Advice: Dealing with phubbers (and what’s a ‘phubber,’ anyway?)

Plus, the perils of the homemade gift coupon.

My office lunchroom table has two phubbers. One ignores the general conversation until she has something to say, then talks over the person speaking and goes right back to her phone. The other interrupts the conversation to read something off his phone, often completely changing the subject. Spending your lunch hour with your phone is fine. Joining the group conversation is fine. But focusing on your phones, hijacking the conversation, then going back to your phones is insulting and annoying. Thoughts?

D. A. / Cambridge

Thanks for the new vocabulary word! To "phub" is to snub a person in favor of one's phone. The term was coined by McCann Australia (yes, the branch of Mad Men's Evil Empire McCann Erickson) to generate interest in a new dictionary it was promoting.


It's a new word, but old behavior — I've seen people "phub" with magazines, books, lap dogs, and small babies as well. Some impressive practitioners can do what you're talking about without any distracting object at all, D.A.: Zone out of the conversation, swing back in occasionally with a rant only lightly related to the topic under discussion, then peace back out to their private psychic space. Fans of The Lord of the Rings might call it "my precious-ism." In short, I validate your irritation but exonerate the technology.

You could try talking to the phubbers, but it's almost never worth spending social capital in the workplace on these kinds of issues. (Unless you're the boss. Are you the boss? Bosses can ask or tell people to tweak their etiquette.) Talk to the other non-phubbers about it instead. Maybe you can all agree to studiously ignore the interruptions. If the phubbers receive no reinforcement, according to behaviorist theory, extinction should result. (Extinction of the behavior, that is.) If not, you'll at least reinforce a sense of camaraderie and mutual norms among the rest of you. Nothing builds team spirit like shared eye rolls.


Last year my daughter sent me a handwritten card stating "Good for: One plane ticket to visit us in Florida." I visited her and her family a few weeks ago. She did not mention the card when I told her of my plans, and neither she nor her husband offered to pay for my trip while I was there. Should I have said something? Should I mention it before my next trip?

J.U. / Boston

Lucky you, to be stuck with a coupon gift: the cold sore, the glitter, the anchovies of the gift world. Whether it's for a back rub or a plane ticket, the homemade coupon gift is an awkward, regrettable concept. Nobody can "redeem" those things without severe embarrassment. I'm sorry your daughter got snookered by their meretricious convenience. I would have to be a psychic to know if she meant for you to redeem the gift. Maybe she doesn't even know herself. The fake coupon encourages self-deception.

Your daughter almost certainly wouldn't get angry if you mentioned it. It's also possible that you've given her the impression that she's never supposed to pick up your tab, in which case the coupon might be a sincere attempt to let her pay without insulting your pride. This is a fairly common dynamic between parents and adult children — might it apply to you? The bottom line: How much is it worth to you to avoid an awkward conversation? Flights to Florida look to be in the $300-500 range at present. What does your inner CPA think?


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

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