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Jack Knox: Private calls in public places? Consider them an invitation

Those who talk loudly on cellphones in public places are acting as though others are A) invisible, B) deaf, or C) insignificant, so why not make eye contact, laugh at their jokes and add your own two cents’ worth?
A Pew Research study found three-quarters of American adults believe it’s OK to use a phone while on public transportation, walking down the street or standing in line. FLICKR/RAWPIXEL

I was aboard a ferry the other day, sailing back to civilization from Toronto-By-The-Fraser, when I overheard a fellow ­passenger discussing the “great sex” she planned to have on a warm-weather cruise.

Actually, overheard isn’t the right word, because that implies choice. This woman, foghorning into her phone at a volume more commonly associated with ­tsunami warning sirens, was impossible to ignore.

Loud? Her voice made the ferry’s windows rattle. Two decks down, it triggered the car alarm on a Ford F-150. A passing orca gave us the finger.

All this I found off-putting — though not because of the “great sex” comment. Frankly, that was the only part of the exchange worth listening to, even if it did make me want to interrupt the woman, tug on her sleeve and remind her that she needn’t buy passage on a Carn(iv)al Cruise liner to join the Fathom High Club.

I mean, the Times Colonist once wrote about the below-decks boffing that occasionally occurred right there on B.C. ­Ferries, turning the Queen of Whatever into the Love Boat.

“One deckhand spotted an older man making love to a younger woman in his car,” the piece read. “When the deckhand tried to tell them their behaviour was not appropriate, the old man replied: ‘Go away. This doesn’t happen to me very often.’ ” True story, albeit one told before Transport Canada chased ­passengers up top a couple of years ago.

No, what was distressing about the woman’s behaviour was that neither she nor those around her found it ­distressful. Both she and they acted as though it were perfectly normal for her to act as though the other passengers were A) invisible, B) deaf, or C) so insignificant that she didn’t care that she was forcing her conversation on them.

That’s in line with a Pew Research study that found three-quarters of American adults believe it’s OK to use a phone while on public transportation, or walking down the street, or standing in line. Four in 10 think it’s all right to do so in a restaurant. In movie theatres and churches, it’s one in 20.

While that last scenario might still result in a popcorn shower/eternal damnation, a generation’s worth of cellphone experience has inured us to other behaviour that used to be socially unacceptable.

In 2010, when I heard (and wrote about) another ferry ­passenger using his phone to loudly complain about the ­inadequacies of the previous night’s sexual encounter, at least a few of those within earshot were as rattled as the windows. Today, they would just shrug. Bellowing a private ­conversation in public, once the equivalent of clipping your toenails at the aforementioned restaurant, is now no worse than using the wrong fork.

We forget that it wasn’t always thus. Example: in ­pre-mobile-phone times I once rode a London tube train in which my seatmates included a full-on Sid Vicious punk — all studs and spikes and glowering ­disaffection — and a couple of young American women.

Because the train was loud, the tourists needed to holler like drill sergeants to discuss the intimate details of their sex lives — a lengthy process, as, gosh, there was a lot to discuss. Really, you needed a copy of Gray’s Anatomy and an Excel ­spreadsheet to keep up. “I’ve never been so bleedin’ ­embarrassed in me life,” the blushing-pink punk blurted after the women disembarked.

Today, it would be his grandmother doing the full-volume sharing, via her Samsung. Or the punk himself, angrily cussing and fussing as he lurched toward you with his ear buds in, leaving you to guess whether he was on his phone or off his nut.

Oh well, might as well get with the times and join in. My only real quibble is the part where you, the one being involuntarily dragged into someone else’s phone call, are supposed to pretend you don’t hear it.

Forget that. If you’re on a ferry or stuck in line at a supermarket and buddy at your shoulder gets gabbing loudly enough for you to hear, then you should take that as an invitation to join in. Lean closer to ensure you don’t miss anything. Make eye contact. Add cogent commentary: “Cruise ships are the best!”

Laugh at their jokes, or at least nudge them in the ribs and chuckle in approval. Nod sagely when you concur with a point, but feel free to voice your ­dissent when you don’t.

After all, conversation should be a two-way street.

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