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It pays to complain

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The movie had started and the lights were still on. They had dimmed to half power, but I could still see the people in the theatre around me and the popcorn on the floor. Great, I thought. The film is so old that the coding that automatically turns off the theatre lights has worn off the strip. My brother used to work the projection booth at this theatre many years ago, so I knew that’s how the lights worked.

I didn’t want the lights to bother me, but they were, so instead of sitting and simmering silently, I told my friend where I was going, and fast-walked to the ticket booth in the lobby of the theatre. I told some teenage ushers about the problem, one of them got on a walkie-talkie and I fast-walked back to the theatre, hoping the first four minutes of The Blind Side did not contain any complicated back story.

I got back to my seat and the lights were still on. Five minutes later they were still on. Five minutes after that they were still on too. It was now obvious that the lights were going to stay on for the rest of the movie. I didn’t want to run out to complain again and miss more of the story, so I sat in the half-dark telling myself the lights were not that big of a deal and that I should just let it go and enjoy the movie and—Oh my God! I hate those little pimply-faced $%^&wits! How hard is it to turn off the mother$%*^ing lights!! And so it went for the rest of the film, during which my mind was split between the story onscreen and the film I was imagining in my head in which I smashed a bucket of popcorn over an usher’s head.

One of my unofficial resolutions for the past few years has been to stand up for myself, or more colloquially put: don’t let people treat you like shit. I haven’t written this down on any of my goal lists, but it’s a personal growth thing I’ve been watering and placing in a sunny spot, hoping it will grow. Once the film was over, I went into the lobby and told an usher who was sweeping the floor that I wanted to speak to the manager. After two minutes spent seething, I was directed to the girl I’d spoken to earlier who had the walkie-talkie on her belt.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “We sometimes leave the lights on during a film if a parent has requested it in case they need to take their child out of the theatre,” she explained as if this would now resolve the situation, eliminate my anger, and leave me to happily bounce out the door. First, someone should have made an announcement at the beginning of the film telling the audience about this policy. Second, after I complained, someone should have come back and told me what was going on so I wouldn’t have spent half the movie pissed that they’d ignored me. This problem was definitely not resolved.

“It completely ruined my movie experience,” I told her, which was true. I couldn’t stop thinking about the damn lights and the usher’s blatant disregard of my request throughout the film, even though I tried not to. Zen, I am not. “I’d like a refund,” I told her firmly. So, she went into the booth and came back with free passes that my friend and I could redeem for another movie.

Complaining totally works!

I have always avoided conflict and I still hate being in tense, confrontational situations. However, I also hate brooding over what I should have done and what I should have said when someone has wronged me. So, when the situation genuinely calls for it, I’ve started to complain. I don’t scream. I don’t stomp my feet. I use a stern voice and make it clear I’m displeased, but I let people know. Part of me felt bad for picking on a little 16-year-old girl who I knew would whine to her friends later about the bitchy customer she had dealt with today, but a bigger part of me was happy I stood up for myself and let the movie theatre know they’d done a crap job.

A month earlier, after my family had gone out to dinner for my mother’s 60th birthday, my mom came home to the lovely gift of a night of vomiting and diarrhea. I called the restaurant to let them know what happened, and they sent us $30 of gift cards. See! Complaining totally works! I wasn’t a bitch about it, I just told the restaurant about the problem. And, ok, their food made my mom vomit, but we’re happy to go back as long as we don’t order the lobster bisque. More importantly, I felt proud for sticking up for myself.

A few weeks after the experience at the movie theatre, my friend and I redeemed our tickets to see Up in the Air and we were very pleased when the theatre lights were turned off. The smile on my face remained for about five seconds. That’s how long it took me to realize half the film was positioned off the screen.


I turned to my friend. “This time it’s your turn to complain.”

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Jenny • February 3, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I know what you mean. I started this same process about ten years ago. I was always the passive person who let people walk all over me. And one day I just got fed up with it and started speaking my mind if I felt wronged in some way. Now, I’m never mean unless the person I’m complaining to is a jerk first. But it’s not my nature to create conflict. It’s my nature to be mad about it and let it ruin my day. So, I certainly do feel better after I express my concerns, but sometimes it’s just exhausting.


Cricket • February 3, 2010 at 12:43 pm

I’d try a new movie theater. Good for you, for speaking up, personally I hate watching movies with the lights on.


Annimal • February 3, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I agree on complaining. One time my family was at a buffet-style restaurant when the table of oafs behind us started throwing food at each other. I had never witnessed this type of behavior. There were adults present but none of them said anything to the kids throwing food. We ignored it for awhile until I got hit in the head with a napkin. We weren’t finished eating, but we got up and left. Seething. The waitstaff was simply standing & watching the debacle. I wrote a letter to the manager, telling them obviously their staff needed education on how to handle unruly patrons. I got a letter back apologizing and said she was aware of the incident and included 5 free meal passes. I felt OK with that.
Another time we made a 140 mile (one-way) trip to a large museum. All of the permanent displays were intact (which we had seen numerous times), but every other exhibit hall was closed to install new shows. I felt cheated out the admission price, which for a family of 5 was pretty steep. I wrote a letter to the administrator explaining how I felt and that I should have been told that many exhibit halls were closed. Again, I received a letter of apology and 5 free passes to attend the museum at a later date.
Speak up–demand the full service for which you paid. As you suggested, do it in a calm, non-blaming, assertive manner.


