Modern Table Manners

This week’s opinion is going to sting, and one particular group is going to feel stung more than anyone else. If you feel I’ve stepped on your toes, I’m not apologizing. Fix the problem, and I won’t need to exact my writer’s revenge.

I’ve been going out to dinner a lot lately, and have been experiencing some wonderful evenings, but one particular irritation is bad manners at the table. I’m not talking about misusing a multitude of forks or drinking the wrong wine, but my grievance is with the parents of children whose heads are buried in electronic devices while seated next to me.

I thought I was 26 when I was born, and I believed early on that I could hold my own conversationally with people a generation or two ahead. While I’d like to believe my childish words were golden, they weren’t, but I never felt a topic was beyond my grasp.

I’ve been fortunate to enjoy the company of younger people at the dinner table for many years, and I love to hear what’s going on in their lives. I love their opinions and I love discussion. The dinner table is where you learn to interact with other humans. If I agree to eat with you, it’s because I’m willing to get to know you on a deeper level. I expect no less from everyone else in return.

Notice the absence of electronic devices. This table is set for a long evening of food and conversation.
Notice the absence of electronic devices. This table is set for a long evening of food and conversation.

If, as a parent, you decide your children are ready for adult dining, then you had better inform them that dining with me means interaction. I’d better not see a phone, tablet or gaming device within 10 yards of the table unless you want to earn a low opinion and risk public comment.

I really don’t mind being seated next to an eight year-old at dinner, but she’d best be able to tell me about the latest book she’s read or explain her favorite cartoon character. Mother should remind her on the ride over that being social is a critical part of socializing. It helps not to be a finicky eater, but since I was a terrible eater as a child, I’ll overlook this flaw until the child turns 18.

I’m not saying that the shy boy seated near the end of the table will be required to stand and recite Wreck of the Hesperus before dessert, but I do expect the child to say hello to everyone, acknowledge our presence and express what a nice time he’s had. It doesn’t matter if he’s had a nice time or not. We all suffer through meals at some point; learning how to do it with grace is one of the benefits of dining with others. Entering the conversation at some point is to be applauded, but there are no gold stars for remaining mute before shouting down the table “Mom! It’s nine. You said we’d leave at nine!”

I might have fumed for a few days over the recent experience, and after hashing the evening over with friends who would listen I might have let it go, but the very next night in another restaurant, there was a long table of diners. The children in the group were shunted to the end with electronics never to learn the art of human conversation. What is to become of us if we don’t learn how to talk to each other?

Since I’m writing about real incidents and barely masking the words and actions of the guilty, it might happen that the parents will read this post and recognize themselves. If so, this is the perfect opportunity to pull out a piece of your best writing paper and instruct the children in the art of the hand-written letter. Apologies are more difficult to compose than thank-you notes, but no one ever said social interaction was easy. That’s why we “learn” good manners. Bad ones come without thinking.

© 2015 by Patrick Brown

Visit my author page at to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”

4 Replies to “Modern Table Manners”

  1. And the list goes on, Patrick. I am finding this preoccupation with devices not only at the dinner table but also in other social interactions, like where people actually use to look at each other and talk, whether it be sitting within the Quad, during a break at work, on a bench in Golden Gate Park, etc. Sadly, it is not only teens. Rather this deliberate solitude does not discriminate. It encompasses seniors like me (although not so much since we are not so tech savvy), Generation X’es, Millennials, et al. And don’t get me started on home schooling….!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maybe an electronic device won’t be found less than ten feet of the dinner table but I’m afraid the foul language coming out of some of the prettiest girls’s mouths and landing right next to the potage au gelette is inaprehensible.
    Loved this post. String up those weak parents that can’t tell their children how to behave!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a message that needs to be heard loud and clear. Thanks for expressing so well the exact way I feel!

    Liked by 1 person

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