When reading is rude.

When reading is rude.

(Not) in my ears | Modern Mrs Darcy

As the owner of a to-be-read list that will keep me busy until 2034 or so, I’m always up for suggestions on how to squeeze in more reading time without impinging on normal life (or my precious alone time).

I’ve had great success with a few strategies to read more, like embracing five-minute intervals, keeping several books going at once, and adding more audiobooks to the mix. 

I’ve been listening to more audiobooks this year, and I’ve crossed a dozen or so books off my list that I enjoyed while doing dishes, making dinner, or folding laundry.

I even surprised myself by giving up my peppy music in favor of audiobooks (or podcasts) for my morning run. Listening to the spoken word never sounded appealing to me—until I realized that if I listened to books while running, I could read more books.

Recently, I’ve heard several fellow book-lovers gush about how much “reading” they’re able to get done while they’re grocery shopping.  

I was a little surprised. And more than a little jealous.

I hate grocery shopping. (Unless it’s at Trader Joe’s. I’ve made my peace with Trader Joe’s.)

When I’m at the grocery—or more poignantly, Costco—I envy those who have their earbuds in, redeeming the time. I always imagine they’re listening to something amazing.

But I can’t help but wonder what my grandmother would think. I heard her rail about how the Walkman was an assault on civility back in 1988, and I apparently never got over it, because I’m still not comfortable wearing headphones in that kind of public setting.

I’m in my thirties, in the Upper South, in a Top 20 city often described as a “big small town.” All are significant factors. 

In a bona fide big city like NYC or LA, I wouldn’t think twice about popping my earbuds in to shop. But if I was in a bona fide small town, I wouldn’t dream of attempting it.

I doubt I’d hesitate to multi-task if I was 17, instead of occupying the strange middle ground between Gen X and Gen Y. I expect most Boomers deem the earbuds impolite, and my grandmother—of the Greatest Generation—would say your earbuds signal your obvious (and obviously hostile) desire to shut out your fellow human beings/grocery shoppers.

I’d love to listen to audiobooks at Costco. But I don’t want to anger/disillusion/alienate my grandmother’s generation, either.

Until I can figure out a way to avoid the grocery store, I’ll be pondering my options.

What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear what this looks like for you in your life, from your age, and in your specific town. 

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  1. Morgan says:

    Interesting. I’ve never thought about it deeply, but I definitely do feel more comfortable listening to podcasts and books while I’m out running errands in the Asian mega-city where we currently live than I do when we visit our extended family in smallish, Western cities in the US. It’s totally fine here–everyone else is doing it, and there’s not a culture of engaging with total strangers in public settings like there is in the US–but I tend not to do it when we’re in the States as it feels rude. I’m also in my 30s and sensitive about offending my parents’ and grandparents’ generation.

  2. Bec from Melbourne says:

    I HAVE avoided the grocery store! We have Click and Collect. You order online, then you drop past the store and they load it into the car so your four kids don’t have to wear shoes. Takes five minutes to order and about ten minutes round trip to collect. Awesome.

  3. Steph says:

    I’d feel weird about it. I’ve lived in small town Midwest, Chicago, the north shore of Boston and the Deep South. I’d be most likely to do it in Chicago though for sure. But even there I would run into people I’d know occasionally and I think it’d be strange to have earbuds in. For perspective, I turn 30 next week. I have to say, friends my age would be very likely to have earbuds in while shopping around Boston and Chicago but it would be strange to see in Michigan and very strange in Alabama. That said, shopping is one of those things I have to focus on, so no multitasking for me no matter where we live.

  4. Ironically, I live in an Asian small town and wouldn’t dream of doing this. In fact I’m a bit shocked Americans actually do this (which means I am in for a lot more culture shock when we move back this fall…). Shopping is such a relational activity here – people would think you were crazy for shopping with ear buds in. In fact, it would be impossible, because all shopping here is done in the market.

    And I think this is just another symptom of people multi-tasking and trying to do SO much, they are never fully present where they are. At home, i think it’s fine; but in public, I think it’s a little antisocial.

    So I guess I won’t be adopting that cultural trend upon our return! 🙂

    • Jennifer says:

      I’ve never seen anyone doing it and I live in Seattle which is big, techy, and well read. I don’t think it is a cultural trend just an idea others have suggested to Anne for a way to read more.

  5. Ginger says:

    Hmm… I’m with you on this one. I’m not sure earbuds would be taken too kindly in Charleston. Although it might depend on the time of day I shopped. Mornings tend to be very quiet, 5 pm is a crowd.

    But I have been considering a new service I heard about. Do y’all have Harris Teeter stores up there? For a small fee (I think it’s something like $5), you can grocery shop online, and they bring all your groceries out to you, load them up, and done. You could listen to audiobooks in the car, and still have an extra half hour or more that you would spend in the store to read. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about automating my groceries (so many questions: will they pick the good produce? are we one step away from never leaving the house? am I resisting change like our ancestors probably did when it was inconceivable to even pick up meat the same place I pick up vegetables?).

