David Hill: Public spaces not the place to air one's privates

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Once upon a time, the English-speaking world would never have dreamed of having a personal conversation in front of strangers. Photo / Thinkstock
Once upon a time, the English-speaking world would never have dreamed of having a personal conversation in front of strangers. Photo / Thinkstock

"My Creativity was getting all stunted," the gorgeous young thing at the next table said. "I could feel my Creativity going out the window. So I got this job at the florist."

"That right?" went the dapper young chap seated nearby. "Still, at least your pool table's okay, innit?"

The GYT and DYC weren't talking to each other, of course. They were talking to absent friends, via their cellphones.

People now say and do things in public that they would have said or done only behind closed doors a decade or six back.

Once upon a time, the English-speaking world would never have dreamed of having a personal conversation in front of strangers.

These days? Look around you.

(Another thing you're allowed to do in public now, except in shopping malls where you might catch the eye of a resting teenager, who thinks you're disapproving and delivers a digital response.) 21st century streets, airport terminals and marketplaces are full of people telling faraway voices their social, scholastic and sexual news.

Sex is one more area where the public/private separation that made Britain great is as passe as phone booths designed to save others overhearing your call.

Once upon a time, blushing maidens (another expired noun) protested "Not now, D'Arcy; people are watching". Now upon this time, it's more like "Wait up, Dwayne; there's nobody else here".

Go on, call me Old Fart. After all, one 16-year-old did when I asked if he'd mind not using that mall seat to express horizontal devotion to his lady friend. Okay, he may have been an extreme case.

People still stop short of procreating the species in public, but who knows when next year's summer comes along ...

It's hard to believe how long the list of socially prohibited public practices used to be. Early in our marriage, my wife got reprimanded by a neighbour for hanging out washing on Easter Sunday. I still feel guilty about the time I dared eat my school lunch in the street.

It certainly wasn't the street where old Mrs Grant lived. She once gave me a blast for calling out to my mate on the opposite footpath. She told my mother that Mr O'Rourke at No 17 was no gentleman - he combed his hair as he came down his front drive.

Mastication and communication are out in the open now. So is makeup. On the bus, in the coffee bar, up the shops, down the pub, you see eyelashes being blackened, eyelids blued or greened, lips reddened or whitened or purpled.

Even the protracted Nasal pluck may be seen in respectable suburbs. Watch for the first full bikini wax executed in front of passersby, at a time and place soon to be made ... public.

I'd like to make my personal award for the single Greatest Advance in Privacy Erosion (GAPE) I've ever witnessed to Trixi. I know she was Trixi, because she told Jodi and Suzi and then Mandi so on her cellphone - at a volume which made the phone largely redundant.

Trixi earns her GAPE award for using the Post Office foyer to tell friends and passersby all about Brett and his icky courting habits at the same time as listening to her iPod, chewing gum, painting her fingernails and spraying her hair. Oh, and also laying out and inspecting the prosthetic and prophylactic contents of her handbag.

Well, it was a public space and Trixi is a fee-paying member of the public, eh? Try not to wince at the thought.

- NZ Herald

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