It had been a long day, and all we wanted was a quiet dinner.
My husband Scott, an announcer, had gotten up at 5:30 to drive to an out-of-town job. Once home, he’d spent the afternoon wrangling on the phone with a difficult producer. I’d put in a thirteen-hour day at an animal shelter, where a beautiful kitten in my care succumbed to a virus. It was the Day from Hell. Good food, mutual sympathy, and adult beverages would help us unwind.
Not the ideal dinner companion (from dreamstime.com)
But soon after we got our booth at a neighborhood restaurant, another party was seated across the aisle. Although it was after 8:00, the group included two small boys. The younger was two or three, and he was the problem. Obviously overtired, he broke into periodic bouts of wailing. Our heads pounded. Finally my husband couldn’t take it anymore. He loudly blurted, “SHUT … UP!”
The child’s father glared at us. When his meal was done, he walked over, leaned into our booth, and informed Scott in so many words that he would have punched him if he hadn’t been of such advanced age. (My husband is 66, with white hair and beard.)
So who was rude, us or the young dad? Have standards of politeness changed so much? If, as a child, I had behaved that way in a restaurant, my parents would have warned me to stop or risk a spanking. When our son was small, we’d walk him outside, where he wouldn’t bother the other diners while we calmed him down. But these people didn’t take their kid out or even make much effort to shush him, other than to hand him a toy or two. Is this the new order? Are we just supposed to put up with it—or stay home?
In another restaurant a few weeks earlier, we encountered a large and lubricated party at the other end of the room. They were calling out and laughing loudly. Scott asked the hostess if she’d approach them and ask them to be a little less raucous. She declined, perhaps on the grounds that they were spending a lot more money there than we were. So he got up and—politely—did it himself. The group apologized. But the hostess was furious. She stopped just short of asking us to leave.
Is it impossible to have a quiet dinner in a restaurant these days? Are we out of step? After all, we live in a world where loud cell-phone conversations in store aisles are commonplace. At the shelter, I’ve motioned to people to quiet down because our manager was on the phone in the same room, and received bewildered looks. Nobody uses their “inside voices” anymore.
On the upside, it’s clear that although Scott and I are over sixty, we’re not losing our hearing.
But I’d really like to know. By today’s standards, who was inconsiderate—us or the young family? Have we become curmudgeons? What do you think?