In the early 2000s, Verizon Wireless launched a successful ad campaign with a series of commercials featuring the “Test Guy” who trudged through various locales asking, “Can you hear me, now?”
I thought about that commercial while perusing produce at the grocery store. As I slipped red peppers into a plastic bag, a tinny voice behind me said, “They got his test results. It’s not good.”
Pausing my pepper selection, I looked around. A man nearby was holding his cellphone in front of him. He leaned on his cart and said, “I knew it! He’s so fat. All he eats is what comes from boxes, or drive-thrus.”
Stunned, I watched the guy pick through the salad selection while the person on his phone went into detail about someone’s cardiac history. The shopper had his volume high enough that I could hear every word, even as I rounded the corner to the deli.
I wish that had been the only time I was forced to overhear a phone conversation about private matters in a public place.
We’ve all grown used to hearing one-sided conversations as people chat on phones while waiting in lines or walking through stores, but most of us are polite enough to hold our phones to our ears or use Bluetooth. Lately, I’ve noticed an alarming trend of folks putting calls on speaker mode while out and about.
I don’t think it’s intentional rudeness, but I do wonder if society’s standards have lapsed.
Not long before the grocery store incident, I waited in the lobby of a car dealership as Ruby Sue got her regular oil change.
A teenage girl held the denizens of the waiting area captive as she debated her homecoming garb with a friend via speakerphone. The volume was set so loud we could hear the person on the other end crunching chips as they conversed.
“K. I’m sending you my top three picks,” the girl in the waiting area said. “My mom already vetoed the red backless sheath, but I like it.”
Rustle, rustle, crunch.
“Dude, it’s sweet and all, but I like the lacy black mini way better,” her friend replied, through a mouthful of food.
I got up and moved to the other side of the waiting room and tried to read my book. Soon, the far side was filled with others trying to avoid a conversation none of us wanted to hear.
I’m not averse to using speaker settings during work interviews or chatting with a friend while making dinner. But I can’t imagine walking through a grocery store with my phone out in front of me asking my husband if he wants tacos or tuna casserole for dinner. That’s what texting is for.
Are people really self-centered enough to think others are happy to hear their discussions about whether no bra is better than a strapless one?
The worst example of this total lack of social awareness came on our way home from our recent trip to Ohio. Dozens of weary travelers crammed into a crowded way-too-small boarding area at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to await a 9 p.m. flight to Spokane.
We sat elbow-to-elbow with other travelers. Honestly, the one thing I miss about COVID restrictions is social distancing. That sentiment became more pronounced as a 40-something woman two seats away, recounted her trip highlights and lowlights to her partner via FaceTime.
I mean, I think it went OK, babe, but I just dunno,” she said. “Do you think I’m too insecure?”
Her unwilling audience was treated to her partner’s murmurs of love and affection followed by his assessment. “Well, yeah sweetie, you are a bit insecure.”
People on either side of her and across the aisle glared. Most of us were trying to listen for our boarding call in the bustling airport.
Remember when you got caught passing notes or whispering to a friend in school and the teacher called you out and said, “Do you have something you’d like to share with the rest of the class?”
One wonders if these speaker-phone aficionados always replied, “You bet!”
Consider this my plea for simple good manners. When in public don’t use your speaker phone setting, because the answer to that Verizon ad question is clear. Yes, we can hear you, now, but do we really need to?
Cindy Hval can be reached at email@example.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available at Auntie’s Bookstore and bookstores nationwide.