Pushing Back

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation

Posted: 07/8/2010

I heard him as soon as I entered the store. He was a well-dressed ‘gentleman’ sitting to my left on the second of four stools facing the sidewalk. He was speaking so loudly into his cell phone, that a few other customers rolled their eyes or shook their heads, resigned to his affront.

Some blog posts take several hours to plan, research and write. Others, like this one, literally almost hit me in the face. I knew this day would come, and I was ready.

After ordering my sandwich at the deli counter in the back of the Groceria, I came back up front to pay the cashier. “Loud guy”(LG) was still yammering away on his cell phone, much to the dismay of everyone in the store. While paying, I muttered, Can you believe this?, to the clerk, who shrugged in agreement, as if to say, I know man, but what can I do?

As I grabbed some napkins just two feet from LG, I pulled out my cell phone and faked an incoming call, loud enough for him to hear me.

Hey Tommy. I’m in a store and can’t talk. I’ll call you in a bit. Loud Guy neither flinched nor took the hint. His volume didn’t drop a decibel, grating on everyone within earshot. The owner and cashier fidgeted behind the counter, but said nothing.

After taking a seat at the small counter on the other side of the entrance, I assessed the situation and worked through my options. I glared at LG in disbelief twice; then shaking my head, I muttered, Quiet, loud enough for the gentleman sitting 2 stools away to respond in agreement, but apparently not loud enough to have any impact on LG.

What made the one-sided conversation even more painful is that LG was haggling with a flower shop employee in a condescending tone.

Sixty-five dollars? Come on, can’t you do the whole thing for me for fifty?, he pleaded.

After agreeing on a price, he proceeded to read off his credit card information over the phone. He interrupted and corrected the flower shop employee twice as the card numbers were read back to him for verification. While he slowly repeated the numbers as if he were speaking to a child, I reached my limit.

I calmly but deliberately turned to LG and said,

Excuse me, out of respect for everyone you’re sharing public space with, could you please lower your volume or take the call outside?

The elderly gentleman sitting 2 stools away from LG immediately looked at me as if to say, Wow. Where did that come from? My ally, sitting near me snapped a look at LG,  and blurted, I agree.

The tension in the store broke as the workers and customers all stared at the man as if to say, Seriously. How could you think that was ok?

Loud Guy gave me a patronizing smirk, but immediately reduced his volume to just above a whisper.

Now came the moment of truth. Would the guy finish his call and challenge me? Would he make a snide remark when he left? Surprisingly, he picked up his belongings and left without incident or comment and continued his call on the far side of the sidewalk.

After he left, a bit shaken, I turned to the gentleman sitting next to me and said, Thank you for your support. Most people would sit there seething but  put their heads down when someone speaks up. He replied, You’re welcome. I always take my calls outside, in the foyer or in the restroom away from people. It’s all about awareness.

Amen, brother. Amen.

30 Responses to “Pushing Back”

  1. Bren says:

    Well, you’re nicer than I am! I would have had a little piece of paper and a pen and jotted down some number-y looking things and tapped him on the shoulder and said “Can I get that expiration date again?”.

    When people do that – talk loudly enough that it is disturbing – I chime in on the conversation. They look at me in SHOCK and say something like “This is a PRIVATE conversation!”. I gesture around me at everyone listening and say “Not really!”.

    Good on ya, then!

  2. Dang! I applaud you! Big time! Love this post! Sooooooooooooo exellent-tai!!!!

  3. JB says:

    Gosh, that’s better than I would do, I would’ve taken the card information and sent about a 1,000 dollars worth of goods to a homeless or women’s shelter. If he ever figured it out, what’s he gonna do, rescind or take away the goods?

  4. CD Berkeley says:

    Very well done!! Polite and too the point… perfect. And the other thing that makes this story great is that someone was there to reinforce the message! I have to think that it helped with getting the guy to leave without incident. BTW, people that don’t support and cower away as if they never noticed or were bothered are worse than the people causing the situation because they are aware of the situation, are upset by it but don’t have the guts to deal with it.

  5. linnea says:

    You have an LG, I have an AG! an Annoying Guy! He thinks that because he is a drunk and spends money at the bar that he is god. He is such an arrogant ass that he likes to tell the employees that he will take care of the incidents that have been taken care of by his superiors!

  6. linnea says:

    by the way AG caused such confrontation in the bar that he got 2 employees suspended and made everyone else look like like pricks. By the way this guy is a cop!

