A few days ago, I was on the right side of the upper deck of a bus and reading a book when someone a few seats away on the left side of the bus suddenly decided to watch a video at close-to-maximum volume on his mobile phone.
The bus wasn't very crowded but there was a middle-aged man, also on the left side, a few seats in front of the video-watcher, who turned to glare his disapproval. Without saying a word, of course.
My initial instinct was to just ignore the situation, but the video started to produce high-pitched sounds, made worse by the tiny speakers.
It was too much to bear, so I looked up from my book and said to the video-watcher, "Hi. Could you turn the volume down, please?" in (what I assume) was a neutral tone, though I'm pretty sure some annoyance went through. I wasn't exactly smiling.
The video-watcher fumbled a little with the phone but brought the volume much lower, to which I said, "Thank you."
The rest of the bus journey went on rather smoothly, though I did catch myself wondering how unpleasant it would have been if I had just kept quiet.
We have a slightly odd culture here of staying silent when things need to be said. Most Singaporeans will simply stare at the social offender, hoping that he/she will realise the social faux pas he/she is committing and 'automatically' rectifying it.
I'm sure we've all witnessed this every now and then and it would be great if social offenders realise on their own what they are doing.
Unfortunately, it's far more likely that they are thinking more along the lines of, "If no one is telling me to stop, then I don't have to stop," or "If someone is bothered by what I'm doing, they'll speak up."
Perhaps they don't even realise that what they are doing is annoying other people. Some people are really, really lousy at reading facial cues and body language.
The only way they will know is if somebody tells them.
Of course, most of us would say that it's none of our business or that we would rather be nice and suffer in silence.
I've come to a realisation that we have to speak up, not just to allay the annoyance, but also to educate these people that what they are doing is not alright.
There are 3 things that I think will help:
1) A polite request for a specific change in behaviour
"Could you lower the volume, please?" is likely going to work a lot better than "Shut that phone up!"
2) Rehearse in your head before you speak
This is so you will hear yourself saying it first. Listen for unnecessary angry words or sarcasm and remove them. You want to effect a change, not start a fight.
3) Make normal eye contact
Glaring and staring are rude in and of themselves. Look at the person in the same way that you would someone with whom you were going to have a conversation.
The next step?
Just Speak Up!