Dear PoPville – What is the proper etiquette for Talking on Cell Phones on Public Transit

Photo by PoPville flickr user mosley.brian

“Dear PoPville,

Thought it’d be fun to see where people stand on talking on their cellphones on Metro/Metro Bus by having a poll question on the topic. Just a fun idea as personally I’m shocked how many people seem to talk and have personal conversations on their cell phone during rush hour on the S buses.

-OK on buses only
-OK on Metro only
-OK on either
-Not OK on either”

64 Comment

  • Not OK on either. Heard one too many explosive arguments on the X2.

  • For me it’s more or less the same as having any conversation (though it’s slightly more annoying when you can only hear one side of it…) By all means have a chat, but keep it down and spare us the foul language.

  • At least we finally got rid of the 2-way paging scourge of the 00’s. THANKS, SPRINT.

  • Also, please don’t have loud conversations when I’m on the bus at 6:30am. I don’t even want to hear myself think, let alone listen to you screaming into the phone next to me. While we’re at it, can we nix the heavy perfume/cologne on public transit too?? Good God, the stench of cheap perfume in the morning gives me a headache every time.

  • A related pet peeve of mine is people who talk on the phone in elevators. When two people get on an elevator, the etiquette is to stop a conversation or at least to continue it in hushed tones. For some reason, people feel free to shout into their phones.

    • Don’t get me started on the people in my office who take their calls into the bathroom. So not ok.

  • What I hate most is when these dipshits who are nostalgic about Nextel push-to-talk feel the need to talk on speakerphone and hold the phone out in front of their faces. NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR YOUR CONVERSATION!

    • Ha! I had a roommate who did this constantly. It seemed she only knew how to talk on speaker phone. She’d wander into the living room as other people are hanging out and watching tv and just continue on with her call on speaker. But the weirdest thing was she’d have conversations on speaker while in the shower. So everyone involved was shouting and you could hear it throughout the apartment. She was the worst.

  • I think the problem is there isn’t an etiquette. People just do whatever the heck they want and don’t realize how annoying it can be to others around them. Pretty much everybody has text capability now- if you need to tell someone your arrival status- text. Unless it’s an emergency, hang up the darn phones!

  • I picked Never Ok, but really, I feel like quick conversations are ok. I sometimes call to just check on something, I try to keep it down and end as quick as possible. When I see other people do the same, I don’t get annoyed.

    And not to change the subject, but I find the most annoying thing is people playing games on their cell phones with the sound turned up. Games like jewel-popper are so annoying to listen to. And for some reason, it always seems to be the middle-aged adults doing this. Maybe they don’t know how to turn the sound off? But seriously, super annoying and incosiderate.

  • Dont!
    not saying you can NEVER use youe cell on the train or bus but dont have a full blown convo yapping about last nights happenings all loud save that for the house
    talk quietly and get on and off the phone imo. thats how i treat it at least

    or if you are having a drawn out convo try to do so quietly

  • Eh, I’d rather have them talk on the phone than to blast their music through the speakers of their cell phone.

  • I think that a quick conversation is fine — and whether it’ on the bus or on the Metro wouldn’t make a difference. For the most part though, if there is the potential for disturbing other people, I text. I don’t want to listen to anyone’s loud conversation on the metro/bus, and don’t want anyone to have to listen to mine. Using “indoor voices” would help — but so would a pervasive sense that we should be considerate in public.

  • For whatever reason, it is almost always an (adult) daughter talking to her mom or dad on the phone when I’m on the S-bus going home in the evening. If there is any conversation that should NOT occur on the bus, it should be with your parents (unless it is urgent or an emergency). If I were the parent, I’d be insulted that my kid couldn’t find the time to call me in a more quiet atmosphere.

    • Given that my parents rarely stop talking long enough for me to provide more input than a couple “uh huh”s per conversation, the bus seems like the perfect time to “talk” to them.

      • Ha ha. That’s understandable in that case. In the few instances that I’ve overheard the conversations though, it’s generally the parent that (i’m guessing) is going “uh huh” since the person on the bus is doing almost all the talking.

    • pcat

      Gee, when I’m on the S-2 or the S-4 heading downtown in the evening, the calls are international – to Ethiopia or a spanish-speaking country. And unfortunately the speakers have not yet learned that you don’t have to yell to reach a foreign land.

      • Yes, great observation! If they aren’t speaking English then they must be speaking to someone who is in a different country!