  7. that reminds me of the library. they simply hand you a colorful slip of paper, without speaking a word, to please be quiet.

  8. Jeffrey Gates says:

    I agree with JB, you missed a wonderful opportunity to write the credit card info down and later send flowers to everyone working at Groceria with an appology “sorry I was such a tool and spoiled everybody’s lunch today”

  9. Ariane says:

    Thanks for helping one more person be more aware of their habits! I also try to take calls outside if at all when in public, though I frequently now text the person back “in a restaurant, will call back” to acknowledge the call. Seeing other people be annoyed has also goaded me into action – yes, I am that person who will ask you to talk more quietly or take your screaming child outside. I realize it is a public space, but that means that you GET TO SHARE IT!

    This was apparently a hot button for me! Thanks for sharing your story.

  10. Believe me, when he started reading off his Amex # I thought, “This guy is even more of an idiot than I originally thought,” and taking down the # crossed my mind. But when he started slowly repeating the numbers, even louder, I couldn’t take it any more.

  11. Dava says:

    I work in retail and we get this a lot. I’ve learned to approach the person and say, “Excuse, me, you may not be aware of it, but your call is disturbing others around you and I have to ask you to finish it outside.” Most do, as they are totally unaware that what they do effects those around them (which is the birth of the problem). I’ve only once had a caller complain by saying to the person on the end of the line, “Oh, I’m being told to shut up now.” Which he did. And left.

    I find that a lot of customers feel that it is the store clerk’s responsibility to handle any situation that makes them uncomfortable and I agree within reason. Sometimes, like the woman who complained to me about a man sighing too loudly and could I ask him to stop (yes, it happened, no, I didn’t), I think it might be better served by the customer themselves addressing the situation.

    I applaud your reaction. Like I still hold in high esteem the older woman who shamed a cell caller (I know how to get to the West Side Highway, thanks) by loudly announcing: “You are annoying everyone in here! Go outside!”

    Still, it amazes me that people are not aware by now that it’s not cool. Like flushing anything but the usual down the toilet will clog it up. Who doesn’t know by now? Sheesh!

  12. gaz regan says:

    Nicely handled, indeed. A phrase that has always worked very well for me is, “I need your help,” followed by whatever request was appropriate at the time. People are disarmed when you ask them for help, and it can diffuse all sorts of difficult situations.

  13. Uni Archangel says:

    Yes, we gotta speak up!, and as you said, those kind of people won’t realize how annoying they are unless someone tells them. Maybe he’ll think about it the next time he is around other people, especially indoors.

    Gaz-Great advice.

  14. Leighann says:

    Well played, Patrick. In similar situations, I’ve never been one to let actions like that go without a cordial but direct comment (much like yours) to let the person know that their behavior isn’t really acceptable. It happens a lot on the Bolt Bus, as well as Amtrak. Quick, quiet conversations are no bother, but I am still shocked by people who have no cognizance of how their behavior is so rude.

    Always, always speak up.

  15. mary says:

    The problem is that most people these days are SO passive and yet so incredibly entitled and self absorbed. I wouldn’t have even let it go on for as long as you did. I have NO problem letting people know when they are being rude! Whether it be when they are on their phones or being disrespectful to an employee. Everyone needs to grow a set and SPEAK UP. I usually don’t get an apology or anything other than a rude remark for my troubles(god forbid the offender admit his error!)but MAN it sure does feel good and I did my part. Perhaps in the future that person will think twice before repeating bad behavior!

  16. love it! some people have no “court sense.” I feel like there should be fines for certain things there are no fines for! (and vice-versa of course) nice job Patrick.

  17. It would have been funny if I had a pen and looked like I was writing down the #’s and turned to him and said, “I got everything except the 3-digit security code on the back of your card.” Great to get suggestions from everyone. More ammunition for our next ‘encounter’. You know there will be more…

  18. Ocey73 says:

    Nice call, Patrick! And oh, how “Loud gals/guys” irk me. And what even bothers me further (and I’m sure this may have come up on a previous blog, but I’ve been terribly busy with work and haven’t had time to check in as much as I’d like to), is the consumer, while yakking on their cellphone, assumes that I’m psychic and knows exactly what they may need.

    Case in point. Due to the economy and my not so unfortunate separation from my ex, I picked up a part time job to pad my full-time job’s salary. I’m working part time at a convenience store/gas station.

