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Feb 26 2008

Where silence is non-negotiable

It’s been a while since I’ve shared anyTales from the Commute, probably because commuting has been pretty easy-going for me lately.

Since returning to work full-time in January, I’ve been taking advantage of my company’s flex-time policy to log my office hours between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.  This schedule insures that I only have to make one leg of the round-trip in darkness, and that was kind of important to me when I first started navigating the journey with one eye. A further benefit is that I avoid the rush-hour traffic on both ends of the day and have no trouble getting a seat in my beloved Quiet Car, which makes the commute itself infinitely more pleasant. (In fact, I’m thinking very seriously of keeping these work hours even after the early sunset is no longer a factor.)

Added to that, the Quiet Car has been even quieter than usual, due in part I think, to a subtle change in signage that must have occurred sometime while I was on medical leave. The international symbols for No Mobile Phone Use and Shush (the index finger held vertically in front of the lips) are still there, and the Swedish text which translates directly to “Quiet Area” has not changed, but the English text has been updated from “Rest Seats” to “Silence Zone.”

This may seem like a fairly insignificant change, but for harried commuters seeking a bit of peace and solace on their train ride, it makes a world of difference. Because while the terms Quiet Area and Rest Seats can be reasonably interpreted a couple of different ways, the phrase Silence Zone leaves no doubt that talking (or any other kind of noise for that matter) is verboten.

Of course there’s no accounting for idiots, and I got lucky enough to share the Quiet Car with one last Friday. I was sitting across the aisle from a couple and about the third time the guy asked the girl a question, I leaned over and asked him (in Swedish) if he knew he was in the “Quiet Area.” I always give people the benefit of the doubt because the signs are small and sometimes folks just don’t realize that they’ve taken seats in a specially designated area of the train. He apologized and she opened a magazine to read, so I thought that would be the end of it.

A few minutes later he asked her something else, and because she was sitting across from him with a small table between them and listening to an MP3 player at the time, there was no way he could get her attention in a normal tone of voice. For her part, she seemed to be trying to respect the fact that she was in the Quiet Car…or maybe she was just ignoring him, it’s hard to say. At any rate, I then asked him (also in Swedish) if he understood what “Quiet Area” meant. Once again he was apologetic and leaned back in his seat.

In the meantime, I noticed that the volume of the girl’s MP3 player was so high that *I* could hear the music whenever the train came to a full stop. Normally I would have said something about that, too, but it was Friday afternoon and I was in a good mood, and besides, I’d already (kindly and good-naturedly) scolded her boyfriend not once, but twice.

But several minutes later he was talking to her again, even though she was obviously lost in the magazine article she was reading or in the music blasting from her MP3 player, or both.  At his point, much to the amusement of the other commuters who were sitting nearby, I leaned across the aisle and said, in English, “You do know that she’s not listening to you, right?”

He shut up after that.

Feed my ego!

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