The other evening I was out for dinner at a lovely restaurant, celebrating a friend’s birthday. We were having a great time enjoying the meal and the conversation – until a couple arrived at the table next to us.

Our tables were not that close together, however the gentleman was a “leaner” in his chair (so he was sitting closer than he should have been) and a very loud talker. Despite our best efforts to tune him out, it was impossible not to hear every last detail of his entire conversation. And that conversation was a textbook example of what not to discuss from a Social Graces course. Politics – check, religion – check, money – check. If I had let him, it would have ruined a great evening out with friends.

I’ll go one better and say this is actually an opportunity to find a silver lining; it’s a fantastic reminder about behaviour in public places. I fully agree you should absolutely have a good time when you go out, but you also have to be mindful of how your actions affect others.

I am often asked about what can and can’t be discussed during dinner, and I completely understand the confusion – navigating through conversations, especially during a meal, can be a tricky thing. You want to include everyone and make it an enjoyable evening.

Politics, religion, money, off-coloured jokes: these are all topics on the “stay away” list. They are topics that are sensitive that can trigger strong reactions, and even outright arguments if two people don’t share the same views. Sports can go between the “do and don’t talk about” list, especially during playoff season. One of the best ways to start a conversation – believe it or not – is to talk about the weather and to listen for verbal cues to progress beyond that initial icebreaker.

Here’s an example.
Person One: “Wow, can you believe this rain? We had plans to go play soccer at the park on Saturday but we were rained out.”
Person Two: “You play soccer? I have been playing on the west side league for years.”

Something else to think about: just because the topics involved may be okay for public consumption, it doesn’t mean you can do whatever else you want. If you’re speaking very loudly or infringing on someone else’s personal space, you’re still being offensive.

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