How best to shut up loud cellphone yappers on public transportation?
October 4, 2012 7:40 AM   Subscribe

How best to shut up loud cellphone yappers on public transportation?

I have read several threads on leaking headset noise, etc, and I do not need the advice, "Suck it up and take it, because it's an urban environment." That's not going to happen.

I'm stuck using public transportation to school a few times a week. Frequently there will be a cellphone user filling the entire bus (often fairly empty) with their voice. I have hearplugs, but they are not enough. I can't read, and I can't hear myself think. It's torture. I've improved my ability to concentrate, but I can't win over this noise. My time and quiet enjoyment of my own mind is stolen from me. I don't accept this. I have yelled across the bus for them to keep it down, shut up, etc, but they don't seem to hear it. I would have to get up and go over and confront them, which is also not fun. (But here in Vancouver area, not particularly dangerous. These are generally ordinary women going on and on, not gangster types.) I actually had a nighmare about a loud yapper last night, because this has been bothering me so much lately. I have interesting things to think about, and I don't want 20-30 minutes of continuing annoyance in place of that! Oh, and sometimes it's someone right in front of me. If they are facing me, I can get their attention and have asked them to turn away -- people who aren't extremely loud, but too loud for me at a very close distance or talking right into my earplugged ear.

How should I approach? What do I say? Should I hand them a card? Should I ask the transit authority to make a policy about loud cellphone yappers (that I can then point to)? I know the bus drivers themselves don't want to get involved with enforcing anything or confronting anyone, in general. What can I do? Grabbing their phone and throwing it out the window will lead to consequences I don't want. Also the whole illegal cellphone jammer thing would be problematic.
posted by Listener to Society & Culture (83 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

"Can you please lower your voice?"

Go back to your seat.

I know, I know, confrontation sucks, but yelling at them across the bus only serves to make the whole place louder - and sort of lowers you to their level. Get in front of them, make eye contact, and ask nicely. Otherwise you're just a faceless voice from the back of the bus yelling "be quiet!"
posted by ish__ at 7:46 AM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Get the noise canceling ones. You will not hear them, guaranteed. I have a pair (they cost like 10 bucks and there are some on sale for like 8 right now) and I have had someone 5 feet away literally screaming, and I couldn't hear them.
posted by cashman at 7:46 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could try asking nicely. But seriously, you cannot control other people's behavior. Especially when they're strangers. People are going to talk loud on the bus. You might as well say "It rains several days every month in Vancouver. This causes my clothes to become wet. I don't accept this."

So I would look into headphones. For maximum blockage, pair earmuff headphones with your existing earplug setup. I don't find that noise-cancelling headphones work for voices, they're better for continuous noise like the sound of the bus motor.
posted by mskyle at 7:48 AM on October 4, 2012 [23 favorites]

You can get up and tap them on the shoulder and say, "Excuse me, but your conversation is really loud and I'm trying to read, if you could just keep it down please."

That's about it. But be prepared, many people will take offense, will engage with you in an unpleasant manner, and then, really, what have you accomplished?

That's the problem with Public anything, you have to deal with the Public.

You can call the Transit Authority to ask them what the policy is, or you can get a petition to get public transportation to be a cell phone free environment.

Unfortunately, unless, after you ask politely, people pipe down, you're at their mercy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:49 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I take transit every day. Usually my train is full, and usually my train is pretty quiet. This is nice. Every once in a while, though, there's that one person who is talking very loudly on their phone or (my personal favorite) someone listening to music over their phone without headphones.

I think I'm a lot more assertive than most with this kind of thing. If it's clear that the person is bugging several people, I'll typically say something like, "hey, could you please lower your voice?" or "do you have headphones you can use?" in as nice and calm a way as possible.

But that's really as far as you can go. You can't make anyone do anything, and most people, when approached in an aggressive way, will go out of their way to be even louder, just to piss you off, because you already established you were a dick to them.

So, say your piece, once and CALMLY, and then let it be, acknowledging that you will be ineffective about two thirds of the time. If you really can't handle that, you need to find a different way to commute, because this one will just not work for you.
posted by phunniemee at 7:51 AM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

What can I do?

Drive or ride a bike. Being annoying in public is not illegal.
posted by crankylex at 7:54 AM on October 4, 2012 [9 favorites]

I don't accept this.

And in public, those people don't accept your desire to have a quiet ride. Handing them a card or trying to debate them will not, generally speaking, work; if you're yelling and screaming on a bus or train because someone is talking on a phone, you're coming across as unstable, and that's probably why folks are ignoring you.

I actually had a nighmare about a loud yapper last night, because this has been bothering me so much lately.

That seems somewhat extreme, at least to me. Hey, I'm annoyed by people chattering away too, but it's a public space, and you're not going to control strangers' behavior. Buy better headphones, save yourself the confrontation and stress.
posted by ellF at 7:54 AM on October 4, 2012 [14 favorites]

For the love of pete, don't throw someone's cellphone out a window or start a confrontation because you believe you have the right to use the bus as your private thinkatorium. Live and let live. Things like loud cellphone talkers, babies screaming in restaurants and other intrusive but everyday noises are part of living in society. Learning to deal with them gracefully and in an accepting manner is part of being an adult in society.

