Miss Manners: Cellphone discourtesy defeats host’s careful planning

August 29, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Alas, once again I have been the victim of the cellphone.

After years and years of not seeing a couple, I was pleased to have them to dinner recently. I spent a day or two getting the meal prepared so that I would not interrupt the flow of conversation as I served the four different courses.

When I issued the definitive invitation, I asked them if they would kindly place their cellphones in the “off” position while they were in my house. I am glad I did not ask them to refrain from expectorating on the floor. They simply ignored me.

Early in the evening, their son called them, and without rising from the table, they sat there and chatted with him, passing the phone back and forth, and telling him that I sent my regards (which I did not). Then the husband proceeded to slip the cellphone out of his pocket at least 10 times during the remainder of the meal to read something — I know not what, since we were not privy to the communications he was sent.

I did not say anything to them, since a good host does want his guests to feel at ease. I courteously gave them a couple of things they had enjoyed eating to take home.

Now what do I do? I am still trying to rid myself of the rancor of this experience.

First of all, I realize that these two people have very little consideration for me and my feelings, and of course, even less for the other guest at the table with them. Second, I realize that I really am pretty boring and that my conversation at the table is not enough to keep these two acquaintances’ attention. Third, I really should not have invited them to dinner, and fourth, I will not invite them again, nor accept their invitations, since they really do not think a whole lot of me.

But what about other people? Must I always specify when I invite people not to bring their cellphones and not to use them, and then when they pull them out, ask them to step outside to use them?

Someone who interrupts conversation to speak with someone on a cellphone, or spends the evening checking messages, really irritates me. Most people would not try to smoke or clean a pipe at the table in a private home if asked not to do so. Am I being too subtle?

GENTLE READER: You are not a victim of the cellphone. You are the victim of rude people, whom you have sensibly ejected from your life. And you are gloomily assuming that this form of rudeness is so pervasive that it is likely to be practiced by others whom you initially think well enough of to invite to dinner.

Miss Manners hopes not. In any case, it is not flattering to guests to announce etiquette rules to them in advance, as if they would not otherwise know how to behave. And collecting their telephones from them is not exactly gracious.

She suggests waiting for a violation, at which point you can rise and get the violator’s attention to say, “Please take that in the other room. We wouldn’t want to annoy you by holding conversation while you are busy.”

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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