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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is Having a Quiet Phone Conversation in a Cafe Okay?

Posted by on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 1:14 PM

Is this person a monster?
  • Candid image of a businesswoman talking on the phone in a cafe/Shutterstock
  • Is this person a monster?

"I was, in no uncertain terms, told off just now for having a quiet conversation with someone, by a guy that was sitting across from me at a coffee shop in Capitol Hill," writes Slog Tipper Clint. "The only caveat is that my conversation happened to be on the phone. I'd like to propose a Legally Binding Slog Poll to figure out if I or this unpleasant gentleman was in the wrong. If having a quiet conversation in a coffee shop is okay, is having that same quiet conversation over the phone also okay, or does the phone make it taboo?"

I am also curious.


Comments (47) RSS

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I believe there has been research finding that people are much more irritated when they can only hear half an exchange because the brain tries to fill in the other half and hence can't ignore the conversation.
Posted by wxPDX on February 27, 2014 at 1:21 PM · Report this
@1: But should that be my problem as the one having the conversation?
Posted by FormerSeattelite on February 27, 2014 at 1:26 PM · Report this
its annoying, but I wouldn't tell off someone for doing it... That wasn't a very "Seattle" thing to do.
Posted by Conrad McMasters on February 27, 2014 at 1:26 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 4
If they're talking about me, which is a frequent occurrence, I'm all for it as I'm terribly fascinating.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on February 27, 2014 at 1:28 PM · Report this
christopher575 5
@3 Definitely not a Seattle thing to do. We're supposed to take a photo on the sly and complain on social media.
Posted by christopher575 on February 27, 2014 at 1:31 PM · Report this
collectivism_sucks 6
What the hell is the difference between talking to someone on the phone and talking to someone who's next to you? And I don't want to hear that "but your brain finishes the missing part of the conversation" crap either. Don't want to be distracted by someone whispering into their phone? DON'T EAVESDROP! That simple.

I love how people flip out about someone talking softly onto their phone but would NEVER think to complain about a group of people laughing loudly at another table. Makes no sense.
Posted by collectivism_sucks on February 27, 2014 at 1:37 PM · Report this
Results are neck-and-neck (ignoring the "cop-out" answer)....
Posted by FormerSeattelite on February 27, 2014 at 1:38 PM · Report this
fletc3her 8
Telling somebody off in a cafe isn't very polite. The offended should sublimate that anger into art or an internet startup or something.
Posted by fletc3her on February 27, 2014 at 1:41 PM · Report this
Conscious eavesdropping is definitely more rude than having a quiet conversation, phone or no, but we have to use our brains in filtering out conversation to be ignored and I do think it's harder to filter out half of a conversation. Because of that, I think phone conversations should actually be quieter than conversations between two or more people.
Posted by JenDW on February 27, 2014 at 1:48 PM · Report this
@2 and 6. The difference is that it makes you a rude asshole.
Posted by cracked on February 27, 2014 at 1:52 PM · Report this
Listed in order of increasing rudeness:

* A brief conversation on a phone in a cafe
* A long and quiet conversation on a phone in a cafe
* A long and obnoxious in-person conversation in a cafe
* Telling someone off in a cafe
* A long and obnoxious phone conversation in a cafe
* Telling someone off in a cafe because they politely asked you to speak more quietly during your obnoxious phone conversation in a cafe
Posted by anonymous_cascadian on February 27, 2014 at 2:03 PM · Report this
seatackled 12
Something tells me Slog Tipper Clint was nowhere near as quiet as he imagines.

So, is it okay for me to clip my nails in a cafe as long as I'm quiet about it and I catch the clippings in a napkin?
Posted by seatackled on February 27, 2014 at 2:11 PM · Report this
Put the fucking phone down for once. You don't need to be always talking to someone. Being alone with your own thought for part of the day is OK, you'll survive.
Posted by anon1256 on February 27, 2014 at 2:21 PM · Report this
There IS something uniquely annoying about a phone conversation. Then again two people that sit in a quiet space blabbing away are annoying too.
I repeat my standard advice to never go anywhere in public w/o your headphones lest you be exposed to the inanity and annoyingness that is humanity.
Posted by chi_type on February 27, 2014 at 2:23 PM · Report this
@12 Filing your finger nails sure go ahead, clipping them your pushing it but if your discrete and collect em well maybe, but your toes are right out.

