Sound Off! – Loud Talking

Q: Why do speakers of Chinese feel the need to yell everything?

A: “There is no why….”

I cannot tell you how many times I have been sitting at a table with my wife where I couldn’t carry on a conversation with her sitting right beside me, because of people shouting in Chinese at the next table. This isn’t an isolated situation. Several times a week we will be in some place where the noise level is just unbearable. And the noise is coming from people’s mouths. The issue with me is the fact that it is completely unnecessary.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that often, people will try to hold conversations when the surrounding noise level is clearly too high to sustain an intelligible conversation – but they try anyway. I’m always amazed when the karaoke machine is blasting and some drunken idiot is screaming into the microphone, yet someone will insist on talking over this already too-loud noise. When I am confronted by that, I never answer. I just point to my ears and shrug my shoulders. My reasoning is lost however, and that person will just find someone else to yell at. And its totally innocuous conversation too. Nothing that can’t wait. Nothing that actually needs to be said either.

I have also noticed a direct correlation to the sound pressure level and the number of empty bottles on the table, most noticably Taiwan Beer. The SPL goes up by at least 3dB per bottle.

Just a few days ago, Hui-chen and I had the displeasure of sitting next to some little red-faced know-nothing who yelled every single utterance from his mouth, even though he was the only one talking and the people were at the same table. There was no reason for him to be shouting. Every time he got up out of his chair and went to the beverage cooler, he came back with 5 bottles of Taiwan Beer (the smaller they are, the louder they sound, seems like). HC and I were there for about 30 minutes and he just kept getting louder and louder. Finally we had to leave! Besides the co-workers at his table, we were the only ones there.

In the US and other Western countries, people will ask others to pipe down. Once I did see a guy ask someone at his table to speak quieter because he was embarrassed (must have been in the US before). The drunken yeller just said “mei guan chee” and kept right on making an ass of himself, even saying that no one could stop him from talking. Wanna bet?

I’ve been told that Taiwanese people don’t notice that anything (including themselves) is loud. I believe this to be true. Ever been woken up late at night by people coming home, and talking in full voice? That is one of my personal dislikes! It seems that no one ever taught those people to think about others – but only about themselves. I’ve been in Taiwan hotels numerous times, and have had to step out into the hall to ask people to talk quieter after being woken up. Of course I’m met with blank stares. How could I possibly be disturbed by just talking?

Recently Hui-chen and I went to eat shabbu-shabbu and a couple with a kid came in. This kid was about 4 years old and the minute he got to their table he started on a loud diatribe. He stood on the seat beside his mother so he could command the attention of the whole restaurant, and began a gibberish monologue, which lasted until Hui-chen asked his mother to quiet him down. Of course, the mother gave Hui-chen a “what’s your problem?” look. Of course, he went quiet for 30 seconds and then started right back up with his parents eyes glazed over, obviously oblivious to just how annoying hearing their kid really is. No, we don’t all think your kid is cute. Not when he is disrupting the tranquility of the dining room

That really is the issue. For me, I enjoy peace and quiet when I’m dining. If I am dining alone, the most common question I’m asked is “Are you eating alone?” People here hate to sit or eat alone, and they are genuinely concerned about me being bored while sitting alone. They want the noise and confusion, and the bigger the group, the better. I am used to being on my own and I think this all comes down to the “individual vs: group” cultural difference.

Readers, what are your thoughts? Have you found a polite way to ask people to stop shouting?

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16 comments

  1. I’ve found Taiwanese don’t notice loud noise if it’s familiar to them. But if it’s something new (to them), they’ll be the first to complain. I bet if you plugged in an electric guitar, turned the amp up to 11 and jammed some Led Zeppelin, your neighbors would complain. Sing karaoke at the same volume and they won’t even notice.

    cfimages’s last blog post..Exploring Jiji, Nantou

  2. I always found this problem much worse in Thailand. Anyway I generally try to avoid any shop or restaurant that has excessively loud music. I don’t know how shop owners think broadcasting extremely loud noise from the front of their shop can attract customers. It certainly won’t attract me.

    Sometimes I might ask them to turn down the music in a restaurant. The results are usually mixed. They might just turn it down a little bit or turn it up again after a few minutes.

