Brian Edwards Media

Why are New Zealanders so effing loud?

shout (1)

Dizengoff on Ponsonby Road is one of the area’s better know eateries with a particular reputation for excellent coffee. There are plenty of tables for diners inside the cafe but, like several other local establishments, the acoustics aren’t great. When the place is less than half full you can’t hear yourself think.

Like most Auckland cafe patrons, if the weather is temperate, I prefer to sit outside. Dizengoff  boasts two pavement tables, one on either side of the entrance. Each table seats six people, three a side. You are cheek by jowl with anyone sitting next to you.

As a general rule diners aren’t particularly comfortable sitting immediately next to strangers and least comfortable if there’s very little space between the chairs or tables. This is in part a reflection of our sense of personal space and in part because we neither want to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations nor to have them intrude on ours. Common courtesy dictates that when seated next to a stranger in a restaurant or cafe – not to mention in a cinema or theatre – we keep our voices down.

On a recent Jim Mora panel I confessed to a penchant, as I was leaving a restaurant after a meal, for approaching any diner whose loud or droning  voice had annoyed me, making an ironic or sarcastic remark and walking off leaving them (and their fellow diners) to contemplate their crimes.

The most egregious example of this behaviour occurred one afternoon at an Italian restaurant in the Viaduct basin. Seated a couple of metres away from our table was a group of half a dozen youngish businessmen. Throughout our and their entire meal only one of the businessmen spoke. He must have droned loudly on for the best part of an hour. As we were leaving I approached their table, said “excuse me” and addressed the offender as follows:

“I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but are you aware than you could bore for New Zealand at the Olympics?”

There is a moderate risk of being told to ‘fuck off‘ or even of being knocked to the ground when you make a comment like this to a total stranger. But the drone’s colleagues immediately fell about laughing and invited Judy and me to join them for a drink. We declined but stayed long enough to be told that my comment had hit the nail directly on the head. I reckoned I had performed a useful social service.

On another occasion, at the Mutiara Malaysian restaurant – one of our favourite eateries at the K-Road end of Ponsonby Road – we were seated next to a table occupied by three elderly women and a middle-aged man. The man had apparently read and digested every volume of National Geographic. During the meal he took the three women on a detailed guided tour of several African and Asian countries. He appeared to be auditioning for an upcoming appearance on Eggheads. The elderly women said ‘Yes’, ‘Indeed!’, and ‘Really?’ at regular intervals but made no other contribution to the conversation.

‘Don’t you dare say anything!’ Judy said in her best commanding tone, so I waited till she went to pay the bill, before approaching the lonely planeteer. (I’ve made that word up.)

‘Excuse me,’ I said. ‘I just wanted to say that I learnt more about world geography sitting near to you tonight than I ever did at school.’

‘I’m sure you did,’ he replied with little warmth. The elderly ladies smiled. I was pretty sure they knew me from somewhere.

I’d have waited a little longer to judge the impact of my intervention, but a vice-like grip on my right arm told me that the bill had been paid and it was time to go.

Back at Dizengoff this morning one of the two outside tables was fully occupied. At the other table a man in his late twenties and a woman I’d guess to be in her thirties were seated at one end of the table opposite one another. The man was animatedly talking, the woman listening intently and occasionally responding with apparent approval.  Cafe protocol more or less demands that you don’t sit immediately next to a stranger but I wanted to sit facing the road and Judy was already seated at the end of the table. So I sat between her and the young man.

His voice was loud and penetrating and it was simply impossible not to be party to their conversation which was about conflict resolution in a relationship. After a few minutes I couldn’t take this any more, excused myself as I walked behind his chair and moved to sit opposite Judy.

Our coffees arrived precisely as he informed the woman that she just had to hear this amazing quote which he’d saved on his mobile. He began reading the quote out loud in stentorian tones, his co-diner occasionally responding with a ‘wonderful!’ or ‘beautiful!’ or ‘amazing!’. At this point a young woman came over and asked Judy, ‘Do you mind if I join your table?’ Judy said of course not and the woman sat down between her and the pop psychologist. She lasted only a few minutes before deciding to move inside.

As we were leaving, I said quietly to the man, ‘Excuse me. Do you realise that you have no sense of personal space. It’s impossible not to listen in to your conversation and impossible to hold one’s own.’

He blushed and said he was very sorry.

I think these two were intelligent, thinking and probably very nice people. But having no sense of personal space, one’s own or other people’s, is a Kiwi characteristic. And it finds its main expression in excessive decibels.

And that is why I find myself constantly asking the question: “Why are New Zealanders so effing loud?”

For the most part, New Zealand men have loud, penetrating voices that they make no effort to moderate regardless of their environment.

