DEAR MISS MANNERS: Three or four afternoons a week, I drop into a popular local coffee shop for an hour to have a cup of their great coffee, to relax and to read my business journals. I almost always have a good experience.
But a couple of times a month, someone sits down near me to chat with a friend. The conversation is loud and boastful, loud enough for most of the customers in the shop to hear plainly. It lasts not a minute or two, but drags on and on.
It’s impossible for me to focus on my reading – no way I can filter him or her out. So I often just pack up and leave, moaning to myself that my sojourn has been ruined by this self-absorbed showoff.
Is there anything else I can do other than just leave? I’m afraid that there is not, though perhaps you know of a way I can address this situation or this person and rescue my (and others’) relaxation or conversation time.
GENTLE READER: Well, that is the annoying thing about public accommodations: They accommodate the public. But even a private club would have a hard time enforcing a No Bragging rule.
Rebuking other customers for chatting in a cafe is a ridiculous notion, and considering your interest in the content of their talk, Miss Manners does not trust you to ask them politely to speak more softly.
But you asked for alternative ways of handling this:
• As you say that “most,” not all, of the customers could hear such a conversation, you could move to an area it does not reach.
• You could learn to make good coffee at home, where you can presumably set the noise level.
• You could ask the management of the coffee shop if they would consider establishing a quiet zone.
• You could wear earplugs, or headphones disguised as earplugs.
• You could try to find a library that serves good coffee.
Whichever you manage, Miss Manners hopes that you will learn the limits of correcting other people’s forms of relaxation.