaldi at 9:31 AM on March 14, 2006


I personally feel that Caller ID is a cop-out and that people who use it are pansies.

YOU HEAR THAT YOU LIMP-WRISTED GIRLYMEN?

This comment reminds me of a story a friend of mine told, about being informed that "recycling's for faggots".

waldo, it's your home. Equally importantly, however, it's also your wife's home. If this bothers you, then your wife should be willing to try to help out the situation. Try to see if she'd be willing to speak to her family.
posted by Jairus at 9:34 AM on March 14, 2006


To recap: Good luck!
posted by lowlife at 9:44 AM on March 14, 2006


Maybe waldo's wife should be the one to answer the phone. It is her family and she's well aware of their habits. They are probably calling to speak with her, anyway. If she's not home, let the answering machine or voicemail catch the call. Caller ID would help waldo know when to walk away from the phone though.

As for crazy Aunt Betty who wants to remain anonymous, you can say you do not take calls from unidentified sources and hang up. If she calls and gets angry, explain that you've recently had a spate of calls from people refusing to identify themselves and since you don't want to have some costly phone scam done on you, you hang up. She's being terribly rude for not identifying herself and then acting like it is her right to never identify herself. Would she expect to get in the house if she just showed up and refused to identify herself if you didn't recognize her? Why should the phone be any different?
posted by onhazier at 9:49 AM on March 14, 2006


Let your answering machine screen all calls - don't just automatically pick up the phone when it rings. Most people will identify themselves in a voice message, so you'll know who to call back. If they don't, well, you don't call back (because you don't know who the message was from - use the good excuses upthread). Unlike Caller ID, this requires them to get with the program - if they want you to call back, they need to identify themselves or they just talk to a machine. Screening calls is a very common defense against Evil Telemarketers, so you can do this to in-laws without seeming particularly hostile.
posted by Quietgal at 10:11 AM on March 14, 2006


Ooh, I have an idea no one mentioned! Get one of those plans where you can assign a unique ring pattern to certain incoming callers. The only ones you need to program are the ones that get offended that you don't recognize them. So, it's not caller-ID where you have to run to the phone and read the scroll, but a gentle heads up that you should be prepared to greet your inlaws upon answering.
posted by xo at 10:16 AM on March 14, 2006


Get one of those plans where you can assign a unique ring pattern to certain incoming callers.

I'm opposed to responding to rudeness with rudeness but I am also opposed to spending money to accommodate it. Perhaps waldo feels differently.
posted by phearlez at 10:27 AM on March 14, 2006


Years ago my mother had this problem with her in-laws. When they refused to identify themselves, she would just hang up on them.

She had to do that twice, and then people started identifying themselves.

If just hanging up seems too rude or abrupt, you could politely tell the caller that you are on the Do-Not-Call list and don't accept calls from telemarketers before hanging up. This gives them the opportunity to correct the misidentification before you hang up.

For God's sake, don't get Caller ID unless you want it.
posted by ambrosia at 10:44 AM on March 14, 2006


You *could* threaten to play something from the latest DMB CD if they don't stop....
Kidding aside - my parents like my husband a lot but when they call they barely speak to me and often ask immediately for me without much chitchat. I know they like him but parents-in-law just do wierd things. It annoys him but he has just tried to get past it wthout creating a brouhaha.
posted by bluesky43 at 10:48 AM on March 14, 2006


Caller ID.

You are not going to change what sounds like a family habit, and anything else is going to come off as rude.

(Your wife's family's phone ettiquette is just not worth the fight.)
posted by desuetude at 11:38 AM on March 14, 2006


There's something called Call Screening now offered by most phone companies. It works in concord with Caller ID.

If your caller's Caller ID number is blocked or not on the list, she is invited by a robot to state your name at the tone. The phone then rings, and you, the call recipient, pick up and the robot plays back the name of your caller. You can then decide to accept the call, route it to your voice mail, or dismiss it with a rude message.

I find it rather obnoxious to deal with, but then again, I don't really want to talk to anyone.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:04 PM on March 14, 2006


nth caller ID. Then, when sis-in-law calls, you can answer the phone not by saying "Hello?" but by saying, "Hey ⟨insert name⟩. What are you doing?"

Cuz its all about maintaining the upper hand, isn't it?
posted by missmobtown at 1:10 PM on March 14, 2006


One more vote for caller ID. Seriously, you may not know you want it (I certainly didn't, I was forced to get it because a crazy ex-girlfriend kept calling), but once you have it you won't know how you got along without it.

