A little over two years ago, I wrote an article about mobile phone usage in public called Banning Cell Phones in Public Places. I was, and still am, of the opinion that most public spaces are not the place to whip out your mobile phone and start loudly talking about your personal life, to the detriment of the people around you — particularly when the people can do nothing to get away from you, such as on a bus. Last night, I discovered in horror how easy it is to become that person on the phone.
For the past week, I have been having a heated debate with my mother about life, and yesterday, when my train to Kew Gardens returned to cellular coverage, I saw I had a message waiting for me from her. Her message was brief, but mother made it clear she still was still unconvinced of my side of the argument. Rather than stew and have it out with her later in person, I decided to quickly return her call and tell her again why I was correct. That was the first mistake that I made.
I called from the train and explained my position to her in Romanian — that is our clearest shared language. I thought using Romanian in public would be the most polite thing to do since most people in the United States do not speak Romanian, and those around me would be better able to ignore me because they would not understand what I was saying. That turned out to be the second mistake I made. A lot of people who live in Queens, New York speak Romanian — so many, in fact, that there is a Romanian language news program that comes from Queens.
As it became clear she was still not getting what I was trying to say, I started to get a little upset. I got a funny look from someone to my right — someone who had a few very obvious Romanian features, now that I think about it. I should have remembered there is no such thing as coincidence and just said good-bye and hung up the phone. I didn’t. I continued the conversation.
A minute or so later, I got another nasty look — this time from someone else on the train. They said, “Excuse me!” with the implication that I was speaking too loudly. I was crestfallen. I picked up my bags and walked as far away from them as I could and told my mother that I had to go and that I would call her back.
A few minutes later, I got off the train and called her back and promptly told her I was never talking on the phone on the train again. It was a humiliating and humbling experience yet I have learned a lot from it — namely, that I need to stop thinking bad things about people who speak on their mobile phones. The question “Don’t they realize how loud they are being?” can now be answered by me — sometimes we don’t know. I suppose I should take my own advice and quit using mobile phones in public spaces.