You are not owed quiet in public spaces. Not even if you are incapable of filtering out everyday sounds. Get better headphones, listen to music, or practice being mindful so you are not so obsessed with what other people are doing in shared public spaces like transit.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:56 AM on October 4, 2012 [31 favorites]

If the train is relatively empty, get up and go sit next to her. At some point they will get weirded out by this and then you say..."Well your conversation just seemed so interesting I had to hear it all".
posted by Gungho at 7:56 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get off bus. Take next bus.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:56 AM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Better headphones. if it bothers you that much, get the best ear-muff style headphones you can afford. listen to white noise.

because like i said in the question about bathroom cell phone talkers, THEY DON"T CARE.

they know they are being loud. and they could give fuck-all that you are trying to read or think or whatever because it has nothing AT ALL to do with them.

sorry, i feel your pain. but there's not a thing you can do to make them care.
posted by sio42 at 7:58 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look, I am also aggressively annoyed by people who are loud, inconsiderate and rude on public transportation. Being sandwiched next to someone on the Chicago L at rush hour as they yap into the phone about their great sex last night (seriously, WTF?!) is not my idea of a relaxing commute. Teenagers screaming at the top of their lungs at the back of a bus is also at the top of my what-I-hate-about-city-life list.

But it's not illegal, or even against transit agency regulations*, to be a cellphone asshole on the train or bus. What they're doing is highly annoying, but not physically harming you in any way, or interfering with the transit agency. A transit agency has a mission to carry you safely and (hopefully) quickly to your destination. It does not have a mission to afford you a private, quiet space, as much as you (and I) might desire one. (OTOH, people talking directly to the driver/operator -- that is a different thing, and an example of something that does materially affect transit safety/use.)

And as everyone has said, the kind of people who will blatantly ignore societal cues to not talk on the phone will probably not respond well to your efforts to shut them up.

*At least, not in Chicago. YMMV.
posted by andrewesque at 8:03 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have yelled across the bus...?! Stop doing that. The loud talkers are merely a nuisance but the rude aggressive person who seems to be looking for a fight is going to be seen as scary. If I saw you do this more than once I would be asking the driver to chuck you off. This is particularly ridiculous stuff in Canada, too... Others are much more jarred by "Shut up!" ringing out across the bus than by loud talkers, I promise. Being rude and noisy in response is making the bus ride hellish for everybody. You've made yourself a public transportation problem.

Perhaps you might get better answers -- not the ones you want to hear, but answers that would help you frame things more happily on your own mind -- if you fleshed out the reasons for the feelings of entitlement. Yes, it is an urban environment; yes, it means dealing with the public, not all of whom are lovable. Your best options here are going to involve stuff like getting into bicycle commuting, not throwing phones out of windows. Why do you "not accept" that buses are often noisy, when that is the way of all buses?
posted by kmennie at 8:03 AM on October 4, 2012 [16 favorites]

Cheap earbuds won't help you, but good in-ear headphones with foam inserts (I'm fond of my Shures) will isolate you from almost all the noise outside them.
posted by mhoye at 8:06 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you can get cell phone jammers from places like China. I don't think they're really legal here in the US, but I don't know about the laws in Canada.
posted by k8oglyph at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2012

1) Get this digital delay app
2) Sit next to them
3) Set app for a 2-5 second delay.
4) Hilarity ensues.
posted by FreezBoy at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think you can get cell phone jammers from places like China.

Do not do this. If you get caught, you'll be in trouble, either with the police or with the person whose phone you're screwing up. What if someone on the bus is waiting for an important call about their work/house/sick family member? You've just ruined someone's entire day for the sake of your "important thoughts".

Look, just get some decent noise cancelling headphones. They make those things for people to use on airplanes. They're going to be pretty damn effective on an inter-city bus. Enjoy the silence.
posted by fight or flight at 8:11 AM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

(1) Better headphones, louder music. A better book to distract you.

(2) Different commute. An earlier or later train may be quieter as there will be fewer people.

I don't mean to be a jerk, but thousands of people are in your situation every day and they do not feel entitled to peace and quiet while they think about interesting things on the bus or train. What differentiates you from the large number of people who DO suck it up and take it, because that is part and parcel of living in an urban area?

Without wanting to be an armchair psychologist, the fact that this issue is giving you nightmares, and the angry/frustrated tone of your question, suggests to me that you would benefit from trying to lower your stress levels generally.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:15 AM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

There is the short term fix (hey you, shut up) which is a losing battle.

I also think there is the long term fix which is to petition the city for audio announcements and written labels to tell people that cell phone conversations and music played through the phone is not allowed.

It won't ever stop anyone because there is definitely a young man power dynamic going on with much of the music playing and loud talking.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:19 AM on October 4, 2012

Deep breath. I am not the rules police. Deeeeep breath.

Then earplugs.
posted by zippy at 8:20 AM on October 4, 2012

...suck it up...

There is a definitive difference between "suck it up" and "let it go."

I agree, that you shouldn't suck it up. I can't. Sucking things up, stuffing my feelings, etc., only serves to polarize my feelings. I tried doing that in my commute, and it didn't work. Because at some point I began to think that it was my right to punish others in my own commute who were aggravating me and others. I would cloak myself in self-righteous anger, and come to the rescue of those I perceived too weak to do anything about it. Swooping in like some avenging angel, righting the wrongs, freeing the suffering from their torture, etc. etc.

I would carefully and internally escalate my reaction, building my own personal judge and jury case against the offender. A few pointed coughs, a long stare, a loud clearing of my throat followed by a stare, talking out loud to myself about "how rude people are when they (insert offense here)", followed by a minor verbal confrontation or storming out of the bus/train/etc., "accidentally" stepping on them or their belongings.

I would like to point out that I only did this to people I perceived as physically inferior to me.