    I’m actually one of those few that love I grocery shop, but I’m thinking about it for another reason. Bonus: no impulse buys. It would probably save me the shopping fee right there because a couple cartons of Talenti always find their way into my cart.

  6. Sara K. says:

    I’ve never even thought about listening to my audiobooks while grocery shopping! This probably is mostly due to the fact that when I’m in the grocery store I’m either with my 8 year old daughter (teaching her the ins and outs of picking good food choices) or just running in to pick up a few things. A big grocery shopping trip by myself is rare!

    I do love to listen to audiobooks though. I listen to them whenever I go for a walk, sometimes if am in the car by myself, and even while I am working!

    One thing that might help those who are concerned about the social acceptance of it is to use a bluetooth device. It still allows you to listen, but it is much more subtle looking so most people won’t even notice you have it on (especially if your hair covers it like mine does)!

  7. Nienna says:

    Ah, great question and great ideas! I never thought audio books were my thing, as I really like the _reading_ part – you know, to be able to go back and reread paragraphs and sentences that were so beautifully written that you just have to enjoy the taste of them instead of just swallowing them down more or less raw. But it has grown on me. I have come to like it – especially now that the Kindle app allows for the audio book version to be played simultaneously so that I actually _can_ just stop it and read the text until my heart is content.

    I live in a small town, but also in a rather “cold” culture in Norway – you are not expected to interact all that much with strangers here anyway. I have done shopping while listening to music, so I don’t see why I couldn’t listen to a book instead. As long as I remove the ear buds if a friend comes along and when I speak to the person in the register.

  8. Stacey says:

    I always envy those who think ahead to bring earbuds grocery shopping. Unless I shop in the store in my small town, I rarely have good conversation there, and everyone looks as harried as I…so maybe at risk of insulting the older generation the compromise could be that I could use my earbuds in a larger store where I am less likely see anyone I know, as long as I know I will take them out to chat if someone has a question or I meet a new friend:)

  9. Rachel says:

    Nope nope nope would NOT do it. I always view human interactions — even with the checkout person, the librarian, the other mother with her children in the restroom — as NOT chance but providential. I don’t want to squander an opportunity to be a light in the world to someone else by “shutting out the world” as your grandma would (rightly!) say.

    That doesn’t mean I talk to everyone. I don’t. But should the occasion arise for a cheery, “Hello!” or “You have beautiful children” or “You’re looking for xyz? I saw that on aisle 6 next to the peanut butter,” it’s easier when your ears (and brain!) aren’t stopped up. (You know…no “cloth ears” like in Maisie Dobbs…) And sometimes, that even leads to conversation that goes quite a bit deeper.

    I really enjoy your thought-provoking posts! (For perspective, I am not yet forty, have ten children, and LOVE to read.)

  10. Lisa says:

    Whenever I’ve seen someone with earbuds at the grocery store/Costco/Target/etc., I’ve always assumed they’re listening to music (or on the phone). I probably wouldn’t wear them while shopping myself, as I am not sure I could focus on both listening to a book and trying to find everything on my shopping list simultaneously. I’m usually pretty good at multi-tasking, but when it comes to shopping I tend to become myopic and can only focus on one thing at a time.

    • liz n. says:

      Same here. Music would become a background noise sort of thing, but I couldn’t pay attention to both an audio book and the shopping list. I always figure someone’s listening to music when they’re out and about with their earbuds in. If my sons go shopping with me, they’ll wear one earbud, leaving the other out so that they can listen to music but still hear other people.

  11. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, but I usually reserve them for running or chores around the house. I run early in the morning when I don’t see anyone else except other runners, but if I go later in the day or just out on a walk, I don’t listen to anything because we live in a very friendly neighborhood, and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to chat with people.

  12. Beth Kensinger says:

    That’s a tough one. I admit that I occasionally do it, but I’m never 100% comfortable with it. I tend to only do it in big mega stores, and I take them out when I reach the checkout. I also only wear one earbud, which is my sad attempt to look less antisocial:).

  13. I’d never considered doing earbuds in the store, but then I was late to the talking on my phone in the store thing. (When cell phones first came out, I was probably in your grandmother’s camp on that issue). Until my grocery shopping is done solo and not with two little “helpers,” this is a non-issue for me.
    Actually, there are some moments when escaping into a story via earbuds would be awesome. 😉

  14. Virginia says:

    No, I wouldn’t in the store. I’m a firm believer in being approachable and present. I’ve had some amazing conversations with strangers in the grocery store that never would have happened if I’d had earbuds in. Like the one old lady who was in her 70s and was born in a town near my hometown in Illinois, but married her college sweetheart and moved out west. She was a hoot! Plus, I’ve tried to say excuse me or otherwise get people’s attention that have them in so I can move around them or reach for something near them and they rarely hear me. I think there are times to multitask and times to be apart of the world around you.
    Plus, if I am listening to something while shopping, I won’t be able to hear myself talk to myself as I try to maneuver through the store and remember things I need. 😉

