Doing private things in a very public way

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Among the many things that puzzle me: why so many private things happen in public.

This occurred to me while strolling around downtown Victoria. I walked past a brightly-lit nail salon with big windows. A woman was soaking her feet, others were getting pedicures. Still others were getting manicures. It was a busy place. And I saw all this while not breaking stride.

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Down the way, there were people in hairstylist chairs with their hair in various forms of disarray. Again, very visible from the street, through big windows.

I dropped into a drug store to consider electric toothbrush heads. At the pharmacy counter was a prominent sign asking people lining up to not get too close to the person being served so that there would be a bit of privacy. That reminded of the time I was in a pharmacy line, definitely not crowding the person being served, trying hard not to hear some very personal medical details.

On another day, at a shopping mall, I encountered people face down in massage chairs getting massages while shoppers strolled by. At least the people getting massages were fully clothed.

Then there’s the bank lineups, where it’s often tough not to hear private financial details. Such as, there’s $1,200 remaining in your savings account, Mr. Smith. Or, you’re going to Paris? Here’s the francs you ordered.

And the doctor’s office, where it’s too easy to overhear someone at the reception counter explaining his or her malady. Or a hospital emergency room, which I’ve unfortunately had to visit, where you can hear a constant parade of troubles, along with the reciting of home addresses and phone numbers.

Our society goes through the motions of trying to protect privacy, yet so many day to day services are structured to offer no privacy.

For nail salons and hair salons, I’m guessing the big windows onto the street and brightly lit interiors play a role in attracting customers, and in making sure the customers being served aren’t feeling claustrophobic.

For other places, like pharmacy counters, it’s maybe a matter of economy, efficiency and speed. It costs more money and requires more real estate to set up booths or rooms. It takes more time to deal with people if they settle into a chair.

But things are changing. I’ve noticed several pharmacies offering booths, with chairs, a good distance away from the lineup. The same thing is happening at some banks, along with the offer to make an appointment so that you can do your banking in an office behind closed doors.

That pharmacy sign, admonishing people not to eavesdrop, is a step in the right direction, if not particularly realistic.

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My previous posts are here.

 

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