And my therapist pointed out to me that I was being a bully. Albeit a self-righteous bully, but a bully nevertheless. Whatever childhood trauma, feelings of powerlessness and insecurity I felt in other areas of my life, I would release in these orchestrated confrontations.

After a period of years, instead of wishing to avoid situations like you described, I would seek them out. Intentionally get on the same car as the person listening to music on their phone out loud, and just let my anger build, with the excuse that "Well, what if I HAD just coincidentally gotten on this car instead of intentionally boarded it. I would STILL be having to suffer the slings and arrows of this rude individual."

I may be off base with your own personal motivations for this, but I too started in much the same vein as you, and your question does seem like a request for tips to safely punish these people without doing something illegal or outside the letter of the policy of the transit authority. I had similar motivations as doing something "wrong" in response to someone else's wrong would diminish the high I got from being self righteous. It was very important that I rationalize my response to be fair punishment.

TL:DR Don't "Suck it up," try to "Let it go." I used to do what I believe you are describing. For me, it's called being a bully. It didn't and doesn't make me a bad person, just someone struggling with my own feelings of powerlessness and anger. I don't do this anymore.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:22 AM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't think most loud talkers on a cell phone are really aware, at times, that they are talking really loud. I don't think every loud talker is an obnoxious jerk deliberatly yelling into their phone just to annoy other people. can ask them to keep it down, and most of the time, they probably will, for a while anyways. If they continue to talk loud...too bad; and get some ear plugs.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 8:22 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just want to second the suggestion for an altered commute, if you can make it work. I too seethe with rage at loud talkers on public transportation, I totally get where you're coming from (though I never say anything. Mine is a quiet seethe). Leaving for work earlier means fewer people on public transit and the earlier hour means fewer people are going to be talking. I know this approach doesn't work with everyone's schedule, but if you can do it, it really does make a difference.
posted by troika at 8:23 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cheap earbuds won't help you, but good in-ear headphones with foam inserts (I'm fond of my Shures) will isolate you from almost all the noise outside them.

Seconding this. Cheap earbuds are worse than useless. In-ear canalphones with foam inserts are better than noise cancelling headphones, which cancel low-level noise like engine sounds, not people talk. Then find some nice music to listen to.

Unless you are in a designated quiet car where there are specific rules against it, it's unreasonable to expect people to not talk on their mobile phone on public transit.

I have yelled across the bus for them to keep it down, shut up, etc, but they don't seem to hear it.

I usually regard people who yell at other bus riders as crazy people and ignore them up to the point where I ask the driver to remove them from the bus. Yelling at people across the bus is going to be the least effective (and probably most counterproductive) approach possible.
posted by grouse at 8:45 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's incredibly passive aggressive... but also quite funny... to give a running commentary on what they are saying:

"That's priceless... four times... tee hee hee... is that true... no way."
posted by MuffinMan at 8:50 AM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I sympathize. This kind of thing can be crazy-making, especially if you've had a long day and you just want to chill out.

There was a story on the blue recently about a woman who tweeted a very personal conversation between two other passengers of her train car-- they were arguing about their relationship, sex life, etc. (Sorry, my search skills are failing me, or I'd link to it.) Might be entertaining to try it.

Or, if that doesn't suit, I'd go with the noise-canceling headphones. You can also get apps for your phone with white noise-- that might help drown out the talking.
posted by tuesdayschild at 9:02 AM on October 4, 2012

I'm not so bold as to do this, but I've heard of people engaging the person in conversation while they are on the phone. Answer questions, pose questions, etc. When they get upset feign surprise that they weren't talking to you already.
posted by dgran at 9:09 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with the other MeFites that you can't ask someone to talk more softly on his/her cell phone. While it annoys you, the other riders have the same right as you, and unless a public space is specifically designated at a quiet space (like the study areas of libraries), there is nothing you can do in terms of controlling their behavior.

However, there is plenty you can do. Beyond high quality headphones, I suggest going to see a doctor. The level of irritation that you are describing suggests that it might have an underlying medical problem, such as ADD or a mild food allergy. I know this may seem wacky, but I'd also suggest some short-term therapy or counseling. Sometimes noise sensitivity is related to underlying issues, and, if not, a competent therapist probably could still give you a variety of strategies.
posted by emilynoa at 9:10 AM on October 4, 2012

Practice deep breathing and find your happy place.
posted by saltwater at 9:12 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have once confronted someone for having a loud, obnoxious cellphone conversation. I was stuck in a very long line to sell my textbooks and not on public transit.

After probably 15 solid minutes, I turned around and looked him staight in the eye. I did this until he noticed me and was like "what's up brah" to which I told him nobody cares about his personal life and he should take the call elsewhere. But probably more curlty than that. He protested but ended the call.

This has less to do with how you phrase it and more to do with you not giving a shit about cheesing the offender off.

If the offender is obnoxious enough, your actions will gain you the admiration of bystanders. So, consider the conext, I guess.
posted by hellojed at 9:20 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've also achieved victory with the celphone-obnoxious while standing in line, by simply rotating 180° and staring, but the bus is a different situation.
posted by Rash at 9:27 AM on October 4, 2012

I think the suggestions of checking in with a doctor to find out why this irritates you to the point of nightmares is right on. I've seen students before who actually couldn't hear in a normal classroom, because of how the noise distracted and confused them. So maybe you have something like that going on.