  15. i live in nashville and see a lot of people listening to something on their phones while shopping at anywhere from the grocery store to target to a mall. i’m 29 and it kinda weirds me out. i wouldn’t do that in public, though i do listen to audiobooks on my commute (and refuse to set up the bluetooth in my car so that phone calls won’t interrupt my drive). ipods started being commonplace around the time i finished college, and i thought it was so rude/sad to see people walking to class listening to music. i went to a small liberal arts college (2000 students) where everyone knew everyone and the max walk was MAYBE 15 minutes. then i went to a huge state school for grad school and everyone walked around with headphones so while i think size matters, so does the culture. i personally don’t feel the need to multitask all the time but i do get why people enjoy it, whether books or music or phone calls.

  16. I’m in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and have never seen anyone grocery shopping with earbuds in. (Then again, I do most of my grocery shopping in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, with the stay-at-home moms and the elderly women crowd, so maybe that’s part of it.)

    Maybe it’s a Midwest thing, but I usually end up talking to at least one other person on a shopping trip, whether it’s the guy restocking apples or the clerk asking if I need help or saying “excuse me” to a fellow shopper. I don’t feel like I’d be able to be present and interact in even those small ways if I were listening to an audiobook.

    On a more personal note, I’m a terrible auditory learner–meaning that audiobooks rarely go well for me in the first place. In order for me to tune in to the book enough to truly focus on it, I’d end up leaving my cart in the middle of an aisle, or accidentally walking into someone because I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe it works well for others, but it does feel a little rude to me.

  17. As much as I would love to integrate reading into pretty much any activity I can think of, this had never occurred to me. I think, like someone else mentioned, I always assume anyone with ear buds in is listening to music, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in the grocery store before (I’m in San Diego).

    I always have my kids with me, so it wouldn’t work anyway, plus I would be one of those periods getting in everyone’s way and not being able to hear when they asked me to move. I think I would probably pay less attention and wind up spending more money, too.

    As far as it being rude… I think if the aforementioned weren’t a factor, wearing headphones is one way to say that you don’t really feel like making idle chit chat, which some people really don’t enjoy or feel comfortable with. It’s a strategy my husband uses occasionally at work to avoid interruptions – he sometimes wears headphones with nothing even playing through them.

    It would be an interesting experiment.

    • Courtney says:

      “It’s a strategy my husband uses occasionally at work to avoid interruptions – he sometimes wears headphones with nothing even playing through them.”

      I do the same thing! The first time it happened I’d been listening to something online, and when it finished I just forgot to take my headphones out when I moved on to something else. I realized people were hesitant to bother me when they saw I had headphones in, so now I occasionally wear them even when not listening to anything as a way to avoid interruptions or small talk.

  18. Sarah M says:

    I’ve never seen people doing this, and therefore have never heard of it, and I haven’t lived in small towns….one was 350K and the other is 80K that generally swells to well over 100K a day just in the Canadian visitors it gets (border town, cheaper dairy products, etc.) and I’m shocked I’ve never noticed someone doing this.
    I think if you make eye contact and smile with anyone who makes eye contact with you, I don’t see it as alienating anyone.
    Honestly, in super diverse and overpopulated area I live in now, I’d LOVE it if someone with earbuds even smiled at me! Living where I do now it’s a far cry from my Midwestern manners roots. People think I’m crazy when I say ‘hi’ to them just out of acknowledgement.
    Sarah M

  19. Tina B says:

    I’d approach this a different way as another reader mentioned. Stay out of the grocery store. I’ve ordered online from my local grocery store and we have options for either pick-up or delivery. Of course, there’s a fee, but if you hate the grocery store that much… spend the time at home reading. Initially, it was a time-saving issue for me. I created (or updated) the list at home at midnight, submitted it and then had them delivered a day or two later, but it also helped with impulse spending. It worked well for me.

    • Anne says:

      I wish I could! We only have one grocery store that delivers here. I’ve tried it, and the questionable meat and sickly produce makes it an option of last resort right now. I keep begging my local stores to add this service but so far, no dice. Hoping that changes soon…

  20. MelissaJoy says:

    White cords cascading down my neck or tucked into my clothes makes me feel awkward. A Bluetooth on the other hand makes me nimble. I do enjoy engaging people in the public space and I also enjoy finishing a chapter or podcast if I’m running solo errands. Most people are unaware of my little device and I can easily turn it off without bringing much attention to it or having a person feel as though the have interrupted something important.

  21. Michele says:

    I am a single, baby boomer, and living in a town of 33,000 located 20 minutes southwest of a major city. I shop Sunday’s after church and there is a good mix of people at the locally owned discount store chain. I have not noticed anyone with earbuds but will now pay more attention and see if I see anyone.

