Table manners

We witnessed a curious scene at a cafe the other day. It’s a popular place, so the tables are squeezed in tight. The man next to us (and I mean right next to us – stretch out an elbow and I’d have jogged his cappuccino) was noshing away, while opposite him was an empty chair and a full plate – of food going cold. Our own meals arrived and we were distracted, until the man’s companion showed up. She was a bit younger than him, but they did seem like a couple. I wasn’t sure at first, because he was lambasting her just like an angry father. Where had she been? Why hadn’t she told him what she was doing? Here he’d been sitting, alone and worried (in fact he’d just been shovelling in his food, as far as I could see …). He’d even rung her and she hadn’t picked up! The final, ghastly crime in this telephone-dependent age.

By this time, I, and probably half the cafe, was firmly on the side of the woman. Whatever she’d been doing was bound to have been preferable to this awful telling off. She didn’t defend herself much, just looked uncomfortable. Maybe she didn’t want us all to know her business – or maybe she was just used to this sort of angry tirade. Her phone rang, and she seemed relieved to get involved in a less heated and aggressive conversation. As soon as she’d finished talking, he was on her again. ‘Who was that?’

I felt like leaning over and telling him to leave her alone. She just shuffled miserably and ate her cold food.

It made me remember a report I’d read saying that women in Hollywood only get 27 per cent of the lines. This woman didn’t have anything like that large a share of the conversation, on the admittedly probably entirely unrepresentative showing of this one fraught lunch.

I have no idea what was really going on between the couple. Maybe they are usually blissfully happy? Probably worth a rethink, though, if you can’t get a word in edgeways and it’s not even a film.

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