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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: Is it rude for my friend to watch Spanish videos around me?

My friend insists her favourite Spanish YouTube videos are fair programming for us because we live in a free country. But I don't understand the language.

Ani Castillo

Dear Ellen,

I went shopping with my best friend, who started watching YouTube in Spanish while I was driving. I don’t speak Spanish so I asked her to put something on in English. She said in Canada everyone has a right to watch whatever they want. I came to Canada in 2013 and she is here for the last 14 years. Later she was angry about why I asked her to stop watching the Spanish program. If she talks on the phone in Spanish or I talk on the phone in my language, that is fair enough. But when she was in a car where I don’t understand Spanish, I think it was inappropriate for her to watch a program in Spanish. Am I right?


Dear Addy,

The argument you had with your best friend is a perfect example of how muddy thinking can escalate a disagreement. When she says “in Canada everyone has a right to watch whatever they want,” she is correct. As long as you’re not watching things like illegal pornography, or tapes from illegal surveillance cameras, or illegally obtained bootleg content, no one can stop you from watching anything, in any language you want.

But a person’s legal rights and what constitutes proper etiquette are two entirely different things.

For example, I have the legal right to chew with my mouth wide open, talk loudly into my cellphone in quiet cafés, and fart on the subway. But, in consideration for the comfort of people around me, I generally make an effort to refrain from these antisocial activities.

If your friend was smarter at arguing, she might have defended herself by saying you needed to concentrate on driving rather than listen to a YouTube video, so it was better for her to play a program in a language you didn’t understand.

Then you could have argued that listening to a program in Spanish was even more distracting because you still had to listen to it, and it was distracting not to know what was being said.

But arguing about who is right is not the point. The polite thing for her to have done would have been to respect your request, and play something you could both understand, in your common language, English.

It would have been even more polite if she’d put her phone away, and given you, the driver and her dear best friend, her full attention.

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