I Eavesdropped On This Disgusting Conversation And I'm Still Mad I Didn't Cause A Scene

I am seriously regretting that I didn't at least tell these folks to lower their voices. Their sizeist, racist, classist, awful people voices.
Publish date:
April 10, 2013
sexism, racism, jerks, sizeism, isms, making a scene

Are you familiar with that old adage about not eavesdropping because you probably won't like what you hear? And sometimes, even in restaurants, that is a true statement.

One of my favorite things to do when I go out to eat is people watch. By which I mean I check out the other people in the restaurant and what they are talking about (sometimes people talk loud in quiet restaurants). Sorry not sorry, but yes, I am listening to your first date totally awkward conversation and I am rooting for you.

Recently, at a local sushi join, there were two women on a date at the table behind us. One of them was telling the other how OBESE she was going to be if she ate another bite. They were both very slender women, so the statement startled me. But that was whatever and I hoped the rest of their date went well.

The other night though, Ed and I went to what is literally my second favorite restaurant in the entire world (or at least the parts of the world that I have been to). I've been going to Thai House since 1997 and it is most like the Thai food I ate in Thailand -- also the people who run it are so awesome. (Totally go eat there.)

It's a fairly quiet restaurant. There's not always music but there's a soft buzz of conversation. It's the kind of place that gets called "intimate" in restaurant reviews because it's actually small.

One table over, separated from us by a railing and some plants, was a couple on a date. They seemed very much in that getting-to-know-you phase where they have to explain a lot about themselves. And when I got there, the woman was telling a story about how there was a kid who got bitten by a shark. And once she saw a picture of the kid, she didn't feel any sympathy. Because the kid was a butterball turkey on legs and that had to be better than fish to the shark's mind.

That's totally the kind of joke I would make if I were bitten by a shark. Because I have a morbid sense of humor in addition to being morbidly obese.

But she went on to emphasize that maybe it made her a bad person but she just figured that was what happened when people let themselves get so... She trailed off meaningfully.

This woman seemed almost uncomfortable when she was relating this, like she knew it was kind of grotesque. But her dinner companion laughed and seemed to think it was hilarious.

I shifted my attention back to Ed -- I mean, hey. I KNOW that people are douchebags about fat people, especially fat kids. But the conversation continued -- and the offensiveness escalated. The couple covered a lot of ground, including how entertaining and musical the names were at a local majority-black high school.

In hindsight, that was the point at which I should have told them to at the very least keep their voices down if they were going to say complete and utter bullshit like that.

They went on. The girl said she'd never visit the Holy Land because she's just so offensive, she'd totally offend the Amish people there. And the guy said, yeah, he'd love to visit and see Anne Frank's house. It was really amazing that she did all of that stuff while deaf, wasn't it? And did they ever find her plane?

(He covered Anne Frank -- though her house isn't in the Holy Land, dude -- as well as Helen Keller and Amelia Earhart in one go!)

They never stuck with one topic and I figured they'd end up on something innocuous at some point. Ed was telling me not to go over there and Twitter was providing some much-needed comic relief. Even so, at the end of our meal Ed had to drag me out.

And I spent a good chunk of the night thinking about why I was just so ANGRY.

Well, I mean, obviously I was angry because they were saying mega-douchey things in the name of "being funny." (I have a hard time with the idea of comedy getting an automatic pass -- because I don't think it does.) But also I was angry because I felt like I would somehow be doing something wrong if I went over and made a scene. And I was angry because I DIDN'T go over and tell them off. (I was also a little angry that Ed refused to take me back to the restaurant so I could see if they were still there.) (Yes, that was ridiculous.)

It took me a little while to figure out that I hesitated not just because I was technically eavesdropping, which is wrong, but because they were having what amounted to a private conversation.

I actually don't feel a lot of compunction about speaking to someone who is being abusive to another person, regardless of the issue. We're in public and you're abusing someone in public. This is like Louise's situation the other day.

But it feels like there is a social contract when we're out in public, especially at restaurants -- you let me and mine talk about our new hole punch for our organizers and you can talk about your whatever it is and we'll both give each other some privacy. It's all an illusion, of course. But that willing suspension of "public" is often part of what defines living in a city.

Their conversation was for them. They were saying all of these outrageous things, but they were saying them to illustrate the people they are. (At least they did that.) So I felt trapped in the idea of social politeness -- invading their private dinner to tell them off felt wrong, even though they were already disrespecting pretty much everyone.

I also didn't know WHAT to say to them. They'd covered a lot of offensive ground, and I was kind of reeling from it all. The whole experience felt surreal and nearly farcical.

I'm still bothered though, because yeah, social contract -- but they were loud enough for several other tables to hear them. Does their loudness invalidate the social contract? Ed says that they were not the kind of people who'd have listened to anyone who objected anyway and that it just would have gotten ugly. (They seemed pretty self-satisfied about being offensive people, after all.) At the same time, if you say something out loud in public, you're responsible for that.

Maybe it was the kind of situation that was worth it getting ugly. Because even if their minds weren't changed, maybe they'd think twice about being loud about their liberal racism and classism and everything else in public. Which would make "public" a little more pleasant for everyone.

I decided that I really should have said something, whether or not it caused a scene. I've since mentally prepare some things to say to people if that kind of situation ever comes up again -- my faith in humanity is fairly low right now so I suspect that it will.

When do you make a scene, xoJaners? What would you have done?