Etiquette Questions, Answered: Tricky Conversations
Q. My husband and I are dear friends with a younger couple. They both have busy careers and text and e-mail incessantly for work. Recently the four of us dined out at a wonderful country inn, and they texted throughout the meal. I care very much about my relationship with them and do not wish to offend them, but this behavior bothered me. How can I nicely ask them to put their smartphones away?
A. Funny you should ask. Michael and I are total throwbacks, hanging tight to the belief that we should pay attention to each other when we’re together, as opposed to spending virtual time with other people.
But even folks who have never talked on a phone with a cord agree that you shouldn’t text at dinner. Since you and your friends have such a great relationship, you should be able to address this issue. Might there be a lighthearted way to do it—one that involves poking fun at your generational divide? For instance: “I hate to sound like an old fogey, and I know that you guys often need to stay connected with your busy jobs, but we’re greedy about our time with you and we would love to have your undivided attention during dinner.” Or: “I’m sorry to be so old-fashioned, but if it’s such an urgent matter that it can’t wait until after dinner, I can’t help wondering if you should take your phone outside, where you can concentrate.”
Whatever you say, end by acknowledging how considerate they usually are: “You’re such thoughtful friends. I knew that you would want to know how we felt.” Plus, asking them to return to the here and now of your delightful company will give them permission to put work aside for the evening, and that might be a real—if low-tech—blessing in disguise.
— Catherine Newman