For the most part, New Zealand women have loud, shrill voices that they make no effort to moderate regardless of the environment.

Unsurprisingly, for the most part, the offspring of New Zealand men and women understand no other form of communication but shouting and screaming.

That is why it is impossible to hear or be heard at any social function in Godzone. Everyone is talking at the top of their voices.

That is the explanation for so many TV field reporters apparently failing to understand that they have microphones in their hands and that their voices do not actually need to carry into every living room in the country.

That is why a cellphone conversation is the least private form of communication in this country.

That is why there is so little business for spies or eavesdroppers in New Zealand. Most secrets here are yelled across the ether.

That is why no one can hear what the quietly-spoken Bob Jones is saying to those around him at one of his annual office parties, because his guests are all talking at the top of their voices and the din is deafening. His ‘listeners’ nonetheless nod approvingly.

So why are New Zealanders so effing loud? Well, according to speech-expert JC, it’s because no-one has taught them how to modulate their voices or how to project without shouting. She showed one of our former clients (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more!) how she could do that in about 10 minutes.

So please, please, please can you keep the volume down. After all, if we all speak more quietly, no one will have to shout. And perhaps we’ll be able to hear the cicadas when they finally return. Who knows – maybe the competition was just too much for them.

42 Comments:

  1. Good to see you blogging again, Brian. I must say I usually notice Americans, particularly women with penetrating voices, as culprits in our restaurants. But we have a lot of tourists.

  2. So true, I of course delight in my booming voice and take great pleasure in holding forth in an amusing manner with supposedly unpopular and controversial opinions at almost any opportunity. I’m always keen to have some one “do a Brian” (if you’ll forgive me for naming your shaming technique after you) but it just never happens. I’m led to suspect that the nods and winks I get instead show that most Kiwi’s are just to damn chicken shit to say what they really think. Yours in a happy and probably delusional state, David. Oh while I’m here I’ll share one of the better “Brians” I’ve done…you know when the line and the moment just fits. Many years ago while waiting patiently at the bar for attention I was pipped at the post by a young woman pushing her way past. ” Oh ” I said, ” Can I say that your beauty is only exceeded by your manners!” She seemed so pleased until she worked out what I’d said! Oh well plenty more fish in the sea.

    • Ah, your big mistake was in failing to recognize that Kiwis don’t understand irony. Too direct perhaps.

      • I would say rather than “Kiwis don’t understand irony” its more that often sarcasm is confused with irony instead of being recognized as a form of irony .

        I certainly agree though that a fair number of Kiwis are easily confused, currently about 47% of the voting electorate.

      • LOL That’s what people tell me!

  3. For anyone who has listened to parliament and all the yelling, screaming and barking that goes on there surely they would agree that rabble makes most patrons of NZ cafes and restaurants sound like church mice.

    Perhaps its the one ‘trickle down’ example actually working.

  4. sympathize entirely Brian.

    Have to say we were in a restaurant in Sydney recently and there was a table of middle age people and the men were unbearably loud.

    Perhaps we all have to get more assertive about this and simply ask people, “Would you mind lower you volume in this public space”

  5. Try visiting Japan, and then returning to New Zealand…. the crash is very painful – by comparison service here is dreadful, but any idea of self awareness doesn’t seem to exist for a lot of kiwis. Maybe in 1,000 years people here will have evolved to be a little more aware….. maybe not

  6. Living in London at a time when cellphones were just beginning to be omnipresent, traveling by train or tube would be ruined be very loud “I’m on the train” conversations. Tedious in the extreme.

  7. There must be a lot of owners of deaf dogs around.

  8. This irks me too…particularly when it’s a stream of banal utterances packaged up as insightful gems.

    I wonder if it is intended as a performance, for a wider audience than the person the foghorn is supposedly having a conversation with. Ego or overcompensation? Either way, irksome.

  9. Brian for,me the scene for this is the bus, especially when heading to work at an early hour and still waiting to fully engage with the day. People talking about how many bananas there are in the bowl and whether they really need more. But I find Amercian voices far more metal,cutting than ours.

  10. Not “New Zealanders” but Aucklanders…you’ll find that in the rest of the country people are very respectful of personal space.

    • I suspect this is true. On occasional trips to Auckland in recent years it has occurred to me that Aucklanders’ habits have become more Aussie-like than is the case with real New Zealanders. The shameless sharing of personal conversations with everyone within shouting range is one of the differences I noticed most when I moved across the ditch for a while some years ago. It seems Aucklanders have caught on!