Amy • February 3, 2010 at 1:09 pm

They leave the lights on if someone requests it? What kind of crazy policy is that? Do they turn the sound off by request, too?


Carrie • February 3, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Good for you!

As a mother of a little kid, I am completely BAFFLED by this policy! Who on earth would have the balls to ask to have the lights left on? Why would they accomodate that? Why are you taking such a little kid to see a non-kid movie? I don’t understand!


Carbzilla • February 3, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Hooray – I’m so proud of you! I had a freak out the other day during Fantastic Mr. Fox when I thought the lights weren’t going to turn down (I had no idea it was coded on the film), but then they did just in time.

I’d also suggest you find a new theater if you can – sounds like they have chronic issues.

I still get the family eye roll when I complain about something but I feel it’s my right (especially after years of being a doormat) if I convey it in a respectful, non-abusive way.

See Night Shift for the most awesome I’m Not Gonna Take It Anymore moment. :)

You go girl!


Elizabeth • February 3, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Good for you!
BTW that lights thing might be the stupidest policy I’ve ever heard of. If your kid is old enough to sit through a PG 13 movie, they are old enough to get their kiesters out the door with the lights off. Holy Mackerel.


schmei • February 3, 2010 at 1:24 pm

This seals it. The next time that annoying store clerk lectures me (or another customer in my presence) about paying with cash, I’m doing what I’ve told myself I was going to do a dozen times now: Complain. Because I usually just seethe for, like, an hour after I leave the store, and that helps no one.

Thanks for encouraging me to get a spine!


me • February 3, 2010 at 1:49 pm

i must say, PQ, i like the way you “take no shit” on your blog. You kind of set the rules for the discourse and tell people to F off if they don’t like it.

I do think though that feeling frequent irritation (and I’m not saying you do) can be a symptom of depression. Like, your irritation at movie counter people, commenters who do dumb things, spammers, people who suggest headache medicine, people who tell you what to do re your diet, etc.

The other day i went totally APESHIT on the guy at the UPS store who refused to take my package saying it was too big, even though it was within the weight class it should be in. it enraged me. I think it was more about me than about him tho.


Susan • February 3, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Who CARES if the 16-year-old manager complains to her friends? She’s being paid (poorly) to do her job. Dealing with customers (and turning out lights when the film is running, and making sure that the film is in fact showing on the screen) is part of her job or her staff’s jobs.

Bonus: Do you think the manager would complain to her friends if you were a man?

I think it’s great that you said something, but these are really simple vendor-error situations, you know? It’s not as if you’re asking for anything you haven’t already paid for.


Fight for the Cure • February 3, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Haha…that’s great. This totally reminds me of why I usually opt to stay home from the movie theater. I swear, people do not know how to behave.


sixxfan • February 3, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Okay, so I know this is going to sound non-PC and perhaps unsympathetic but around here, the lights are left on to the degree that you described AND the kids are allowed to get up and wander around the theater if they are (drumroll….) autistic. Seriously. My husband has two autistic children from his first marriage and I can tell you he has never brought them to the movies because he doesn’t want to ruin anyone else’s time. If there is a movie that seems suitable, their option is to watch it at home. This might just be a NY trend (’cause God knows we are trendy) but if it’s catching on around the rest of the country, this may further explain today’s post and your (I agree, completely annoying!) situation.


Quix • February 3, 2010 at 2:56 pm

I’m trying to stand up for myself more too. I just told a friend, calmly and nicely, that I was not ok with a choice she made that involved me and was offended. Usually I would just laugh it off and say it was fine. And then bitch and seethe. Not going to do it this time. Feels good!


PastaQueen • February 3, 2010 at 2:58 pm

After more digging, I discovered this is a thing Kerasotes theatres does called Movie Matinee Magic. Of course, they didn’t tell anyone buying tickets that we were in for a magical experience. This line from their site, makes me laugh ’cause it was NOT true:

Q: What if my baby begins to cry during the film?
A: At Matinee Movie Magic, crying is OK. Everyone in the theatre is in the same situation and understands.


Kari • February 3, 2010 at 4:34 pm

@PastaQueen – If crying is okay, they should warn any other patrons trying to buy tickets to that movie that it is NOT a regular showing and that the lights will be left on and children may be screaming, but it’s okay. :P


MB • February 3, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I’m glad someone has the balls to complain when they are wronged. I tend to bitch about it and try to get over it instead of standing up for myself. Maybe I should try some of that complaining and see what happens. I hear the squeaky wheel gets the grease.


Deanna - The Unnatural Mother • February 3, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Good for you!!


Brittany • February 3, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I never have the guts to complain, even when it’s justified. I usually just say “Oh, it’s ok” and act like it IS ok when, in fact, it’s annoying. I even get embarrassed when someone else I’m with complains, like at a restaurant. I think if it’s justified I shouldn’t be so ashamed to complain or ask nicely for a refund. I think with low self-esteem, it’s a hard thing to do when you’re worried what other people are thinking of you. This is definitely something for me to work on as well!


