How to shut up people who talk too loudly

All the way on a five-hour flight from London to Tel Aviv a woman in the row behind us talked continuously. She talked loudly and inanely. She had accomplices: her mother, who talked equally loudly and inanely but less; and her father, a man presumably rendered imbecilic by a lifetime’s exposure to talking women, who grunted occasionally.

For an hour they talked about buying a salad without managing to say one interesting thing.

There must have been some 20 people who heard every word she said, but nobody said anything. We did, however, hear a man say as we were getting off: “What a fucking motor mouth.”

What could we have done? We couldn’t legitimately ask her to stop talking, but we could have asked her to talk more quietly. Perhaps a polite request would even have shut her up for a while. But nobody asked her to talk more quietly. We suffered fuming, in a very English way.

The experience caused me to remember how the same problem of people talking too loudly was expertly managed.

This time I was the offender, together with my brother. We were on a train to Cornwall, feeling excited. We hadn’t seen each other for a while and were enjoying talking. Although not in the league of the woman on the flight to Tel Aviv, we have loud voices.

After perhaps half an hour a well-dressed man of around 70 came to our table and said politely and with admiration in his voice: “I hope that you don’t mind me intruding, but can I say that you are having a most fascinating conversation. It’s as interesting a conversation as I’ve ever heard.”

It took me a while to grasp his point. For a moment I was flattered, imagining that he might want to join our conversation or even ask us to record a radio programme.

“But do you know,” he continued politely, “that everybody in the carriage can hear every word you are saying?”

We’d been told to shut up in the most wonderful way. And we did shut up. I doubt that it would have worked with the woman on the flight to Tel Aviv, but perhaps I should have tried.

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