By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
The silver screen first earned its name when our great or great-great grandparents started attending the “moving pictures” in the nineteen-teens. Back then, the screens were coated with reflective silver paint to better show the images.
Since silver has always been precious, and movies quickly became precious entertainment, the term stuck.
Back then, going to the movies was an event. The films were shown in gilded movie palaces. As at any grand event, movie patrons dressed up and used their best manners as they were escorted to their plush seats by white-gloved ushers.
Fast-forward to today’s 20-screen mega-plex cinemas, and we all can agree that our silver needs a little polishing.
We’re used to watching movies in the privacy of our family rooms where we can yell at the screen, talk to our friends and family, leave the room six times to go to the kitchen or bathroom (or a combination of the two!), wear our bathrobes, and genuinely think only of our enjoyment. It’s easy to forget that when we go to the mega-plex, it’s a shared, public experience.
And when we enter into shared experiences, there’s a Gold Standard of interaction. If we follow it, everyone will stress less and enjoy the show more.
No more guy in flip-flops sitting next to you with his feet on the back of the chair in front of him, his hairy big toe and snaggly toenails at your eye level.
No more mom and dad who don’t remove their fussy child because they don’t want to miss the next scene.
No more person with the extra-large soda and the extra-small bladder just about tripping over your feet on the way to the bathroom for the third time.
Since we consume most of our media at home, and going out to the movies isn’t something we do daily, we could all benefit from a little polishing up for the next time we take in a movie on the silver screen.
The Best Movie Theater Manners
1. Be prepared to pay for your movie tickets and concession items.
The concession lines, the movie ticket lines, and the automated ticket kiosk lines need to move quickly so people can get into the theater on time. Have your method of payment in hand when it’s your turn. If you’re buying concessions, know what everyone wants before you order. At the counter is the worst time to turn to the people with you and ask, “OK, what do you all think you want?”
2. Buy everything you’re going to want from the concession stand before the movie starts.
Fellow movie goers don’t want to hear a too-loud-to-be-a-whisper but “whispering” voice holler, “Don’t forget the butter, and I want a Diet Coke, not a regular one!” from eight seats down the aisle as some unfortunate person chosen to be the group’s concession runner tries to slip by everybody in the aisle.
3. Talking is impolite and so is whispering.
When people hear whispering, their attention is automatically turned toward it. We can’t shut it out. It’s distracting. It boggles our brain because we can’t quite make out what’s being said. Our minds tune in to it even more.
And yes, even though the other people are strangers, studies show that most people at least consider, if not believe, that you’re whispering about them.
Plus, when people whisper, they tend to put their head close to the other person’s head. Doing so makes for one giant head that blocks the view of the people in the seats behind the whispering duo.
4. Phone users, especially smartphone users, make for annoying movie companions.
You put your phone on silent vibrate and you just felt it send you a text message. You don’t plan on texting back, but surely you should check to see whether everything’s OK. The text might be important. So in consideration of others you’ve decided to bend down low, place the phone near the floor, or inside your large purse or bag as you read the message.
Doesn’t cut it!
The little bit of light coming from phone screens is brighter in a dark theater than most users realize. It distracts the people sitting to your right and left in at least the four rows behind you.
If you think you’re going to need your phone during the movie, arrive early to insure you get an aisle seat. Then you can exit easily to deal with your phone in the hall, and easily get back to your seat.
Bottom line: Movies equal a phone-free zone.
5. Movie trailers are commercials. You can talk during commercials.
The theater ads and movie trailers (previews) are your time to settle into your seat, make any last-minute run to the concession stand or bathroom, turn off your phone, and finish talking to those with you. It’s OK to not be totally in movie manners mode yet.
6. The best thing to do with shopping bags and purses.
If the theater isn’t at all crowded, it’s OK to take an extra seat for your coat, purse and shopping bags. (Some movie theaters are in malls, so people have shopping bags with them.) The floor is nasty, and you don’t want to get your purse dirty. And items on the floor (almost invisible in a dark theater) are prime for people who are entering or exiting your row to step on or trip over.
If the theater is crowded, or you’re fearful that your purse or packages might be stolen in the dark, place them on your lap. It’s going to be crowded in your seat, but there really isn’t any other place for them. (Make sure the shopping bags don’t make crinkling noises during the movie.)
7. Entering or exiting the row when there are already people seated in it.
This gracious way of entering and exiting rows of seats doesn’t apply only to rows in theaters. It’s for any row, anywhere.
Turn your back to the screen (stage, lectern, pulpit….) and enter the row facing the people whom you’re squeezing by. Make eye contact, smile, and say “Excuse me” as you make your way up or down the aisle.
This keeps your hiney (which is at the eye level of people seated) out of their line of sight. While that does put your front section in their field of vision, they’re probably looking up at you instead of straight ahead, since you’re looking at them, smiling, and talking. And if they’re not, well, at least you’ll know it!
If the event hasn’t started yet, it’s nice for people to stand to let the newcomers pass.
Do You Remember Drive-in Movies?
A sweet lady in Texas wrote me this week asking me to address some drive-in movie theater manners. She lives within driving distance of two theaters. Not too many people can say that!
I remember being in first grade and going to see a Disney double feature at a drive-in. My best friend was with me on a perfect Florida fall evening. There was a swing set and playground at the front of the theater where we gazed straight up in awe at the giant screen, daring each other to run and touch it between swinging, sliding, and teeter-tottering. Between features, my mom helped us change into our pajamas in the restroom because it was after 8:30 PM. We lounged in the car’s back seat wrapped in quilts, giggling, and munching on popcorn and Whoppers till the sweet tug of sleep overcame our fantasy evening and danced us into our dreams sometime before the end of the second feature.
According to Vanishing America: The Drive-in Theater (Gadling.com), there are only 366 drive-ins still open in the U.S. If you’re fortunate enough to live close to one, or you get to visit someday, here are a few things to keep in mind: Turn your headlights off and keep them off, don’t smoke (the odor drifts into nearby cars), don’t let your children go outside unsupervised, don’t bring smelly food, and no alcohol — we don’t need drunk drivers on the way home. Lastly, don’t talk loud enough that your voice can be heard in a neighboring car.
I found this short video, and it’s so quaint you’ve gotta love it.
As it advertises, one of the big draws of going to the drive-in theater is that dad doesn’t have to get dressed up.
Times have changed!
Here’s the video for your enjoyment. If it doesn’t play, it’s at the end of the article above on Gadling.com: Drive-In Movie Theater Pre-Movie Welcome and Announcement
It’s a Wrap!
When we keep in mind that going to the movies is a shared experience, and that everyone stresses less and enjoys shared experiences more when we show up with a little polish, enjoying a movie on the silver screen can be the pleasant pastime it’s been for a little more than 100 years now.
I bet you have some movie stories to share, and some tips to add to our list of the the Best Movie Manners. I got us started. Come on over to the comments and join in. It will be a joy to hear from you.
I’ll see you soon! Until then, be kinder than necessary, and show the world the special blessing they can only get from you. You…at your best!
PS: If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends, family, and folks in your social media circles. I’d be honored if you’d Share, Like, Pin, Google+, and Tweet this post. Help spread the message that good manners are alive and well and just waiting for all of us to notice and embrace them!