Men speaking on the phone at the movie theater, disturbing other people. 

Caring about etiquette is, essentially, caring about the comfort and well-being of the people around you. It’s about being considerate and making sure you’re not unfairly imposing upon others! This article is all about being considerate with sound. And more specifically, how MUCH noise is appropriate for you to make in public places!

Have you ever been at work, in a restaurant, at the movies, or in another shared space, and had your experience completely disrupted by someone else’s loud talking? “What could possibly make them think they need to be that loud?” you might have asked yourself. “Do those people really think EVERYBODY wants to hear their conversation?”

The truth is, when you’re out in public—especially in a fun setting or meeting up with friends—it can be easy to get caught up in the moment. And it can be all too easy to forget about the people around you who are also trying to enjoy themselves! As the fun increases, so does your speech volume. But at a certain point, your good time can become a disruption for others. And that’s just poor etiquette!

Here are some tips for making sure you can have a good time—and your companions can hear you—while still being considerate of the people around you in some different settings.

In Restaurants

It can be hard sometimes to know just how loudly it’s appropriate to speak in restaurants. A lot of restaurants these days have background music playing, and there’s a lot of hustle and bustle. A good way to determine an appropriate conversation volume is to visualize an invisible “bubble” occupying about a foot of space around you and your fellow diners. Now do a little quick calculating. Can your companions inside the bubble hear you? Great! Are you talking so loudly that your voice is traveling beyond the imaginary bubble? Perhaps lower your volume a bit. That way, you and all the other diners can enjoy your conversations without drowning each other out!

In Bars

There are so many different kinds of bars! When it comes to conversation volume in bars, it’s best to use your best judgment. After all, you’re allowed (and probably expected!) to be louder in a sports bar where everybody is cheering the big game on TV, than in a brewpub or wine bar where people are gathered around in more focused conversations. Once again, remember the 1-foot “bubble” around you and your companions. And occasionally do a mental “volume check.” Ask yourself, “Am I the loudest person here?” And if so, consider bringing it down a few decibels!

On Public Transportation

On public transportation like buses and trains, people typically want to be alone with their thoughts, books, or mobile devices. They usually DON’T want to hear the conversation you’re having with your companion, or on the phone! If you and your friend have things to discuss on the bus or train, try using the “bubble” trick again. But perhaps reduce its size to a 6-inch radius around yourselves. That way, your fellow riders in close quarters can still have a somewhat peaceful ride. If you receive a phone call during your ride, the most considerate thing to do both for the caller and your fellow riders is let the caller know quietly that you’re in transit and will call back as soon as you’re in a better location to talk.

At Movies and Plays

When you go to the movies or a play, a reasonable amount of quiet conversation is acceptable while the lights are still on and everyone is getting seated and arranged. But once the lights go down, and either the movie previews start showing, or the play is underway, it’s time to end the conversation and focus on the show … and allow everyone else to do the same! If something comes up during the show that must be discussed right away, then take your conversation outside the theater and into the lobby or concession area.

Want to learn more about how to have impeccable etiquette and manners in any public setting? Check out Polite Society’s Etiquette Courses and sign up for one today!