      • LOL! Your comment reminded me that my Mom used to talk louder when she was on a long distance call — “because they’re so far away”.

    • Um…that’s totally me (almost, since I don’t take the S bus). I hate talking on the phone and made the walk home after work my “scheduled” time to call my mother. In bad weather I’ll take the bus, but make sure to keep my voice down. She’s not at all offended, more thrilled that I called to “talk” (which mostly means murmuring “yeah?” “uh huh.” “ok.” “really?” when she takes a breath). We have a close relationship, I just absolutely hate talking on the phone so it’s a regular time when we’re both usually free and know to expect a call.

      Although….why is it ok to call and chat with other people on the bus but just not your parents?

      • Yep, this is me as well. It’s actually hard to fathom my mom being offended at me calling from the bus?

      • There’s a difference between hearing one side of a conversation and the entire conversation in terms of how easy it is to tune it out (there are studies, I’m sure you can find some by googling). Also, when both people taking part in the conversation are present they can both respond to cues (stopping momentarily when someone talks to them to get around them or whatever). And mostly, people (not all people, but most people) talk more quietly in person than on a cell phone.
        What I can’t understand is why with all of the technology in today’s cell phones, they can’t figure out how to give the same sort of audio feedback you get on a landline. This is why people tend to shout on cell phones in a way they don’t when talking on a regular phone.

  • gotryit

    I think the votes have it right – it’s ok to talk in public (to whoever you want, including yourself and your phone). Just be considerate because your conversation is in public.

    • Not sure if I agree. I think there’s a difference between a sidewalk/bus stop/park and a metro bus where I’m squished against you, can’t escape, and am forced to hear only one side of a conversation.

      Not to mention it’s probably either at 8am or 530pm, when I’m either not in the mood in the morning or tired from work.

      Quick conversations are fine. But sitting squished next to someone on the S bus for my 30 minute commute hearing about their weekend plans is just plain annoying.

      • gotryit

        If you can’t zone out other people’s conversations when you want to, then you may want to try headphones with whatever book / music makes you happy.

      • Question: if the person next to you on your 30 minute commute was telling their weekend plans to someone else sitting next to them, would you still say it’s not OK?

        • No, that’s different. Studies have shown, and personally I find it true, that hearing one-sided conversations only irritates people. Plus, I find that people talking on phones tend to be much louder than people talking right next to each other.

          I guess my question to you would be, would you be OK with letting people talk on their cell phones on flights?

          • I would say no. Flights are generally much longer than rides on the metro; you can only get on and off at one place; and you don’t have the freedom to move to a different seat. You’re a far more captive audience on a plane than on the metro. Also it’s harder to deal with tempers flaring at 25,000 feet in the sky than it is on 16th Street.

        • why are you playing devils advocate on this?

          • Not playing devil’s advocate. My gut reaction was the same as nw_dc_1988 but after I thought about it I couldn’t really justify it. If the person is conducting the phone call at the same volume as they would a conversation with the person next to them (and maybe that’s a big “if”), I’m not sure why I should have a problem with it.

          • an overwhelming majority say dont’/ keep your voice low, and yet we still can’t come to a consensus that it’s rude?

            we need to return to PSA’s.

  • I have a hard time understanding how a commute on public transportation is a “pleasant experience” which can be “ruined” by a cell phone conversation.

  • This is an absolute pet peeve of mine. Grant it, there are times when there may be an actual emergency. However, 99.99999% of the phone calls I hear on public transportation are what I call “casual.” It is highly disrespectful to other people on the train/bus.

  • Yeah, I don’t mind a quick “I just got on the bus, I’ll be home in 15 minutes” type of phone call that is obviously time sensitive because it requires a pickup or logistics or something. But… a catch up, long conversation with a friend or parents? STFU. I wish I had the guts to channel Larry David and sit next to them and have a one sided conversation with only myself.

    • +1, I’ve always wanted to do that too…thanks for the laugh

    • That’s usually the point when I just stare at the person incessantly or start participating in the conversation. “Really?” “Wow.” “That’s a bad idea.” “Bye, mom!” Bitchy, but I can’t stand the conversations that unnecessarily involved everyone in the immediate area. Then again, I’m also annoyed by two people having a face-to-face conversation at non-indoor-voice volume on the bus or metro, so perhaps I’m just a curmudgeon.

  • Unless you are a doctor and you are actually saving a life, don’t. There’s nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing that you could possibly be talking about that cannot wait until you get off the next bus stop. If in doubt, send a text.

