I just got back from a late night dinner at a cafe I sometimes visit (Kramer Books on Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.), where I was trying to have a post-midnight meal and read after a very long day of promoting free trade. I was seated in an area where you get stuck right next to other tables and it’s hard not to overhear what the other diners are saying, as they are right next to you. The first couple at the table next to mine was easy to ignore. They chattered away without saying anything. (I do recall “I just love mushrooms,” which may have been about the most memorable thing they said.) The next couple, however, was the usual young-DC-powerbroker-wannabe couple. But in this case, the lady (well, actually, not “the lady”) managed to make roughly every fifth word a vulgarity, sometimes a very colorful and graphically descriptive vulgarity, spoken loudly and for public effect. It did rather disrupt my ability to read and understand my book on economic history. (I don’t mind other people speaking — it’s a restaurant, not a library, but this was not mere private conversation.)
I paid the bill, gathered my things, and pondered whether to say anything. I decided to say something. I addressed her and told her that she had the most vulgar and filthy mouth I had been exposed to in probably at least a year and that she should be ashamed that she imposed that on other people. Her boyfriend or date or whatever was mortified and just stared at his plate. She said she had not asked to be seated there, and I responded that she should have been seated outside, beside the trash bins, and that she was just another no-one-other-than-me-matters-kind-of-selfish-person that Washington breeds in abundance. I then left, as her boyfriend continued to stare at his plate.
I’m not sure whether I should have simply left without a comment (it was not easy to ignore her chatter, despite my efforts), or done what I did. But I hope, at least, that she will think twice before imposing that kind of language on others in an otherwise civilized establishment. (I gave a tongue-lashing some years back to a young man who was detailling, in very loud speech at a cafe, every detail of last night’s sexual encounter; I told him that I don’t go to cafes to be involunarily exposed to descriptions of the orgasms of other people. If he wanted to spend time in a locker room, he should do so and tell his stories there, not force them on people who are reading or talking and trying to enjoy their drinks or food.)
I wonder sometimes whether my behavior means I’m just getting older, or whether I am providing a public benefit for others who would prefer not to be bombarded with such vulgarity and coarseness.