Rules are, apparently, meant to be broken

I popped into the National Library today to use their free wireless access and found myself what looked like a comfortable nook in the basement Central Lending Library section to log in and work for an hour. Notice that I did not say a quiet nook, not because it is self-evident that a library would be quiet, but because as I was heading for my selected seat, a cellphone went off loudly and a woman in business attire at a couch across from me picked up the call. And proceeded to talk for a few minutes. While scribbling in her notebook. And possibly arranging accommodation for some business associate flying into town. You know, as if this was her place of work and she was just doing her job.

I was stunned enough to give her a glance askance, as well as a sotto voce, "Dude" (because when I'm surprised and pissed, my inner surfer comes out). No one else around us seemed to react.

In the ten minutes or so that it took me to settle down, unpack my laptop and figure out how to connect to the library's wireless network, the same woman --- who had classily kicked off her heels and sat with folded bare feet on the couch meant for public use, by the way --- had taken a couple more calls and received a few SMSes, all of which triggered by extremely loud ringtones. The volume at which she conducted her business wasn't exactly discreet, either, except when she answered the calls with, "Hello, this is _____" and her voice mysteriously dropped in pitch when she said her name --- because it would've been too much information if we all knew who she was, I suppose.

Meanwhile, one man beside her furrowed his brow but didn't say a word. I cast the evil eye over the top of my laptop screen, meeting her gaze quite evenly, then went back to my work. No one else said or did anything, even though not everyone was plugged into MP3 players or laptops either.

Then the cellphone on the guy next to me went off, and he took the call as well. Mercifully, whatever he was on about took him out of the library, and off he went, bag and all. But at that point, despite the no-cellphone and no-talking signs posted in the area (next to the no-eating/drinking one and a fourth red circle/slash sign that I can't recall now, maybe no-smoking?), I figured there must be some kind of unspoken rule in this particular zone that made it tacitly acceptable for loud and annoying cellphone use.

Of course, what I should've done, if I'd had the guts and the Arsenal of Witty Sarcastic Comebacks, is the following:
ME: I'm sorry, is this your office?
Woman With No Manners: No, this is the National Library.
ME: Oh, I'm sorry, with the way you were going on and talking to your clients or whatever, I thought I mistakenly wandered into your office. You get paid money for whatever it is you do when you're talking on the phone, right?
Woman With No Manners: Yes, it's my job.
ME: Then why don't you take some of the piles of money you earn and spend it on renting an office where you can talk on your phone loudly? Because here in the library, you're supposed to keep quiet.
I admit that it's not so much the comeback I was lacking, but the guts. No one else was making a scene, so why should I? Even though she was being an asshole and pissing me off.

The thing about being an ex-teacher is that the awesome power to tell a person off for behaving like a dickhead in public is strong in me, but I also keep reminding myself that I'm not a teacher anymore and I don't want to inadvertently transmute into a fascist harridan who goes around telling everyone off because she knows best. So instead I transmute into one of these passive-aggressive non-confrontational the-anger-is-festering-inside "docile" Asians.


And now the nightly news bulletin on Star World is on, and the guest pundit from a Hong Kong university had his cellphone on during his interview and it went off during his spot and the news anchor had to ask him to switch it off.

Obviously, the world is coming to an end.


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At 4/19/2006 10:58 am , Blogger avalon said...

I encountered NLB STAFF talking and talking and talking away at the shelves at the JE library. Not working. Chatting. Loudly. I went to complain to the desk, and the CSO went to reprimand them.

At 4/20/2006 4:02 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

No need to be ex-teacher to have that "awesome urge" to tell people with no manners off in public what. I also have that urge, and have executed a few telling offs before. Following recommended proper sequence of escalation levels, of course:

DEFCON 7 - stare at perp
DEFCON 6 - stare and frown at perp
DEFCON 5 - emit "tsk" sounds audibly
DEFCON 4 - shush perp
DEFCON 3 - say "exxxxcuuuuse me?" out loud to perp
DEFCON 2 - followed by a healthy dose of sarcasm, "are you illiterate? cannot read sign ah?"
DEFCON 1 - fist-fight lor

Easy peasies. :)

At 4/20/2006 6:50 am , Blogger NARDAC said...

People are wrong to feel scared about showing their anger or disapproval. It's that kind of hesitation and repression that gives you cancer. Next time, just get up off your seat and say what you need to, without being aggressive or sarcastic either. That's for teenagers. Just say it like it is because, hey, you're a grownup now, not a teacher.

At 4/20/2006 6:59 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think the last "no..." sign was a no sleeping sign. a friend told me that they were plastered all over the esplanade library (this was after i sent him off there to take a nap while i went back to work before meeting him).

At 4/21/2006 12:22 am , Blogger Unknown said...

sounds like what my school library is like. first floor is the social floor where no studying gets done. second floor is where there are some serious people interspersed with groups discussing things. third floor is like the vault. silent. where you find the most serious students toiling away.

i'm usually on the second floor.

At 4/21/2006 1:04 pm , Blogger Little Miss Drinkalot said...

I agree with chandler, no need to be teacher or ex-teacher to feel the urge to rebuke others.

For good "how to tell people off" training, I recommend trying to flag a cab along a busy road during rush hour. Confirm get into fight one.

At 4/22/2006 12:39 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Weird random thing.

Stp's mother was just telling us today that she had complained at their club library because she encountered several people taking calls while she was there. And apparently, the library staff have now placed a sign at the entrance reminding people to switch their phones to silent mode. Don't know how effective that will be but hey, at least they did something to begin with.

At 4/23/2006 11:54 am , Blogger claire said...

can really identify with the teacherish urge-to-tell-people-off. i yelled at a group of boys in the mrt yesterday for being morons before i realised i wasn't in school. the people i was with all looked slightly stunned. oops!

At 8/26/2006 10:36 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey , i just came across your page while googling , and i read this post .. and i liked it , because ppl should be positive like you are :)


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