If you don't, though, and are just used to the quiet and privacy of a car, you might try to recalibrate your sense of what public transportation is. When I first rode the bus myself, as a teenager, the bus I rode went by some treatment facilities for the mentally ill. So I got used to mentally ill people (some stable, some not) on my bus every day. At first it made me nervous (I was sixteen), but it got normal pretty quick, and I discovered it wasn't really a big deal. For the most part, these were interesting people to have conversations with on the bus. I take different buses now, and I actually miss how interesting bus rides used to be. So when there's the occasional person who gets on the bus with the furniture they just scored from Goodwill, I enjoy their triumph and how much more fun they made the bus. I suppose I could find things to be annoyed about, but that makes my life less awesome. If pretending that these young women on their cell phones are your personal reality tv show makes your morning more entertaining, than yay! If that's not enough, maybe riding through Hastings would help? (If that's still the sketchy neighborhood -- it's been awhile since I lived in Vancouver.) After you've ridden the bus with true characters, drunk people, and the truly out of control, your usual ride with people who use their phones will seem easy by comparison.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:40 AM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just get better headphones like every single other person who takes public transit on a daily basis. You want to read, they want to catch up on their phone calls - you're both stuck on a bus with some down time and are trying to get shit done. If you want peace and quiet in public go to the library.
posted by bradbane at 9:42 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

[We don't call people names here. If you can not answer this question without calling people names we are totally okay if you do not answer. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:48 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

First, eponysterical.

Public transit is really not the environment for "quiet enjoyment of [one's] own mind."

I have yelled across the bus for them to keep it down, shut up, etc, but they don't seem to hear it...If they are facing me, I can get their attention and have asked them to turn away -- people who aren't extremely loud, but too loud for me at a very close distance or talking right into my earplugged ear.
Presumably, they hear you but are ignoring your requests because yelling things on public transportation or engaging unwilling passengers in any way kind of makes you That Guy. Consider that some of your fellow passengers are just as irritated by your shouting and general carrying on as you are by cell phone conversations.

Honestly, I think that any sort of confrontation is just going to make your public transit experience even more unpleasant than it already is. Headphones are a good suggestion, as are better earplugs. It's kind of a trial and error process to find some that are optimally effective and comfortable, but they're fairly inexpensive and less obtrusive than headphones.

To summarize, you can change your own behavior, but not that of anyone else.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 10:04 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Rash, that does work when in close distance - eye contact.

To everyone who asked why I don't sit back and take this? Because I'm not passive like most people. I have gotten a lot of changes in noise levels in my environment. I can't change the fact that construction near my building is noisy, or that sometimes there is noise, but this noise is over the top and needs to be stopped.
posted by Listener at 10:11 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Somebody above suggested cell phone jammers: check Canadian laws first!

For what it's worth, it is totally 100% illegal to own them, sell them, purchase them or even just have one in your possession here in the US..... yes, I've checked. (I work in a movie theater, and would LOVE to SHUT THESE PEOPLE UP during a show!) The reasoning is that jammers block ALL cell phone access, including 911 and other emergency access; it might be nice to block the rude loud types on the bus or wherever, but phone jammers don't discriminate and just block jerks!

Personally, I have a tendancy to politely ask them to their face to keep it down a bit; unfortunately, this rarely works. I put up with it as much as I can, but for the truly over-the-top loud types? I've been known to equally-loudly break into song (I recommend show tunes or things like the national anthem) right next to them and their cell. But it takes a LOT of irritation to get me to that level.

The thing is, these are rude, obnoxious and oblivious people you're dealing with: they have no consideration for other people, and are frankly unlikely to change their ways. Sorry.
posted by easily confused at 10:12 AM on October 4, 2012

Did most people not read the post?

Earplugs? That's what I'm already using.

I have no desire to listen to music, or to damage my hearing by listening to it.

It's not males, and it's not about headphone leakage.

If you don't have the time to read and answer the question, then please don't bother.
posted by Listener at 10:14 AM on October 4, 2012

If you don't want to listen to music, could you just listen to some sort of "white noise" recording? Those even have the possible added benefit of being relaxing to you. Or ocean sounds? People seem to like those.
posted by joelhunt at 10:17 AM on October 4, 2012

Would it bother you as much if it were two people talking at the same noise level? or is it only because it's one person talking on the phone? There's a psychological reason why people are driven buggy over cell phone talkers, though I'm too tired to look it up right now. If you can honestly say to yourself that you wouldn't interrupt two people talking at the same level, then it's because they're on the phone, and that's a whole 'nother story.

The fact that you're having nightmares about it means there's something wrong on your end, not theirs. They're allowed to have a conversation with their friends in public. The fact that modern technology lets them to do it over the phone and not in person doesn't make it rude, just annoying to others who can't overhear both parts of the conversation. I think if you can acknowledge that, it might help your annoyance level and put it down as background noise (like you might if it were two or more people talking instead of one).
posted by patheral at 10:18 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Call the Bus Co. Tell them you are a daily bus rider, and ask them if they enforce any behavior standards on buses. You are likely to be riding buses for a while, and social change is more likely to be successful than most methods. Maybe the company will post signs, or bus drivers will address egregious cases of disruptive behavior. Meanwhile, get noise-canceling headphones.
posted by theora55 at 10:22 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have yelled across the bus...?! Stop doing that. ...Others are much more jarred by "Shut up!" ringing out across the bus than by loud talkers, I promise. Being rude and noisy in response is making the bus ride hellish for everybody.

I agree. Being on a bus/train when someone aggressively tries to call out the "rudeness" of somebody else is always disruptive and scary for all the rest of us watching. Keeping a light heart and a smile on your face while calmly asking them to keep it down will probably go much farther in helping you get what you want, while not disrupting everyone else around you.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:23 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Should I hand them a card?

