Headphones In

In New York City, there is an accepted decorum for addressing someone on the train when they have their headphones in:  YOU DON’T.

There are exceptions, of course:

1.  If they dropped something important and haven’t noticed:  a large wad of cash, their iPhone, their baby.  Anything else, LEAVE THEM ALONE.

2.  If you are lost and need directions.  If there is anyone else on the train who is NOT wearing headphones, ask them instead, and as for the headphone-wearer, LEAVE THEM ALONE.

3.  Come to think of it, there is really no good reason to talk to someone when they’re wearing headphones on the train.  Just LEAVE THEM ALONE!

Wearing your headphones on the train is like setting your Gchat to “away”.  You’re there, but you’re not really there. 

So imagine my surprise when I, wearing headphones, found myself making conversation on the train.

Note the clear and obvious wearing of headphones.

From across the aisle, I could see a woman staring at me and mouthing words.  Is she talking to me?  I had to wonder.  Doesn’t she know about the headphones rule?  Is she lost?  Confused?  I was so thrown that I turned my headphones off and took one earbud out.

“Excuse me?”  I ventured cautiously.  I mean, she tried to talk to someone with headphones in.  She’s either dangerously insane, or, you know, the train is on fire.

“Nice tattoo,”  she said, smiling.  Yeah, I know.  It’s gorgeous, and strangers often feel the need to comment on it.  So I smile politely, and say thank you, and go about my business.

“Thanks,”  I faked a terse smile, then put my headphones back in.

No sooner had I done so than, to my surprise, I saw her mouthing words and making a gesture drawing a line across her chest.

“Yes?”  I pulled my earphone out once again.

“Did it hurt?”

I gave a sarcastic smirk.  “Not a bit,” I joked wryly, and replaced my headphone once more.

My new friend took this as an invitation to lean in closer and ask incredulously, “It didn’t hurt???

I sighed inwardly, and pulled my headphones out once again.  “No, it hurt quite a bit, actually.”  Like DUH.

“How long did it take to complete?”  She pressed on.  “Four hours,” was my curt reply.  “And you had to lie down?”  “Yes.”  “Well, it’s really beautiful,” she started up again.  Wow.  This conversation was becoming more painful and awkward than the actual tattoo.

I put my headphones back in and pretended to be deeply engrossed in my phone.  She finally took the hint and stopped pestering me.  At the next stop, she got up from her seat across from me and moved further down the train.  Good, I thought.  Let her pester someone else.
I felt a tiny bit bad for having been “rude,” which I realize is ridiculous.  On the one hand, she was just trying to make conversation.  However, there’s a limit!  If someone doesn’t want to chat, you should leave them to listen to their headphones in peace!

But just in case, I returned her wave when she got off the train.  Karma, man.  Always be nicer than you think you have to be.

Even to a stranger who violates the “Headphones In” Rule.


7 responses to “Headphones In”

  1. haha I get like this too. Always feel bad when someone means well. Usually my guard is up and locked!


    1. Absolutely "means well" ! It's like, thank you very much for the compliment, but I'm tired/in my own head/not feeling like talking right now, but we're on public transit together and kind of have to? Like when you're stuck on an airplane next to someone using your shoulder as a pillow. Forced into a human interaction you'd rather not.

  2. I'll never, ever do that (again).

    1. Awww! Your chats are lovely! But this person didn't know when to stop, which was the problem! I hope YOU continue to approach strangers because you ARE friendly!

  3. Ugh, I dealt with this crap all the time when I took the train & subway to college in downtown LA way back when. What is wrong with people?

    1. Right? I deal with people at work – it's my job to approach people – but it's my talent to know when someone DOESN'T want to be approached! Like when they're on the phone or have headphones in!

  4. I get this all.the.time because I'd my tattoos. My mother made me think that everyone was scared of hooligans with tats but apparently that's a lie. It seems that if you have one it's an open invitation to be asked about it. I don't mind the quick compliments but the in depth convos wear me out.

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