How to ask Debbie Downer at the next table to please pipe down


Sure, she's at a different table -- but you can still hear her!
  • Sure, she's at a different table -- but you can still hear her!

Listen, all I wanted was a nice quiet dinner. Is that too much to ask?

A friend and I stopped at a neighborhood bar and grill last night -- it wasn't my neighborhood but close enough -- and settled into a comfortable booth, opened the menu, and was suddenly assaulted by an unexpected and grotesque monologue from the peppy-looking suburban housewife and mother in the next booth. It was like one of the old Saturday Night Live sketches featuring Rachel Dratch as "Debbie Downer." But in this case, horribly real!

The woman looked sweet enough. In fact, she positively radiated happiness as she related a tale of woe.

"I'm telling you, the doctor told Cousin Agnes that she had a tumor in her stomach the size of a football!" the woman announced to her dining companions -- including two small children -- at a volume that wasn't quite suitable as an "indoor voice."

Now, admittedly, there are times when sneakily eavesdropping on a conversation at another table in a dining room can be fun, even sexy. This was not one of those times.

"And Aunt Bertha was absolutely covered with boils and malignant growths," the woman blabbed on, oblivious to everything but her own importance as a gossipy medical reporter. "There was really nothing the doctors could do ..."

I suddenly wished that I could have a remote control, like the kind used for television sets, to reduce the volume of this woman's voice to nearly mute. I can't help but wonder if she was a mind reader, too, because that very thought had no more flashed in my mind when her voice got louder.

"Do you know just how foul that gangrene-infected tissue smells? Well it does.... They've ruled out amputation."

I pondered my fate: Was I going to be able to actually eat a meal with this stomach-churning cacaphony as background noise? Would it be inappropriate to ask the woman, in a sympathetic manner, to change the subject? Or should I just get out of the booth, walk over to her table and just tell her to shut the fuck up?

What would Miss Manners do?

And suddenly, an epiphany: I would pick up the cell phone and call local etiquette expert Melissa Stevens to ask what she would do.

"You have two options in this scenario," Stevens says. "You can start talking louder yourself and drown her conversation out, or you can talk to your server, discreetly, and ask the server to request the lady at the next table to lower her volume. If neither of those options work, I say ask for another table or go to a different restaurant."

And if you were in a similar situation, Fat City reader, what would you do?

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