Honestly, why not give this a try? Have cheap Vistacards printed up. Just make sure the wording is polite – something along the lines of, "I'd like to help you," rather than, "you are wrecking my commute."
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:26 AM on October 4, 2012

patheral, yes, it also bothers me if it's people who come and sit near me and then start yapping loudly. Certain languages are particularly sharp (eg Filipino) and I will indeed ask people to keep their voice down if they are right beside me. It's like being shoved in a phone booth with them and why do you all think that is rational to accept? I don't know. I will also move if I can. On the bus to SFU full of 20 year olds, often I can't move.

Noise canceling headsets work with continuous ranges of sound, not voices, I understand. If anyone has a model that works otherwise, I will be glad to hear it.
posted by Listener at 10:30 AM on October 4, 2012

Sounds like Hypervigilance. I have it, too.
posted by FeralHat at 10:32 AM on October 4, 2012

We have read the question. The problem is what you want is not something that is actually going to happen. No one cares that you personally can't deal with loud voices in an enclosed space. That is your problem, not theirs. They have the right to talk on their phones on public transportation unless it's a designated quiet car. You cannot change their behavior, you can either learn to deal with it by using some method like noise canceling headphones or as someone else suggested, commute during less crowded times.
posted by crankylex at 10:36 AM on October 4, 2012 [13 favorites]

I read the post.

The problem with your question is that it's literally not possible to force people to do your bidding in public. You can't make somebody do what you want them to do just because you want it. You can ask, nicely or rudely, but if they choose to disregard you, you have no recourse other than exiting the bus.

Since there is no way to reliably stop people from talking loudly in public, your only options are:
1. Find a way to get over it.
2. Stop riding the bus.
posted by zug at 10:37 AM on October 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

If you don't have the time to read and answer the question, then please don't bother.

The thing is, you are asking the best way to do something that you shouldn't be doing. Learn to let go, to get along, to let it be. Tell yourself "if this is the worst thing that happens to me today, it's gonna be a pretty good day." Get past the idea that you have the right to demand that public spaces conform to your needs.

and why do you all think that is rational to accept?

Because the alternative makes you look like a crazy person with entitlement issues.
posted by Sternmeyer at 10:40 AM on October 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

Under my totalitarian dictatorship, screaming babies and cellphone yappers and people who gesticulate wildly with cigarettes and people who use umbrellas more suited for patio furniture and people who wear way too much cologne and people who sprawl out on too many seats on public transportation will all be sent for hard labor and reeducation. Until that time you are going to have to just accept the fact that you cannot force everyone to comply with your wishes when you are in a public place. Sorry.

Large, earmuff-style noise cancelling headphones will probably be your best bet.
posted by elizardbits at 10:40 AM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Get a bicycle and exercise away your self-righteous indignation. No loud cellphone talkers, and you'll get a good workout, too!

You'll also save money on the bus and get a lesson in the fact that you can't control the universe.

Most disabled people deal with discomfort every day of their lives. If your disability is severe enough that you can't take public transportation, look into transit services for the disabled in your city.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:53 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

So long as you have no authority over a human being, it is entirely in their hands as to whether to shut up or not. The bus driver will not do anything. Confronting them kindly is a crapshoot at best; absolutely nothing keeps people from ignoring you. Confronting them angrily means you're gambling on the fact that you can either take them in a fight, or that the other commuters will aid you, and I can guarantee that the last person anyone is about to defend is someone who is trying to tell someone else to shut up.

I am sorry that you have hearing issues, but this is something that is changed by you modifying your behavior. Counting on others to change theirs because some random dude on the bus is displeased is wholly irrational. A lot moreso than not doing anything.
posted by griphus at 10:54 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe something like this? They claim to have a "Noise Reduction Rating" of 29. There are other in-ear models that claim to have high NRR. Perhaps the earplugs you are wearing have a relatively low NRR.

If these headphone-style things can reduce gunfire or NHRA engines or lawnmowers to a safe level, it seems like they'd do really well with chatty people on the bus.
posted by chazlarson at 10:55 AM on October 4, 2012

The suggestions you're defining as passive are only "passive" relative to the way you've framed the question. If you rephrase your question as "how can I best achieve peace of mind in the presence of this phenomenon?" then it's just a question of figuring out whether the most practical path to your solution lies in changing your environment or changing something internal. And in this case – much as I agree with you about obnoxious cellphone users – the more practical path seems likely to be the latter. It's still active. It doesn't make you a pushover.

To put it another way, noise-induced stress arises from the relationship between a noise source and the hearer; it's irrational to assume that your solutions must all be limited to the noise source.
posted by oliverburkeman at 10:57 AM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel your pain. In one work environment, I couldn't get anything done because of coworkers yakking loudly at the next desk. Earplugs weren't enough, nor were earphones. But a combination of BOTH did the trick for me. Put the earplugs in carefully and securely, so they are maximally effective. Put on earphones and play whatever you like (music, white noise, whatever) and turn up the volume until it drowns out whatever traces of your environment intrude. I hope this helps.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:04 AM on October 4, 2012

Do you have an iPhone? I downloaded a white noise generator app that has brought me such beautiful relief. It even allows me to layer noise with tracks from the audio player so I can simultaneously have tunes AND peace. It's a godsend.
posted by blue t-shirt at 11:15 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second chazlarson....I wear something similiar while mowing my yard. My model allows me to listen to podcasts at a very reasonable level (i.e. 30-50% volume) so that tells you that it is blocking a lot of sound from the outside world.
posted by mmascolino at 11:16 AM on October 4, 2012

There is literally nothing you can do other than politely ask them to stop or to find a way to let it go and learn to live with it. The former will probably fail more often than not and the latter may not be possible for you, so finding an alternative mode of transportation might be necessary.

