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.