    *Customer walks in, squawking loudly on his/her phone about business issues, relationship issues, what-have-you. Perhaps they grab a water or pack of gum, and walk up to the counter, still yapping loudly, and completely disregarding the customers waiting behind them.*

    “That will be (whatever the cost of said items are), Sir/Miss,” I politely say, and wait for payment.

    Nothing. I might get a nod, or a hand held up in my face as if to say “Wait, this call is far more important, peon, than paying for my Perrier and Snickers bar at this moment.” I grit my teeth and make eye contact with those in line behind Mr/Ms Mc-Chatty-pants and hold back my urge to scream. And/or rip the damn cellphone away from his/her ear.

    What’s even worse are those who expect me to understand what they want while they’re yapping away on their phones.

    *Customer comes up to the counter, yammering away* “Ohmahgawd, I can’t believe that..”

    She (unfortunately, ladies, this is a predominantly female thing. I’m female myself, but..)hands me a denomination of money, cocks her head towards the pumps, and keeps on yammering.

    “Oh, seriously, I can’t believe he did that to you..blah blah blah..”

    And at the same time I’m looking out to the pumps, wondering at which one her car is parked at so that I can apply the money. My polite inquries as to which vehicle is hers go unheard, and said customer walks out, still yapping blithely.

    Needless to say, as she didn’t tell me what pump she was at, she didn’t get her gas. And as I work at a busy station, there’s no damn way I can recognize each and every car and customer that comes in. I set her money aside and waited, as I had in-house customers to deal with.

    It didn’t take long before Ms. Social came storming back in, irate that her pump wasn’t activated, this time, her phone wasn’t attatched to her ear.

    “I gave you (said amount of dollars) for gas!”

    “I know, it’s still here. *Presented to her the put-aside sum of money* I’m not psychic, a vague nod towards the lot while you’re on your phone and discussing your personal issues doesn’t help. Now, which pump are you at? I’ll be happy to apply this.” (I’ll admit, I added an overly sweet smile there, possibly more akin to a dog baring it’s teeth, but, eh, I digress.)

    Huffing, she blurted out the number, I applied the transaction, and she went on her way.

    Really, though, is it that hard to put down the cellphone when you’re dealing with other human beings in person? I find it horribly rude, but..perhaps that’s a topic I missed or one for future discussion.

  19. Dr. Hank says:

    My dad raised ten kids with mother, Kitty. Paul Sr. was a determined disciplinarian with clear lines between right and wrong. The difference between my dad and many people who also had “clear lines” was that he ACTED on the “wrong” behavior – always and with deliberate passion and gusto…very unpopular at times. Embarrassing for us as adolescents. I call this leadership.

  20. FairLady says:

    This is a very interesting topic and I have enjoyed reading the comments. My children have worked at the local Dunkin’Donuts for a few years and they said so many people while paying through the drive-thru don’t miss a beat in their conversation while on their cell phone. They, too, like the previous comment regarding paying for their gas, get the nod after recieving their coffee,etc. There is no conversing with the customer, no ‘thank you’ or ‘have a nice day’ because they don’t have a chance to talk to the customer. I have recently seen a sign inside the Dunkin Donuts about no cell phone use while ordering but still not on the drive thru. I am sure that will happen soon! It has gotten out of control. What has happened to communicatiion?

  21. Ocey73 says:

    Fair Lady, great comment. I do wonder as well. I still say “Have a good day/night” while I’m on the job, even though it’s largely ignored by most.

  22. sesabee says:

    I work in the restaurant business and while the majority of people who come into my restaurant are courteous, there are a number of total a-holes who have no regard for their server or people around them. My personal favorite? Holding up a finger while talking on their phone. That is when I simply walk away….if there are other people at the table, i politely say that I will return when s/he is finished with their phone call and is ready to order. that usually gets the point across.

  23. Frequent Diner says:

    Patrick, please don’t even encourage people to use someone else’s credit card info to make a fraudulent purchase.

    The merchant who’s given the card (the venue, or the flower shop, or whatever) will be very likely to incur large financial penalties WHEN the transaction is disputed (and there is no reason to expect that it would not be).

    1. An innocent MERCHANT will be out the money that was charged for goods, whether that’s flowers for the restaurant or food for the homeless.
    2. The merchant will be hit with a chargeback fee, probably between $25 and $50, that can’t be appealed.
    3. The merchant’s processing costs may be increased by the card company.
    4. The merchant could lose the ability to take credit cards altogether.