As others have said, you cannot force anyone to do anything. It's either some kind of noise-cancelling headphones, learning to live with it, or finding a new mode of transportation.

It's also worth noting that you do not have a right to quiet enjoyment of public places.
posted by asnider at 11:20 AM on October 4, 2012

Give them 1 chance by asking them politely, then hand them a card that says "check my YouTube channel LoudCommuters to see if you're a star", and start recording them.
posted by at at 11:28 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You are experiencing extreme discomfort in situations where other people are annoyed, but only mildly so. Many of the answers above are from people who can't understand why you're so upset. I think it would be worthwhile to investigate why it bothers you so much. There are neurological possibilities, such as hyperacusis and malphonia, that could be explored with a physician. There are also psychological possibilities, such as hypervigilance, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety that could be explored with a therapist. How's the rest of your life going? You mentioned construction noise at home. Any other stresses in your life? Those, too, could be explored with a therapist. Best of luck with dealing with this.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:31 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, if you are not using the squishy silicone ear-sealing (sometimes marketed as for swimmer's ear) earplugs, you should start doing that immediately. They are excellent for drowning out pretty much all sounds aside from deep booming bass.
posted by elizardbits at 11:33 AM on October 4, 2012

You don't have a mental condition or a brain condition. Jeez.....

I support your fight on this one. I get the feeling a lot of the neigh-sayers here don't actually ride a bus or take public transit.

Don't be a jerk and freak out because you'll be just a different thing on transit that makes it crappy for everyone else.

I like the card (in multiple languages) idea.
I like taking the fight to the transit agency
Take that energy to the Vancouver Bus Riders Union or equivalent to get this enforced more.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:40 AM on October 4, 2012

Give them 1 chance by asking them politely, then hand them a card that says "check my YouTube channel LoudCommuters to see if you're a star", and start recording them.

Why is everyone advising quirky "gotcha" type confrontations like this? Acting like this will inevitably get the OP's ass beat. Rightly or wrongly, then he will have to contend with loud people and a beat ass. It will not solve his problem, it will add another to it.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 11:41 AM on October 4, 2012 [12 favorites]

I will answer the question as asked, though I agree with the people who say you should be looking for peace, not specifically to force these people to change.

The two ideas below are bad ideas. I would not do them. I do not recommend you do them. If you do do them, start with a gentle request that they lower their voice.

One option would be to memorize a very long soliloquy. When someone is ticking you off, get as close to them as you can and start saying it directly to them. Ideally, say it into the mic on their phone so the other side hears you. Continue with the soliloquy until the person is too distracted or can't hear the conversation well and gives up. Bear in mind: you cannot be any louder than the cell phone talker, because then you are the asshole. Also bear in mind that this won't stop some people, then you're stuck being the crazypants who's reciting a soliloquy on a bus of people who don't want to hear it.

The other option (mentioned above, but I thought it was funny) is letting the talker know that you have a Youtube channel of obnoxious bus talkers, and start filming them for your next post. I have no idea if this is legal where you are. IANAL, TINLA, consult a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction about the legality of recording on public transit. But it's likely to bug the heck out of some people.

Bear in mind that these tactics will flag you as the bigger asshole to everyone on the bus. Bear in mind that these will not bring you peace - you'll get the desired outcome, but the stress hormones being released in your body during the confrontation and the effort you put in to bothering the offending party will leave you with a lingering negative feeling which is the opposite of the peace you seek. But hey, at least I answered in good faith.
posted by Tehhund at 11:50 AM on October 4, 2012

I support your fight on this one. I get the feeling a lot of the neigh-sayers here don't actually ride a bus or take public transit.

I AM A HORSE. ok sorry

Seriously, though, the problem that folks are having with this question has little to do with whether or not they are used to public transit.

It's that the OP is having a very emotive reaction to something that happens in all sorts of situations every day that all sorts of people (anywhere, doesn't matter if it's on the bus) are familiar with.

And most of those people don't get as bent out of shape about it as the OP is describing. Most people who are inconvenienced in an impersonal way like this by others do not have nightmares about it. Do not think that they have to do something about it to make it stop. Do not think that they have the right to actually yell at another person to make the annoyance stop. Because most people recognize that these annoyances are just part of living in a world with other people, and most people accept that, even if begrudgingly, and just make do until the annoyance goes away.

So, if the OP is truly as disturbed by this as he says he is, then I think it's completely within the realm of possibility that he's got something going on personally, separate from the transit noise, that most other people do not have to deal with. And that is worth looking into.

Finding a nonagressive way to confront others about the annoyance is fine. Making it your life's mission to make sure that the annoyers know that they're BAD and WRONG, and doing whatever it takes to stop them at all costs--that's going to cause some problems. (And is also just flat-out impossible.)
posted by phunniemee at 11:52 AM on October 4, 2012 [10 favorites]

If you can still hear cell phone conversations across the bus through your earplugs, then you're wearing the wrong earplugs, or not putting them in right. Standard drugstore varieties are pretty much crap- a quick amazon skim should turn up much, much more effective options (I can personally recommend Hearos Ultimate Softness- like a sensory deprivation chamber, those are. ) Also, make sure you're switching to a new pair fairly often, and applying as per directions by rolling, pulling your earlobe to open the canal, etc.

