The Grudge

Tonight, I went to one of those social events where you’re bound to run into a million faces you haven’t seen in forever. Some are genuinely a nice surprise, while others you cross the room multiple times to avoid. Awkward encounters are inevitable, as facts and faces are forgotten and small talk ensues for far too long when the appropriate ‘get-out’ sentences elude you.

Normally, I enjoy these mingling affairs, and catching up on what people are doing in their lives. Tonight, a weird encounter almost immediately after I entered the venue put me on edge for the night, and has left me bemused to say the least.

The hall was filled with stalls and tables, women everywhere, familiar faces and otherwise, and I decided to make a quick circle around the room before a more detailed second viewing of the ladies and their various wares. I was in a semi-conversation with someone I hadn’t seen in ages, and was genuinely interested in swapping baby-talk with, our kids bridging any gap that existed as a result of time spent apart. A lady approached me, who seemed entirely unfamiliar. She launched into what sounded so much like a prepared speech, that it took me a few seconds to realise I wasn’t being given sales patter for any of the items on sale this evening.

Evidently, we had worked together at some point, not very closely, but in the same place. And her being far more religious than I am now, (and certainly than I was at the time) I had inadvertently said something which had hurt her feelings. Not only that, but so oblivious to what I was doing, I had apparently repeated the thought many times over the time we worked together. Tonight, she repeated the story like it was so big deal, a funny anecdote to share with an old colleague, but as she quoted me verbatim, I could tell that it was so much more than that to her. Frankly, I didn’t even recognise this woman; I wouldn’t blink twice if I saw her in the street, after all it has been over 4 years since I saw her last. And yet she made a beeline for me the moment she saw me, and offloaded her hurt feelings which she has clearly been holding onto for almost a half decade.

Why didn’t she just say something at the time? I would have apologized, we might have laughed, I certainly wouldn’t have said it again at the very least!

I can appreciate that different people, like different cultures, can take serious offence at various things which I myself wouldn’t even consider. Personally, even after hearing from her tonight, I think what she is upset about is ridiculous, and even after being told, I don’t really understand her point of view. But without being told, I have zero chance of ever understanding it.

Sheer fluke brought us into the same room tonight, and we mix in entirely different circles. If she hadn’t run into me this evening, would she have held this grudge forever? Tonight, I laughed as if it was a semi-joke, out of sheer awkwardness, and said sorry almost too effusively-to keep up the appearance of levity that our conversation was balancing its fragile weight on. Her words “Dont worry about it” seemed flat even to me.

I wish she’d made the effort to explain to me her point of view 4 years ago. We were colleagues then, we saw each other every day, the conversation wouldn’t have been that awkward, and we both might have learned a thing or two about the different kinds of people that embrace our religion and how to live in harmony despite our differing practices. Certainly neither of us would remember it today.

Now its far too late to have that conversation. Even if I knew how to get in touch with her, it would be beyond awkward and ridiculous, and she would have to admit that it bothers her, an impossible thing to ask of a virtual stranger. All I know is, unfortunately for me, a woman I barely recognise is somewhere out there holding a grudge against me, and unfortunately for her, she still holds that grudge.

 

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Social Networking, Face to Face.

Some people thrive in social situations. These people look forward to events where they will see both their nearest and dearest and also meet new faces, potential friends and contacts of all kinds. They enjoy getting dressed up, making small talk, mingling and shmoozing with all kinds of people, finding out about others as well as opening up about themselves.

A lot of people say that they dont enjoy social affairs. Oh-I’m no good at small talk they will sigh, or I never know where to put myself at these things. This type, despite their protestations, normally find the people they already know and stick by them, or choose a wing man for the duration of the engagement to keep them company on the daunting task of meeting new people. Truthfully, they are fine, even while they do not shine at first impressions or superficial chatter, they go home perhaps glad that the evening is over, but no worse off for having attended.

There are those out there however, who have a real phobia of not just crowded events and new people, but even socialising with current friends and family. Just being taken out of their comfort zone, out of their own homes can be a serious mental and physical ordeal. Watching someone with a disorder like this is an eye opener into both psychology and sociology. They may stand frozen to the spot, not knowing who to talk to or where to go. They will perhaps look moody, or act rudely, not speaking to the host or hostess, not answering direct questions, not engaging in conversation, eating hardly anything or in an anti social manner. In contrast, they might be overly interfering and pushy, make a scene, burst into tears, or fall into a noticable sulk. They may even walk out.

The drama begins far earlier than the time listed on the invite, with anxiety starting perhaps months beforehand, and debriefing and rehashing continuing for the same amount of time afterwards. A 2 hour cocktail party can become a 6 month ordeal.

This kind of issue is all the harder to understand because simply talking to another person, especially someone we know already, is something we all do on a daily basis, without even thinking about it. It is so second nature to us all, that it seems almost laughable that just being in a room with more than 3 or 4 others can cause such a strong and negative reaction.

But it happens. I see it. I’m sorry for it. I’m sorry for you, I’m sorry for the host, and I’m sorry for the people who are just trying to make you feel more comfortable. And if I’m honest, I’m sorry for me too.

