Movie tropes that kill me: People discussing secret things in a restaurant

The bank robbers plan the robbery, hit men plan the mrder, spies meet to trade intelligence, but they do it in a restaurant or bar, in earshot of the whole place. It always pulls me out of the story and I don’t understand why this is universal. Why do they do this?

Just had to get that off my chest.

Moved to Cafe Society.

How often do you listen to what other diners are saying in a restaurant?

Happens in the real world, from what I understand. Iran just allegedly broke up a CIA operation because the spies and case handlers were meeting at Pizza Hut regularly.

I suspect it might be more difficult to record such conversations in an environment with lots of background noise. Also, people eating at a restaurant is unremarkable, whereas two guys meeting in a deserted park at midnight might draw attention from law enforcement/counter-intelligence types.

See The Conversation.

My fellow café compadres are intrigued by my fascination with the other conversations going on around our table at the local java joint.

My friends have come to realize that I can listen to them, and yet still have an answer if they ask me “So, digs, what’s up with Hipster Fedora and the Owl Tattoo?”

But I love it that I can always fill them in on the current state of Fedora’s argument with his Birther uncle.

While I’ve never heard criminal conspiracies (to my knowledge), I’ve often been surprised to overhear conversations in public restaurants or cafes that seem to be discussing matters that you’d think would be kept secret. I’m talking more about corporate intrigue and political scheming, though I was never really interested in the matter to get details.

This is my big problem with ‘Falling Skies’.

They keep having private discussions within an earshot of people who are eavesdropping.

Never, if you know what’s good for you.

Band name!

This was a plot point in an episode of Columbo. Two spies met at a theme park. They had a brief discussion where they explained to each other (i.e. the audience) why that was the best spot to meet. The idea is to do it in a public place in a large crowd of people. Who’s going to notice two guys in a crowd? Or hear what they are saying over the general noise? But if they meet in a secluded spot there’s a chance that there may be one other person in the area who will notice and remember them.

I don’t know if that’s how they work in real life. But this is the reason given in fiction.

From my very limited experience of being in places that had a high ratio of “important decision making people”.

They talk about things that they really shouldn’t, in places where they can be overheard, all the damn time.

People are stupid.

I think part of this, is there are a lot of people floating around who are serious about security, exactly to the point at which a security failure is (realistically) likely to trace back to them or impact them personally. But are then very casual about “other people’s” security.

Watched an episode of Bored to Death from earlier in the season last night and they did this. Jonathan and Ray were on the subway. Jonathan is on the run form the cops as a murder suspect, complete with a sketch of his face on the front page of the papers.

They of course talk about it all, including holding up the paper so the other riders could see Jonathan and the sketch side-by-side. Ray insulted another rider, making sure to draw attention to them. Etc.

I don’t they think they were subverting the trope. Just showing clueless people being clueless.

It’s not entirely stupid. I’ve listened to recordings of two people talking in a restaurant. While it’s not impossible to hear them, it’s extraordinarily difficult due to the constant background conversation and clink of silverware, and they were recorded from an iPhone sitting on their table. I can only imagine how much harder it would be for some outside surveillance team to pick them out of the crowd.

Those are actually two of my students … my Graphic Design students (so the fedora ain’t the only hipster in the clique). No one knows their real names; that’s what they’re actually called. They hang out in the cafeteria with 50’s Suspenders and Etsy Sack Dress.

IIRC, there’s a sound processing trick invented for surveillance where you use two microphones and compare the signals, letting you edit out most noise.

I’m so used to that idea (that conversations in public are magically inaudible to other people) that I was surprised during a recent episode of “Glee” when someone apparently heard what was being shouted in the hallways and took action based on it.

Just to cover all the bases: The other alternative, meeting in an office, is also a bad idea, since an office is likely to be bugged. If you meet someone in one public place, and then suggest going to another public place (like a restaurant) to talk in more depth, it doesn’t give the eavesdroppers much chance to get set up in that new public place, especially not if they’re trying to be covert about it.

This is one of the reasons why the 2004 mercenary-led coupe attempt in Equatorial Guinea (which famously involved Margaret Thatcher’s son) got busted. The coup planners were, over the course of months, openly discussing their plot in popular South African bars and restaurants.