Saturday, February 9, 2008

More on manners

Register columnist Randall Beach shares responses from thoughtful readers who offered their own opinions on questions of common courtesy

TWO WEEKS AGO, after I wrote about three ethically challenging encounters, readers responded with a flurry of e-mail messages and phone calls, generally agreeing that common courtesy is becoming less and less common.
The incidents I recounted were going to the packed Criterion movie theater and being stuck next to a cell phone addict; agreeing to save a table at a crowded Willoughby’s Coffee Shop for a young woman in a Yale sweatshirt who left for 15-20 minutes rather than the promised five minutes; and my wife and her 86-year-old father being rushed by a restaurant’s co-owner to vacate their table on a Sunday morning because people were standing outside waiting to be seated.
The responses were loaded with attitude and insight. Here are excerpts from some of the best.
Bob Buchanan Jr. said he handles cell phone users in theaters or restaurants by referring to personal details mentioned during the conversation. For example, he will say, “I’m sorry your mom is ill, but did you really want to share that with a total stranger?”
As for being hurried in the restaurant where my wife and I are regulars, Buchanan said, “I would absolutely address the co-owner by name and then stay as long as I wanted.”
Buchanan added: “In the mid-1970s, I lived in Manhattan and my dad took my girlfriend and me out to lunch. We had a very pushy waiter who kept trying to clear our plates in order to turn the table.
Finally, my dad told him that if he tried to take his plate again, he would stab him with his fork.”
Buchanan said they were allowed “to finish at our leisure.”
Mary of Cheshire called to say she is 89 and “I appreciate a nice leisurely breakfast. On Sunday mornings people want to relax a little bit. I think the owner was very rude.”
But Bob Cole wrote, “Restaurant owners and wait staff depend on the turning of tables for their livelihood. People lingering excessively when there are customers waiting for seats not only inconvenience those waiting but interfere with the owner and staff making a living.”
Sue Swanson Reynolds said the restaurant co-owner “obviously puts more stock in the dollar than in his regular customers. The next time you and your wife decide where to eat, you are likely to not choose that establishment again. (She’s right). This will affect not only the restaurant’s success, but its wait staff.”
Susan Woodall said of people using cell phones at public performances: “Foggedaboutit! If you can’t survive two-three hours without one, don’t go.”
Bev Francis noted the cell phoner next to me at the theater (who claimed to be a doctor) could have put his phone on vibrate and taken calls in the hallway.
Francis also said the woman at Willoughby’s should know better than to leave her things behind because it can make people nervous in the post-911 world.
Jim McEvoy, an assistant news editor in Washington, told me students in his college library left their things unattended in cubicles for extended periods so they could stake out a space.
“It is probably hard for her to realize that life goes on outside the academic world and the coffee shop is a place of business, not a study hall,” he wrote. “She might understand the inconvenience she’s creating for others, but ultimately she won’t care because she’s studying, and studying is incredibly important to her present and (hopefully bright) future life.”
Then there was the letter sent to the Register by an East Haven gentleman. He sympathized with the cell phone user for “being stared at by a total stranger next to him in a darkened theater, especially when the movie’s title is ‘There Will Be Blood.’ ”
“In my view,” the gentleman wrote, “Randall Beach suffers from ADD.” (That’s attention deficit disorder, folks).
As for the Willoughby’s episode, the gentleman wrote, “Apparently, the caffeine kicked in.” He theorized that after I advised her she shouldn’t leave things unattended for so long, “The woman was likely the second person in recent history to share a story with friends about an odd man wandering the local streets.”
Yep, that’s me, your local columnist, wandering those streets...
Randall Beach can be reached at or 789-5766.

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