DEAR MISS MANNERS: A friend and I attended a prerecorded broadcast of a live opera performance, and during the applause segment, we began quietly discussing aspects of the performance. At the time, there were no titles being shown on the movie screen, just the bows by the cast from the audience perspective.
Shortly after our conversation began, an audience member in front of us turned around and inquired if we realized we were the only people in the theater who were talking. When I asked if our conversation was distracting her from listening to what was merely the sound of applause, she responded that it was.
Were we honestly being rude to discuss the performance during the applause (a camera shot of the audience in the Royal Opera House in London where the performance was recorded showed people standing while applauding and engaging in verbal conversations with each other), or was the individual in front of us simply being overly critical?
GENTLE READER: As admirers of a 400-year-old art form, opera lovers (among whose number Miss Manners counts herself) are not always vociferous advocates for novelty or change. They are also a passionate bunch. While they have forgotten that pre-19th-century audiences countenanced talk during the singing, the relatively recent advent of theater broadcasts into suburban movie theaters has left many disoriented.
This is the only explanation Miss Manners can give for a constituency whom she would otherwise expect to insist that opera house manners be maintained in spite of the change of venue. In either location, once the performance ends and the applause begins, you are free to talk, whether about the details of the performance or where you parked the car.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it okay to ask someone how many carats are in her diamond ring?
GENTLE READER: If you are the owner’s insurer or pawn broker, certainly.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: As part of my job, I am sometimes required to attend lunches and/or awards events. If I am seated at a round table with my back to the speaker, is it rude to turn my chair around to see/hear better, or should I continue to face (and converse with) the other guests at my table?
I am instructed to network, listen to speeches, note key names, describe my own organization’s work if asked, and broaden my understanding of how the featured guests fit into the landscape of my field.
GENTLE READER: You are concerned because turning one’s back on a dinner partner is rude. But so is conversing during a speech, both to the speaker and to any other people who happen to be listening to the speech.
That both you and your dinner partner are listening to a speech not just excuses, but requires, your attention. Rather than move the furniture, however, you might simply turn your neck and cock your head to show that you are listening to the speaker. No one will worry about your actual sight lines if you don’t, and it will save you the trouble of turning the chair back around for dessert.