Proper Coffee Shop Talk

Writing Fuel!

Coffee shops have become my office. I like to write there because I can really focus most of the time and my soy lattes come with a swirly heart. No laundry is screaming to distract me, nor cookies begging to be eaten. When I leave the house to write, I say to Hubby, “I’m heading to the office.” He knows where I’m going.

It’s a bit of gamble to write in a public space. You never know who will be your neighbor and if you can get a table at all. Most of the time I’m lucky and sit with other “office workers” focused on being productive. I love a packed house because twenty conversations at one time are white noise like a dryer, and I feel right at home and extra creative with my wording.

On rare occasions, I’ll inadvertently sit next to a table with a loud talker. I put my fingers in my ears while I’m concentrating, hoping whatever string of words I come up with will not leave me when I unplug to type, catching a fragment of “he just won’t listen to me” or “the church needs volunteers.”

Ear buds don’t to shut out noise unless I play music.  But I can’t write and listen to music; I might slip in a “Hey Jude” or “Rebel Yell.”  Maybe jazz or classical could work because there aren’t any words but I’d have to work on a play list for that.

Most of the time I can concentrate enough to get the job done; my old-fashioned “finger plugs” do the trick.

Then one day, I experienced the mother of all disruptions: A LOUD cell phone call—the cell yell! I was typing along when I was shaken out of my concentration. I look up to see a woman around 40, clearly making a home office at her table by the window, like me, only Diva-ishly. She had a laptop, an adorable ceramic pot filled with lots of tea, and a mega cell phone in a super cute cell phone case on which she used her mega voice. Doesn’t her arm and hand ache holding that monster?!?

I kept typing, thinking she’ll stop pretty soon, but she didn’t. Should I say something? What do I say?

I Googled coffee shop etiquette because I can’t concentrate on coming up with a witty or wise sentence in my writing. I learned, “cell yell” is a problem as more and more telecommuters and students work out of coffee houses. I didn’t get a lot of answers except that there are two camps: a cell phone call is the same as two people talking at a table or yep, it’s rude and they should step outside to talk. I take my calls outside if I have to answer a super important call. Why doesn’t this occur to her?

The weird thing, I couldn’t find any suggestions on the Internet for the perfect words to get her to stop and still maintain world peace. Only words of semi-encouragement such as: “Don’t be a scaredy cat.”

My friend was studying her Italian at the table next to her. Was she bothered?


“Are you ready to shoot that lady on the cell phone?” she text messaged me.

“Yes! I’m glaring at her now but it doesn’t seem to be working,” I text back.

“I’m too afraid to say anything.” I know the feeling.

We kept working away, glancing up at her every once in a while, but she conveniently always looked out the window. I gathered from the fragments of her conversation she was looking for a job and had some “prospects.” I want to her to find a job, maybe more than her, but you never know who is sitting next to you and might give you an opportunity. I was getting kind of absorbed.

I asked the young guy at the table next to me, “Hey is that lady on her cell phone bothering you?”

Grunt. Head shake. He communicated like my teenage sons; I could translate.

“Hmm, guess not,” I answered in English for both of us. He was clearly more bothered by me, bothering him about her.

Then she stopped to go to the bathroom.

I walked over to my friend’s table.

“Oh my God! She was on there a long time! She even sent a text using Siri!”

“I saw that! She actually talked for an hour! I kept track,” she said as she stared at the clock on her phone.


When she came back, we were complaining to a friend who just walked in; we were looking for validation. We spoke LOUDLY, hoping to drop a hint.

The hint seemed to take. I went back to my table to finish up for the 15 minutes she stayed off her phone, 15 minutes! Then I wrapped it up. She couldn’t catch a clue! Or, selfishly, she was going to do whatever she wanted and to heck with other patrons.

I mentioned something to the owner about putting up a sign at the register to take phone calls outside but I’m not sure he wants the responsibility either.

Two days after the “incident,” I was at my coffee shop workstation and my very courteous table neighbor left to take his call outside, his laptop plugged in and waiting for him to return. Hmmm. I’m not crazy.

I asked Hubby what he thought since he’s all hipster techie and works out of a big name coffee shop. He says it’s soooo noisy with customers and music that nobody cares if you talk loud on a cell phone.  In fact, he steps outside so he can be heard.

Bottom line, it seems if the establishment is loud, the patrons can be loud.  If it’s like a library, then no inside calls.  Now, how to make this a universal truth…I’ll start with The One.

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