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HumankindNESS-Table Talk

By Jennifer Richardson
Last weekend we made our very first sojourn to a hotel since the onset of the pandemic. We were excited and a bit apprehensive. With our masks and our bags packed we hit the open road for a much-needed overnight of rest and recuperation.

We chose our hotel destination based partly on previous positive experiences, and partly on the fact that this hotel chain is famous for providing a hot breakfast, and an evening meal that includes hot food as well. All for no extra charge. How could we pass that up?

We planned our arrival for just about the time that dinner would be available in the lobby, and we chatted about what they might serve for our bargain meals. We decided to eat early so that we could avoid the crowds.

Once we had arrived and opened the front door, we understood that everyone else had the same idea. The food service area was packed with hopeful diners. The average age of the early-dinner crowd was somewhere north of sixty-five, and we were pointing that out to each other when we laughingly realized that this is a club we joined long ago.  These were our people, the people who know that arriving early simply saves a lot of hassle.

We made a quick trip to our room to drop the bags and let the food line die down, but soon we were back in the lobby taking a look at all-you-could-eat the chicken strips, alfredo noodles, salad, soup, and appetizers. We joined the food line, filled our paper plates, and we were soon settled in.

The room was large but crowded and we found ourselves seated next to a couple who appeared to be in their seventies.  Their table was only a couple of feet from ours so overhearing their conversation was unavoidable.

The first thing we heard was the wife complaining bitterly to the husband that the table he chose was not where she wanted to sit. The husband grumbled something about not having much choice since most of the tables were full. The conversation about the location of the table was soon forgotten, as they launched into a full-on fight about which filled plate belonged to which person. She believed he had switched the plates while she went to get a beverage, and he believed she was crazy because the plate with the most food was clearly his.

The man settled the argument by simply picking up his plastic utensils and eating the food on the plate in front of him. The anger at the table reduced to a low simmer as they ate their food, but the peace was short-lived. The woman decided she wanted some potato soup and she walked to the portion of the food bar where the soup was displayed. It was only seconds before she realized the soup bowl was empty, and only seconds after that realization set in, she was protesting loudly to anyone in the vicinity that the hotel was out of soup.

They are out of soup, she said to every patron in line. The soup was just here, but now it is out. I am waiting for soup, are you wanting for soup? They are out of soup, she yelled across the lobby to her husband back at the table.What, he says back to her, tell someone in the back that they need more soup. 

The soup pot was refilled within about five minutes, and each one of those minutes she loudly let the food service staff know that they should have planned for more soup. We were all relieved when she returned to the table with her bowl of soup.

She took one bite of the soup, and in a voice loud enough to be heard back in the kitchen, she declared it the worst potato soup she had ever eaten.

The couple’s unpleasant complaints continued through the lackluster chicken, the tasteless vegetables, the limited choices for beverages, and the irritation with being required to wear a mask while in the food line. It was genuinely exhausting.

Once our dinner companions had departed, we sat at our table sipping on our ice waters and chatted about the shock of seeing and hearing such discourtesy. We talked about the unwritten rulebook of public manners that adults generally acknowledge, and how unnerving it is when people don’t abide by those rules.

What would these rules look like if they were written, we wondered. Perhaps a few of them would say, we should always be respectful to those who are providing a service. Gratitude is the only response when a meal is prepared for us. Minor inconveniences, such as waiting in line for five minutes, are survivable conditions and do not merit complaints. Personal tastes are secondary to how we make people feel. Please and thank you are required language when others have worked to provide for us. Every feeling we have does not need to be shared, and it is important to be aware of how our behavior impacts those around us.

My husband said perhaps these unwritten rules should be talked about more often. Maybe they should be written occasionally, and shared. I agreed.

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