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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Computer Workers in Coffee Shops Are Here to Stay

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I went to a bookstore/coffee place and looked forward to a relaxing moment. Within seconds, we realized we were not sitting in the right area.

A woman was hooked up to her computer with a headset and was speaking above a normal level to explain her publishing company's products and ask for feedback. We gently looked her way, but she was in full work mode.

We tried moving, and only on our third move were we able to get away from really distracting noise. There also has been an increase of workers on computers in coffee shops, where they take up seats for long periods of time.

In your gentle way of restoring civility to our culture, could you please comment on this?

GENTLE READER: Yes, but you may not like it. If Miss Manners banned people who worked on their computers or talked on their phones in public places, she would do little else. And she would likely shut down businesses everywhere.

Is it the volume of the call or its content to which you object? For either, you could say, "I am so sorry, but we do not want to disturb your phone call with our chatter. Perhaps a quiet corner would be more conducive to your getting things done."

If that does not work -- and if moving and throwing glances are also not effective -- then you may ask the establishment to create and enforce rules (perhaps written and posted) that request a limit to the time spent there.

But know that it would be exceedingly difficult -- and set a frightening precedent -- to try to determine which calls are for work and which personal. Especially since most people seem to have trouble making that distinction themselves.

Read more in: Etiquette & Ethics | Miscellaneous