The Etiquette of Things: Playing Your Music in Public


Surely you’ve picked up your copy of Everyone’s Advice Is Wrong . . . Including Mine (available on Amazon). And surely you’ve read one of my first posts on this blog, No One Listens to the Professor. Undoubtedly, you recall my post Elevator Etiquette, Pushing Your Floor Number. If you have and enjoyed them then you probably are a polite person who respects wood. If you have not or did not enjoy them, consider purchasing my upcoming book: The Etiquette of Things: Things You Didn’t Know Were Things

The book is a modern take on etiquette. It is appropriate for travelers and for anyone who interacts with the general public. Today’s entry focuses on the developing trend of people not respecting the personal space of others. I see it all the time at airport lounges where guests think that the entire lounge is their own office (see An American Douche in Tokyo Lounge). I witness it in hotel lounges where parents don’t care to monitor their unruly children (see Should Kids Be Allowed in The Hotel Lounge?). And today, I dealt with it in the jacuzzi at a beach resort. Here’s how it unfolded:

After going down the slide in the family pool, I retreated to the adults only pool for some R&R. My moment of peace was interrupted by an individual who came to the hot tub with his bluetooth speaker to play some R&B. Without asking if I minded, he synced his phone and started streaming music. The music wasn’t over-the-top loud, but I could hear it well enough to sing along to Rihanna’s greatest hits. I had three options:

  1. Leave and not say anything.
  2. Stay and not say anything.
  3. Say something.

Obviously, I went with option 3. I broached the subject by asking, “Do you think it is polite to play music in public without asking others first?” Immediately and expectedly, he took offense to the question. He said if I wanted the music turned down that I should ask for that instead of this passive way of voicing my displeasure with him playing music. That very answer, I said, shows how oblivious he was with the premise of my question.  The point of my question was to convey that there isn’t an acceptable volume for someone to play their personal music in public places. The idea that someone has to listen to someone else’s music just because that person has the capability to play shows no respect for common courtesy.

Regarding his statement, I believe it would have been more impolite to ask him to turn his music off. Saying, “Do you mind turning that off?” would not make for a comfortable time. If he said he didn’t mind, we’d be sitting there in awkwardness. If he said he did mind and kept it on, imagine how fun that would be. Furthermore, if someone is truly sensitive to etiquette, that person should not ask if he can play his music in public to begin with. Simply asking that question creates a lose-lose situation. If I say no I don’t mind, it’s because I am being polite and wouldn’t want to infringe on someone’s good time. By acquiescing, I’d be stuck listening to Only Girl in the World. If I say I do mind, then that person might be upset by my hard-line stance.

My brash question did not lead to fisticuffs. It led to a thoughtful discussion on the what people should expect regarding the invasion of their personal space. I pointed out that I object to people who speak on Facetime in public just as much as I object to people who watch movies on airplanes without headphones. The erosion for the respect that society has for personal space will create a situation that is untenable. If it becomes acceptable to play music on a small personal speaker, what’s to stop the next person from playing his/her music on a speaker that is bigger than that speaker. And so on and so forth.

What would you have done if you were me? What would you have done if you were he? Drowning TPOL is impossible. I swim like a fish.

This crab lost his life in that same hot tub.




  1. It is a sign of the times that people are so self absorbed that they don’t think it is weird to have speaker phone chats, play music, watch movies, or play video games with the sound on. As with so many things today, people don’t care about their impact on others. I have politely asked people seated next to me to please use a headset or put it on mute (vs turn it off or turn it down). I’ve also asked someone with music blaring out of their headset to please turn it down. Reactions have been mixed. (In one case, someone said they had lost their headset, so I gladly provided a spare unopened spare set.) On recent flights, if easy to do, I’ve asked the FA to add “headsets or mute” to their reminders and they have been thrilled to do it. I wish airlines just made it a standard rule.

  2. Good for you. I’m curious how the conversation actually led to a thoughtful discussion – i would have thought it would lead to either extreme uncomfortableness or aggression.

    • I’d be like… is my moderately volumed music so miserable that they have to, probably the kind of person who’s more mad at the idea someone invaded her vicinity with the sounds of music…. as if people need to ask everyone that comes around or will come around, if its ok… and since this person would have liked to say “not okay” this is more a stuck up person, Flippin it on some guy vibing out, before the Karen came along. Ffs. Idve sparked a fat joint and listen to the complaints about 2md hand smoke…. outdoors…. from cannabis hahahhah.

      I’m usually happy I dont have to use my battery to play music!

  3. My take is if someone is so detached from common courtesy as to do the actions described, they probably are not going to be much for discussion about etiquette and its underlying principles. My preferred approach would be to simply ask them to turn it off. We could delve into the finer points from there, if necessary. The approach that you employed, while effective, invites a more lengthy interaction with the offender and comes off as being professorial or haughty, which generally will be ill-received even by those willing to shut down the tunes.

    However it gets done, I agree that this sort of thing needs to be shut down as it is getting progressively out of hand.

  4. While there are definitely ignorant places to slap edgy music, especially, ie. MOZZY or some hood shit, knowing you’re around or around kids and families. On the public bus, or indoors at public places like the Airport. Theres a few things to consider, however: one, let’s say I go to the beach, in the city/area im from, that has become so populated since Amazon moved in and gentrified all the locals out, making middle class go to upper-middle, and the small stretch of sand seattle beaches, has always been packed on sunny days… but these non locals, thinking that someones,.say, modestly volume music, like some blues or some reggae, 60s rock.maybe- enough for ppl to hear it but not deaden conversation, should be a given at a beach. I HATE loud ass conversations for the purpose of others hearing what they’re saying for attention indirectly… but i don’t ask them to keep it at a 6…. screaming kids… part of life… music… tough break. Common courtesy should meet in the middle with the uptight. Anyone who can’t enjoy a reggae rhythm, or some BB King, shouldn’t be on a public beach.. or anywhere near me.

    Keep it classy. But keep it easy going.

    The vicinity you’re In isn’t “yours” and REAL sound pollution issues in the city, such as the former Jack in Box order speaker across the street at an, being so loud I can’t sleep… and mfs blasting music on weeknights and shit. If ur not listening to music while u lay around in the sun… ur kind of boring.


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