May 17, 2009

How does it happen that certain people have no idea when they are talking too loud?

People who lack spacial awareness will bump into a pole while they're walking. But people who lack vocal volume awareness? They're too busy yelling to notice and the rest of us just have to suffer.

It's one thing if you're in a cinema with a movie showing. Then you have the right to say: Ssshh. But try shushing someone sitting next to you at a restaurant. It's not good.

The first thing I do whenever I'm being seated is scope out the occupants at the table next to me and see if they look like they're going to be loud.

If it's a large table with more than three people, it's a bad sign. Recently I was having sushi with a friend and a couple sat down at the empty table next to us.

Immediately, the woman began a running commentary - first about the decor, then about the food - projecting as though she was on stage at The National.

"It tastes fishy," she screamed to her partner who was seated across the table. He wasn't seated across the street - why was she shouting?

The two of them continued chatting as though they were in a nightclub. Everyone within a five-table radius was subjected to her thoughts on the spicy tuna. (Too spicy). But at least I could move to another section.

Last week I was on a flight to Los Angeles and found myself trapped for six hours. The flight was full so I couldn't move seats. I was on the aisle in a row for three and the other two seats were occupied by an attractive young woman in the movie industry and an actor who, for some reason, didn't get on her nerves.

Listening to an overly animated actor flirt with a giggling film executive for six solid hours is my version of water boarding. He was performing a one man show. I've never seen someone make so much use of the tiny space in an economy seat. He was mincing around, waving his arms, and everything he said was overly exaggerated and intensely emotive.

At one point, during his monologue, she offers him a piece of gum. His response? "HELL YEAH!" Where could I go? Nowhere. What could I do? Nothing.

Being hijacked by terrorists would have been less irritating. An hour into the conversation and she has not said one word about herself. After everything she just exclaims: "Exactly!" And he keeps going.

She is laughing so hard she can't catch her breath. Just then I think, maybe she'll choke. That would shut them up. But then I felt bad. There had to be other options. What I couldn't understand is how he hadn't taken a break from the chatter and she hadn't imposed one. It was non-stop. Then came the accents. The British voice, which sounded more like a hillbilly from Arkansas, and ended every sentence with, "You know what I mean?"

Three hours into the flight they were still going. It was agony. How could there be no pause at all? From accents he moves into his opinions on actors, those who "rock" and those who "suck".

Everyone's a dude. This dude and that dude - so many dudes it was hard to keep track of which one was the smart dude and which one was the alternative dude.

It got so loud that the woman in the row in front of ours turned around. She gave me one of those looks that says: "Boy am I glad I don't have your seat."

Just then it hit me: it had turned from an audition into a date. How do I know? Because she was getting to talk too. Every so often he'd ask her a question. I was the third wheel; an unwilling chaperone on the loudest first date in history. And since they had no comprehension that I was sitting with them, they made no efforts to tone it down.

There really is no good way to say to people: "Can you lower your voice?"

Especially when they're enjoying themselves. If I were to say something I know exactly what would happen. Suddenly I'd be the rude one. It's been suggested I get noise reduction headphones but they're not very comfortable nor are they practical.

They're okay on a plane if you don't want to lean to the side or rest your head on a pillow or hear any of the announcements. But it's not like you can wear them out to dinner or to a movie.

Ideally, there would be a mute button on the side of my head and when I switched it on, it would block out all outside noise. The only problem then is - I'd be forced to listen to my own thoughts.