DEAR MISS MANNERS: At a casual restaurant dinner, the teen relative of one of our friends became ill. He arrived well, but unfortunately later took a turn for the worse and discreetly left the room.
When he returned, he sat down across from me and muttered how nothing was left in his stomach. He then said quietly but audibly to another relative that it was unpleasant to vomit in a public toilet, adding other unappetizing details, which I need not detail further.
His mother gathered up their things and took him home, but our food was delivered to us around the time he made the comments.
Although I work with numerous medical professionals and am not squeamish, I had to concentrate hard to continue to eat my (otherwise delicious) meal! Others may complain that this or that minor thing “ruined their meal,” but this -- a situation where someone inches away from our dinner food was looking horrible and sharing stomach-churning details -- truly, I think, fits the figurative phrase.
It would not have been helpful or supportive to say “hurry up and go home!” and heartless to say “please don’t sit here,” but that’s what I wished! What could I have said or done that could have mitigated the unpleasantness of what I observed and heard (after all, one cannot un-hear things), without causing more grief or sadness to our friend or her emotionally sensitive son dealing with a challenging medical condition? Since we will be having these dinner meetings monthly, it is likely to occur again.
GENTLE READER: Then you should probably change restaurants.
Grateful as she is for your high estimation of what good manners can achieve, Miss Manners must nevertheless confess that life contains unpleasant moments even for those with impeccable manners.
The teenage relative did not have unimpeachable manners. It would have been far better had he not provided details, even in an undertone. But he did excuse himself for the main event, and leave shortly thereafter.
Taxing him with ruining your evening by looking ill is ungentlemanly. You did not deserve to have your meal ruined, but then neither did the teenage relative. Even in civilized society, unpleasant things that happen to one person can be unavoidably unpleasant for others.