Unfortunately being sorry for us all doesnt make it go away, or make it much easier to deal with.

Restaurant Etiquette: The “No-no’s”

Kids in restaurants. I witnessed a spirited debate on this topic recently, and as always, would love to get my two cents in. (By the by, do Americans say two pennies in?)

It is a sometimes unfortunate fact of life, that once you have children, you are never alone. They follow you to the bathroom, they share your breakfast, and can generally be found clinging to your legs as you attempt to continue with life as you vaguely remember it. So it makes sense, that unless you are surrendering completely to the whims of the tiny humans, they will sometimes need to be in an eating establishment with you. However, if you are there, chances are that the eatery in question is open. Which means that other people are there also. And therein lies the problem.

Because you know how adorable it is when your LO makes that high pitched squealing noise that he just learned this week, and you’re busy storing the exact words she is gabbling to a stranger at the next table so you can recount the episode to your other half that evening, and you’re definitely super proud of your kid for getting almost a whole spoonful of that macaroni cheese into their mouth and swallowed.. But everyone else? Here’s a secret. They want you to go home.

Unless the restaurant in question is one of those where your seat comes with crayons to draw on the tablecloth, and there is a mini play area in the corner, it is not child friendly enough. Even if it is cheap, or not particularly fancy, that does not equal “Oh, my kids can run free in here.”

Some people are blessed with the kind of children who will sit at a table, or be placated with food for long periods of time. This means that you can often squeeze a quick lunch with a friend into your day. Congratulations. You are in the minority. For those of us who dont, restaurants are simply not an option most of the time. When with our kids, we prefer to meet our friends at the library, or walking around a shopping mall, or at one of our own houses.

I’m going to give all the parents I see in restaurants with their kids the benefit of the doubt, and say that you must all be blessed with those former types of children. (You’re not.) But I know, that even the best behaved of children have off days, or days when they have ants in their pants. As a parent, this should not be a surprise to you. Theyre kids. Why would they want to sit and listen to you gossip and catch up with a friend? Why would they want to people watch from a highchair when there are so many new things to intefere with, only metres away?

In my opinion, as you obviously cannot pick and choose when your kid decides to throw a tantrum, you only have two choices when all hell breaks loose. You can either quickly pay, apologise to your friend and leave the restaurant, or you can excuse yourself with your kid for a few minutes, and take them on a walk outside the door, or for a run around in the mall play area, or whatever is nearby, and then try again in a while. Although it may seem obvious, here are just a few of the things you CANT do. (All of which I have seen so many times in public that it seems to have become the norm.)

  • Let them ‘cry it out.’
    Babies in restaurants are notoriously difficult. You thought they would sleep, you thought the bottle would tire them out, you thought they would fall asleep on the walk there.. Disaster, they are still awake, and don’t want to be lying in a pram while you stuff ravioli in your mouth as fast as you can. People around you are paying for the environment as well as the food. Unfortunately, whether it means your food gets cold or not, you should be rocking the pram keeping your baby quiet, or outside the shop, apologies once again to the friend, soothing them properly. Crying it out techniques are for home, where only your own ears are being assailed.
  • Let them ‘run off some steam’
    How how how can you sit there talking to your lunch date while your toddlers are running in between other peoples tables and chairs? I don’t care if it is a Michelin starred eatery or a Pizza Express, this is not appropriate restauraunt behaviour. If they need to move about, it is your responsibility to be with them at all times, and not ‘watching from across the room’ with them, but actually physically standing holding their hand or looking after them. After all, I’m pretty sure you would be the first to complain if there was an accident.
  • Let them ‘go chat to strangers’
    I’m sure your daughter is gorgeous, and very intelligent for her age. But if I’d come out to talk to a toddler, and hear her sing me twinkle twinkle little star, I would be scouting out the local playground, not ordering steak and chips. Obviously it is cute for a minute or two when a child smiles or waves or repeats something funny, but again, your kid = your responsibility, you should be removing her from my table ASAP. Apart from anything else, weirdo’s and child snatchers have to eat sometime too.
  • Let them come out to dinner
    If it is 9pm at night, of COURSE they are being little terrors. They are exhausted! Time and time again I see children who sometimes arent even old enough to know whats flying, sitting around a crowded and noisy restaurant table with their famillies, late into the evening, when they obviously should be asleep. Special occasion or otherwise, there are always babysitters available, and your child should be in bed right now.

There are many other problems which are certain to arise when taking kids out to eat, and we cant pre-empt them all. Even the most organised mum, who has brought extra snacks, crayons, entertainment, a sleepy kid, an extra bottle, or all of the above, can be caught out. That lack of freedom to just socialise when you want, just comes with the territory of motherhood. When looking across the room at a flustered parent, trying desperately to soothe an angry and bored toddler, I don’t blame her, it’s really hard!

Who I do blame however, is the parent who doesnt realise it is simply time to go. The one who is willfully ignoring her running or shouting progeny, or spouting one-liners such as “Oh, he’s just a kid, what do you expect?”

You’re right. He is just a kid. But contrary to your behaviour, you’re actually an adult.

I’d love to hear opinions on this one! Agree/Disagree? Any other inappropriate restaurant behaviour I’ve missed?