You don’t have to be mad to live here

If your idea of fun is listening in to private conversations about Ethel’s ingrowing toenail operation, or the borderline sexual harrassment of Eric’s younger boss, New York is truly the city for you. As I’ve mentioned before, this city’s residents have faulty volume control (they really should have bought the extended warranty), and as a result, eavesdropping is less accidental and more an accidental necessity caused by commuting daily.

What makes the whole thing so profoundly satisfying though is the fact that you get a better class of crazy in New York. In London, overhearing a conversation means listening to sappy Sacha drivelling on endlessly to drippy Dorothea about how Tristan is being frightfully awful at the moment. In New York, you’re just as likely to hear about one man’s plot to dramatically shorten the lifespan of his neighbour’s pet chihuahua.

This morning as I walked to a subway, the middle aged woman walking immediately behind me was having a very dramatic phone conversation with a person who – from the sound of the story – was one of her daughters. She related how the person they were talking about – her other daughter, I suspected – was going for an emergency appointment, and that while nobody was happy with the situation, at least it would be resolved relatively quickly. The exchange went on in some considerable detail, with the conversation getting increasingly heated and personal.

It was only when I stopped to get my wallet out of my pocket that the woman walked past me, and I noticed that she didn’t have a phone in her hand.

Huh, I thought to myself, you don’t see many women of her age with hands free sets.

And then I saw both her ears, and realised she wasn’t even on the phone. And that we were now underground, safely shielded from mobilecellphone reception.

The conversation continued for a good twenty minutes while we were on the train though. I think her daughter hung up on her in the end. You can’t blame her, can you?

5 thoughts on “You don’t have to be mad to live here

  1. Brooklyn

    “As I’ve mentioned before, this city’s residents have faulty volume control (they really should have bought the extended warranty), and as a result, eavesdropping is less accidental and more an accidental necessity caused by commuting daily.”

    If you’re not holding trying to listen to a private conversation (such as by holding your ear against a closed door)but just hearing a conversation in the open,it’s not “eavesdropping,” it’s “overhearing.”

  2. Apsidal

    I think that while Brooklyn may be correct, it is a pedantic distinction. I recall that a decade or so ago there was one of those ephemeral artforms in which out of a single line of overheard conversation a whole, bizarre scenario could be reconstructed. By way of example was the guy passing me as I entered an office building saying to his mate: “…and I never did find out what she did with the cylinder head…” Such isolated droplets were indeed called “eavesdroppings”. They are worthy of a revival.

    Incidentally, my mother used to do exactly the same as this woman – rehearsing an anticipated row. This included preparing for the expected riposte with an appropriate rebuttal. She sometimes betrayed this tendancy by – forgetting that the riposte had not in fact yet been articulated – starting her attack with “…and anyway…”

  3. Brooklyn

    “I think that while Brooklyn may be correct, it is a pedantic distinction.”

    I respectfully disagree.

    “Eavesdropping” is an invasion of privacy because it is an attempt to listen to a conversation which is ostensibly private.

    “Ovehearing” is not invasion of privacy. A conversation held in public is just that, public.

  4. Expat Mum

    I must admit, I sometimes do that if it’s going to be an unpleasant conversation – but not in public. At least I hope nobody else hears.
    It still causes a minor freeze when I see people walking along having a full-blown (and usually loud) conversation on a hands-free phone. You never know whether it’s a bona fide crazy person.

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