    I do not listen to music or audiobooks because 1) it is rude, 2) I doubt I would be able to concentrate on both the book and what I am there to get, 3) I need to disconnect from technology, and 4) I work in a high volume inbound call center and after 8 hours with earphones one, I do not want anything in or on my ears! I’ve had wonderful conversations with people at the grocery store that might not have happened if I had been listening to an audio book. Plus, overhearing a conversation might give me an idea for a blog post.

    I also do not talk on the phone in a store unless it is Mom calling (unfortunately this usually means a family emergency) or I am calling my Sister-in-law about a Christmas gift for my nieces and nephew.

    There is a wonderful video circulating on Facebook called “Look Up.” It is about how disconnected we are from each other.

    • Anne says:

      Michele, you mentioned something I hadn’t considered: I am easily distractable, and now I’m wondering how many items I’d forget to pick up from my grocery list if I was listening to a book or a podcast while shopping!

  22. Susan says:

    My mom, who turned 80 in January, lives in a busy metropolitan area in California. Any time she is doing errands by herself, which is most of the time, she has earbuds in and is listening to a book. While driving, shopping anywhere from Costco to Trader Joes. Even in department stores! Living in a big city, she is unlikely to run into anyone she knows when she is out and about.

    On the other hand, I live in a small rural community. The likelihood of my meeting someone while I am running errands is extremely high. And in our area, it would be considered extremely rude not to stop and chat. So no audiobooks for me!

  23. Deborah says:

    Loved this! I’m from Chicago, my husband is from small-town Oklahoma, and we met in China. We were on opposite sides of the globe for our entire engagement and we had to schedule our phone dates. One morning (my time), we were chatting and he announced, “I’m going to let you go. I’m heading into the grocery store.” I was shocked. “You can’t talk to me in the grocery store?” “No, babe. I need to talk with the folks I see.” There’s something lovely about prioritizing the people in front of you, I’ve come to think.

  24. Bee says:

    Ever seen a parent with earbuds as they walk with their kid? I live in a big city in Asia and I’ve seen it many times. (I’m always shocked even though I am on the young end of Gen X.)
    I came to visit America this summer and I still see the same thing, though not as often. That breaks my heart– when you see a parent shutting off possible convo time with their child.

    • 'Becca says:

      Yes, I have seen this often, in Pittsburgh. Sadly, I have an ongoing frustration with my partner over a similar issue: When he is at home with our son after school before I get home from work, he uses his earbuds while cooking or doing chores. This makes him unapproachable, which hurts our son’s feelings. Even worse, when the kid does decide to talk to him, he usually doesn’t hear the first time, and he acts irritated at being interrupted! I can’t seem to get him to see that this is harming their relationship. 🙁

      But it doesn’t bother me as much as the time I saw a parent in a park who was talking on her cell phone (and it didn’t sound important, just friendly chatter) take the time to huff, “Just a minute!” and roll her eyes before walking over to help her child who had fallen from the climber and was dangling by one ankle. 🙁

  25. Michelle Waite says:

    I live in Portland, Oregon and I used to listen to podcasts while I did my grocery shopping. I would do a power shopping trip every pay day, while my husband stayed home with the kids. I am not sure why I stopped doing it. It was a nice break at the time.
    I still treasure my time alone in the car while I shop and listen to books or podcasts at that time.

  26. Ana says:

    Maybe because I don’t shop at costco (actually mostly at Trader Joes) but as long as I don’t have kids around, i love grocery shopping—looking at all the produce and imagining what I’ll make for dinner, looking at new products and deciding what to buy.
    But more to the point, I don’t wear earbuds, ever, and I find it disconcerting when people (i.e. my husband) are constantly shutting out the world with their earbuds. I would find it acceptable to listen to music or books while exercising (though it can be dangerous if you are running outside, alone, to not be aware of your surroundings), in the car, doing chores at home, and sometimes at work (depending obviously on what you do!). But when you are in busy public places, I think it can be thought of as rude.
    And by constantly drowning out the world, what might you be missing? Chance encounters, a serendipitous find at a store, really awesome people watching (some of which may make for good conversation later, or spur some thoughts or even change your thinking).
    I love reading, too, and I’ve been reading more than ever this year, but I am actually cutting back, because I don’t want to lose myself in my books to the exclusion of losing myself in the world around me. A little of both, if I can manage it.

  27. Karlyne says:

    So, we’re all pretty much agreed that Trader Joe’s is a decent place to shop, right? And I have to say that I don’t think I’ve ever been in one where I didn’t have, at the very least, an enjoyable conversation. But, I have to say that I’ve had some fun times at Costco, too, especially waiting in line to check out. Doesn’t interacting with our fellow human beings increase our humanity?

    And I was thinking, too, of eye contact. People who tend to have ear buds in also tend to have glazed looking eyes. They might be looking in your direction, but they’re not really seeing you or anyone else. Maybe people who just can’t stand talking to strangers should, as several people have suggested, use alternate methods of shopping!