I know a lot of people who talk into the phone way louder then they ever would to someone in person with no knowledge that they are doing so even when pointed out. It does seem to me to be mostly older folks who do this but not always. A habit left over from times passed when mics weren't as sensitive I guess.
Posted by Machiavelli was framed on February 27, 2014 at 2:26 PM · Report this
Larry David has the answer:…
Posted by bigyaz on February 27, 2014 at 2:27 PM · Report this
@15 " A habit left over from times passed when mics weren't as sensitive I guess"

More likely because mobile phone reception sucks and people instinctively start talking louder when they can't hear well.
Posted by anon1256 on February 27, 2014 at 2:29 PM · Report this
ScandalMgr 18
All patrons must use the "Cone of Silence" ala Maxwell Smart.…
Posted by ScandalMgr on February 27, 2014 at 2:36 PM · Report this
seatackled 19

Nah, clipping nails is inappropriate. If you have a hangnail that you have to take care of, okay, but maybe head over to the garbage can or something. And only that one.
Posted by seatackled on February 27, 2014 at 2:40 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 20
Bitchy, bitchy Capitol Hill.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on February 27, 2014 at 2:41 PM · Report this
SPG 21
The polite thing to do is to walk outside and have your phone conversation on the sidewalk.
Posted by SPG on February 27, 2014 at 2:42 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 22
The means of other people's conversations is a weird thing to get angry about. Angry enough to tell someone off in public, no less.

"My God! That man over there is having a conversation involving radio waves! IN PUBLIC! How dare he!"
Posted by MacCrocodile on February 27, 2014 at 2:46 PM · Report this
Fnarf 23
@6, it is impossible not to eavesdrop on an audible phone conversation. It is a thousand times more irritating than a conversation with both parties present.

@21 is correct. Get up and go outside.

My favorite was the flaming butthole in a restaurant having a loud chat with someone ON SPEAKERPHONE. It's happened to me twice, at the same restaurant -- the first time, the butthole at one point was shouting his account number over and over into the phone; the other time, it was a cluster of buttholes around a phone, four of them shouting in the phone on the table. Fuck me.

But that allegedly quiet conversation that I can just barely hear is almost as bad.
Posted by Fnarf on February 27, 2014 at 2:46 PM · Report this
seandr 24
Ok, so this happened.

I'm standing on the corner waiting for the light to change and a person walks up next to me and says "Hi!". I reflexively say "Hi" back, a little confused because I don't know him. Then I realize he's talking to someone on the phone through one of those blue tooth ear pieces. I become enraged and push him in front of an oncoming bus.
Posted by seandr on February 27, 2014 at 2:53 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 25

I'm a soft-spoken person by nature. When on the phone I have to intentionally raise my voice to be heard because the person on the other end is having trouble hearing me.
Posted by keshmeshi on February 27, 2014 at 2:54 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 26

What if it's pouring rain outside?

It's a public space. People on the phone have an obligation to not be assholes about it (and business owners would do well to enforce some sort of policy against obnoxious phone conversations), and the rest of us have the obligation to nut it up and deal with it.
Posted by keshmeshi on February 27, 2014 at 2:56 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 27
Turn off the Google Glass and stop thinking your quiet cell voice is quiet - even in France, where they do speak quietly on cell phones, they go outside or into an empty corner to talk
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 27, 2014 at 2:58 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 28
@12 no - you have to do that on a public bus

First rule of Seattle nail clipping
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 27, 2014 at 3:00 PM · Report this
@17 yeah that too.

@19 Your right it's best not to I guess I'm just more grossed out seeing someone chew their nails then clipping them neatly and discretely.

@23 LOL that happened to me once while reading and taking notes in a coffee shop. I wrote down his account number and tossed it down on his cell phone as I walked out. What an idiot.

Remember public phone booths? A nice quiet box to step into and shut the door when you wanted to use a phone in public.
Posted by Machiavelli was framed on February 27, 2014 at 3:01 PM · Report this
Fnarf 30
@29, what? I thought those were for peeing in.
Posted by Fnarf on February 27, 2014 at 3:11 PM · Report this
very bad homo 31
Keep your conversation as short as possible, or just text the person. There's no need to be talking all the time. You're not that fascinating.
Posted by very bad homo on February 27, 2014 at 3:35 PM · Report this
devinderry 32
Some people have bad filters, I'm one of them. Sitting in a crowded cafe I can tell you the gist of every conversation going on around me, even with headphones.

And no, you don't *have* to take it outside or to a quiet corner, but the rest of us sure do appreciate it when you do.
Posted by devinderry on February 27, 2014 at 4:23 PM · Report this
@23/Fnarf, twice this has happened - I'm sitting alone in a restaurant lounge, phone at nearby table rings, guy answers phone and raises his "just a minute" finger to his friends and walks away from the table to take the call . . . standing directly next to me. WTF, politely rude guy?
Posted by Luckier on February 27, 2014 at 4:26 PM · Report this

Phoniacs, unite!

Remember, your prayer phones are sacred!

Ignore that car about to blast you into oblivion as you

cross the street checking your all-important messages!

