Q. My wife and I were having lunch in our local bistro. A boy of about two was wandering around the restaurant and after a while began to scream loudly, with no remonstration by his parents. At this point my wife asked them if they could make the child desist. This brought a diatribe of abuse from the Aussie hipster father. The mother’s response (she was a Mitteleuropean) was that he was only small. Management was reluctant to intervene so what should we have done?
— C.H.-T., by email
A. The same people who fly off the handle in response to someone trying to ‘boss them about’ will happily obey the same orders if they come in the form of a general announcement. You might have gone outside and recorded a voice memo on your mobile to the effect of ‘For the enjoyment of other diners, please would parents ensure that small children are kept under control’. Had this been played, with the collusion of a waiter, over the sound system, while you and your wife chatted blandly and pretended not to notice, you would have seen a different result.
Q. In my dotage, I am deriving much pleasure from taking out friends one by one for lunch and conversation at good restaurants. If one of my younger companions takes out a ‘smart’ telephone, I make it clear that it must be turned off and put out of sight. My impression is that this comes as a pleasant surprise to those who have not previously encountered such a rule, and my seniority ensures compliance. But when I am with a contemporary, I feel unable to act in this way. The occasion is therefore ruined by references to the beastly machine (to verify facts etc), as if a third person, unknown and uninvited, is sitting at the table. How can I stop such bad manners from those of my own age, without losing ancient pals?
— F.B., London E3
A. Times are changing and even civilised members of your own age group may find themselves sucked into the ‘fountain of all knowledge’. It’s partly to do with mental laziness. Why not pre-empt the behaviour by asking solicitously at the outset of the lunch if your old friend feels his memory is as good as it always was or if he constantly needs to check facts on his mobile. Hint that your own brain seems to be functioning as well as ever. By introducing an element of competitiveness, your friends may rise to the challenge of enjoying an olde-worlde lunch.
Q. How can I tactfully explain to my heroic son-in-law, who shops and cooks for all six of us, that eggs and tomatoes do not belong in the fridge?
— E.R., Scotby, Carlisle
A. A third party, in the form of a visiting friend who heads into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, should be briefed to deliver this message so that you don’t seem to be critical.