  • Talking on the phone is obviously not the same as an ordinary conversation. There’s little for us to say to the strangers around us, but all of us have someone we could be talking to on the phone. Sensible, ethical people understand that if everyone interested to have a phone conversation did so, then a cacophony would result. That’s why many people draw the line there.

    Even “indoor voices” are obnoxious on crowded public transit.

    • This is an interesting point, but I’ve been on buses and rail cars where just about everyone is having a conversation with someone. It is a cacophony but sometimes it happens. But I wouldn’t say (or think) that everyone needs to shut up because it’s disrespectful. On the other hand, I’ve never seen this happens with people on cellphones, so your example relies on a very hypthetical situation to hold up, so I’m not fully convinced.

  • I have a friend who HATES phone conversations on the bus. Three tactics that he recommends:

    (1) Stare directly into the eyes of the person having the conversation, and react expressively to each of his or her comments.
    (2) Facing the person on the phone, pick up your own phone and feign a loud conversation.
    (3) Pick up you own phone and announce loudly to the imaginary person on the line, “I’m on the bus and don’t want to be that obnoxious person carrying on a call in tight quarters. I’ll call you back later.”

  • Screw indoor voices–HUSHED TONES PEOPLE. Your life is not that interesting,

    And speaker phone? Are you THAT self absorbed and socially unaware?

    Don’t GET me started on the idiots who play music without their earphones!!!!! Must you let the entire bus/train know how crappy your taste in music is? You’re impressing no one, sir. We don’t hear your playlist and think “oh wow that dude is so cool! He wrote those songs!”

    Your terrible music is your terrible music. You have no right to inflict it upon everybody.

  • i wish we had public cell phones booths. there just has to be some kind of damage done to your brain by having to hear 1/2 of so many conversations in a day.

  • I commute to downtown DC from Petworth, so its either the metro or the 70/79 buses and I detest loud public phone conversations. Yesterday, I had to take the Red line at 5:30 pm to Rockville and was startled at how noticeably quiet the metro was the whole trip. I don’t know if that was unusual, but it was pleasant.

  • be of your time, just text.

  • It’s not a library. Be respectful, but come on…

  • Woman on the 74 was having a nice long discussion with her iPhone on speaker phone the other day. Really? Speakerphone? Aint nobody want to hear one side of your conversation, much less both.

  • I defer to David Foster Wallace. Replace supermarket with bus/metro:

    “Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do . . . This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.”

  • Phone conversations are somewhat annoying, but nothing compares to people playing music so loud that everyone can hear it

  • I literally have no idea what some you people are talking about. How the hell is talking on a cell phone even a legitimate problem, so long as the person is speaking at a reasonable level? I mean, are you so concerned with your need for peace and quiet on PUBLIC transportation that you begrudge people having conversations with others? And so what if you can’t hear both sides of the conversation! It’s not your conversation to listen to! If you heard the whole thing, you’d be evesdropping or listening in on two people – so you only get to listen in on half the conversation, what gives you the right to be bothered by this? Oh boo hoo, you only get half the narrative and are missing out on half the story – big deal! You being annoyed because you can only hear half of a story has nothing to do with whether I’m being courteous and everything to do with you being an entitled D.C. carpetbagger. Bottom line – if I’m talking at reasonable level, it shouldn’t make a difference whether I’m talking on the phone or to my seat-mate.

    • who needs to respect others anyway, huh?

      • Hahahaha — well put!

      • This is what I’m talking about. What does respect have to do with total silence? It’s a bus/train, it’s already naturally noisy. How is it realistic to say that not talking is respectful? People are just too worked up about keeping such a social distance from others that they can’t even stand to hear talking??

        • I understand your point, LJ. I do. This is definitely a matter of opinion. All I can say is if it doesn’t annoy you then either you haven’t experienced what we’ve experienced, or dude you are one cool cucumber and I wish other people’s annoying habits just rolled off my back like that. LOL True shizz. Not insulting you.

          Also, I just thought of something. I grew up in a house with a LOT, and I mean a LOT of people in a very small space. Needless to say, dysfunction abounded. So, I naturally TRY to not be a nuisance in shared spaces. I have way too many memories of some petty fights that got too real too fast. I’m just naturally a try not to bother people kind of person but yeah maybe next time I’ll try looking at this annoyance through another lense ‘cuz hey I’m not brave enough to try any of the hilarious tactics suggested above anyway. 🙂

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