And those people who think you are rude as you inject

your (usually) inane one-sided conversations into their

lives--well, they have no idea of the incredible value of

your (also sacred) connectivity.

Phone-borgs unite!

Leave those non-texters and such to

enter the dustbin of history as they so gloriously deserve!

Phone trumps all!

Posted by hola on February 27, 2014 at 5:18 PM · Report this
raindrop 35
I've found that people that use cell/smartphones indiscreetly (such as not walking down the corridor for more privacy) are self-absorbed, narcissistic, insecure, bores.
Posted by raindrop on February 27, 2014 at 5:23 PM · Report this
As someone who works in a cafe this shit happens alllll the time. People definitely do not realize how loud there are being. People who "facetime" (or whatever) in public are THE worst though
Posted by grumpymuppet on February 27, 2014 at 5:31 PM · Report this
@24: When I worked in a large public library we used to play a game called Schizophrenia or Bluetooth. Sometimes it was genuinely difficult to figure out which was causing someone to walk around muttering into thin air.
Posted by chi_type on February 27, 2014 at 7:59 PM · Report this
@30 well yes that type of error of use did happen back in the day. However in general it did not happen in places where talking loudly on a cell phone would have been much of a concern.
Posted by Machiavelli was framed on February 27, 2014 at 9:53 PM · Report this
Sandiai 39
When I take Amtrak (I know... don't get me started) from DC to New York, I always sit in the quiet car, if there is one available. The train is always incredibly crowded, and yet I often have the quiet car to myself.
Posted by Sandiai on February 27, 2014 at 10:34 PM · Report this
seatackled 40

I don't usually see people chewing their nails. But I guess that would gross me out a little simply because I can be a germaphobe. It's just as gross as watching someone lick their finger to count off a bill and then give it to me (or to a clerk, who will eventually give it to someone like me when making change).

When I'm in a restroom and someone is on the phone, I usually flush, especially if it sounds like a business call.
Posted by seatackled on February 27, 2014 at 10:48 PM · Report this
@1, this is the study:…

Several commenters are acting like it's a moral failing of the others in the cafe to not mind their own business. Others suggest that it's just about volume (though that certainly doesn't help). But this study (and my own anecdotal experience) suggests that it's a brain function thing. You can't will yourself to be less distracted; your brain simply can't filter out the half-alogue as it can a dialogue.

Sitting in a public place and making it impossible for those nearby to think is rude, and insisting on your right to do so is selfish.

About the time we settle on new social norms for these devices, those norms will become outdated when everyone switches to implantable chips for telepathic telephony.
Posted by Solicitor Expliciter on February 27, 2014 at 11:22 PM · Report this
mikethehammer 42
I voted no twice (work & home) and am happy to see it beat out yes. But I'm guessing the majority of the cop-out "It all depends" voters would likely have gone Yes if forced to go straight up or down, which makes me not happy. Screw those people.
Posted by mikethehammer on February 27, 2014 at 11:27 PM · Report this
Your conversation was not quiet if somebody sitting across from you is bothered by it. You were likely shouting into your headset and exposing your fellow coffee shop patrons to half of a conversation, which is probably the most frustrating thing about cell phones.
Posted by treehugger on February 28, 2014 at 8:07 AM · Report this
persimmon 44
If you are in a public place--particularly one not intended for quiet solitary reflection like a museum or a library--then you should probably expect to hear talking of some kind. Conversations happen. If that bothers you, go home. The other day I listened to a group of people skype (with the volume all the way up) in the middle of Panera. It was a little weird, but I figured maybe this is the only place they get internet, and hey, if I didn't want to hear someone skyping with their mother in Boise, maybe I should have gotten my overpriced generic sandwich to go.

It's ridiculous to assume a public space can only be used for what you intend it to be.
Posted by persimmon on March 1, 2014 at 8:09 PM · Report this
Story from back in the day, when cell phones were common, but not *everybody* had one. Maybe 12 years ago or so. At a party, not a rager, just a gathering of friends. Someone comes up with a question that another partygoer says that a friend of his might know the answer. So he calls the guy, in the middle of the living room. Fine, whatever.

Then he says to everyone, "Hey, I'm on the phone."

Posted by clashfan on March 2, 2014 at 11:24 AM · Report this
I still take it outside or away from other folks.

Had a real annoying group of people sit next to me in a Belltown coffee shop the other day. One of them insisted on playing a video on his laptop, with volume turned up enough so he could hear it over the other conversation of his friends(?). What an Ass.
Posted by phil1234 on March 2, 2014 at 2:49 PM · Report this
SPG 47
@26, "What if it's pouring rain outside?" Well then you either bring your umbrella outside or you get wet. Or you can just call them back when you're done at the restaurant. Not too difficult, right? Simple courtesy people.
Posted by SPG on March 3, 2014 at 11:22 AM · Report this

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