  28. Leah says:

    I’m originally from a small farm community (loads of fellow classmates grew up on farms and I went to school with Amish kids – when I mean small, I mean small) on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. I would never dream of shopping while wearing headphones!

    Now that I’m actually living and working in the city I still wouldn’t do it, but it’s far more acceptable. I work in a small bookshop and I’ve had multiple customers browse around while listening to music. I suppose it doesn’t bother me all that much unless they A) have the volume cranked up (I shouldn’t hear your music from the opposite end of the store, thank you) or B) are at the register/asking for help.

  29. Amy says:

    I generally find grocery shopping to be a pretty overwhelming experience, especially when I have my kiddos with me. But one evening in December a year or two, I managed to make a trip without them. I took my phone, and put on my earbuds and listened to Michael Buble’s Christmas album. It completely transformed a task that was usually a source of stress and anxiety into a relaxing 30 minutes of “me time.”
    So now I try to shop by myself with music when I can. I don’t know if it bothers other people or not, but it keeps me from losing it over buying milk and bread. Also, in my small town, I would probably would be less likely to use them if I went to my small local grocer, but wouldn’t think twice about using them in Walmart or the large chain grocery store on the north side of town. So I guess context matters.

    • Anne says:

      Yes! It’s all about context. And I’m impressed that you could transform the dreaded pre-holiday grocery chaos into “me time.” Definitely making a note to pull out that album next December—whether or not I listen to it at the grocery store. 🙂

    • Natalie says:

      I’m solidly Gen X and I guess this is my perspective, too. It’s a nice opportunity to set the mood or pass the time – and can I just be honest and say sometimes I don’t feel like talking to anyone? For lengthy grocery shopping trips, I typically either go with my husband (it’s a chance to have focused time together!) or pop in the earbuds and listen to music or a podcast. (Not sure if I could do audiobooks – that would probably take a bit too much focus for me.)

      I live in Silicon Valley, though, so it’s actually quite common to see people walking around with earbuds – either on the phone or listening to something. I typically still make eye contact and smile occasionally or take them off to chat with someone (especially if I happen to run into someone I know, which isn’t too often) – it’s not all or nothing, really. And I definitely take them off when I checkout. Even in high-tech-land there’s a line. 🙂

      • Amy says:

        I totally get not wanting to talk to anyone. After reading the comments here, I started wondering if maybe that was a selfish attitude, but as an introvert, sometimes being around all those other people at the store, especially if I’ve already had a particularly busy day, adds to my stress. Having the earbuds in makes me feel more alone.

        And I’m not the type to have meaningful encounters with people in the grocery store anyway. I always take them out to interact with the cashier when it’s time to pay; if I saw someone I knew, I’d probably still stop and say hi. And if God led me to go and talk to someone, I would definitely do it, but that’s not happening when I’m not using earbuds, anyway, so I don’t feel like I’m cutting anyone out by using them.

        • Dawn says:

          I agree, y’all. I almost always go grocery shopping with my husband (and in the summer, with all four of our kids in tow). About 3 or 4 times a year, I go grocery shopping alone. And I gleefully take my earbuds and ipod and listen to Patty Griffin or The Civil Wars and relish the opportunity to be alone and doing WHATEVER I WANT. 🙂 I can be aware of my surroundings and other people and listen to music at the same time. I pull out my earbuds long before I hit the register and if someone needs me, I will take them out and engage in conversation. It’s no big deal.

          My husband is in ministry and we spend most of our days and nights available for others. I figure a little down time in my head while shopping for 45 minutes is a much needed gift to myself.

  30. Karlyne says:

    I was just thinking, too, that Saturday we were stopped for road construction for about 30 minutes and half of that time I spent talking to the flagger. I had a book with me (never travel without one, duh!), and I could easily have read instead of interacting with not only a complete stranger, but one I probably had very little in common with. He was a pony-tailed, biker-looking fellow with a deep tan (it’s hot out there in the sun for 10 hours a day), and let’s just say I am not! But we had a fun conversation, and although I missed 15 minutes or so of reading, I think it was time better spent, both for him who has to be standing around, literally, all day, with very little interaction and for me, too.

  31. Sarah says:

    I’ve never done this, nor have I seen anyone doing it in my Midwest town. However, my husband does the grocery shopping. If I thought it was acceptable in my neck of the woods, I’d probably tell him I’m taking over the role!

    I wanted to also say that I’m so happy to hear someone else say they’re in a strange ground between Gen X and Gen Y — we need our own generation!!

  32. Kate says:

    It never occurred to me! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with earbuds in the store, and I live in a pretty tech-forward, not terribly friendly suburb near San Francisco/Silicon Valley. Mostly people are just chattering (loudly) on their bluetooth headsets or phones. I find grocery shopping to be pretty overwhelming and have to really focus to make sure I’m getting what’s on my list and not overspending, so I’d probably miss a lot of an audiobook or podcast in the store.