  11. many years (decades ) ago I was a student teacher in a classroom where the teacher was a fortyish male. When he addressed the class of 12 yr olds he never raised his voice above normal conversational levels and the moment he started to speak you could have heard a pin drop. He had their complete attention. How times have changed.

  12. Perhaps this is slightly tangential, but the fashion in contemporary hospitality design is for glossy, hard surfaces. It’s not just an aesthetic choice. A polished concrete floor per Dizengoff (if memory serves) is much easier to keep clean than flock pub style carpets of the 50-70s. The unintended consequence is that sound bounces and reverberates. So all of the banal, inane conversations of others echo and ricochet as if everyone is speaking into a Tannoy. Near Dizengoff is Prego. It is a faultless establishment and has been for more than two decades that I know about. Actually it has one failing. If you thought the internet is an echo chamber – well, it’s nothing. On a busy night (commonplace) you will not hear a thing above the noise of other diners shouting to be heard above the noise.

    • 12.1

      That rings a bell with me too. A good restaurant in Manukau Road we’ve been to is unbelievably and very unpleasantly noisy because of its accoustics rather than its customers.

    • Nothing “tangential” about this at all, David. Poor cafe/restaurant design of the type you describe make the loud patrons problem considerably worse.

  13. The Cicadas are out where I live and its still one of my favourite sounds.A really good year can drown out a loud voice.

  14. I don’t share the viewpoint you expound, Brian. Having recently returned from visiting a number of places in the States I have remarked to friends how loud and shrill their citizens are! And I’ve generally contrasted such behaviours with our quiet our diners are. I concede I don’t frequent eateries along P Rd often- perhaps it is characteristic of a certain subset. Last night our family group of 6 were at a delightful establishment in lower Lorne St without any of the discomfort you have encountered. I do sympathise with you though.

  15. “New Zealand men and women understand no other form of communication but shouting and screaming”.

    You mean there is an alternative? Especially when conversing with folks who have English as a second language?!

  16. I can distinctly remember my shock at hearing Australians conversing when on my way to NZ with my family in 1959. I was exactly seven years old on arrival by ship in Sydney where we spent a few days. Australians seemed so crude and loud and it made a lasting impression on me. I can’t remember feeling this way about the New Zealanders. On arrival at Dunedin Railway station we were greeted by a to be work colleague of my father who was going to host us until we found our own accommodation. This colleague had a friend with a VW Kombi to transport us to his place. On leaving us on the station platform this colleague left us with the final words, “Well hooray then”, which left us all thinking he was glad to be relieved of us. A whole new vocabulary had to be quickly learnt as well as suffering taunts for “speaking posh”. My sister and I had few regrets about leaving England`and settled into this enchanting new country with all the new freedoms it had to offer us kids. My childhood impressions were poor quality sweets, wiggly wooden lamp posts and crumbling, cracked, asphalt footpaths. On a more positive note It was the strange bird song and the ever present vicinity of bush to play in and having neighbourhood friends that I loved most.

    It was on my first arrival back to New Zealand from Texas in 1993 that I noticed the odd harshness of the New Zealand`accent. My recent Xmas visit made me realize that I had to enunciate myself properly to be understood by the soft spoken Texans.

  17. As a regular at Dizengoff I agree with most of Brian’s comments. I’m also severely hearing impaired which makes it even more difficult to hear in noisy public places. But let’s not be too harsh on Diz (excellent coffee, great food and friendly service) as the comments are relevant to most cafes and restaurants in terms of the acoustics.

    However I agree with your comments about “space Invaders” be it physical or aural. If more of us stood up to them perhaps they’d moderate their behaviour but as you say most of us want to avoid confrontation and spoiling what should be a pleasant outing. And as you point out the restraining hand is never far away! How we solve the cultural problem of moderation and modulation is beyond my ken.

    On the matter of noisy cafes and restaurants the Acoustical Society of New Zealand publishes The Cafe & Restaurant Acoustic Index which is a rating system for eating venues in New Zealand according to their acoustic environment. http://www.acoustics.org.nz/files/CRAI_results.pdf

    It strikes me that this could be a most helpful database when deciding where to eat and might also prompt café and restaurant owners to review their acoustics as I’m sure high noise levels generally are the bane of more than just you and I Brian. I say “could” because the current CRAI data is somewhat outdated and most establishments have only 1 or 2 reviewers. The CRAI could be a much more powerful vehicle for change if we could mobilise more reviewers.

    Something to get on with in our spare time Brian!

  18. Brian’s highlighted the Law of Inverse Proportionality here: the more you grow old, the less tolerant you become of the behaviour of those much younger than yourself. Were he able to shave 50 years of his age, he most probably would have been a prime example of one of the loud – accursed – chatterboxes that he finds himself railing against, today

    As an aside, has the writer ever been to a Chinese restaurant during a yum cha, especially? The rising guttural cacophony into a deafening crescendo (with the prolonged sing-song trailing off at the end of each spoken sentence), would make his experiences at Dizengoff etc. seem like a designated Quiet Corner for seniors at any public library.

