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When to Censor Your Dinner Conversation?

A few weeks ago I was eating pizza with a good friend and our conversation turned to politics. He was talking about some of the problems facing this country when a man at a nearby table turned to us and said "If you don't like this country, get the "F" out" Then he said it a second time. I was tempted to say something right back but refrained myself because I didn't want to do anything brash.

I do not agree with a lot of my friend's politics, but if anyone has actually been listening to what he was saying, he was not showing any indication of being unpatriotic. Obviously this man had picked up on what he perceived as being negative and that's all he heard.

I do realize that my friend was being a bit loud at the time (forgetting the topic). I actually was about to mention it to him- the man beat me to the punch!

Generally I do not want to disturb people nearby when eating out by talking too loudly or having overtly inappropriate conversations. However, assuming the volume had been at a reasonable level, should we have to censor our political beliefs when dining out? I think it's wrong and obnoxious to try and convert other diners (especially strangers!) to our personal beliefs (political, religious or anything else), but one of my great pleasures is being able to converse freely about politics or anything else over a good meal. Feeling the need to censor myself would kill my enjoyment.

What is your take on this?

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  1. There is nothing whatsoever improper about having a political conversation over dinner, but in this particular place, it may have been imprudent. Sometimes if we wish to to avoid having our meals unpleasantly or threateningly interrupted, we need to take a look at which way the wind blows, so to speak.

    1. When to censor your dinner conversation? When it is necessary for the comfort of your guest or dining companion. As for surrounding diners your topic of conversation is none of their damn business. The only acceptable thing for your "neighbor" to have said would be a request for your friend to tone down his volume. What he actually said is unacceptable bordering on infuriating.

      1. I am reminded of something taught by my mom, looonnng time ago

        If you want your discussion to stay between 2 ppl , make sure only 2 ppl can hear it
        If someoe can hear your conversation, he/she is already a part of the conversation , whether you want it or not .

        I do not go out for meals very much , due to my dietery restrictions. But lately with the political climate we are in , I am finding it increasingly difficult to have a quiet meal anywhere. And I always find that the loudest and most obnoxious ppl in any restaurant are the ones in whose opinion Americans are racists and bigots , and should learn how to live / eat /dress /talk from europeans .
        Followed by ppl who think their kids have a right to ruin other ppl's meals

        Anyway , the person who gave his opinion to you and your friend was not censoring anyone, he was just joining the conversation !

        1 Reply
        1. re: JiyoHappy

          Your mother gave very good advice!

        2. Wow I was starting to feel bummed about the cold weather here in Penna but not anymore! Chowhound is alive with such interesting new topics to read and comment on! Another great topic, thanks for posting it! When I read the title my thoughts went on a tangent as I thought oh yes, with my friends I do this all the time. I was thinking along the lines of nipping disgusting or really upsetting lines of talk while eating anywhere, even in the privacy of my own home. I will ask my dining companions to change the subject if it is offending others or myself. I like tasting my food. But on the other hand part of going out to a public place is people watching and eavesdropping. Mostly people listen in on my friends and I. I did feel a bit sorry for an older married couple sitting at the next table who seemed to have absolutely nothing to say to each other their entire meal. As I remember my friend and I were talking about the nature of existence and all kinds of stuff and at least we kept them entertained. To answer your question, Nicole, I agree that volume is key. People get carried away with passion and don't realize they have to turn it down a notch. I've had to be reminded. Did anything else happen? Did you keep on talking? My friend John and I went to a thai restaurant recently and although the place was not crowded, the host tried to seat us right next to an older couple who were having a lively happy conversation. I was impressed with John, he just pointed to another table and asked for that seat instead without missing a beat. That way they could talk and so could we. John made it look so easy, but being that assertive comes hard to some of us. Like me. As other posters have stated, the location is key. John and I went to a biker bar out in the sticks for some beer and hot wings and we did not continue discussing his activites with his gay-straight alliance group at his college once we entered the bar. Even John has some common sense. :)

          8 Replies
          1. re: givemecarbs

            Agreed - I'd censor disgusting or really upsetting conversation in public, especially close quarters like a restaurant. The idea that the people around you can't hear you is just a fiction - people are usually polite enough to pretend that they can't hear you, but it's just pretending. IMO, no one should upset the diners around them with conversations about nasty medical procedures/symptoms, death, etc. There's nothing worse than a table next to you of diners who have finished eating so they feel okay talking about some nasty puss filled sore or gross medical procedure when you are trying to eat and enjoy yourself (it's happened to me and really took away my appetite).

            1. re: akq

              What happens in my circle of friends is that we often don't realize that our topic of conversation is disgusting or upsetting to others. Most of us are in public health or medicine, we've all been trained to talk about all kids of icky topics openly and without pause - we basically have no social filters anymore. A lot of times we'll get on a topic while dining out, like a new medical treatment or infectious disease trend, and completely forget that others around us may not be so open in discussing such topics. Eventually someone will mention the social filter, and we'll move on to more appropriate dinner conversation. For the record, I have never had anyone ask/tell us to stop talking about a specific topic, but I have seen some strange looks.

              I have to agree with RealMenJulienne. Your dinner neighbor could have asked your friend to lower his voice, that would have been perfectly acceptable.