    While these thoughts are satisfying to contemplate as fantasy, for me too, they assuredly make victims of innocent third parties. You were definitely more patient than I am, though I tend to walk away rather than confront idiots. We should all stare them down more, though the last few times that I have called someone out for bad behavior the people nearby looked at me as if there were something wrong with /me/, not with the self-important ass who, for example, just shoved past six people to get to a coffee counter because he is “in a hurry”.

  24. Ariane says:

    @ Frequent Diner – I am pretty sure most people who would post on a board like this are pretty honest. While we might daydream about making fraudulent charges with an overheard credit card number, I seriously oubt any of us would actually go through with it! Mostly, writing down the information would be used to make the person more aware that they were imposing on another person and/or making poor choices.

  25. Christy says:

    You know what, ocey73? I had that happen once when I worked in a book store. The woman would not stop talking on the phone long enough to pay, so I took the customer behind her! As I finished his transaction, we were joking around and I laughed. The woman on the cell phone then stopped for a moment during the call and finally decided to pause long enough to pay me, retorting, “You think this is funny, don’t you? (as if it were all about HER)” At this point, I had been polite long enough, and I was fairly cordial, but firm, and responded, “No, ma’am, I don’t,” finished her transaction, and was glad when she left!

    What also gets me is how people will talk out in public about very private matters I’d be embarrassed to talk about in front of friends and relatives, much less strangers! When I worked in clothing, customers would sometimes get me to unlock the fitting rooms to go in and use them as phone booths, spending 15-30 minutes in there! I have worked in retail/hospitality 19 years, and as much as you’d think you get used to this kind of thing, I don’t. I do try to show anyone working in those fields as much respect as I can, because I know they probably ain’t getting it from the general public. BTW, Patrick, thank you for starting this website! It’s great to have a forum for all that we who deal with the public go through, day in and day out, and advice on how to handle it. It’s a great help.


  26. nina says:

    Working in retail I deal with people on their phone all day, even worse are the people with blutooth because you don’t know who they are talking to! If some one comes up to the counter while on the phone I wait until they hang up in order to ask them all the info I need to proceed with the sale, usually they say something to me and I say “oh, are you speaking to me now?” I have taken people behind them in line if it is busy. Most of the customers get it or they just avoid me!

  27. Cathy says:

    i love it! I also would have been tempted to write down the credit card info.. but NEVER use it.
    What a jerk!
    I do find that this kind of person is a bit tricky to handle and I have expected cashiers or managers to handle them when I am the customer.

  28. Ben says:

    I’m tempted to call their credit card company afterwards and report the card lost/stolen. Doesn’t hurt anyone but the cardholder.

  29. Patti DiVita says:

    Oh this reminds me of the great Frasier episode where he is in the video store and the clerk pays more attention to the people on the phone then to him. I know this is different, but the same idea that a phone conversation is more important than person to person communication. The comments here are great and so true.

    I would say the bottom line is, as has been commented, self centered people who have no concern for others. It’s interesting how this behaviour has become almost the norm instead of the exception. It’s today’s sad phenomenon. I am lucky enough to be of the generation that was raised without a cell phone glued to our heads, but that leads to a bit of a limited tolerance of such rude and ignorant actions. I think what Patrick did is perfect. I am not 100% positive that I would have been as calm, although I would hope to be.

    I believe that there are many humans on this planet who think, “Ohhhh Kaay people that’s enough. It’s time to stop being such a selfish and ignorant boob, and be responsible for your actions in public that affect those around you.” And I believe that time is right for us to do as Patrick did and lead by example. It’s time to stand up for the proper treatment of each other. If we all remembered The Golden Rule and acted with it in mind, this place would be a whole lot better off! It’s not going to be easy but we have to start somewhere and in a calm and non-offensive way. I know, I know, we all at some time or another (myself included as a waitress and other customer service jobs) have wanted to rip a cell phone away from “LG” and throw it far far away, but we have to use restraint- hard as it is to do! The main thing is to not take this behaviour from these people any longer. Let’s have a revolt to save common decency! Oh wait that’s what this site is all about! 😉 THANKS PATRICK!!!

  30. PR says:

    A comedy troupe in Canada did this sketch called “Cellphone on a Train” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LseJlAVUVck). The image is pixillated in the YouTube video, but you don’t need the image after you’ve established that the man just mimes a cellphone before he launches into his revenge.

    Of course, it could be worse. Another Canadian comedy troupe did this little gem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2-nBQMWimc . If you’re a man, and you memorize and repeat it, it could also be effective revenge on cellphone clods.

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