    • Yahoo,Desi – of COURSE Brian’s talking bollocks! This isn’t an NZ problem – it’s a World problem.

    • Yes but it does not matter when you cannot understand what they say. It is nor annoying because there is no engagement – it is wallpaper noise. I sat in a bus in Vienna some years ago in front of 2 old ladies who chatted – quite loundly, all the way. It did not bother me as I did not have enough German to comprehend it. It is the same with Chinese restaurants.

      The worst thing I had was in the Large Print section of the St Heliers library where some entitled “rich bitch” was shouting over her mobile phone to her builder. We had every detail of her new cabinetry before she finished. I said to her – “I don’t know why you needed the phone – another decibel louder and your builder would have heard you from here”.

  19. I spent December in India. What you describe I experienced 1000 fold louder. I’m surprised industrial deafness isn’t more common there.

  20. Brian I think the loud-voiced patrons you are hearing today, maybe the children of those awful yuppie baby-boomer parents who wanted everyone within hearing distance to hear their intellectual and sophisticated conversations with their preschooler “Olivers, Tabithas, Charlottes, or Abbies…” Oh how wonderful these little adults were. So this generation you refer to have never learned how to communicate otherwise in public places. Meanwhile the baby-boomers have entered the age of failing hearing …

  21. Haha, you sound like the Larry David of Ponsonby Road.

  22. Brian I suggest making a point of avoiding loud restaurants in P Rd. Too many young ones shouting into their phones or worse- the smashing of coffee machine holders and screaming radio adverts or heavy rock music. I much prefer my Korean run breakfast joint in Dom Rd. No commercial radio or music-no cacophony of coffee making noises – no self important people to be seen holding forth. There’s just the quiet murmur of orders being taken and the hushed rustling of the Herald being perused. Bliss!

  23. Further to my post Brian, my wife reminded me of an incident where we were sharing an outside table at Burger Burger in Ponsonby Central recently with a group of 30 year old young men (not known to us) who showed a “considerable lack of discerning behaviour” about the subject matter of their loud conversation that we had to endure – prostitutes, strippers and drug pushers!! It’s a really tricky situation. Having ordered we were not going to leave and given the close proximity saying something would have caused a scene.

    Actually if there is a next time, and sadly there will almost certainly be one, I think I will say something.

  24. Hilarious..best laugh of my Friday, though it had stiff competition from, in the course of my work day,running across the fact of a child’s middle name being ‘Rumpelstiltskin’… so cheers Brian!

  25. I grew up in the sixties where the only sound in our house of an evening was the rustle of turning pages! Woe betide any of us young ones who made any louder sound. My father used to get into trouble because he kept turning the fridge off, early in the morning, because of the noise, and then forgetting to turn it back on. Unfortunately all this has had a lasting effect on me and I get annoyed at loud noises too – when they are forced upon me. I really think this is an ‘older’ thing learnt from those quieter times before electronic devices were prevalent. At least its quiet up here on our mountain in Golden Bay but its so annoying being woken up by the bellbirds at 5.30! Yeah right!

  26. I wonder the same, Brian. One one hand we like to promote ourselves as a modest, understated nation. Yet we have this thing called a haka, a very loud sort of a dance, which is obviously designed to bring great attention on to those who would perform it!!

  27. A consequence of my thoroughly enjoyed youth is that the exposure to engines, turbines and gunfire has left me industrially deaf. Going to social gatherings is a complete pain. I mishear most things, embarrass my wife and get irritated at loud clashing noises like plates being stacked or coffee grind filters being whacked out by tattooed bimbos. I solve the problem by letting her do the cafe meetings with friends. I save money and don’t have to listen to noisy oafs holding forth on whatever absorbs them.
    If I don’t get skittled by a truck I don’t hear, my disability is starting to look like an investment.

  28. Speaking loudly is obligatory because of the ubiquity of loud music in homes, workplaces and venues such as cafés. Younger people reflexively shout over it while many of their seniors have been deafened by years of it and have to raise their voices to be understand anywhere.

    And amongst the young, in those rare circumstances where there is no music, the shout reflex often kicks in anyway.

  29. The ‘bottom line’ …god, I hate that jargon…is that you are getting old, Brian. I remember when you first started interviewing all and sundry, sometime last century. Why does he have to be so interruptive, loud and aggressive I shouted to anyone who ignored my protestations. C’est la vie.