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JANUARY 13, 2009 4:11PM

Where the Blackberry is Never in Season

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Dear Miss Manners,

"When dining, does one place one's Blackberry to the right of the plate, or to the left, near the salad fork?"

The answer to this unsent question is, of course, you don't put it anywhere on the table. Ever. I don't care if you're the Pope. Of course, popes don't use Blackberries. They use people who use Blackberries.

Hey there, Mr. Business Guy. Ho there, Little Miss Connectivity. You want to see a hand held device appropriate for restaurant use? Look down and to your right, it's called a table knife.

It looks a lot like the one with which I'll impale your PDA if you use it one more time during your meal.

At some point a decade or so ago, P.D.A. went from meaning an improper "public display of affection" to "personal digital assistant." The employment of either P.D.A. is rude at the table, displaying a certain lack of respect for your dining companions. Would you like to watch your mother give good old dad a hand job during the salad course? No? Then what makes you think they want to see you texting friends or fielding phone calls over dessert?

It's not just Blackberries. Last night, I watched as two men ate dinner together. Not such a strange occurrence, except for the fact that one of the men did not take his iPod headphones out of his ears for the entire duration of the meal.

I saw a woman who was so busy texting someone as she walked through our very busy dining room that she hit the chair of a man who was rising from is seat. There was no, "Excuse me, I'm sorry," from her. She didn't even bother to look up. I was tempted to trip her to see what it might take to make her drop her machine.

It's certainly annoying when I have to repeat a litany of specials to guests who are too busy on their phones to pay attention to me, but I take that as part of my job. After describing something a second time (unless there is a genuine communication problem), I consider myself done.

But I'd be happy to text you about today's whole fish, if you like, you self-involved (expletive).

Like I said, it's an annoying aspect of my job, and I deal with that type of rudeness in my own way. What I find so terrible about all this abuse of take-it-with-you technology is the toll I see it taking on the other diners, and on basic human interaction in general.

For example, on Tuesday evening, I waited upon a young woman, her boyfriend, and her mother. The young woman kept her Blackberry on the table to her right. She'd eye it occasionally as her mother or her French boyfriend spoke. When dessert time rolled around and I came over to the table, the boyfriend said they had made their selections. The girl didn't take her cue to order because she was busy texting someone. He gave her a soft, sing-songy "Heeeey!" and waved his hand in front of her face as one does when one is uncertain of another's consciousness. She pulled away like a sulky toddler. I could see the mother squirm. I felt terrible for the boyfriend, but I wanted to smack the girl. Hard.

What's getting me so angry is that no one is doing a god damned thing about it. As a server, it's not my responsibility to teach people lessons in manners. At the restaurant, I will just give you a wan smile if you misbehave, though some days the urge is more difficult to resist than others.

I am not seeing the recipients of this technological rudeness-- the boyfriends, the business clients, the parents-- call these idiots to task about this bad behavior. Maybe it's because they themselves are too polite to say anything. Whatever the case, their silence is sending a very bad sub-text message.

How long has this complacency been going on? Not forever, fortunately...

True Hollywood story--

In the days when cell phones were called mobile phones and still somewhat of a novelty, John Lovitz, Julianne Moore, Phil Hartman, and two people I did not recognize sat down at a booth in my section of the slick Beverly Hills eatery I worked in while at university. Mr. Hartman entered talking on his phone. When I approached the table, I asked quietly if I should come back when he had finished. Miss Moore nodded. Perhaps, I thought, it was a very important phone call.

After a while, it became quite clear to me that he was just yammering away on his new gadget, rudely ignoring his dining companions, but I stayed away from the table, nevertheless.

After a few more minutes, Miss Moore motioned me over to the table. She quietly asked for a piece of paper and a pen. When she had finished scribbling, she handed the paper back to me with a "thank you" and a sidelong glance at Mr. Hartman. I nodded and excused myself to read the note. On the paper were Mr. Hartman's name, his phone number, and instructions for me to call him.

I marched over to the hostess stand at the front of the restaurant, dialed the number, and held my breath. He answered up my call with an abrupt, "Yeah?"

"Mr. Hartman? This is your waiter, I was just wondering if you'd decided on your order yet..."

Silence greeted me on the other end. Then a loud burst of laughter from both the receiver and the back of the restaurant. When I returned to the booth, Moore beamed, Hartman glowered. Fortunately, Moore picked up the check.

My love for her has never wavered since.

I think what the world needs now is more people like Julianne Moore. I'd suggest putting her at every dinner table in America if I didn't think it would be both exhausting and physically impossible. I'm sure she's busy enough as it is.