              1. re: mpjmph

                I don't like confrontation much, and especially not with some random person (or worse, a random group of people) in a restaurant, so I would have a very hard time asking someone to change the topic of their conversation. I've just seen people get psycho and agreesive too many times. I'd probably just deal with it, ask to me moved to a different table or leave, which is too bad. Perhaps I'd mention it to the server and ask that she/he tell the table that other diners have complained and could you please lower your voice/change the topic, etc. That's kind of putting him/her on the spot, but usually people are less aggressive when the "authority" asks them to change than when they are asked by a fellow patron, in my experience.

            2. re: givemecarbs

              Quote from givemecarbs:

              "Mostly people listen in on my friends and I. I did feel a bit sorry for an older married couple sitting at the next table who seemed to have absolutely nothing to say to each other their entire meal. As I remember my friend and I were talking about the nature of existence and all kinds of stuff and at least we kept them entertained."

              Don't be so certain that they were entertained. Often, people clam up when others around them are too vocal or overbearing. If everyone always listens in on your conversations, I suggest you pipe down. They may not find you as interesting as you think they do. Just a thought.

              1. re: orangecat

                Thank you for your comments orangecat. I think you read a lot into my post but I must say no one in real life has ever called me too vocal or overbearing. The event I described took place about fifteen years ago and I remember it so vividly because it was one of the best conversations of my life. I was talking rather softly because I was in awe of the words coming out of my friends mouth. Such amazing ideas that I am getting chills down my spine just recalling now as I type this. I am fortunate enough to dine often with this friend and I have to admit that once or twice I have censored the conversation with him while we are eating because I have realized that I am not tasting my food and being swept away by his words. Thinking back now I regret having done this because a person gets to eat three times a day or more but such conversations are like a precious gift. I have written about this friend before. I was saying in that post that some wine lovers don't offer a toast with an exceptional wine because the emotion of the toast might interfere with the experience of tasting the wine. On the times where I have stopped him I have just said, this is so awesome but can we continue this when we are done eating? I hated doing it but it is hard to swallow when your breath is being taken away. I have witnessed other such conversations at a diner I love to go to. The diner caters to senior citizens and they can sometimes talk about really depressing things that I try not to listen to. But once I saw an old man holding an old woman's hand. They were sitting at a small booth and the man had come over to speak to her as she picked at her breakfast. The feelings were so intense that I couldn't block them out as he held her hand and talked to her about how hard it was to lose her husband the other night and how tired she must be. Then he just held her hand hard and listened to her. It was so hard not to cry but I knew I was witnessing something incredible as he talked to her quietly about her loss. I had my sunglasses on and the friend I was with had no idea what was going on and I did't say anything either. They were very quiet and low key but it was a powerful moment I was proud to bear witness to without letting on. My breakfast got cold. Sometimes for me conversations come even before food.

              2. re: givemecarbs

                Usually I'll keep the conversation going, and in this case I feel that the "neighbor" way overstepped his boundary. (I cut the conversation short for other reasons dealing with my friend) I actually wish more people would be gutsy enough to ask (NICELY PEOPLE!:} ) someone disturbing their dinner due to volume to tone it down. But while I did post the original question, I generally feel the topic (unless if its pornographic and there's kids around) is noone else's business, as long as the volume of the conversation is at a reasonable level. I do find that people, when bored with their own meals have a tendancy to "listen in" to what other diners say....I've done it myself! :} But if I'm doing that, I cannot fathom being offended by the content of the conversation as I am deliberately listening. On another note, I think that a healthy society is one that is not afraid to speak its mind. Again, as long as no one is going from table to table in a restaurant trying to "convert you" or talking inappropriately loud to force you into the conversation, I do not see how anyone should be offended. (But then again I'm from New York and I'm used to a lot of heated dinner discussions!)

                1. re: NicoleFriedman

                  I agree with what you're saying. The guy should have just told him to lower your friend's volume. In the case of your situation, it definitely sounds like your friend was a bit too loud, which is irritating in its own right, whether it's pornographic or political or whatever. I've definitely witnessed this at a lot of restaurants. Some people are just loud talkers. Some people tend to get carried away by certain topics (which I admit that I have a tendency to do at times -- DH tries to calm me down). Some people talk loudly on purpose to show off how "important" they are. Some people are just totally oblivious. I do think it's appropriate to keep dinner conversation at "appropriate" levels, whether it's a loud or quiet restaurant and irrespective of the topic of conversation.

                  I was once eating at a place a few months ago when a pescatarian friend started loudly talking about how killing animals for fur is wrong, etc. This was at a place where I'm sure quite a few people there would have owned fur coats. She's just a very loud and vocal person in general. A few of us just looked at each other, and we were all thinking the same thing. I was just praying nobody would come up to us and start something like what happened to your friend. Luckily, nobody did.

                2. re: givemecarbs

                  Sorry as I had replied but my post has mysteriously vanished. In the past I would have avoided confrontation but as long as the person seems they can be reasonable, I will definitely say something. This person did not look "reasonable" at all so I did not bother. I didn't want to ruin my evening over this!

                3. I think that there are topics that are certainly inappropriate to discuss over dinner, but i don't think politics is one of them. But i do think that no matter what you are discussing, it should be done in a tone that doesn't disturb other diners. I'm not sure how loudly your friend was talking, but it appears to me that the one person who was without a doubt rude was the guy who felt the need to butt in on your conversation.