It seems crazy to need to write this, but I will: It's not polite to use a BlackBerry or iPhone at the table. Ever. It's bad manners, because you are neglecting your dining partners. (I'd rather see people talk with their mouths full. At least then they're engaged in the conversation.)
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The corollary to that, however, is that it's also impolite for the offended mealtime companions to give the BlackBerry addict a stern lecture. That just doubles the bad behavior.
That's what I learned from Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute. I'd experienced two different cases of dinnertime thumbs-in-action, and I was looking for a way to express my annoyance without any breaches of etiquette. In one instance, a friend stopped by our house during a long road trip home. We grilled some steaks and fed him on our deck. At the table: my husband, our two kids, moi, my friend and his iPhone, which he couldn't put down.
In that case, Post advises, I'm allowed to speak up, but I should take the soft approach. "Your goal is not to embarrass him or to cause a problem with your relationship; your goal is to be able to talk to him and have his attention on the table," he says.
Post suggests making the device a topic of conversation. "Ask him, 'Can you show me more about how that thing works? Do you ever run into situations where people get frustrated when you use it at the table?'" Questions like those are supposed to get my point across without the angry words I want to use: "Is that blasted thing more important than the dinner I just cooked for you?"
In the second case, we were on vacation a few weeks ago in the Adirondacks, and every night at dinner, our table was next to BlackBerry Family's table. Mom and Dad pecked away through every meal, no glances up at the beautiful sunset over the lake. The two teens glumly stared at each other, wondering (in my imagination, at least) why their parents wouldn't talk to them. When their food arrived, the mom set her BlackBerry on the table, and after every few bites she'd reach down and check it. Sometimes she'd just reach out and touch it, an involuntary gesture to make sure it was still there.
One morning at the boat dock she was there again, typing away, her daughter trailing behind her. In that situation it was a little dangerous. People were trying to hoist canoes and kayaks into the water, and she was in the way, all her focus on her precious BB.
Could I speak up? Not with a stranger, Post told me, because you're never sure how that person is going to react. She might get really angry, and that would only make vacation a stressful occasion. If I had been feeling nervy, I might have approached her on the dock and asked in a friendly way, "Do you mind my asking what you do for a living? I just noticed that you have to check your BlackBerry a lot, so you must have a really important job." Or I could have tried to chat with the kids and see what they had to say about it. But the safest bet was just to say nothing.
My husband reminded me that we never know what's going on in a family. Maybe a relative is sick, and they're getting updates. Maybe an important deal is closing. Maybe millions of dollars are on the line. In which case, I shot back, why go on vacation at all?
One last bit of advice from Post: If you have a friend who has a BlackBerry addiction, try to meet at restaurants that have no-device policies. That way you can say as you sit down, "This restaurant is serious about their no cell phone rules, so I'm going to turn mine off." The friend, you hope, will follow suit.
Any other advice for cheerfully responding to a friend (or stranger) who is texting during a meeting, play date, or at the table? How do you respond? Log in and offer your best lines.
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