My point, of course, is that she got it. And she found a way to correct the bad behavior that was both funny and very effective.

I think that's what we all need to do.

I realize I've done a lot of name-calling this morning. I don't necessarily think the perpetrators are bad people, but their behavior is soul-killing. You want to invest in some great personal connectivity devices? How about turning off your iPhone for two hours and start using some eye contact instead? Face-to-face communication is far more effective than interface-to- interface.

As TennisPeter from Andover, Mass commented at Ask Annie, "Checking your Blackberry 24/7 doesn't make you important. It means you are insecure and lack the confidence to say, 'I'm not working right now.' " I am inclined to agree.

Oh, and while I'm on a rant, take that ridiculous Bluetooth thing out of your ear. It makes you look like some crazy homeless person who happened upon a dumpster filled with business casual clothing in his size. Sometimes, I like to pretend that these devices are hearing aids. I mouth my words with care-- slowly and with volume. And then I tilt my head and smile at the wearer in a way that says, "See? I'm sensitive to your special needs."

Can you hear me now?

I feel much better getting that off my chest. There is, however, one little favor I'd like you to do to do for me...

The next time you dine with the technology-addicted, kindly remind them that, for at least the duration of the meal, the phone gets locked back in its cell, the "i" retreats to its Pod, and the only blackberries allowed on the table have been baked into a cobbler. Smile when you say it.

If that doesn't work, gently place a ball peen hammer next to you on the table. Every time your tablemate touches his or her device, gently finger your hammer. If they pick up their phone, you pick up your hammer, and so on.

I think that might be one message they're sure not to miss.

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Oh my god, that was FANTASTIC! I'm going to go blogpimp this. You just wait and see. Maybe I'll do it from my BlackBerry. :-) For, you know. The irony.
hearts for julianne moore...
I like to think Phil secretly enjoyed being called out. Maybe not, but I miss his humor. Good post.
This is brilliantly written. AND its got the Julianne love...which should be mandatory for every man woman and child in America and beyond.

For she is sublime.

Thank you for this delicious treat.
This makes me glad I rarely eat in a restaurant, and the ones I go to are not for the 'blackberry' set. I wonder how many of these table babbler are doctors? Think of the germs.
awesome. gotta love a woman who can work Julianne Moore and a ball peen hammer into the same post.

sent from Sandra no longer Miller's iPhone
oops I meant 'man'. got confused, driving, ignoring my passenger and reading OS on my iPhone

sent from Sandra no longer Miller's iPhone
Hah! You know how the SF Chronicle uses the little man in the chair to rate movies, standing on his chair and applauding when he really likes it? That's what I'm doing here.
The courtesy of giving someone your full attention is turning into a lost art. When people are everywhere at once, they're nowhere at all...this was a very satisfying rant, and the Julianne Moore story sent it over the top. Thanks to Verbal for the pointer...
Sandra made me LOL in comments.

[posted from my BlackBerry. No, wait, my Tilt Smartphone. No, wait, from my laptop. Oh, who in the hell am I kidding? I'm just sitting here at my desk feeling my ass grow wider, as always]
Thank YOU Verbal.
Thanks fro this post. I agree with the ideas here. I hate cell phones. If you can't eat 'em, don't bring 'em to the table.
I am laughing as I write this. But I do agree about PDA's. No phone, no nothing.
Thanks, everyone, for the super comments.

And props to Miss Moore, who attained legend status early on with me as a result of her actions.

Sandra NLM-- In real life, very few people have confused me with a woman-- my beard is a little too rough, but I will savor the comment about the Miss Moore/ Hammer combo.

Sheldon-- He was a very, very funny man. He was just beng a pain in the ass on that occasion. But then, haven't we all at various points in our lives? God knows I have.

Verbal-- Any pimping is much appreciated.
oooo, one of my pet peeves....
Add to this post the help in stores -- and restaurants who talk on the phone with customers who aren't there instead of the customers who are - makes my blood BOIL. I did that trick you mention in a store when I couldn't get waited on for all the phone calls.

In any case, great writing, a good point well-made.
Verbal was right, this is extraordinary! You managed to put together a rant detailing everything wrong when rude personal behavior and technology collide. Bravo! And of course, great Julianne Moore story.

You might even get a job offer from The Squirrel.
Tom-- thank you very much!

Verbal-- Shiny, indeed.

Sally-- I have always been very fond of squirrels, if you didn't know.

