Tag Archive: Stephen McDonnell

An interesting look at the cultural response to noise

Photo credit: Julian Mason

In “Living loud in China’s lively public spaces,” , BBC News, writes about noise in China’s bustling cities. McDonnell states that “[t]here is something incredible about the way in which societies, cities, subcultures find their level in terms of acceptable public volume.”  For example, he notes that there are “bustling cities – rammed with millions of people – where you could be frowned upon for disrupting others with a raised voice: Seoul, London, Tokyo… especially Tokyo.” But McDonnell has lived the last 12 years living in China, where, he notes:

There are some societies where people are expected to avoid being noisy in public and they behave accordingly. Then there’s China.

He describes the “cacophony of chaos” he experiences in a cafe, where someone “starts a phone call at the top of their voice,” as two buddies loudly play video games on their phones, and “a young convert to Christianity sits down next to [him] and starts praying” just as a nearby “hippie looking Chinese bloke has booted up his laptop and Coldplay starts belting out of the speakers.”  This experience is not atypical, he writes, and adds that, looking around, “nobody but me has reacted as if this is anything but completely normal.”

Interestingly, he says that there is only one other city where he has seen this phenomenon–New York–where he describes a similar experience in a diner.  McDonell ponders, “[m]aybe you have to speak up in order to be heard amongst a huge population?”  That is, maybe it’s the space and not just the culture that determines the “acceptable public volume?” After all, he asks, “what noise does a Chinese farmer have to compete in the field?”