12 January 2006

Eavesdropping (ou, écouter une conversation privée)

[posted by Amy -- note: I wrote this on Wednedsay, but couldn't get it posted because of Blogger server problems.]

Despite Isabelle’s prudent warning, I decided to brave the first-day soldes crowds so that I could return a package of socks that didn’t fit Colin. First off, let me say that shopping for plain white socks in Paris at any time of the year is a pain! I bought Colin two packages of socks that claimed to be his size, and they didn’t fit. (He wears a 45 or 46, and I bought socks that were supposed to fit people who wore sizes 43 through 46.) So, thanks to poor sizing, I found myself in line at Go Sport this afternoon. (Go Sport is a sporting goods store, similar to MC Sports in the US.)

While Rachel and I were standing in line (a long period of time because EVERY customer ahead of us decided to apply for a store card), we chattered away to each other in English. After a bit, Rachel noticed that the woman in line behind us was watching us very closely. In reaction, she turned to look at the woman, and when they made eye contact, her natural reaction was to give a small smile. In response, the woman said (in English), “I was trying to understand you, but you talk so fast!”

Personally, I was so surprised to hear someone talk to us in English that I actually felt a little bit flattered. (I have no idea why I felt flattered that someone noticed me speaking English – it’s not really a compliment or anything. “Hey, way to speak in your native tongue!”) We chatted with the woman and her son for a couple of minutes, during which time she asked if we were A) American and B) Texan. (I decided not to explain that people from Texas are Texans first, and Americans begrudgingly.)

After we left, Rachel told me that she was a bit annoyed with that woman for eavesdropping on our conversation. Her reaction surprised me, but not because of her emotional response. I was surprised to hear her call the woman’s actions eavesdropping! Of course, that’s exactly what the woman was doing, but somehow, I perceived it as something else while it was happening.

This got me thinking: does the fact that we were speaking another language make eavesdropping acceptable? Her intent was simply to practice her aural skills in a language she doesn’t get to use much, which is more respectable than just being nosy. Does intent matter?

As another example, I was riding the bus about two months ago when I overheard a British couple trying to figure out where their stop was. As it happened, they wanted to get off at the same stop I was taking. I politely tried to ignore them for most of the trip, but finally, when we got close to the stop, I told them that I was getting off at the same place and that it was coming up soon. So, since I was being helpful, did that make my eavesdropping acceptable? I really didn’t think I was being rude, but maybe I was. (As a side note, it is nearly impossible for me to avoid eavesdropping when I hear people speak English here. It’s such a weird, rare occurrence that I always end up being fascinated by the sounds.)

So, here is the question of the day: is eavesdropping always rude? Vote now! (Or as Diddy would say, Vote or Die!)

(Wait, what the heck does Vote or Die mean??)

What is your opinion on eavesdropping?
It is always rude, regardless of intent.
It is OK *only* when you are practicing your aural comprehension of another language.
It is OK if you are able to help the other person in some way.
It is OK, as long as President Bush secretly approves it.
It is OK if you are a licensed detective.
It is not rude; everyone does it.
If you say the word "eavesdropping" really fast 57 times in a row, it starts to sound really weird.
Shh, I'm trying to hear what the people in the next room are saying.

Free polls from Pollhost.com


At 13/1/06 00:43, Anonymous Jesse said...

I definitely agree that it is virtually impossible not to notice conversations in English when I'm surrounded by a bunch of people who are usually not speaking it. There's probably many reasons, but I think mainly that it stands out--most of the other people aren't speaking English. For another it's fun. I can understand a lot of Czech conversations now, but it's sort of a luxury to be able to understand all the words and nuance of a conversation rather than feel as though I'm flailing about trying to pick up the meaning of every word.

I have a somewhat similar story, too. I was on a tram a couple months ago. The tram was crowded and there were a bunch of noisy backpackers standing in the middle. I noticed them announcing, to no one in particular, "Did you say four or five stops from the train station? Does that count the first stop and the stop that we're going to? I wonder if anyone here speaks English?" Etc. I started listening and realized that they were probably British and were lost. I was kind of embarrassed at first, too, and wasn't sure if I should answer them but they seemed to want someone to hear them. So finally, as the stop that they needed was coming up, I told them that they should get off at that stop. I was also transferring at the stop, so I told them what tram they should get on. They seemed happy, but I think they were really surprised. It was strange--I felt nervous talking to them even though it was easy for me to do (as opposed to speaking Czech which takes some effort), partly because it was eavesdropping and partly because it is so rare to encounter that sitution in Brno.

At 13/1/06 04:41, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's not eavesdropping if you're talking to someone in a public place... people do hear things unintentionally sometimes.

At 13/1/06 18:51, Blogger JODSTER said...

Anything said in public is public. How can a line at a busy mall, or a public bus be considered eavesdropping.

If you don't want to be heard in public, don't speak.

Am I wrong? Can I get a woot, woot!?

What is a woot woot? I heard a guy at a concert say that once. He wasn't talking to me, but I wooted him anyway.

At 13/1/06 18:54, Blogger JODSTER said...

In other eavesdropping news, I have a number of Polish neighbours that speak in Polish to each other. Apparently, they like to talk about the other neighbours, as a friend of ours over heard.

As she got out of her car, the one lady commented to the other about how my friend was dresssed. And not in a good way.

My friend, who grew up in a polish house, understood every word, and looked up at them, who clerly recognized they'd been heard and understood.


At 14/1/06 16:35, Blogger Karla said...

Completely ordinary. I listen to Czech conversations on the tram in the hope of actually following what's said, and English ones if it sounds like the people might need directions. (Or are saying something mildly interesting.)


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