Well, I have to go wait on more people now. Hopefully, I'll wind up with another anecdote or two.
This was funny and true. rated
A post after some of my pet peeves. Great post!
Well played.
I had a friend who was one of those late '90s Internet marketing pioneers. I could never resolve his desire to create a classic online marketing agency with his absolute hatred of cellphones. He refused to get one, he said one day while we were walking down the 16th St. Mall, because "...when you're on one of those things, you're doing everything except what you're supposed to be, which is here."
Speaking of celebrity restaurant pranks, I once had a customer who received a whole cow's tongue delivered to her table and she asked me to find out who sent it to her - the detective work I had to do is a story all on its own, but as it turns out Howie Mandel was inside the restaurant and he saw her dining in the patio area through the window, and wanted to mess with his old colleague. Funny and eeuuwww, all at the same time!
That's a terrific story. I love it. Julianne Moore sounds like a very good person to know.

And argh, the phone thing is hard to resist, I must say. It rings, and you feel obligated to answer it. Or, at least, I do, because people get snotty if you don't. They know you have your phone with you.

I've started turning it off because I know the temptation will be too strong, and it is very, very rude to be on the phone at a restaurant or in the checkout line at the grocery store.

I never text much. That's just too much togetherness for me.
I use my blackberry to keep myself occupied when eating alone. Being deaf, I can't exactly listen in on other people's conversations, which is what I imagine hearing people do all the time. Staring out into space while chewing makes me feel like a cow.

But, I guess I'm the exception and not the rule.
I will also be spreading this good word. unfortunately it will not reach anyone who's listening. those who need to read this are too busy texting, im-ing, beeping, updating &/or calling someone else. Their loss.
Rated, felt, and so much more.

And now?

Every time I am out at dinner with co-workers, I will carry a hammer.
Kudos... great post! Very well written and very entertaining. Thanks for sharing, and thank the Universe for Julianne Moore!
Even tho' he was being a prick at your restaurant, I miss Phil Hartman. Anyone who is a friend to both Pee Wee Herman and Reverend Billy, can't be all bad.

Oh, did you ever hit the nail on the head there, Michael. The only that burns my ass more than fire about yay high is the technology addicted. I had a job about twelve years ago where I had to wear a pager - I was on call 24/7. When I informed my boss I was going on vacation for two weeks, he said, "So, we can page you, right?" Uh, no. I'm on VAY-KAY-SHUN. He then asks me for a number where I can be reached. I tell him, the island I'll be on has no phones. No phones, no internet connectivity, no post office. I CAN NOT BE REACHED. Of course, I was going to visit my brother in Connecticut where, I'm sure, they in fact had all of the above. But jeez, what the hell is vacation for? The boss had to deal with it, there were no major problems (I trained my people well), and everyone was happy when I returned.
Restaurants should have jamming devices in them. No one is so damned important that they can't be incommunicado for an hour or two. Hell, let's put them in theaters and auditoriums as well.

Thumbed. Thanks to Verbal Remedy for steering me here. Damn good writing, guy.
They don't call 'em CrackBerries for nothing!
Holy Cow. "the "i" retreats to its Pod". You are brilliant, this is brilliant, and I will never ever allow my daughters to text at ANY table again. Thanks
I second that - this is BRILLIANT!! Fabulous writing, fabulous story and absolute truth! Great post.
just so you know, I rated your post from my iPhone. Is that a problem? I also want you to know, I love your lederhosen.
Wow. I didn't expect so many great comments. Thanks! I'm rather blown away by them. Really, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Colonel-- I, too, have a good friend in marketing who only got a phone two years ago. I think he did it just to make everyone else happy, though he rarely turns it on. I say good for him.

Jess D. Facts-- Oh, the lederhosen. My mother dressed me up in them for my second grade "Christmas from Around the World" pageant. I was supposed to be representing Italy. When my sister commented that lederhosen weren't exactly Italian, my mother shot back, "Well, he's from NORTHERN Italy then. Besides, it's too late to find another damned costume."

I spent the rest of my elementary school years being called Pinocchio. Thanks, mom!
Those blue-tooth things?! They remind me of the Borg. 'Nuff said.
Oh, so many people to forward this to.
Thank you!
Absolutely spot on with more than enough dollops of delicious cream (unsweetened, please). There's an idea - offering fresh cream to people that insist on having blackberries at the table. It could become a whole new restaurant policy.
You need to tackle table manners next. WHERE do people learn how to hold knives and forks in this country - in arthritis camp? Rated for panache (and my being able to use that word in a comment!) Great stuff.