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A simple 'thank you' can end unwanted conversation

By Thelma Domenici
For the Journal
          Dear Thelma: Are there etiquette guidelines for dipping? My husband and I were at lunch with one of our teenage children, and the jokingly philosophical conversation (questioning the ingredients listed on a container of half and half) we were having was interrupted by a woman at an adjoining table who started to explain all the ingredients to us, and even offered to draw us a picture to show us the chemical makeup of one of them.
        When we tried to explain that we really did know all this (my husband and I both have science degrees) and were just joking around, she informed us that she had a Ph.D., and even went on to ask us what we did for a living!
        Needless to say, her condescending behavior put a real damper on what should have been an enjoyable family outing, and we ended up taking a good part of our meal to go just to get out of there sooner.
        Is there any way to handle this sort of unwelcome intrusion other than thanking the dipper and then ignoring her? I should add that we were speaking in normal conversational tones that wouldn't have easily carried to other tables and were not discussing or saying anything inappropriate or offensive, or for that matter something so important that it required immediate correction.
        A: I've never heard of this kind of behavior called dipping, but I know that it does happen. I think a "thank you" to end the exchange would be best. Because you did engage her by explaining that you were aware of what she was explaining, she may have assumed you were open to having a conversation.
        I appreciate your pointing out that the conversation at your own table was not loud or inappropriate. Many times, groups in restaurants are overly enthusiastic in their conversations, speaking at levels that are unnecessary for people sitting face-to-face and distracting to those around them. Those who want to keep their conversations personal should keep them at a personal volume.
        If this happens again and you think the intrusive person is going to continue to interrupt or make you feel uncomfortable, you may consider asking the server to move you to another table rather than taking your meal to go.
        Dear Thelma: I have a friend who always demeans email when anyone tries to use it to invite her for lunch or for any communication. She is the only one who demands a personal call, but with so much going on in our lives, we cannot spend time playing phone tag. It's sometimes easier to just skip over her. Any advice on how to ask her to keep up with the rest of us?
        A: If she is a friend, you should talk to her. Express that time is a factor for all in your group. Tell her that it is hard to reach her by phone and ask if she'll consider accepting email invites. Let her know that you're worried that she may miss out if she continues to reject the use of email as a reliable and perfectly mannerly means of social communication.
        Now, if someone simply doesn't have access to email, every effort should be made to contact that person by another means. A person in such a situation shouldn't find reason to "demean" email as you describe. Those people should make sure friends have their best telephone number and check and return messages promptly. The same courtesy should be used by anyone responding to emailed messages as well.
        Effective communication and good manners never go out of style.
        Have a question about etiquette? You can ask it at www.askthelma.com. Thelma Domenici is CEO of Thelma Domenici & Associates, offering corporate coaching and contemporary social skills development programs to all ages.

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