I had an awkward experience the other night in Kinsale, on Ireland’s south coast. I just can’t shake it, and I would love to hear your thoughts. Did I do the right thing? What would you have done?
After blitzing the town to check out all its restaurants for my guidebook, I settled into my favorite (Finns’ Table) to enjoy a nice, peaceful meal. And for the entire dinner, all I could hear was the conversation of some American tourists at the table next to me: an angry, wealthy man and his resilient wife.
There was no way to avoid hearing him cuss and berate her as he complained about money, taxes, bad service, and the horrible Irish weather. Why was she getting a massage?…he got the wrong tee time at the golf course…their kids were ungrateful. When he had something mean to say, he’d lean forward and — as if his words were leather gloves — he’d slap her repeatedly across the face with them.
I worried that she (an older woman with a family, and presumably accustomed to a fancy lifestyle) really had no escape…and he knew it. I learned way more than I ever wanted to know about this man’s frustrations. I also couldn’t help but focus on how they were spending probably five times per day what my readers spend — staying at a golf resort, for example, rather than a characteristic B&B. And yet, he was miserable.
Finally, he asked a rhetorical question and I couldn’t help myself. I’ve never done this before, but I entered their conversation and answered it. And then I said, “Excuse me, but I’ve never shared a dinner with such a selfish and angry man. For the last half hour, I’ve had no choice but to learn the financial details of what must be, for you, a miserable existence. And I’ve never encountered a man who was ruder to his wife. If I was her, married to you, I’d walk right out of this restaurant and jump into the harbor.” That made waiting for my rhubarb crumble awkward. But I’m glad I said it. I hope it helped his wife in some way to hear that even a stranger was appalled by her husband’s disrespect.
Have you been unable to escape a mood-dampening conversation in a restaurant? What is the appropriate thing to do in a situation like this? Was I wrong to speak up?
This is Day 81 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.