  33. I don’t even use earbuds while running. For one, I like silence, but beyond that, if you’re listening to something else, you’re less aware of your surroundings. You can’t trust that all cars/bikes/wild animals on trails or dogs off leash are going to give you a wide berth. On the treadmill would be a different matter.

  34. Leigh Kramer says:

    I haven’t seen many people listening to their phones in Nashville, unless they’re clearly on a phone call. I try not to talk on the phone and shop at the same time so I certainly wouldn’t consider listening to music or an audiobook while shopping either. To each their own but I want to be able to concentrate on the task at hand, be aware of my surroundings and other shoppers, and be open to potential conversations…especially with eligible single men. 😉 When it comes to phone calls, I’d prefer not to subject other people to my side of the conversation, just as I don’t want to be subjected to theirs. There are exceptions to the rule, of course. But when it comes to audiobooks, you have no idea what you’ll be hearing or how you’ll respond. I don’t want to turn beet red or start bawling in aisle number five!

    • Anne says:

      I laughed out loud at the “eligible single men” bit (only because it’s true, and it’s brilliant, and only then realized it was you. Wishing you many happy shopping ventures at the grocery where all the bachelors shop. 🙂

  35. Laura says:

    I don’t use headphones when out in public (or even when running on streets) so that I can have interactions with others and be aware of my surroundings. However my husband often asks me if I think he’s boring company when I bring a book along in the car or to the pool or walking to the park…. He doesn’t understand that there are down moments when a book is Necessary! I’m so accustomed to having a book with me at all times that I may miss social cues as to when it’s not appropriate to be reading.

  36. Kathleen says:

    I live in a large suburb outside of Houston, and I would totally listen to an audiobook at the grocery store. (As it is, my husband does almost all of the shopping so I don’t get to.) I get what you mean about feeling weird about it, and I might too at first, but I seriously doubt anyone would see it as rude where I live.

  37. Anne says:

    I’m sure wearing the headphones (earbuds! I can’t stop saying headphones. I say headphones even when I mean earbuds) would make a dreaded shopping trip more palatable. I wouldn’t do it either though. The only time I have earbuds in anymore is when I’m watching a movie on the laptop and don’t want to wake sleeping children. And now I’m off to go see if one of our local grocery stores has online shopping. 🙂 (No joke.)

  38. Colleen says:

    I love listening to podcasts or audiobooks when I go for a walk by myself. And if I have the opportunity to shop alone, I do listen, but only with one earbud. That way I can still hear if someone is trying to get my attention, and I always take them out and turn off when I am at the cash. I think it is terribly rude to be on the phone or listening to something instead of speaking to the real, live person who is helping you at the cash.

  39. Samantha Ann says:

    I don’t live in a small town, though I used to. I live in Washington, DC and despite my avid love of books (and my Generation Y status) I still cannot bring myself to wear earbuds to listen to audiobooks while completing my mundane grocery shopping list. The reason why is because I think it’s respectful to pay attention to your surroundings, and I just can’t do that when I’m engrossed listening to a book. For instance, what if someone was trying to say excuse me? I’ve been the awkward person attempting to politely navigate around a music-jammer in the aisle. I really don’t want to try and tap them on the shoulder (I’m 5 feet tall. Sometimes it’s a bit awkward) and running them over with my cart is rather extreme. Also, as someone who worked in customer service I agree with Colleen when she says she removes the earbuds completely at the cash register. I think it’s simple courtesy. =) Now that’s not to say I won’t pull a book out of my purse while waiting in a long grocery line. Because that I will do!

  40. I actually don’t like wearing earbuds ever (it just bothers me/hurts my ears a little) so I may not be the best judge. My husband has his in for most of the day. He listens to audio books and podcasts while he drives around for work all day. This is one area of our marriage where we respectfully disagree. I think it’s a little rude and a little dangerous. I think if he wants to listen while he drives he should stream it through the truck’s radio. I remember being told in drivers’ ed that you are not supposed to drive while wearing headphones because you can’t hear sirens, etc. He says he never heard any such thing when he was learning to drive and it’s too many years for either of us to trust our memories. I guess I just don’t get the whole earbud thing. To me, it seems like the only appropriate use of them is when jogging or otherwise exercising because you want to listen to something on the move without making everyone around you listen to the same thing. In the car, I think you should use the car speakers–safer for your ears and your driving in my opinion. In the grocery store, at home, etc., I agree with your grandmother’s assessment that it signals you are unavailable to the people around you. Ditto blue tooth devices. I don’t want to sound like I’m railing on earbud users. My husband is one of the kindest and most respectful people I know. It’s just something I don’t get.

    And on the subject of things our grandmothers taught us that somehow stuck, my grandmother said once that gum chewing was rude. Kind of like talking with your mouth full. I will occasionally feel the need to put a piece of gum in my mouth after eating a garlicky or oniony lunch or something, but I always chew it for just a few seconds and then discard. My mom doesn’t even remember her mother saying anything about gum chewing ever, so I could have just made this up and attributed it to my Mumsie. I have not chewed gum for more than a few seconds in my entire memory.

