What Happened When I Confronted a Stranger about His Noisy Phone


Photo by Matthijs Rouw

Waiting is never easy and gets harder in the places designed for it. Wherever a “waiting room” exists, it will be appointed for maximum misery. Whatever variations you find in the décor, you are certain to find a television, usually a large one, usually unwatched, always on at a volume intended to deafen.

Such was the case this morning when I took my two girls, ages seven and four, to wait while the brakes on our van were checked. The garage does brisk business and offers patrons a corner with chairs, free coffee and magazines to peruse.

I settled the girls at a table and, because it was early, laid out for them a breakfast of Lucky Charms and sippy-cups of grape juice. The television was blaring. The girls dug into their meals. I took a chair near them.

I glanced toward a shelf on my left. The television’s remote control lay there, clearly left out for patrons to use. The only other person waiting was a young man of about twenty. He was deep into his phone, staring with blank intensity at its glowing screen. With his tennis shoes, sunglasses and ball cap, he didn’t look like the kind of person likely to be crushed by missing Kelly and Michael’s review of the best gowns worn at the Emmy’s.

So I turned the television off. Relief flooded over me. My muscles relaxed in the sudden silence. My body felt like it had been released from a suffocating if invisible grip. I turned to my reading and to keeping my children focused on eating without aggravating one another into insanity.

They finished and I let them play on their small tablet toys. I made them turn the sound off. The young man began to play a football game on his phone. The volume was high. The sound of the virtual tackles, calls, whistles filled every bit of the aural space.

Eventually, I said to him, “Would you mind turning that down a little, please?”

He looked up. “ I need some noise. You turned the tv off, so…”

I considered my response. “You are being very rude,” I said.

“Yea,” he said, “well, your children were making a lot of noise.”

“And I corrected them,” I said. “But, that’s not the point, you are very rude.”

He said nothing.

A while later, I gathered the girls and we left to do some shopping at a nearby store.

This is how social systems break down. The majority of society becomes uncomfortable living even the tiniest fractions of their lives without distraction. The fear of confronting oneself in unexpected, quiet places becomes overwhelming to the point that constant diversion becomes a necessity. “I need some noise” could be the motto for millions.

The need for noise is so pervasive and so intense that any action interfering with it, like turning off a blaring television no one is watching, causes outrage. In his outrage, this young man chose to punish me and my girls by subjecting us to his needed noise.

I could have said nothing. Holding one’s tongue is often the wisest and safest choice when confronted with this kind of behavior. Yet, saying nothing contributes to the breakdown of the social system by convincing people no one cares about public decorum.

People have to live together. Living together requires everyone to observe certain rules whether those are expressed as law or as custom. The courtesies we extend to one another, or that we used to, are one set of those rules. The widespread disregard for these rules is both a symptom of deeper social decay and a cause. The more these rules are ignored, the faster whatever remains of the social compact that makes living together bearable deteriorates. This young man himself  is both a product and a cause of social breakdown. Nobody becomes that narcissistic and that entitled without training and a lot of practice and a cause of our decay. A 20-year-old who justifies his childish behavior by comparing himself to the seven and four-year-olds in the room is sick. So is the society that produced him.

By confronting him, I hoped to offer a lesson in what community requires. I don’t know if it worked. Still, I am glad I said something. There are, after all, some situations where it is best not to keep quiet.


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6 responses

  1. If nothing else, you reminded your kids that you will advocate on their behalf. You have allowed your children to learn vicariously that certain behaviors are rude an unacceptable. You also showed them that, sometimes, people don’t grow up (even after they become adults).

    You may have done more good in this matter than you realized at the time. The benefit will likely show up in your children over the years that follow.



    • I was very aware that my kids were watching. I talked with them afterward. They were happy to hear that they are both more mature than that guy.

  2. I so agree with you about the tv’s and noise everywhere. I can’t stand it. There are restaurants that I have stopped going to because the volume of music and/or tv’s.

  3. I was pointed here by my brother Shane who writes BDGJM. I happen to agree with him this time. You showed your girls it is okay to stand up for what you believe is right and that you will not let some one pass blame on them. I have been in those waiting rooms, like most people, with TV’s blaring. Recently I found myself in a medical office with such a TV and the broadcast was about mass shootings. After about 5 minutes I asked the other two people if the would mind if I ask the receptionist to change the channel. They were more than happy to see it go. I wondered at the time how long would they have sat there if I had not done anything. I don’t understand why we as a community think we can not ask politely for what we need, or want. I enjoyed reading your piece. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Thank you for your comment, Marlene. I think you are correct in your assessment that people are to frightened to ask for what they want.

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