Overheard

I’m guilty of accidental airing of dirty laundry.

I share an office with a few others at work, so I take my phone calls outside. I forget, though, about the open window or the strong acoustics in the hallway. I go on and on about what she said or he did: first names and last names and details, details, details. Until, suddenly, I catch the eye of a passerby and realize I’ve said too much. Out loud. In public. The heat rises up my chest and neck and I whisper, amid nervous laughter, “well, I should really get back to work.” My covert conversation just hit the ears of about 10 or 20 people, some friends, some strangers.

Emily Post had her sight on the future when she wrote Chapter Five, On the Street and In Public, in her book of Etiquette:

All people in the streets, or anywhere in public, should be careful not to talk too loud. They should especially avoid pronouncing people’s names, or making personal remarks that may attract passing attention or give a clue to themselves (p. 28).

Woops. She, of course, never imagined cell phones. But, her words still hold true in warning us of possible embarrassment. I’ve overheard plenty about late night escapades, who wore slippers to the grocery store, couples on the verge of a break-up. Even in one-sided conversations, a lot of details fall on uninvited ears.

Once in a while, though, I hear something much more touching:

I’ve got the ring…Yea…I’m gonna ask her tonight…I know, dude, I’m so excited.

Still, more times than not, cell phones give a false sense of privacy. Either I’m dishing out too much, or he’s giving away trade secrets, or she’s looking possessed – waving her hands around words of a manifesto flying out of her mouth and past the mouthpiece of a blue tooth that I can’t see.

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