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Ask Amy: What do you say to someone having a loud phone call in public?

4 min

Dear Amy: What words of advice would you have for addressing someone who is in a public place having a very public, loud and personal phone conversation on their Bluetooth ear buds (or cellphones in general)?

I’m completely baffled as to why someone does this, but I see it all the time — in grocery stores, business offices, you name it. No one wants to hear it, and it personally makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable.

— KQ, in Kentucky

KQ: I believe the reason people tend to yell into their cellphones while they are using earphones or ear buds is because they can’t actually hear themselves very well … because their ears are plugged by their ear buds.

People tend to quickly believe that they are isolated when engaged in a private cellphone conversation — even in a public space. Landlines (remember those?) have microphones in the earpiece so speakers can hear themselves. Cellphones don’t seem to utilize this function as well.

The “Lombard effect” describes the human tendency to raise our voice to match the noise around us, even when this is unnecessary. Yes — this is annoying!

I’d like to augment this gripe by adding an additional annoyance: People who use FaceTime in public. I understand that all grandparents find their grandchildren adorable and compelling but must they visit with these children over FaceTime at a crowded restaurant? And again with the yelling!

Listeners tend to be more annoyed by overheard phone conversations than they are by overheard in-person conversations because we only overhear one side of the conversation. Our brain can’t help but be distracted as it tries to fill in the missing pieces. This is especially true if someone is YELLING.

Only one time have I actually confronted someone doing this. I approached a man who had shared some extremely sensitive and proprietary information over the phone while sitting right next to me at a Starbucks. I told him I was a reporter and had been taking notes. (Did this caution work, long-term? I doubt it.)

I am deliberately dodging your actual question, because — other than trying to make eye contact and putting your finger to your lip in the universal “Shhhhh” gesture — I don’t know how to respond to these loud intrusions.

Readers will want to weigh in … using your indoor voices, please!

Dear Amy: Here’s the situation: My friends and I are having a nice dinner at a casual restaurant when the table next to us vacates and leaves behind a bottle of wine that is half full. What to do? Shall we grab it and celebrate, or leave it to the restaurant?

What a dilemma!

— Dilemma in Denver

Denver: If swiping wine from a neighboring table after the diners have finished their meal is your idea of a true dilemma (implying a decision between two relatively equal choices), then I will guard my french fries with more than the usual ferocity the next time I dine near you. These other diners have paid for this wine and — just as they paid for their steak or crab cake — it is not appropriate for you to decide what to do with their leftovers.

For a more professional assessment of your question, I’ve shared it with Meaghan Frank, who is vice president at the family-owned winery started by her great-grandfather, the winemaking pioneer Konstantin Frank.

Her response: “There are several issues here, hygiene being one. Just as you would not help yourself to water from another table’s half-finished pitcher, this bottle will have touched glasses which others have drunk from.

“Taking this wine is also not fair to the restaurant and staff. If your group decided to drink it at your table, you would be taking up the table for a longer period, preventing the restaurant from turning the table over, and likely affecting the amount of the server’s income for the night.”

Dear Amy: I have a suggestion for “Anxious Aunt,” whose niece was getting married in Europe.

She should not be pressured to attend. But I wonder if someone at the wedding ceremony could arrange to live-stream it?

— Wondering

Wondering: Great idea! Anxious Aunt could even host a local get-together and viewing party for those other guests who couldn’t make the trip. Offering to do so might also serve to smooth the rocky reaction from family members regarding her decision not to attend this overseas wedding.

© 2023 by Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.