DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am well aware of the rules of not interfering in conversations overheard in restaurants, and that there is an assumed “bubble” of privacy for those engaged in private conversation.
However, I found myself in an awkward position while I ate in a booth that backed up to another booth. Four people were speaking in foul, hateful language about Jews and African-Americans, with a few anti-Muslim remarks thrown in for good measure. Aside from being shocked that people would feel free to speak like that in a public place, albeit at their own table, I couldn’t believe that they even thought that what they were saying was remotely accurate. It was like listening to Nazi propaganda come to life. I cannot overstate the hate exuding from their mouths.
They were not being loud, belligerent or bellicose, and were polite to their server, a person of color. I said nothing.
Was that the right thing to do? I really wanted to stand up, go to their table and tell them I could hear them spewing their hate in foul language, and that they may want to rethink their choice of words in a location where it was easy to overhear and where the objects of their hate may be present. I am Jewish. Is being silent in this type of situation the same as being complicit?
GENTLE READER: While normally Miss Manners would find relief in the fact that these awful people were at least outwardly polite, it does complicate the infraction.
Unfortunately, we live in volatile times, and Miss Manners finds herself further cautioning you against admonishing these people in public for fear of retaliation, or of inciting an angry invocation of various amendments. If you feel that it is safe, you might approach them and say, “I am sure that you are not aware that others can hear you” and leave it at that -- and then consult the restaurant management if the situation escalates.