Dining in Public, Vol. 12, Issue 4

From Etiquetteer's Facebook page comes this query: Dear Etiquetteer:

Last night my family, including my husband's parents and sister (who were visiting from out of state) had the pleasure of attending dinner service on the Napa Valley Wine Train. All the lady seated behind my sister-in-law could do was complain, loudly. We didn't allow her to ruin our good time, but felt trapped! As did the lovely couple seated across from the bitter bitter woman. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of the right way to handle the situation and would like never to find myself lacking the Perfectly Proper way to handle the very uncomfortable situation she was causing. How would you recommend handling this situation, should it present itself during another evening?

Dear Entrained and Entrapped:

Etiquetteer's guiding precept has always been that No One Cares How You Feel or What You Want. Etiquetteer thinks it's a pity this Dining Virago was not so educated. One wonders why such people ever leave home, since they are so clearly unhappy away from it. Etiquetteer's beloved Ellen Maury Slayden joined her Congressman husband on an official delegation to Mexico in 1910. Commenting on one Senator and his wife, she wrote "I wonder why they come on a trip like this, all made up of scenery and adventure, when they could get so much better pie and cereal at home."*

You and your family, however, were clearly brought up on the maxim "Don't borrow trouble," for which Etiquetteer commends you. Because let's face it, in Real Life, confrontations such as these are always messier than they are in TV sitcoms. For instance, had you leaned over and asked "Excuse me, I hate to interrupt your diatribe, but did you happen to bring any earplugs we could borrow?" you would not have been saved by a commercial break. The Fantasy of the One-Line Putdown That Works is just that, a fantasy.

The first and best recourse is to speak (quietly) to the waiter or the manager and ask if anything can be done. It's in their best interest to be sure that all their diners are enjoying themselves, not only the Dining Virago but also you and your party. They can take what action they feel is necessary to get her to pipe down, whether it's a complimentary dessert, picking up her entire check, or promising her that she'll never have the chance to complain about their service again after she's banned from returning.

Etiquetteer thinks you and your family might have put a more positive spin on the situation by sending a bottle of wine to "the lovely couple seated across from the bitter bitter woman," creating a secret community able to smile over a special bond: Endurance. Etiquetteer can just see you all toasting each other silently across the aisle while the Dining Virago obliviously keeps on ranting.

Etiquetteer wishes you and your family well on future dining excursions!

Have you had a difficult experience dining out? Etiquetteer would love to accept your queries at <queries _at_ etiquetteer dot com>.

*It should surprise no one that Etiquetteer is quoting from Washington Wife: Journal of Ellen Maury Slayden from 1897 - 1919.

Reader Response, Vol. 4, Issue 6

Etiquetteer’s recent advice to the victims of the noisy neighbors generated quite a bit of feedback from readers, offering as alternatives everything from musical hints to respectful tolerance: From a realtor: You can't be serious! Having a burly husband bang and shout "Shut up"? I am no expert, but I fear this is neither good manners nor particularly effective. Responses like these feel good to do, but they typically annoy the other party (not unlike flipping the bird on city streets, which is about as common here as using your arm in the summer to indicate a turn -- actually, far more common that that). Instead, the couple should buy the Avenue Q soundtrack and leave it for their neighbors, pointing to the one song titled "You can be as loud as the hell you want when you are making love" (which, like the whole show, is truly hilarious). Perhaps they could include a note such as "This is all fine and good for a Broadway show, but in real life it's a problem." If it persists, they should engage the two condo associations to look into sound proofing. That, or move. Etiquetteer comments: Or perhaps a rousing chorus of "Ah Sweet Mystery of Life" as a tribute to the late Madeline Kahn . . . From a sorority house mother:  Some communities have a noise ordinance which kicks in at or about 10:00 -12:00 PM depending on the community. If the noise is consistently disturbing it is perfectly proper to call the local gendarmes and report the disturbance. If there are three or more calls about the same noisemaker(s) they may be in danger of losing their lease. I know this from experience in San Diego. From an architect:  After reading the letter from the people in the noisy apartment, I did have some comments related to the construction of their abode. The letter did not say if they rent or own the unit. If they are renting, then I would recommend that they seek out quieter quarters. If they own the unit, then there are things that they could do to their unit and/or the unit next door to reduce the noise. They could ask the neighbor to contribute to the cost, since it would benefit him also. They could also ask for help from the condo association since it is a defect in the building shell. If building such units from scratch or renovating existing buildings, it is preferable to construct a double stud wall between living units with insulation. Electrical outlets, medicine cabinets (remember that old TV commercial with the see-through medicine cabinet?), etc. should never be placed back-to-back between two units. Plumbing pipes feeding two adjacent units can also transmit sound. If feasible, a second wall could be built between the units, on whichever side would be the least disruptive. Less drastic measures would include adding sound absorptive material to the noisy side, or a white noise device on the quiet side. Hope the neighbors can co-exist without incident. From an investment banker:  You had suggested a strong rap on the door and a command to silence the noise. I think that women have so little joy and so much struggle in their lives, that we should let this woman enjoy the few minutes of bliss that she has. Just turn up the radio in respect, so that she can enjoy it to her heart's content without everyone eavesdropping. Maybe an anonymous note under the door reminding them that the walls and ceilings are very thin would encourage them to be quieter (or to turn up their own radio).I say this because I can remember when we lived in an apartment, and I had to occasionally drop a shoe on the floor to quiet the couple below us. I still feel bad about that when I think about it 30 years later. Who are we to rain on someone else's parade? Etiquetteer responds: One might also ask who are they to rain on ours? Just because a dinner party doesn't always produce the ecstasy of, ahem, the other activity in question, doesn't mean it isn't deserving of the same respect. But Etiquetteer does want to acknowledge the compassion that prompted you to respond, which is downright noble, and what a pity that more of us don't have it.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at query@etiquetteer.com!

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