Commuter Adventures: Business Calls in Public Transportation

One of the advantages of being a commuter on public transportation is the opportunity to study human behaviour at close range. I find commuters, myself included, tend to be at their most vulnerable when daydreaming or struggling to stay awake on a bus or the subway. It is inevitable to grin in sympathy at the young man sitting across from me who obviously had a very rough night for whatever reason and has to pull himself, his clothes, and his books together for class. Then there is young woman who is so concerned about her looks and her nails that she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about her depriving an old man of a seat because she placed her bag on the seat next to her. Or there is the handyman in overalls just getting off night duty and his eyes are so bloodshot that I wish I could hand him a pillow and a blanket on the spot. Even if I don’t speak to anyone, there is no mistaking the lawyer on his way to a client, or the eager beaver young urban professional ready to face another vicious day at the office.

Then there are those who are in desperate need of attention and have no sense of propriety or privacy, and absolutely have to conduct that business call in the bus or subway at the top of their voice, as if shouting “look at me and listen to me conduct business”. Call me old-fashioned or a stickler for etiquette, but I find it highly inappropriate when business calls are conducted in public transportation, not to mention a breach of protocol and that little non-disclosure clause in all our employment contracts. So many tend to forget this and you really never know who might be listening. What if the person three meters away is from the competing company? Or maybe even a colleague from the same company but another department? Or even more embarrassing, your superior?

There are two sides to this situation:
The person on the call who tends to get louder or sometimes more impatient because the acoustics are not good. Hello? Subway? Vanishing signal? Is that any reason to shout into the phone and disturb the peace?
The effect this call has on the people around the caller. Sure, we are all strangers and don’t understand the context or really don’t care, honestly, but what truly bothers me is that in this day and age of data protection, you have to be painfully aware of what data is being shared or broadcasted.

I find it supremely obnoxious to have to listen to someone bark orders, or give a dressing down for something that was not done or has to be rushed. Can’t it be put briefly on hold until you reach your destination or desk? There is no problem if you do this in the privacy of your car, in fact I have even witnessed several people do the same thing while peddling furiously on a bike as well, which can’t be any better for the acoustics either. But certain behaviours don’t translate into public transportation – and shouldn’t.

Oh, and for the record, I frown on fights over the phone in the subway as well.

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