If you really hate the idea, though, the answering-machine gambit could work. You'll have to discipline yourself not to answer, though.
posted by languagehat at 1:21 PM on March 14, 2006


Why would anyone not want Caller ID? I don't mean for that to be a rude question, I really just don't understand. What makes one a pussy for wanting to know who is calling before picking up the phone? Do you open the door without asking or checking to see who it is first?

Caller ID should come standard for all phone plans in my opinion and I'm willing to bet that in the future it will be. In the meantime, it's seriously cheap, at least here in a major city (Los Angeles). I think I pay about $2 per month for it, and couldn't not imagine going back to the dark ages of phone use without it. It's not a big investment, and the benefits of it will greatly be worth the minor cost involved.

Even if your inlaws have their info blocked on Caller ID, most other people don't, so even if their number comes up as "private", you'll more than likely know that when the "private" call shows up, it's them.
posted by RoseovSharon at 1:26 PM on March 14, 2006


not to be insensitive, but if you've known them since you were a kid, why aren't you able to recognize their voices by now?

maybe they're thinking that you don't care. If i had asked my grandmother (God bless her soul) to identify herself everytime she called me i would've gotten it from her.

conversely, you could call them up and not identify yourself and if they get upset you can say "well now you know how i feel." - but i think that might only serve to make people defensive if they don't have a sense of humore, which at least one them doesn't seem to have.

i think diplomacy is the answer here. you're all family now whether you like it or not and well...families can be weird.
posted by eatcake at 3:04 PM on March 14, 2006


if this is the biggest problem you have from your inlaws, consider yourself lucky. in other words, get over it
posted by petsounds at 3:20 PM on March 14, 2006


Don't get Caller ID because you have a few annoying in-laws. Or at least just get it if you want it, but not because of this. I vote for what's been said a few times so far...misidentify them and start talking about random things "oh, hi Jane! How was your vacation?". Or say "please put me on your do-not-call list" and hang up. If they get annoyed, say the fact that they didn't identify themselves makes you think they're a telemarketer. As for your psycho in-law, I say be frank and tell her that you're offended by the fact that she won't extend you the least bit of telephone courtesy. People with attitudes like that don't deserve to be coddled or humored.

ETA: okay, I just re-read your question, and apparently you've never asked them "Do you mind introducing yourself first? I have trouble discerning voices over the telephone." That's hardly an "explicit" talk (you make it sound like an intervention or something) and I don't see why it wouldn't get the job done. Sometimes the most straight-forward solution is the best. However, if you ask them and they forget to do it, stick with my above suggestions.

Please let us know how you decide to deal with it, and the results!
posted by apple scruff at 3:56 PM on March 14, 2006


Do your in-laws live anywhere near Santa Cruz, CA? I have several friends and neighbors who call and just start talking too - it kind of bugs me because that is not how I was taught to do phone calls and haven't experienced this anywhere else. I guess I usually let them talk enough to identify themselves, or ask. If they are calling for your wife, a polite "can I ask who is calling please" might do the trick for most family members. If you screen calls with an answering machine, expect only the phone number to identify them.

If this is the biggest problem you have with your in-laws, be happy.

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 4:58 PM on March 14, 2006


if you've known them since you were a kid, why aren't you able to recognize their voices by now?

I can identify a voice with more than a few sentences. But when somebody calls and says "Hey, how you doin'?" or "Will you be there in ten minutes?" then I really can't tell.

There's lots of good advice here. I think I'm going to think about this for a few days, read back over this thread again, and then decide what to do. This is pretty trivial stuff, in the scheme of things -- I may combine the "suck it up" and "get Caller ID" advice and get Caller ID in order to be able to suck it up.
posted by waldo at 8:20 PM on March 14, 2006


This one who says she shouldn't have to ID herself when calling your wife's house is one who feels intimate. She feels a need to be close. I suggest you respond in a fun, friendly way that gets your point across while allowing for a chuckle for both of you. It doesn't pay to estrange people like this. Clearly, she feels there is some sort of 'special' relationship involved.

I don't know these people, so maybe this one is over-the-top, but how about: "Donna, I told you not to call me at home, my wife will find out!"

Or, as who it is, when she insists you figure it out, something like "Oh, that hot blond from the pub! How'd you get my number?"

These are especially good if I'm right in my notion that this is an older relative. She can laugh and, in a back-handed way, feel flattered.

I can not imagine having inlaws I'd known since childhood. My inlaws are all 'foreign'.
posted by Goofyy at 4:55 AM on March 15, 2006


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