DEBORAH CROMBIE: We all admit to occasional eavesdropping, right? I mean, sometimes you just can't help it, if people are talking loudly at the next table or having an intimate conversation on their cell phone while standing next to you in the Starbucks queue. But what about VISUAL snooping? (Is there a word for that? Eyesdropping? And why is overhearing called "eavesdropping," anyway?)
I said a couple of weeks ago that I was never comfortable writing on planes, because I always felt like people were looking over my shoulder while I typed. Then it occurred to me that maybe this is because I am always looking over people's shoulders! I love walking down the aisle on a plane and peeking at what people are doing or reading. Boring spreadsheets on their laptops? Reading the latest airport blockbuster, or a tattered paperback? Working a crossword? Knitting? (A little side note: I see people reading paper books more often than books on tablets. Hmm.) I am so fascinated by the variety of interests.
But sometimes you are an inadvertent "eyesdropper." On my flight back from Raleigh a few weeks ago, a young woman across the aisle and one seat up was watching a movie on her tablet that must have been X-rated, or at least RRR. It made me so uncomfortable. Every time I looked up, there it was. Or, rather, there THEY were. And they were very naked and VERY athletic. I kept thinking, what if children walk up the aisle? And isn't she aware that other people can see her screen and might not be okay with the content? But that is maybe another topic, what we consider appropriate boundaries...
I check out what people are reading or writing in coffee shops, too, and on buses and trains. Can I call this writerly curiosity? Or am I just plain nosy?
What about you, REDS? Do you admit to having a peek at what people are doing in public places? (And to making up stories about them?)
HALLIE EPHRON: I'm always curious what other people are reading, and often if it's something I've heard of or read I'll say something. But really, what kind of an idiot runs an X-rated movie on her computer on a plane? Though it does give me an idea for a story... what if....
And though I try not to snoop, sometimes you just can't help it. My husband and I went to a fabulous sushi restaurant in Manhattan a few months ago, very hushed, bamboo walls, spectacular food, and the couple sitting at the table next to us... well they were practically DOING IT. I think they must have been drunk because it wasn't like they were in a private booth. We were so relieved when they left. Don't you love a restaurant with just enough ambient noise that it insulates you from actually hearing what's going on at the other tables, and lights low enough that you can't see unless you stare?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I think looking at what people are reading is not snooping. :-) Or looking at people's video screens on planes. I mean, you can't help it. it's RESEARCH. It's all research.
And I always listen to people in restaurants--if they are causal enough to be loud enough. I once heard someone in a booth behind me say "And not just Quakers, Seminoles!" What could that possibly mean?
And as PROOF people expect it--how about the woman in the airport waiting area who said into her phone: "Oh, I can't hear you. Let me put you on speaker."
ON SPEAKER! So I figure that's fair game. And you know what they were talking about? One sentence--which I may have mentioned here before. Something like: "Well, then, she shouldn't have sent him the naked pictures."
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I love the phrase "eyesdropper," Debs! Yes, I do find myself spying on what people have on their screens as I walk up the aisle of a plane or train. I virtuously tell myself it's not being nosy, it's assessing the state of publishing today. I mean, you used to be able to tell what people were looking at because you could see the book or magazine in front of them, right?
I agree with everyone else: watching an explicit movie while in public - not only in public, but in a crowded airplane! - is just yucky. Even if the thought of offending other passengers doesn't move you, wouldn't you worry that you're extending an open invitation for the creepiest guys around to chat you up?
LUCY BURDETTE: Yeah, what's amazing is when it doesn't seem to occur to folks that people can hear or see. One night on the train coming home from New York City to CT, a woman flounced into our car, took out her cell phone, and called someone. She proceeded to ask the callee if she could come over. The conversation lasted at least 10 agonizing minutes as he turned her down multiple times. It must have been terribly humiliating, and all done in front of 30 or so complete strangers.
One other tangentially related story...I was flying to Paris for my semester abroad. I knew no one and was very lonely and anxious. When I returned to my seat from the bathroom, someone had put x-rated photos--a whole stack of them--in my train case. Boy howdy, is that an opening for a book or what? At the time, it was simply horrifying. And how to explain to my new roommates that I brought porn into the country??
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: In New York City, we all live cheek by jowl, and so eavesdropping and eyesdropping is not so much snooping as an occupational hazard. First of all, I LOVE to see what people are reading on the subway. E-readers have made this harder, but there are still enough fans of the paper book to make it fun. I've never had so many random strangers come up to me and compliment me on my reading as the summer I read Anna Karenina to and from work on the subway. It was so lovely — people reminiscing about when they'd read the book and how it affected their lives... Less fun is the noise pollution. This past summer was FROM HELL as our neighbors had their apartment across from ours renovated. My favorite out of context overheard quote from my last book tour was at the Kansas City airport when some woman was having a really loud conversation. "AND THEY DIDN'T EVEN SERVE SALAD!" she told the person on the other end of the line, as well as the thirty or so folks waiting at the gate. No salad! The nerve!
RHYS BOWEN: one of the movies being offered on my last Virgin Atlantic flight was 50 Shades of Grey. I was horrified. Who would watch that with a stranger in the next seat?
But I do eavesdrop on conversations sometimes. And hear occasional gems. I was swimming laps once and heard a woman in the next lane saying, "of course the gun belt weighs you down" so I had to swim at her speed to hear more! And don't people give away private details on cell phones? I confess to
snooping on what everyone else is reading. But if I find someone reading one of my books I hesitate to tell them so. A writer friend saw someone on a plane reading one of her books and said "I wrote that." The woman looked at her with disbelief and disgust and replied "no you didn't." So I keep quiet.
DEBS: My side are hurting from giggling! You couldn't make this stuff up. You really couldn't. If we put these snippets in books, no one would believe it...
So what about you, READERS? Do you, ahem, inadvertently look at what other people are reading/doing? Or listen to publicly broadcast conversations?
(I dare anybody to top "Of course the gun belt weighs you down.")