Dawn • February 3, 2010 at 7:53 pm

That is the most ridiculous thing ever!! I cannot believe they ruin the movie experience for everyone else because someone might have to take their kid to the bathroom???

I used to manage movie theaters and I can tell you that we NEVER did that. Movie’s on…lights go down…


Leigh Ann • February 3, 2010 at 8:10 pm

What? One person might have to take her kid out during the movie, so everyone has to watch it with the lights on? That’s dumb.


BridgetJones • February 3, 2010 at 8:36 pm

I love the picture you included with the story. Pure genius! Do we all suffer from chronic weakness? Sometimes I think “we” do — since women are trained to think that anyone who stands up for themselves is a female dog.


BB • February 3, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I had the same problem with the lights not long ago. Actually first the movie didn’t start. About 10 of us just sat looking at each other until one lady got up to complain that after the previews nothing was happening. (I was just about to get up when she beat me to it) But, like you, the movie started but the lights stayed on and I agree how very annoying it can be. I jumped up first and they fixed the problem right away. That is terrible that they left the lights on during the whole movie for you and your friend. Being assertive is a good thing. I would call the county health dept to complain about the restaurant too.


rae • February 3, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Good for you on this issue. I love the ‘grow a backbone’ bit.

RE The 16yo manager chatting with her friends? When I do something similar I consider it my honour to become that person’s dinner conversation :)


nancy • February 4, 2010 at 10:20 am

Not to put a damper on things, but the first five minutes of the Blind Side were actually pretty much fraught with back story.


Rebecca • February 4, 2010 at 10:26 am

I had a similar experience once. Except instead of lights it was two teenagers having sex in the last row and somehow the free movie passes just couldn’t make up for it.


Simone • February 4, 2010 at 5:23 pm

That was a great post. Where I live (Brooklyn), I don’t think that they would’ve been so nice. At least they are nice to you!


caryn • February 5, 2010 at 12:16 am

Years ago we ended up at Outback for dinner on Valentine’s Day. We did their call ahead seating but when we got there, they were missing a whole page of the wait list. So we got pushed to the bottom. We know they were missing a whole page because they were numbered and we were not the only unhappy people there now at the end of the line.

We waited FOUR hours. Understandable that its one of the busiest days of the year but considering the call ahead… To top it off we ended up outside where it was really cold and the heat lamp things didn’t reach to where we were. Our food was not hot when we got it.

I sent a long letter to the manager understanding that its a busy day and suggested that maybe call ahead on holidays wasn’t a good idea. I complimented those members of the staff that tried to be really helpful in a really awful situation. A mixed bag letter if you will. Said what was bad, and some that was ok.

He called me personally and thanked me for the letter. He apparently got hundreds of complaint letters after that day. Mine was the only one that apparently wasn’t nasty. It was to the point, offered suggestions to fix the situation and did point out those of the staff that stood out as trying to make the best of the situation.

We were invited to come in, meet the manager and then he gave us a $100 gift card.

They don’t do call ahead seating anymore on holidays.

I agree about standing up for things. We pay too much for services and goods these days to get something… pardon the pun for where I’m posting… half assed.


Caro • February 5, 2010 at 1:27 am

They have Mommy Movie times at some places around here too, but it’s always at a special time and there are big signs on the doors and they warn you when you buy tickets. I think they are great, but it’s a totally different experience. And actually, they are advertised through the autistic orgs as well, but unlike the NY poster, these are usually specific movies and times and are well marked as such. Sometimes the theater isn’t even open for other movies at that point, so it’s hard to confuse.

Doesn’t sound like your place was any good at communication…on many levels.

One of the things I learned is that it often pays to write a letter when something goes wrong in a way that is unexpected. For example, when I was breastfeeding I purchased a special bag for the pump I used. On my first trip using it, the lining of the bag ripped. Now, I purchased it online from some no-name type internet store, but it was a name brand pump product. I looked up the owner (in this case, CEO) listed in the BBB listing for the company and sent him a letter letting him know how much I liked their products in general, but how disappointed I was with this one. I didn’t ask for anything, but gave them all the info I could and said that I wanted them to know so that they could check into quality control where my bag was made.

I never did get a letter back, but I got a big box in the mail a few weeks later that was filled with stuff from that company, including a replacement bag. It was about $200 worth of stuff to make up for a $40 bag.

So yeah, that sold me on writing letters. Nice, polite, constructive letters. I think telling them what I did like along with what I didn’t helped too.


Jenna Z • February 5, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Wow, just wow. The sense of entitlement some people feel is just amazing. I hate the parents that requested the lights be left on. Then again, I hate most parents. Except my own.


Mom Taxi Julie • February 6, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I’ve never heard of keeping the lights on for kids. I thought that’s what the ones on the floor are for?

We once went to a movie that wasn’t cut right and you could see all the microphones on the top of the screen. It was really bizarre. They gave everyone a refund at the end of the movie.


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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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