Portable telephones and good manners
What would Emily Post, the American author famous for writing on etiquette, make of the use of digital gadgets at the restaurant table?
The question occurred to me when I spotted four diners at a nearby restaurant table simultaneously eating and using their phones. Not a word of conversation passed between them. A fifth companion sat mutely, seemingly in a despondent state.
In response, I imagined how Emily Post would respond to my concerns about such behaviour, despite her death 52 years ago:
Dear Ms Wood,
I find that I have some sympathy with your position. I too struggled to maintain my composure at a recent luncheon engagement when a young woman at a proximate table spent a not-inconsiderable amount of time talking stridently into her portable telephone about a young gentleman of her acquaintance without so much as an ''I beg your pardon''.
I felt inclined to remind her of one of my maxims of social engagement: ''consideration for the rights and feelings of others is not merely a rule for behaviour in public but the very foundation upon which social life is built''.
And, it must be said, these are not victimless crimes. I was so discombobulated by this young lady's risque conversation that I used my fish knife to butter my bread. But surely the greatest victim is society itself.
Perhaps as a start, however, I can offer these rules for decorous behaviour in the contemporary restaurant environment:
- A portable telephone should not be laid on a restaurant table. It is not a piece of flatware. If an emergency call is expected, or the telephone required for some other purpose, the telephone may be turned on to vibrational mode and laid on the lap underneath the napkin.
- If a call must be taken, the receiver of the call should excuse him or herself and adjourn to a quiet area of the restaurant, returning to the table as swiftly as possible.
- Under no circumstances should a portable phone be used to show holiday snapshots or real estate photographs. It can be used briefly to show photographs of infants and then returned to the lap.
- A portable phone or camera can be used to take photographs of the food if: a) the photographer has first asked other diners at the table; b) the photographer has turned off the flash; c) the photographer does not expect other diners at the table to wait to eat their food; and, d) the photographer is aware that, by taking photographs of the food in front of him or her, he or she will be seen by one and by all as a buffoon.
- A portable telephone should not be used to check a football game's scores during a restaurant meal unless all parties have a mutual and deep interest in that football game.
- Under no circumstances should a diner converse on a portable telephone while simultaneously using hand gestures to direct waiting staff.
- Portable computers, telephones and gaming devices should not be used to buy children's silence.
I do hope that with this answer I have assisted you. Indeed, I am not ungrateful that you have exercised my own mind on this subject. I would, of course, be most interested in the opinions of my loyal readers on this matter.
Very sincerely yours,
Sydney Morning Herald