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When Reading is Inappropriate

Musing Mondays2

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about tidy reading around people.

When is it inappropriate to read in front of others? Is it ever appropriate?

I have been mulling over the issue over proper etiquette on reading especially when I encountered a similar situation. We were making a stop at a coffee shop in Palm Springs on a laidback Sunday morning coffee over the holidays. A few more people joined us later—about half a cup of my latte later (I am used to reading over timely consumption of my coffee). As befit to proper etiquette and civility, I closed my book and exchanged pleasantry with the late arrivals. As the conversation nudged toward holiday gatherings with families, gift extravaganza, real estates, and night-club escapades, in which the people involved were not even within my six degrees of separation, I felt justified to resume the perusal of A Single Man. Out of politeness I put down the book again when companions expressed interests in my reading. I feel more appropriate to read while maintaining eye-contact with a group even if I’m not actively participating in the conversation. Wearing a headphone, however, would be inappropriate because the blaring music would prevent me from taking part in the interaction.

In close company reading is justifiably appropriate. Sometimes I find myself reading quietly with a group of close friends who are also engaged in perusing a book, reading the newspaper, and texting. There exists a private understanding of individual occupation without losing the sense of togetherness. In Chinese culture, going to dim sum is a family ritual on Sunday. Scattered on the round table, besides the tasty delicacies, are reading materials. My father would complete the entire local news section before he ate a couple pieces of har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings). Lately morning commute on the train inspired a thought in me. Many commuters riveted on their books and study notes until the train was packed to the gunwales. When there isn’t even room to turn around, stretch the elbow, or hold on to a hoop, reading, which imposes a spacial prerequisite, becomes inappropriate. Equally annoying and inconsiderate are those open arms that bear the newspapers wide open. It is worst when the person next to me is spilling out of the seat on a plane. Maybe I’m just too crazy and picky, some people shouldn’t even be reading or working on the computer during the flight.

15 Responses

  1. Yeah, when a bunch of friends get together. It isn’t as bad to pull out a book and read.

  2. I think you bring up several good points, especially about reading on public transportation. I can just imagine someone reading the paper, arms stretched out, on a crowded train. Not good.

    I generally won’t read in public if I am with friends or family, unless we are all reading–or watching tv or something other than talking. If people are talking, I feel obligated to listen and take part when appropriate. I also won’t read during meals unless I’m by myself.

  3. When I was a kid, everyone in my family read at the table. It’s left me with appalling default table manners – I always catch myself bringing books to dinner before I remember I’m not supposed to do that in real life.

  4. You’ve listed some great points there, Matt! And I’m so with you on the newspaper reading, urgh!

  5. I used to take public transit to work. I had three hours of reading time a day. It was wonderful. My commute was a BART train and a ferry ride so there was never an issue with newspapers as neither was all that crowded.

  6. You’re absolutely right about having Dim Sum in this fine city. I go to Dim Sum as often as possible and we always bring reading material. It’s great, especially on Sundays. Just one of the many things I love about Cantonese culture.

  7. I think its inappropriate to read at meals unless its just me by myself. And I don’t read when I’m with a group of people unless we are all reading/studying, it just seems rude to do so if conversation is on-going.

  8. I can’t read when in the company of others as I feel it’s disrespectful to others. And I certainly cannot tolerate reading at the dinner table as I find it to be so anti-social. To me, being seated round the table is family/ friends time and you’re there to eat and share a decent amount of time time together but I believe I may be in the minority on this one. My dislike also applies to people who, while seated round the dining table, are engrossed in listening to their MP3 players or playing electronic games consoles or games on their mobile phones, with the exception of very young children who need to be the entertainment/ distraction.

  9. I think it definitely depends on who you are hanging with. I mean, I will sit at a track meet for six hours with my buddies, and can read to my heart’s content. My friends know me. But if there is an active conversation going on in a social setting, I leave the book behind. My favorite thing to do is to sprawl on my big reading chair with my daughter, while both of us read.

  10. I think it is best to always err on the side of reading.

  11. yeah it depends on who ahen when you hang out. <a href="http://when-she-reads.blogspot.com/2010/01/musing-mondays.html&quot;?Here's mine

  12. Interesting post. As I live alone I often read during meals. During a particular stretch of my morning commute (the subway part) I read. I always have a book with me in order that I can occupy myself at the drop of a hat should I have to ‘wait’. We were raised not to read at the table during dinnertime (other meals were ok) which was family discussion time – as kids we had to come to the table with one new fact that we had learnt that day and tell everyone about it.

    Going back to commute reading. Newspapers in the public arena just don’t work in my opinion. Too many times I’ve seen people drop them all over the place and everyone around them is rallied into helping them pick up the pages. Books and magazines are different – if you have a seat or are able to lean in the doorway without blocking the way for people then a book is manageable. When you have only a loop or a pole to balance yourself and then if you are me it is impossible to manage with the book, a purse and one or two other bags.

    The bus? I don’t even bother.

  13. This is interesting. I sometimes feel bad when reading in front of others but like you said, if they are talking about something you’re not a part of or even if I have no interest in the subject I’d rather be reading.

    I think other reader would have no problem with it but those who hate reading would probably think us rude.

  14. I suppose it depends on your friends and how you feel. I would never read while with a group of people under any circumstances, I couldn’t overcome the feeling that it was rude.

    I very occasionally read at a cafe if I am having breakfast with my partner but only if my partner is reading the paper. Even then, I sometimes feel as though I am being rude.

    If other people didn’t mind then its cool, but I think i mind because I feel like im being rude even if no one else does.

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