Since it also seems like part of the issue is your irritation with these people, I wonder whether you'd have better luck putting the earplugs in before you board the bus? Onceyou get bugged by a conversation, it's going to be far harder to un-focus on it than it would have been never to have noticed it in the first place.

Lastly, you say you're worried about hearing damage with music- but what about earplugs, and then earmuff headphones with soothing music overtop of those? Not much sound should make it through, but you're ensuring that any leakage that does occur will be your own noise, not other people's.

Sorry if people's suggestions here seem off-topic, but given a question with no real answer (How do I compel other people to do my will?) it's natural for people to want to default to suggestions that seem like they might actually help produce a positive outcome for you.
posted by Bardolph at 12:16 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the question:
I would have to get up and go over and confront them, which is also not fun.
In a response:
Because I'm not passive like most people.
I'm sorry if this seems like a pile-on, but why can't you just go confront them? Seriously - most people are *not* douchebags. If you're on a nearly empty bus and you get up and go over and ask nicely that they be a bit quieter, I think the success rate would be pretty high.

Is there some other reason you refuse to just ask them nicely, or are you expecting a miracle-pill-solution here?
posted by ish__ at 1:00 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi. I'm a loud commuter.

I don't talk on the bus very often, but when I do, my voice has a tendency to carry. I also have hearing issues, so I'm unaware of the volume of my own voice at times. However, I'm not a cell phone user, so I don't do that.

People in the past have just told me that I'm too loud. Just a tap on the shoulder and a request to lower my voice. It's annoying to be singled out like this, but I'd rather be aware of the issue right then calmly, rather than either getting accosted for it by someone shouting at me, or being the subject of passive-aggressive glares or phone viewing. The first few times this happened, I was embarrassed and mortified, but now I've learned to pay attention to my voice more, and to talk at a lower volume when I have to talk.

Most of us aren't jerks. Really. Sometimes we honestly can't tell how loud we're being.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:59 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bardolph -- I use Howard Leight Max, which are NRR +1 higher than yours. And I wear them before I board the bus.
posted by Listener at 2:05 PM on October 4, 2012

I guess the problem with people farther away is I don't like to give up my seat, nor leave my bag there, nor carry the huge thing over to someone and stand over them. It's awkward getting around the bus with the bag. I can't stand on a moving bus even without it. The buses I take are going up and down steep hills and I have an injury that's very affected by that.

And, yes, I do confront people. Often. Not often by yelling, except as explained.
posted by Listener at 2:08 PM on October 4, 2012

What kind of solution do you want? People aren't going to respond if you yell at them from across the bus. You're unwilling to move to ask them to keep it down (which might or might not actually work), or wear a second pair of headphones on top of your earplugs, or use a different mode of transport. You just want people to all be considerate on public transit, and though I agree that would be incredibly awesome, it is not going to happen because people are inconsiderate everywhere.

Do you have a place you can go where it is silent, where you can stay as long as you want? Some noise is less annoying when you know you have a place to go back to where you can control the noise.
posted by jeather at 2:22 PM on October 4, 2012

> or wear a second pair of headphones

Actually, I've done that, but it got edited out of the original post by my error (hence the typo "hearplugs.") Unfortunately it absolutely DOES NOT WORK. It attenuates the deeper and highest sounds, in fact emphasizing the voice yapping. Bin there dun that. We have the best such earmuff ordered online, and we are waiting for it. I am not expecting silence, but don't want to live in some idiots echo chamber / phone booth. Reasonable man, all of you, accept the world. Unreasonable man (me) improves it.
posted by Listener at 2:27 PM on October 4, 2012

The fact that you are having nightmares about it does point to this issue being about you being unable to let it go.

So, while you are learning about that, how great would it be to use your energy and start a 'quiet car movement. If you could work with the city to get a quiet car on every train and, I don't know, every 5th bus be a quiet bus, Tha'd be kind of neat and you would contribute to helping destress a chunk of the population!
posted by Vaike at 2:27 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

People get zoned out and don't realize how loud they are. It has happened to me and is the reason I seek seclusion when speaking on a cell. They may not realize how loud they are being.

Look them in the eye with an embarrassed for them expression and put a finger to your lips.

minute later - no edit but love edit
posted by Carbolic at 2:52 PM on October 4, 2012

[Folks, we are serious, you need to be constructive which means no name-calling. OP please take these answers in the spirit in which they are intended. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:53 PM on October 4, 2012

Start a website and gather likeminded people to your cause. This sounds like a situation where only group pressure will change anything. With enough people behind you, maybe transportation companies will react. And at least you'll be raising awareness.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:58 PM on October 4, 2012

Reasonable man, all of you, accept the world. Unreasonable man (me) improves it.

Do what you need to do, but please understand that for me, at least, observing angry/uncomfortable confrontations on the bus would be significantly worse than listening to a stranger's loud conversation.
posted by mskyle at 3:57 PM on October 4, 2012 [16 favorites]

Bardolph -- I use Howard Leight Max, which are NRR +1 higher than yours. And I wear them before I board the bus.

I have these earplugs, I sleep with them every night because our apartment is in a noisy, busy area. OP, if you are being bothered by sounds through those earplugs, you are either not inserting them correctly; or there is something else going on.

Whilst it's true you can certainly hear sounds through the Leight Maxes, it is not possible for those sounds to be annoying to the point of irritation for the course of a bus ride. Truly.

