He ordered coffee while wearing an AirPod. The barista refused to serve him

Apple announced this week that AirPods are selling in untold numbers. It seems, though, that in some places of business, they're not always welcome.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Some people wear them all the time.

I'm becoming unreasonably fascinated with Apple's AirPods. And not just because CEO Tim Cook says Apple's wearables are selling in glorious numbers.

Recently, I wrote about how teens are now exchanging single AirPods so that they can have fun with text-and-speech apps during class. (Surely you're trying it in meetings by now.)

This led to one or two readers telling me I was an OK person. Well, OK Boomer to be precise.

I'm still struggling, however, with the whole ethos of these things. And now I've discovered there's an apparent resistance against them in certain businesses.

Chicago-based culinary site The Takeout offered a story that, I fear, will have many AirPod-wearers taking sides.

You see, a reader called Kevin (I'm being unusually hopeful that this person is real) wrote to the site's etiquette columnist -- the much-revered Salty Waitress -- and complained: "Dear Salty, I was at the coffee shop counter, and the cashier wouldn't take my order until I took off my AirPod! And it was only in one ear! Am I the asshole here?"

It was only in one ear, judge. How can anyone be offended by that?

The Salty Waitress was not at one with such a view. She replied, in part: "I am trying hard here to give you the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps you were in the middle of a very important phone call/podcast/guitar riff that could not be paused for the 30 or so seconds it takes to order a cup of coffee. In which case, you very politely step aside to conclude your business and then order your coffee."

Doesn't that seem reasonable? Or have we already meandered most of the way down the route to Santiago de Compostheap, the saintly march of technology giving us permission to be as rude as we like?

I'm in my world. So what is it you want?

The Salty Waitress was undeterred in her resistance. She explained that if Kevin wanted to embrace technology, he could push off to Starbucks or Dunkin', order via an app and pick up his coffee without the burden of any human interaction.

She then warmed to her theme, mustering a fine froth: "Because that's the thing, sweetie pie. THE CASHIER IS A HUMAN BEING! JUST LIKE YOU! Their role in your life may be temporary and functional, but they've got feelings and hopes and dreams and aspirations. And like you (probably) they would like your full and undivided attention while you ask them to perform a service for you."

Also: Apple's AirPods Pro are the best earbuds you can buy, but for all the wrong reasons 

She explained that this is true for all service workers and should, indeed, work both ways. I was glad she said that, as I've had two visits to AT&T stores where the salespeople were wearing a single AirPod and listening to their own music.

Worse, I recently happened to be in a lovely Miami hotel, the Marlin, where one of the reception staff had two AirPods in at all times. I have a feeling it wasn't to receive messages from the manager.

The Salty Waitress wasn't just explaining the basics of human behavior. She added that one of the reasons to take your AirPod out is to ensure your order is taken accurately.

Naturally, her expressive defense of actual human behavior led to a spirited discussion. Many didn't take her side. They explained one has no idea whether Kevin was listening to anything at all. Some people, after all, wear their AirPods all the time, as if they're mere tasteless earrings.

Some added that the barista may have no idea whether this isn't an AirPod, but a hearing aid. As one commenter observed: "The way around it is to assume good intentions and that the person is giving you their attention until they prove otherwise. Then you won't offend someone with hearing problems by making everyone aware of their hearing aids."

Then again, another observed: "Even if your AirPod/earbud is turned off, it looks like you aren't listening to the person you are interacting with."

I fear this isn't the last time AirPods will cause controversy. Wearing them often demands a certain adjustment in others.

Why should others, though, make that adjustment?

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