I was in London a couple of weeks ago and dropped by a curry house near Tavistock Square for a bite to eat in the early evening. The place wasn't empty. There were a few couples in there. One or two people working away from home on their own a little like me, dipping into a paperback, a magazine or using their smartphone in between courses.
There was a table with a couple of guys enjoying a meal after a days work, chatting about their day and what they had planned for the rest of the week.
The place wasn't quiet. Neither was it too noisy. If you wanted to you could listen in on the various conversations going on around the place. At one point, one of the two guys chatting about work got out his phone and let his colleague listen in to a voice-mail he'd received, maybe from a colleague, a boss or a customer. The volume of the phone wasn't any louder than the conversation they'd been having but almost as soon as playback started I sensed guy at a nearby table having dinner with his wife/girlfriend getting agitated. I mean really agitated.
After about twenty seconds of the message he scraped his chair back, leaned dramatically across the room and loudly shouted "Excuse Me!" at the blokes listening to the phone. He was incandescent.
The chap playing the message switched it off and put his phone down. He and his friend awkwardly began to carry on with their meal. The attention of the rest of the diners in the place was directed at the guy who'd loudly and somewhat dramatically complained, who, red in the face, began to tuck back into his curry.
Things got back to normal.
Now from a digital etiquette perspective, I'm pretty sure that playing the message out loud on speaker in a restaurant was out of order in some way (I've just read this article in Fast Company which brought this tale back to mind) but in reality, the overly-dramatic hissy-fit played out by the offended party caused much more of a commotion and some embarrassment for all concerned.
I suppose it's all about context. For me eating my workaday dinner alone in a neighbourhood curry-house, the whole scene played out for me as a little side order alongside my main dish. If I'd been in there with my fiancee about to go down on one knee over a tarka dahl, maybe I'd have felt a little more aggrieved about the disrupted ambience. However, the volume of the message was no louder than the conversation going on across the restaurant, so I just wonder what makes the tinny, digital quality of a recording that much more offensive than a nearby conversation between two people. It certainly generated a hair-trigger response.
I thought it was interesting to watch actually, How would you have felt?
Photo: Skip the Filler