Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Where the Blackberry is Never in Season


Dear Miss Manners,

"When dining, does one place one's Blackberry to the right of the plate, or to the left, near the salad fork?"

The answer to this unsent question is, of course, never. I don't care if you're the Pope. Of course, popes don't use Blackberries. They use people who use Blackberries.

Hey there, Mr. Business Guy. Ho there, Little Miss Connectivity. You want to see a hand held device appropriate for restaurant use? Look down and to your right, it's called a table knife.

It looks a lot like the one with which I'll impale your (expletive) PDA if you use it one more time during your meal.

At some point a decade or so ago, P.D.A. went from meaning an improper "public display of affection" to "personal digital assistant." The employment of either P.D.A. is rude at the table, displaying a certain lack of respect for your dining companions. Would you like to watch your mother give good old dad a hand job during the salad course? No? Then what makes you think they want to see you texting friends or fielding phone calls over dessert?

It'ss not just Blackberries. Last night, I watched as two men ate dinner together. Not such a strange occurrence, except for the fact that one of the men did not take his iPod headphones out of his ears for the entire duration of the meal.

I saw a woman who was so busy texting someone as she walked through our very busy dining room that she hit the chair of a man who was rising from is seat. There was no, "Excuse me, I'm sorry," from her. She didn't even bother to look up. I was tempted to trip her to see what it might take to make her drop her machine.

It's certainly annoying when I have to repeat a litany of specials to guests who are too busy on their phones to pay attention to me, but I take that as part of my job. After describing something a second time (unless there is a genuine communication problem), I consider myself done.

But I'd be happy to text you about today's whole fish, if you like, you self-involved (expletive).

Like I said, it's an annoying aspect of my job, and I deal with that type of rudeness in my own way. What I find so terrible about all this abuse of take-it-with-you technology is the toll I see it taking on the other diners, and on basic human interaction in general.

For example, on Tuesday evening, I waited upon a young woman, her boyfriend, and her mother. The young woman kept her Blackberry on the table to her right. She'd eye it occasionally as her mother or her French boyfriend spoke. When dessert time rolled around and I came over to the table, the boyfriend said they had made their selections. The girl didn't take her cue to order because she was busy texting someone. He gave her a soft, sing-songy "Heeeey!" and waved his hand in front of her face as one does when one is uncertain of another's consciousness. She pulled away like a sulky toddler. I could see the mother squirm. I felt terrible for the boyfriend, but I wanted to smack the girl. Hard.

What's getting me so angry is that no one is doing a god damned thing about it. As a server, it's not my responsibility to teach people lessons in manners. At the restaurant, I will just give you a wan smile if you misbehave, though some days the urge is more difficult to resist than others.

I am not seeing the recipients of this technological rudeness-- the boyfriends, the business clients, the parents-- call these idiots to task about this rude behavior. Maybe it's because they themselves are too polite to say anything. Whatever the case, their silence is sending a very bad sub-text message.

How long has this complacency been going on? Not forever, fortunately...

True Hollywood story--

In the days when cell phones were called mobile phones and still somewhat of a novelty, John Lovitz, Julianne Moore, Phil Hartman, and two people I did not recognize sat down at a booth in my section of the slick Beverly Hills eatery I worked in while at university. Mr. Hartman entered talking on his phone. When I approached the table, I asked quietly if I should come back when he had finished. Miss Moore nodded. Perhaps, I thought, it was a very important phone call.

After a while, it became quite clear to me that he was just yammering away on his new gadget, rudely ignoring his dining companions, but I stayed away from the table, nevertheless.

After a few more minutes, Miss Moore motioned me over to the table. She quietly asked for a piece of paper and a pen. When she had finished scribbling, she handed the paper back to me with a "thank you" and a sidelong glance at Mr. Hartman. I nodded and excused myself to read the note. On the paper were Mr. Hartman's name, his phone number, and instructions for me to call him.

I marched over to the hostess stand at the front of the restaurant, dialed the number, and held my breath. He answered up my call with an abrupt, "Yeah?"

"Mr. Hartman? This is your waiter, I was just wondering if you'd decided on your order yet..."

Silence greeted me on the other end. Then a loud burst of laughter from both the receiver and the back of the restaurant. When I returned to the booth, Moore beamed, Hartman glowered. Fortunately, Moore picked up the check.

My love for her has never wavered since.

I think what the world needs now is more people like Julianne Moore. I'd suggest putting her at every dinner table in America if I didn't think it would be both exhausting and physically impossible. I'm sure she's busy enough as it is.

My point, of course, is that she got it. And she found a way to correct the bad behavior that was both funny and very effective.

I think that's what we all need to do.

I realize I've done a lot of name-calling this morning. I don't necessarily think the perpetrators are bad people, but their behavior is soul-killing. You want to invest in some great personal connectivity devices? How about turning off your iPhone for two hours and start using some eye contact instead? Face-to-face communication is far more effective than interface-to- interface.

As TennisPeter from Andover, Mass commented at Ask Annie, "Checking your Blackberry 24/7 doesn't make you important. It means you are insecure and lack the confidence to say, 'I'm not working right now.' " I am inclined to agree.

Oh, and while I'm on a rant, take that ridiculous Bluetooth thing out of your ear. It makes you look like some crazy homeless person who happened upon a dumpster filled with business casual clothing in his size. Sometimes, I like to pretend that these devices are hearing aids. I mouth my words with care-- slowly and with volume. And then I tilt my head and smile at the wearer in a way that says, "See? I'm sensitive to your special needs."

Can you hear me now?

I feel much better getting that off my chest. There is, however, one little favor I'd like you to do to do for me...

The next time you dine with the technology-addicted, kindly remind them that, for at least the duration of the meal, the phone gets locked back in its cell, the "i" retreats to its Pod, and the only blackberries allowed on the table have been baked into a cobbler. Smile when you say it.

If that doesn't work, gently place a ball peen hammer next to you on the table. Every time your tablemate touches his or her device, gently finger your hammer. If they pick up their phone, you pick up your hammer, and so on.

I think that might be one message they're sure not to miss.

3 comments:

Nicky Dunbar said...

Has anyone ever seen Miss Manners and Julianne Moore in the same room? 'Cuz here's what the divine Miss M. has to say on the matter:

"Gentle Reader:
Your etiquette problem is nothing compared with that of the dining partners of the telephoners. had Miss Manners been one of them, she might have been tempted to excuse herself politely from the table in order to ring the person up for conversation.
In your case, it is not the technology that interfered with your meal, but the noise. You should merely have asked the waiter for a quieter table."

(In response to a reader who "had the unpleasant experience of dining next to a table where a portable telephone was in use." Pp. 368 - 369, Miss Manners' Guide for the Turn-Of-The-Millennium.)

God love you Michael Procopio, you irritable slut.

Michael Procopio said...

Sigh. People are now confessing their technology-at-the-dinner-table sins.

I think life would be so much easier if everyone just turned off their gadgets for two hours.

Is that asking too much?

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