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11 Times Your AirPods Are Making You Seem Rude

Those tiny white AirPods are ubiquitous in ears today—including at completely inappropriate places like funerals and movie theaters. Here's how to use yours without looking like a jerk.

Two young female friends gossiping in a bar.

When having a conversation with a real person

Think this is common knowledge? Unfortunately, many people think it’s just fine to leave one earbud in or, in the case of wireless AirPods, leave both in, during conversations, says Amy Alkon, a science-based manners expert and author of Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck. Even if you’ve got the sound turned off, the other person doesn’t know that and having them in can make them feel like you don’t care what they’re saying and you aren’t really listening (which is probably true!). So we’re saying it now: Always take out your AirPods when speaking with someone in real life. Do you know the 50 little etiquette rules you should always practice?

Young man showing wireless headphones on the streets. Man with airpods.

Sharing a song with a friend

Love a song? It’s natural to want to share it with your friend who’s nearby but the current trend of passing over a single AirPod to give them a listen is rude and, honestly, kinda gross. There’s the earwax-sharing issue but more importantly, there’s the noise issue. Chances are you’ve got your volume cranked up louder than you think and when your friend sticks the Pod in their ear, they’ll be blasted away. “Over time this can cause permanent damage to the hearing of not just you but your friend as well,” says Luqman Lawal, PhD, director of global health & research for the Starkey Hearing Foundation. If you care about your friend then you should care about their hearing. What do you think of these British etiquette rules experts say Americans should adopt?

Family having a Christmas dinner

At family gatherings

With the noisy chaos of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and your brother who simply can’t discuss sports without yelling, it can be tempting to take a little break at the family reunion by popping in your AirPods and listening to some music. Resist the urge, Lawal says. Not only will it make you look rude—your “taking a break” may appear as indifference or disdain to others—but it can be risky for your hearing too. Being in a noisy environment can cause you to crank up your volume even louder than you normally would, he explains. Instead, if you need a break, step outside for a minute for a breath of fresh air. If you really need to avoid the family, these airpod tricks will help you out.

Female student taking notes from a book at library. Young asian woman sitting at table doing assignments in college library.
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

In the library

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with wearing your AirPods while you do some studying in the library or other quiet venue—as long as you keep your volume low. Too often we think of AirPods as an invisible force field around our heads but the truth is they are not a sound-proof seal, Lawal says. In quiet environments, people can often hear what you’re listening to as the sound emanates from the earbuds which can come off as rude, irritating, and distracting. “Having the source of the sound in your ear canal can increase a sound’s volume by 6 to 9 dB, which can cause eardrum damage,” he says. “Bottom line: If the music sounds too loud then it is too loud, so turn the volume down.”

crowd at concert - summer music festival
Melinda Nagy/Shutterstock

At a concert or play

Ear protection at a concert is smart, Lawar says, but having your AirPods in during a live performance makes you look like a jerk who can’t be bothered to respect the live people in front of them, even if there’s nothing playing on them. If you don’t have anything else available and you’re trying to protect your ears at a loud venue, using your AirPods as earplugs is better than nothing but make sure to explain to your companions what you’re doing.

Religion, death and dolor - man at funeral with white rose mourning the dead

At a funeral

Older generations may be baffled at the idea of popping in AirPods as a way to deal with difficult, painful emotions like grief but for people who grew up with tech and social media, it can seem perfectly natural to look to them for comfort, says Fran Solomon, a social etiquette expert and founder of HealGrief. But while it’s fine to take private solace in your music or a podcast, when you’re with others you should remove them. Not only can it make you look rude and uncaring but having them in can prevent you from getting the support you need from others and make you feel isolated, she adds. This is one of the funeral etiquette tips everyone should know.

Vilnius, Lithuania - July 6, 2016: People Parishioners pray in Cathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Vladislaus during celebration Holiday in commemorate coronation in 1253 of Mindaugas King.
Grisha Bruev/Shutterstock

In a church service

You may think you’re multitasking by paying your dues to God while still keeping up on the score of the big game thanks to the one AirPod you’ve got “hidden” in your ear during the sermon. Yeah, you’re not fooling anyone, says Adeodata Czink, etiquette expert and author of Business of Manners. Moreover, whether you’re listening to the game on your AirPods or sneaking peaks at your phone, it’s rude not to be engaged with the people around you, she says. This is why every mom and dad needs to know these 17 good manners parents should be teaching their kids.

Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

In a movie theater

If all you do with your AirPods is to leave them in your ears during the movie it might not be a huge faux pas (but then why did you buy a ticket?). Unfortunately, that is rarely all people do with their AirPods. People will often adjust the volume, skip a song, choose a podcast, or answer a call—all of which require you to turn on your phone. In a dark theater. Do not do this, Czink says. Nothing makes you seem like a rude jerk than playing on your phone, or heaven forbid, answering a call, during a movie, she says.

Young woman taking piece of pear dessert off her plate while sitting in cafe at lunch break

At a restaurant

Grabbing a quick bite at a casual eatery? Fine, leave your AirPods in. But if you’re sharing a meal in a nicer restaurant, leaving your earbuds in is a major no-no, Czink says. Not only does it make your dining companions feel unimportant or ignored but it makes it hard for waitstaff to take your order or giving you good service. “If whatever is on your phone is more important than the people you are with, maybe you shouldn’t be there,” she says.

Hong Kong - 16 March 2019: Passenger standing and travel on bus.
Wang Sing/Shutterstock

On the subway

Okay, okay, this one is controversial. Nearly everyone these days listens to something or at least scrolls through their phone on public transportation. It can even provide protection from harassment. But wearing your AirPods on the bus or train goes from normal to rude when you use them to ignore others’ polite requests, Czink says. Whether it’s someone asking if the seat next to you is open, a tourist asking for directions, or an elderly person looking to sit down on a full train, it’s good manners to acknowledge them and offer a polite reply, even if you can’t accommodate their request, she says. Ignoring them or simply pointing to your AirPods with an I-can’t-hear-you shrug is rude. People should always be more important than your tech.

Woman hand with credit card swipe through terminal for sale, in market. Shopping and retail concept

Checking out at the grocery store

Leaving your AirPods in while you do your weekly shopping is something a lot of people do these days but when it’s time to check out, you need to remember you’re interacting with another human and take them out, Czink says. No, it’s not enough to just remove one or to hit stop. Simply having them in makes you appear rude by making the cashier feel ignored and not worth your time.

Oh no, did you lose your AirPods? Here’s how to find them.

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Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a health, lifestyle and fitness expert and teacher. She covers all things wellness for Reader’s Digest and The Healthy. With dual masters degrees in information technology and education, she has been a journalist for 17 years and is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment. She lives in Denver with her husband, five kids and three pets.