Shepa Learning Company Blog

A New Item Of Cutlery – Conversation Etiquette

January 15th, 2014 by
Conversation Etiquette

Conversation Etiquette

Recently we were at a local sushi restaurant, enjoying a cold rice and raw fish meal (doesn’t sound as good when you say it that way, but that’s another story…) We were sitting where we could see people as they entered the restaurant, the tall ones dragging their heads across the noren (traditional fabric divider) and all of them, tall or short, entering the room with their phones in their hand. And, it was a particular way that they did this: hand was extended somewhat, palm up, phone gently cradled.

We watched as the waitress brought each group to their table. Everyone did the same thing as they sat down. They placed their phone on the table, on the right hand side (even the lefties) next to the cutlery, in this case it was chopsticks resting on a hashioki (chopstick rest).

Digital Umbilical Cord

All twelve tables in this little restaurant were occupied and, with the exception of one table, everyone had placed their phone on the table. A dad was there with his teenage daughters and their two friends. Everyone had their phones out on the table on display. The father had his hand resting near his phone, and frequently he would pick up his iPhone and see if anything interesting was happening in the rest of his life.  He wasn’t engaged with the girls, and perhaps that’s really too much to ask. His role may have been The Wallet.  At another table, people were looking at their phones sporadically, no one wanting to detach completely from their digital umbilical cord.

Showdown at the iPhone Corral

At another table the woman had her phone up in front of her face, almost as a barricade against the poor sap sitting across from her.  She was frowning as she was playing Soduko or Candy Crush or whatever.  There was a group of big buff dudes who all had their phones resting on the table. Modern-day gunslingers.

Disconnected but Connected

And, what about the two people who didn’t have phones on their table? They did seem more engaged in their conversation than the rest of the diners.  They leaned into the table, towards one and other, they talked in a very animated and engaged manner. When one got up to go to the washroom, the other just sat there, smiling in recollection of something said.

Why does any of this matter? So what if people want to put their phones on the table during a meal? The problem is that the very gesture of putting your phone on the table says this, “I’m leaving my phone on the table in case someone more important than you wants to talk to me.” The behaviour also says, if the conversation gets boring, we can always get on our phones and find out what our other friends are doing.  We can talk about that or we can look at something funny that’s trending or share a YouTube video.

Way Easier than Conversing

Conversation takes work and bringing ‘props’ to the table is kind of cheating. Conversation is not always a breezy free-flowing back and forth, sometimes you’ve got to dig a little deeper, come up with something interesting to say, create some energy among the people at the table.  It does require focus and interest in the other person—the one sitting in front of you or beside you.


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