  41. Sam says:

    Favorite part of this post, “I’ve been listening to more audiobooks this year, and I’ve crossed a dozen or so books off my list that I enjoyed while doing dishes, making dinner, or folding laundry.” I love that you said you listened WHILE YOU ENJOYED doing those tasks. I think you’ve helped me discover how not to loathe doing laundry: audiobooks! The thought never ever occurred to me. Thank you. 🙂

  42. CuriousArt says:

    I listen to my iPod nano with one earbud in & one out. That way if anyone addresses me I can hear them, & the single wire hangs discreetly down one side. Podcasts & audiobooks make shopping (which I usually hate) much more bearable!

  43. 'Becca says:

    I’m far more concerned with the safety risks than the rudeness. I don’t do earbuds anyway because I don’t like having things in my ears, but in the 1990s I had a portable tape player with earphones that went over my ears. I used it in two contexts: working in architecture studio and taking long-distance bus trips. When I am walking or driving, I rely on my hearing for at least half of the signals about what might bump into me; I don’t even feel safe walking around my own home with obstructed hearing, whereas I will walk around in the dark, so I guess I am subconsciously echolocating or something? I sometimes use the car stereo, but it has to be quiet enough to hear road noise as well. In a store (especially Costco, which tends to be crowded) I need to be able to hear other people’s carts around me. I’ve found that when my kids start making too much noise in the store, my head begins jerking around like crazy in order to keep track of our safety by visual signals alone.

    A couple of years ago, I grabbed a guy and dragged him out of the street as he was walking into the path of a truck with an earbud in one ear and a cell phone pressed to the other–double distraction! Scary.

  44. Karlyne says:

    One thing I’m getting from all of these comments about shopping with earbuds is that this seems to be the only “down-time” for a lot of women. I’m not a shopper by inclination and only go when I’m afraid we’re about to be hit by scurvy or beri-beri from the lack of fresh produce, but, although it’s a necessity, it’s not ever what I’d use for relaxation. I think that there just have to be better places in our lives for that. Somehow, somewhere!

    I’ve been thinking, too, that rather worrying that it might be rude, maybe we should decide what constitutes politeness. If it is thinking of others and being kind and considerate, then it does mean being at least somewhat accessible. And I know I would never speak to anyone with earbuds in…

  45. Brittney says:

    There is no way I could wear earbuds at Costco. I feel like I need all 5 senses to get out of there alive. We live in Los Angeles and our Costco is always packed (aren’t they all?!). Also, if earbud wearers couldn’t hear me say ‘excuse me’ while trying to squeeze by the sample table I think I would have serious cart rage. 😉

  46. deborah says:

    I don’t think I could grocery shop and get anything out of the book. But I’m usually using at least a few coupons and making I sure I get the right thing plus get everything on my list. I have to focus!!! 🙂

    Reading books is a relaxing thing for me, so I never even equated it with grocery shopping. Isn’t it interesting how we all have our way of doing things and how things work for different people?!

  47. Julie says:

    Did you see the movie “Her”. I was so deeply moved by it – for this exact reason. Everyone in this movie has their earbuds, in constant contact with their computer system, all the while moving among crowds, not interacting with any physical being. I found it to be so prescient. And yes, I am probably the main candidate to be one of those people – head down, a book going constantly sounds rather nice to us bookworm introverts, no??

    And yet, I’m just old enough (45) to be scared by that technological capability. Everyone says how little civility there is left in the world – one way we can combat that is just simple eye contact. Smile at the checker, help out a young mother trying to lug groceries. I can still be a geeky introvert – I don’t want to chat for an hour, for heaven’s sake!! But I want to connect with humans…

    • Karlyne says:

      I thought the movie looked interesting, but also scary. I think when we stop connecting with humans because we don’t have to, now that we have technology, then we become very much less human ourselves.

    • Anne says:

      I haven’t seen Her. (I haven’t seen many movies in the past year at all!) I didn’t realize that technology was such a major part of this movie—thanks for the info. I have heard really good things about this one.

  48. Erin says:

    So this made me realize why someone could think it was rude. I have not ever done this, but it sounds AMAZING! I might have to try it, if I ever get another smart phone.

  49. emily kate says:

    I definitely would have listened to music or a book when doing ANY errand when we lived in NYC. I pretty much did do that! But I would never dream of doing it where we live now. I never even realized the change in my behavior until reading this post!

  50. Corey Lesko says:

    For me the main reason I wouldn’t do it is because I would be terrified I would run into someone because I couldn’t hear it. Also I have I hard time multitasking so I would get frustrated because I would miss things shopping and be lost where I was in the book. I only listen to books I’ve already read because I’m not an auditory learner and get distracted. But final reason is grocery shopping is my quiet time. With two toddler I need it as time when no one from work is talking to me and no toddlers talking to me. I go at off times so store is pretty quiet. I’ve made it work as part of my introverted reboot time.