On reading that, it feels to me as if you expectation is total, rather than relative, silence. I think that is driving a lot of unhappiness for you. I also find it interesting that getting up to ask someone to be quiet is too much of an imposition for you, and yet expecting them to be quiet is not too much of an expectation to have - when (whether we like it or no) current social norms permit talking loudly on public transport. If your right to remain seated in silence so much stronger than their right to be seated and have a conversation? Not really, no. And it makes me (and others, obviously) think that there's something going on with you, physically or psychologically, that is beyond the norm to provoke your visceral reactions. It sounds like you are having difficulty putting your and others' actions into a broader context; a lack of sociological imagination, if you will.

I am going to suggest solutions you clearly aren't looking for, but what I feel will actually give you the most happiness.

1) Buy some etymotic in-ear headphones. They are notable for their isolation. You will not require a high volume for them to drown out sounds.

2) Catch the bus earlier. I catch the train to work at 6:50 most mornings. It is glorious. I get a seat to myself and there's only about ten people in the carriage.

3) If someone is talking loudly do not, ever, yell at them, or engage in silly stunts. When someone is annoying you the goal is not to be more annoying in turn, that will not make you, or them, happy. And it may result in a physical confrontation and you only need to be hit once and have an awkward fall and it's all over for you.

4) See a doctor to discuss this, and perhaps a psychologist. Frankly, your reaction to this annoyance does not sound very healthy. Dealing with challenges like this is very much a part of daily life and it sounds like you are stuggling to cope with it at the moment; there are people who can help you.
posted by smoke at 5:36 PM on October 4, 2012 [12 favorites]

The fantasy stuff about handing out a card or repeating their conversation back at them or whatever is just that, a fantasy. It would be cute if someone did it in a Hollywood romcom. But, just as in actual human existence we don't rush off at the last minute to the airport because we suddenly realize we've been in love with Meg Ryan all along, the cutesy passive-aggressive approach doesn't stand up to realistic scrutiny. Forget all that nonsense.

There are four basic approaches here that have at least some chance of working.

One if to try to change the behavior that is bothering you. The effective way to do that is to be extremely polite bordering on the apologetic, e.g., "I'm sorry to disturb you, but would you mind lowering the volume of your music a little [talking just a bit more softly]. I've got an important exam today and I guess I'm jumpier than usual." And then, warm thanks with a smile.

That will work some of the time, probably not most. What's left after that is all on you.

You can experiment with the earplugs and white noise gizmos and see if that calms you down. My instinct is that the use of these palliatives might tend to reinforce your sense that you are being put upon, and that will just make matters worse.

Three, you can find a different way to get to school. I see the same problem here as with #2, i.e. that you may tell yourself, "I wouldn't have to take this stupid expensive monorail if the people on the bus weren't such idiots."

And then there's four, which is to re-examine your preconceptions about what it means to be in a public space, e.g., "Yes, obviously there's some noise here that I can't control, but that is part of the tradeoff of living in a place where I can take these classes I so enjoy [or need, or whatever]. I have the option of living alone in a farmhouse where it would be quiet all day, but that's not where my school is, and I'd be bored."

This sort of rethinking is not necessarily a quick process and it's not always easily done without some kind of professional help, i.e. therapy. But I think it's the most effective because it addresses the problem at the point closest to you, i.e., not at the other end of a bus, or not just outside your ears, but inside your head.
posted by La Cieca at 8:47 PM on October 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

If it's the same guy on the same train every day, it might be worth asking him to lower his voice. If it's a different person every time, you ought to get yourself noise-canceling headphones and listen to something soothing.

I do admit, however, that in your place I might be tempted to try jamming if I had access to a small, cheap jammer that I could drop if the cops traced it. I know that theoretically you could be blocking someone's oh-so-important call, that theoretically the world's top brain surgeon or the president of Sierra Leone could be sitting next to you on the bus waiting for an urgent call, but realistically you would be more likely to pointlessly harm someone by just doing any of a million other things people do every day, such as driving a car to an unnecessary destination or driving too fast. If you jammed every time he started talking and then stopped jamming as soon as he put the phone down, you would focus your jamming on him and you would cause minimal disruption (and maximum amusement) for everyone else, and your target would soon give up trying to talk and would start texting instead. The biggest danger to you that I see is that the bus is often relatively empty; if he figured out that he was being jammed and you were the only likely person in the bus, you'd be busted, perhaps in the chops.
posted by pracowity at 1:12 AM on October 5, 2012

"check my YouTube channel LoudCommuters to see if you're a star", and start recording them.

Before you do this, check with: a) local laws to see if making an audio recording of someone without their consent is legal in your area (it is not legal everywhere, honest), and b) whether receiving a provoked beating is covered by your health insurance.

Because that is a possible consequence of the proposed escalation here.
posted by zippy at 10:32 AM on October 8, 2012

Thanks for the range of options on how to imagine addressing people, which I would have to take into account depending on the person. It never occurred to me that raising my voice (yelling) to get some moron's attention was a problem for anyone else. Yes, transit should be a reasonable thinkatorium rather than a damn in-sanatorium.
posted by Listener at 10:49 PM on October 8, 2012

Certain languages are particularly sharp (eg Filipino) and I will indeed ask people to keep their voice down if they are right beside me.

Ummmm, please don't do this. It's not a nice thing to say.
posted by the cydonian at 12:45 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

The solution that most people use is to just listen to music. You have said "I have no desire to listen to music". You also have no desire to listen to people on the bus talking. And given that they have no desire to not use their phones, you're at a bit of an impasse.

Every other solution mentioned in this thread won't work. Listening to music will (and there's no reason to damage your hearing). You have a simple choice between dealing with it as you already are or choosing the best available solution. What bothers you more, the talking or having to deal with listening to music?
posted by turkeyphant at 3:54 AM on October 18, 2012

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