    David on Formosa’s last blog post..Religion and Gender Ethics Conference

  3. The typical Chinese way seems to work well in most cases… although no method would have covered a couple of the cases you mentioned.
    Saying “????” will take you A LONG WAY. Being OVERLY apologetic and really pouring it on will usually do the trick. Something like…
    “I’m so embarrassed about this, but do you think you might quiet down for just a few minutes. I know this is very inconvenient. We are trying to have a conversation and can’t hear one another. We are very strange people. Sometimes I wonder if I have a mental illness. I know we are making it very inconvenient for you and are very sorry.”
    Then… make peace by sending over some fried octopus heads or some other tasty treat.

    SQJTaipei’s last blog post..Sometimes we plan to be gone…

  4. David » i gotta tell you: one of the worst places was a steak restaurant in Khonkaen Thailand. HC and i went there with our Thai friends Ben and Su, and they couldn’t take it! we walked inside and then right back out. in addition to the extremely loud talking, there was music blaring.
    once, in HK i had to have my earplugs in because the karaoke was so loud. i literally had to scream at the owner to ask him “why don’t you turn the music down?” his reply was that people would go somewhere else where it was loud, so he has to keep it as loud as everywhere else. thanks for the comments David.

  5. Craig » you are so right about the familar sounds. they never hear dogs barking and they wake me up many times per week with their insane barking over nothing! we had a thought that about “payback” using my guitar whenever the dog across the street wakes me up. that just might work! thanks Craig.

  6. As for Thailand, the worst of the loud noise at night that I remember was the first few times in Bangkok, staying in <100 baht places behind Wat Chana Songram near Khao Sanh Rd. But there it was drunk farang at high volumes – and in those days there were only 5 guesthouses behind the temple.

    cfimages’s last blog post..Taiwan?s Marlboro Man

  7. I like noisy restaurants and even naughty kids. Car sounds and little dogs that bark all day long are what get me.

    People honk at me when I am walking next to the side of the road because they’re worried that I’ll step in front of them. Sometimes, I think they honk because they’ve got an itch in their hand. When I drive, I usually just slow down when I see pedestrians. I never honk at them as I consider that rude. Some people actually honk in the middle of the night in a residential area that has thousands of people sleeping because they want to alert someone of their presence without getting out of their car. I think that’s rude as well.

    And then there are car alarms. I remember a few months ago, a neighbor set the car alarm on his parked car before going away for the weekend. It went off for hours. The neighbors were dusting off their flashlights and coming out to look at it, then shrugging and returning to their apartments to bear the noise some more. At around ten, I called the cops. They were pretty cool. They showed up with a tow truck and hauled it off.

    Patrick Cowsill’s last blog post..Thanksgiving in Taiwan

  8. Patrick » the sounds we have are those big trucks that are parked on the side of the road with the beeping flashers on. they park behind our house for sometimes up to an hour, and at any time of the day or night. it drives me out of my mind when i’m trying to sleep!

    btw, your last post Thanksgiving in Taiwan was great.

  9. Craig » those farangs are not representative of Western values! that explains why they are in Thailand in the first place. i hate that Khan Sao road area because of all the vomit i have to circumnavigate while walking around. one time i got us a roadside table and HC just could not believe the people walking by in what i call The Freak Show.

  10. I hate it when my hairdresser has loud conversations with other people while she’s cutting my hair or when she’s giving me a massage and I try to relax. We have been living in Taiwan for alomost thirteen years and we’ve never slept one night without earplugs.

    Kieny’s last blog post..Quilt-a-long week 3

  11. Kieny » you touched on a good point: lack of personal space! one of my pet peeves is how people will stop right beside you and get into a shouting match with another person, or on their mobile phone.

  12. Another interesting difference is that it seems to me that Taiwanese/Chinese can’t stand silence. They have to fill it up with noise. People go hiking with a portable radio on or you’ll be in a lovely temple on a remote, tranquil hilltop somewhere and there’ll be people singing frigging karaoke,loudly and badly. They just can’t stand for there not to be constant noise and I think the reason is that it’s comforting in some way.

    naruwan’s last blog post..My great idea

  13. naruwan » you are so right about that! not just TW/CN either. i was in a remote farm in Thailand with no electricity but the host played a battery powered radio up at the house while we were 100 meters away near the fire. the reason: “noise makes me feel comfortable” (which personally i find dumb). do you recall that one of the “tortures” at Green Island was to be locked up in a dark underground bunker? one of the prisoners said that the silence was frightening. that certainly wouldn’t work on me! i would fall asleep and enjoy the peace and quiet!

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