  51. Kayris says:

    As an introvert, sometimes I listen to music while shopping because I’m exhausted by social interaction and I have no more to give. People tend to leave you alone when you have earbuds in. It’s very very common where I live (baltimore city, somewhere around 622,000 people) and in my neighborhood (lots of college students, young professionals and young families), so much so that the police have told people to be careful about it because so many have been mugged while out on the street and on the phone or plugged in and not paying attention.

    Anyway, I always take mine out when it’s time to check out.

    Sometimes at home, when it’s been a long day and the kids are being loud, I listen to music with earbuds. If I can’t get physical space, I can get mental space and ignore the noise in the next room.

  52. Kathryn Dean says:

    I don’t think it’s rude, although I have given someone a second glance when I realized they had earbuds in while pushing their cart. My problem would be the brain multitasking. I think I would either miss half the book or miss half the things on my list. My kids aren’t even allowed to talk to me in the grocery store…it requires that.much.focus. 😉
    I love this line: “As the owner of a to-be-read list that will keep me busy until 2034 or so”
    Every time you post the kindle daily deals I think, “Hmmm, I wonder how many to-be-read books it is acceptable to store on your kindle?”

  53. Phaedra says:

    Oh boy. I’m going to be in the minority. I’m definitely gen X and I definitely have listened to both audio books and music while shopping/running errands. I only use one ear bud, leaving the other side tucked into shirt pocket. (Yes, I can hear what’s going on around me. I g et the safety concerns). I live in a moderate size urban area in the general sense, but live and work within a few miles of where I grew up. meaning? I constantly run into everyone I’ve ever known & worked with. I would never not talk to someone that approaches me for a chat- I can either pause what I’m listening to or go back a few beats to catch what I may have missed. I don’t enjoy listening to what’s playing in most of the stores systems, so why not my own? I turn off before any checkout / sales person interaction (not doing so IS rude). (What I find truly amazing is that so many people think it’s rude to have an ear bud in, but think nothing of having their face constantly in their smartphone, never making eye contact. I work in banking and every single day we have a much larger problem with customers texting, playing with phones or talking while they conduct personal financial transactions at desks & teller windows. We had to post signs all around the branch asking folks to finish up before doing business and they still do it.sigh) I truly think it comes down to context of where you are and if you are respectful of the environment. Shopping at a large chain like Wal-Mart or Costco? Yes. Small market? Nope. Enjoy interacting with the people. Farmers market? No. Enjoy the sense of place. I don’t do this all the time. I enjoy people. I work with people- managing employees and dealing with the public for 22yrs, but sometimes? It’s just the ticket.

  54. Barbara says:

    I read in public. But, the hard copy. I wouldn’t do podcasts or audio books. I like doing them in my apt. Like when having dinner. If I’m grocery shopping, I generally focus on that task. Also, have hearing issues, so paying attention to one’s surroundings is good.

  55. Diane says:

    Great thoughts. I am 58 so walking around with earbuds seems over the top. Yesterday I was going into Walmart just for a minute and not wanting to miss a radio talk show I put my buds in and immediately felt that was rude of me. To just zone out in a public setting is unsettling so i ended up putting the buds in my pocketbook and submitting to bumping around with my fellow man/woman in the here and now. Thank you for the gentle reminder to be in the moment and tad vulnerable.

  56. Tracy says:

    I totally take advantage of my shopping time to catch up on my books or podcasts. My time is so limited, and I’m so rarely without my kids, that if I actually get time alone during a shopping chore like Costco, I have absolutely no problem listening while I get it done. That said, I would not do so if I was somewhere that I would potentially need to interact with someone (for example, in the checkout line), and if someone were to talk to me, I would remove the earbuds for the moment of discussion. However, while I’m on my own, wheeling that cart down the aisles, I am all for taking advantage of that time and making an otherwise tedious chore a little less tedious.

  57. I had honestly never thought about this before. I *live* with my headphones in, they’re a non-negotiable item I take with me when I go out (like my keys, I can’t leave without them). I’m a millennial living in Sydney, Australia, our biggest city (but I think it’s kind of small by U.S. standards – about 5 million people?). I’d say at least half the people I see on the street have headphones in or are Facetiming as they walk anywhere (yes, even in grocery stores). It really never occurred to me that it might be rude?? I do, however, consider it the height of rudeness to speak to someone while they’re wearing headphones (in public or in private). I guess we kind of use it as a signal that “this is me time, please don’t interrupt”, which I am TOTALLY fine with. Is this a cultural difference maybe?? Gahhhhh, this feels like it could wind up a whole new source of anxiety for me if I think about it too much, what if all the Boomers in my neighbourhood think I’m rude?? 😐

  58. Diane says:

    Boomers had a different immersion experience into the digital age….we are here but may not be as comfortable with all its forms…..yet ?
    But I wouldn’t think anyone is rude if they are wearing earbuds. It is very common now, And that person is using precious time to catch a podcast or audible, music.
    Enjoy! ?

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